It’s been one of those years. Too many things going on, several distractions at home, travel schedules, inflation, and my constant state of mental disarray lately all meant that AXPONA 2023 had nearly slipped my mind this year. My normal modus operandi was to arrive Thursday before the show to get settled in, then spend three days gung-ho trying to cover the monstrosity that AXPONA has become.
Instead, I decided to cut it back to two nights, but Hyatt had other plans – they decided that my modified reservation meant I would pay roughly 40 percent more for the same room than previously. So, screw Hyatt – they only got one overnight out of me. And for the accommodations I got, they were grossly overpriced. (I mean, who doesn’t enjoy an air conditioner blowing on you all night, inches from the bed, as you try catching up on your e-mail with Wi-Fi running slower than a 1200-baud modem while the toilet cycles on and off due to a slow leak?) But eh, that’s Chicago for you.
Thankfully, my other Copper colleagues were able to see more of what AXPONA 2023 offered. For my part, I arrived mid-afternoon on Saturday, and departed mid-afternoon Sunday. That didn’t leave me much time to take in the show, so I had to pick and choose what I would cover. Since many show reports tend to focus on the big-ticket items or new equipment introductions, I decided to emphasize some of the odds and ends of the audiophile world – the accessories that we use to enhance our systems.
One of my first stops was to pay a visit to Butcher Block Acoustics. I’m all for a natural look in my family room/listening room, as it’s primarily done in earth tones, woodgrain, and Southwest décor. Having purchased a Technics SL-1210G last summer (part of a mad 10-hour dash to and from Music Direct), I wanted to improve its isolation. My choice was one of the Butcher Block Acoustics isolation blocks, a three-inch thick maple block that I rested on some IsoAcoustics Iso-Pucks.
I had expected a high quality of fit and finish on the block and I was not disappointed. I have been meaning to look at their racks to replace what I am using currently, and their selection of custom sizes and wood combinations make for some attractive shelving options in their rigidrack® series. My favorite combination for my own system is maple (light) shelving with walnut (dark) legs.
Butcher Block Acoustics also offers various speaker and amplifier stands, isolation platforms, and a unique dust cover platform which is a block with a dust cover for turntables that are not available with one. All the products are made in Pennsylvania by another division of the Wood Welded companies, which make butcher block products for commercial and home applications.
Butcher Block Acoustics products at AXPONA 2023.
I also saw two other unique options for isolation. I use various IsoAcoustics isolators under my equipment, but there are plenty of other choices that work well and also don’t require a mortgage payment to protect one’s components. One of these options is Gingko Audio. One product they demonstrated was the Cloud22 isolator, which uses wool to control vibration. What impressed me at this exhibit was the use of an accelerometer to show the amount of vibration and noise being removed, and how much of the audio spectrum the product controlled.
The Gingko Audio Cloud22 isolator.
Another Gingko Audio isolation product is the ARCH Acoustic Resonance Clarifier. They are designed to flex in a way that provides wideband isolation. There are sizes available for everything from electronic components to speakers.
Gingko Audio's Arch resonance clarifier.
Another interesting approach to isolation comes via AV RoomService, Ltd. The two products I took note of were the EVP Equipment Vibration Protectors and CVP Cable Vibration Protectors. The EVP is comprised of glass fibers that compress under the weight of the components placed atop them, and come in various sizes and densities for everything from the lightest components to heavy floorstanding speakers. Two variations are available. The felt-clad EVPs are for use under components where you may want to slide them around, whereas the rubber-clad EVPs are for larger items you won’t want shifting, like speakers.
AV Room Service, Ltd.'s EVP Equipment Vibration Protectors.
The CVP is a “pillow” of sorts with a glass fiber filling, but aside from mechanical isolation, they offer two variations on the jackets of these pillows. One is the EC – the Electromagnetic Coupler (matte finish), which prevents cables from generating an electrostatic field when they are elevated off of the floor. The other is the EI – the Electromagnetic Insulator (glossy finish, available in two sizes), which prevents field coupling from cables that are placed close together. The CVPs come with a Velcro strap to affix them to the cables.
CVP Cable Vibration Products from AV Room Service, Ltd.
In another realm of controlling sound in the room, I paid a visit to GIK Acoustics. I shamelessly admit I am a fan of their products. Amidst the pandemic, I ordered some of their absorption/diffusion panels to use behind my electrostatic speakers. Back then, the order took about nine weeks to ship. The current lead time is in the neighborhood of two weeks. (GIK Acoustics’ business boomed during the pandemic as everyone stayed home.)
GIK Acoustics offered a wealth of room treatment products in various formats and sizes.
Their products have functional styling, so that your listening room doesn’t start to look like an anechoic chamber or laboratory. The panels I ordered are available with multiple colored fabric options, and a few choices in the color of the wood facing. There is also an option where you can have an all-fabric panel produced with a photograph, either from their library of images, or high-resolution images you provide yourself. GIK’s offerings include the absorption/diffusion panels I ordered, along with other panels that provide either absorption (check out their hexagon-shaped DecoShapes) or diffusion, bass traps, acoustic foam panels, and even insulation and fabric if you would like to build your own sound absorbers.
Room treatments are an important step in tuning your listening room, and GIK Acoustics has an online planner where you can lay out your room and either test-fit various products for yourself, or have one of GIK’s staff recommend solutions for your environment.
The Marketplace at AXPONA is often a place where you can find inexpensive but incredibly useful gadgets. If you have ever hooked up a modern home theater receiver with a seemingly endless number of speakers to wire up, and fumbled around with the typical banana plugs, a company called Speaker Snap sells banana plugs which accept a stripped length of speaker cable and clamp down on it with a simple, spring-loaded single lever, attaching the wire lead securely. The conductors inside the Speaker Snaps are fully gold-plated, and the banana plugs themselves fit firmly into the banana jacks, so no worries about the plugs working themselves loose. These are not only a great solution for end users, but A/V installers will also find these to be an enormous time saver.
Speaker Snap offered these ingenious time-saving banana plugs.
Record cleaning products were out in full force. Ultrasonic cleaners seem to be the product du jour and there was no lack of options. Music Direct had the Degritter on display. There was also a booth of “rotisserie” ultrasonic cleaners in many different configurations.
On the intensively scientific side of record cleaning is the Kirmuss Ultrasonic Record Restoration System, which offers a deeper cleaning that goes beyond what other ultrasonic cleaners offer by ridding the vinyl of dirt and chemicals, including mold release compounds. That it costs much less than a Degritter almost makes me regret buying the latter.
The Kirmuss Audio exhibit.
In the throwback department, how many of us owned a Discwasher brush in the 1970s and 1980s? A near follow-up is the GrooveWasher, a similarly-outfitted record cleaner using a microfiber cleaning pad with a walnut handle. The Discwasher is still sold by RCA, but this nostalgic set from GrooveWasher brings back memories of the 1980s, as my Discwasher system is very similar (although mine also has the Zerostat anti-static gun, the only part of the kit I still use).
Getting in the groove: The GrooveWasher record cleaner.
I paid a visit to a few rooms during the show, but didn’t have time to take part in the comprehensive top-to-bottom coverage I have attempted in years past. (And trust me, you want to start at the top. The five elevators in the hotel are woefully inadequate for an event of this size. If you can get to the show before it officially opens, ride up to the top floor and then walk your way down each flight of stairs; you’ll be ahead of the elevator rush.)
I purchased a Technics SL-1210G Grand Class turntable last June. I had gotten tired of dealing with all the fuss and bother of belts and the lack of speed stability, not to mention the poor build quality of my previous brand of turntable. The 1210G has exceeded my expectations, especially after I added a few accessories like a proper platter mat and periphery ring. But is there anything beyond the 1210G?
Technics for decades made the professional SP-10 direct drive turntable, for which an end user provided their own tonearm. Technics revived it in their Reference Series as the SP-10R. It is a dimensional match to the original SP-10 models and is a drop-in replacement, with even the separate control unit matching original dimensions. It’s also available with a tonearm as the SL-1000R. The turntable supports up to three tonearms with the use of optional outriggers.
Technics displayed a number of attractive turntables including the SL-1000R.
Despite the “slasher” vibe of the “KIMBER WELCOME” door signage to their room, Kimber Kable had an interesting setup to compare speaker cables. They had two pairs of speakers custom-built with components matching each other as closely as possible, and had them stacked one atop the other, with the ability to switch between two sets of cables and compare them instantly.
The door to the Kimber Kable room.
The dual-speaker comparison setup at Kimber.
“Can’t we just have normal music that people actually listen to at hi-fi shows? –Angela Cardas
Perhaps the most fun room at AXPONA had to be the Flashback Lounge, presented by Cardas Audio. As Cardas already had their cables in numerous rooms at the show, they decided to set up their own as something akin to a teenager’s bedroom throughout the decades. From the lava lamp and retro television programs to the Farrah Fawcett and iconic 1980s Lamborghini Countach posters on the wall, they nailed it. Their retro-themed system centered around the reissue JBL L100 speakers, with their orange foam egg-crate grills to complete the vibe. (Perhaps the only faux pas was the liquor next to the lava lamp – as teens we learned to hide the booze in the closet before the parents came in.) Josh Meredith even brought his guitar but sadly, I did not get time to head back and listen to some of his shredding. (Next year, Josh!)
Above: The ultra-cool Cardas Audio room.
I’ve already covered a handful of products found in The Marketplace, but here are some random photos of a few of the spaces. Acoustic Sounds, Music Direct, Elusive Disc, and others were selling plenty of vinyl and accessories. Music Direct also displayed their Mobile Fidelity line of turntables (below), as well as the new Andrew Jones-designed SourcePoint 10 speaker.
Music Direct had plenty of turntables, accessories, vinyl and other fun items on hand.
Acoustic Sounds was one of the many exhibitors offering new and used vinyl.
Elusive Disc was another vinyl vendor with a superb selection of records.
Turntable manufacturer SOTA has always had a display at the show, and it was good to see they are still active.
SOTA was there in full force with a wide range of turntables.
Anyhow, I hope I can set aside more time for next year’s AXPONA. My attendance last year was prevented by taking part in a Lemons Rally that same weekend. Who knows what next year’s schedule will be? But between now and then, I’ll have time to find a hotel room further out from the show that is more affordable, and more comfortable, than this year’s trainwreck.