I’m calling this “Impressions of AXPONA 2023” rather than “AXPONA 2023 Show Report” because this time out, I didn’t get to walk the show floor much. I was based in the PS Audio booth, which had land-office traffic, and was able to see about 20 other rooms out of a show that had something like 10 times that many. There’s always something of a chaos factor at these shows, with missed appointments, missed exhibitors and missed friends, and AXPONA 2023, which took place at the Renaissance Schaumburg Hotel and Convention Center in Schaumburg, Illinois from April 14 through April 16, had more chaos than usual.
This was a good thing, as attendance was up and the number of exhibitors was enough to have reached a point where I’d say that it’s now impossible for any single person, whether reviewer or attendee, to see everything at the show even in three days. The show has become that big. This opinion was confirmed by a number of my peers, most of them wearing comfortable shoes.
The mood was upbeat. Last year the specter of COVID hung over the show, with many if not most showgoers voicing concerns that attending AXPONA 2022 had some risk. Going into an elevator that year was cause for anxiety; same for shaking hands or giving someone a hug. This year, although COVID was still a concern, I didn’t run into a single person who was really worried about it. (As of this writing I’ve heard of two people in the audio community who got it.)
Since I spent my limited floor-roaming time trying to see as much as possible, some of my descriptions don’t include chapter and verse on model numbers and pricing since I didn't linger in any of the rooms. Last year I had three days to cover the show. This year, about three hours.
I’ve said this many times, but now with a new slant: I don’t make definitive judgments about exhibitors’ sound at audio shows, for a number of reasons. The rooms may be unfamiliar to the manufacturers, or just lousy acoustically, or inappropriate for the speakers on exhibit. The power can be, shall we say, less than optimal. (In the PS Audio room you could literally see this via the front panel display of one of their power regenerators – the incoming AC wave was clipped and distorted.) People might be talking over the quiet passages in the music. (I’m OK with that – attendees should be able to engage and have fun, and an exhibitor can always ask for silence.) And even if you spent an entire day in a room, you wouldn't have the opportunity to hear, say, a pair of loudspeakers with different electronics, cables and so on.
I also hedge my bets because my hearing is compromised. I’ve made no secret of this before, but as I get older my audiogram is starting to look more and more like a badly-performing stock on the Dow Jones. I will have much more to say about this in an upcoming series, “Staving Off Retirement,” part of which will involve my recent adventures with hearing aids. And let me emphasize: I may be a compromised listener, but I’m an experienced one. I don’t use hearing aids when judging audio systems, and I can hear (or perhaps more properly stated, am aware of) nuances many less-experienced listeners might not know are there. (I have done some experimentation with hearing aids when listening to stereo gear, which I will elaborate on in the near future.) So, I'm not making any Pronouncements from On High about what I hear at shows.
I’m as serious a gearhead as any audiophile, and there was no lack of eye-popping equipment at AXPONA 2023 to covet. But for me the absolute highlight of the show was a session by Abey Fonn of Impex Records and Nick Getz, son of jazz saxophone legend Stan Getz. They conducted a number of seminars in different rooms at the show where Abey and Nick played cuts off the upcoming Impex 1Step LP reissue of Getz/Gilberto. One of the best-selling jazz albums of all time, this 1964 recording is a masterpiece – it launched the career of Astrid Gilberto, and features classics like “Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars),” Desafinado,” and “The Girl From Ipanema,” which received the Grammy for Record of the Year.
Part of the PS Audio exhibit, showing the aspen FR30 loudspeakers, PerfectWave Series electronics, and the upcoming AirLens music streamer.
Abey Fonn of Impex Records and Nick Getz in the Luxman room for a presentation of the upcoming Getz/Gilberto reissue.
I don’t want to give too much away, since I will be reviewing Getz/Gilberto and interviewing Nick Getz when the record comes out later in the year, but for now I’ll tell you that the record will be all-analog, cut from the master tapes, and utilizing Impex’s 1Step vinyl mastering, which eliminates the usual father-mother stamping process. This results in a vinyl disc that has less generation loss and is closer to the sound of the master tape.
When Abey and Nick started the Q&A portion of the presentation, I raised my hand and said, “how many questions can I ask?” Like I said, I’m going to be a tease but I will tell you that among the other things I learned were that Stan Getz would make the other musicians nervous before cutting an album – but not for reasons you might expect – that Getz/Gilberto almost went unreleased, and that Getz’s wife Monica was an important part of the album’s success and Getz’s career.
And that the test pressing they played sounded sublime.
Here's some of the other gear I got to see at the show.
Elite A/V Distribution showcased the Kuzma Stabi S turntable, new Safir 9 arm and CAR-20 cartridge, Plinius and Manley Labs electronics, Furutech cables and power conditioners, and the Chapman Audio Systems Model T-7 loudspeakers ($14,995/pair), featuring drivers that are calibrated to within +/-1/4 dB.
Furutech had a dazzling display of cables, power conditioning products and accessories, including their new Project V-1 high-end power cord $9,550).
Gryphon Audio exhibited their speakers and electronics including their Apex mega-amplifier (see Jay Jay French's show report), and these attractive EOS 2 speakers ($22,000/pair), featuring the company's Line Porting design for better bass control, a carbon fiber woofer, and a beryllium dome tweeter.
American Audio & Video put a smile on my face when I saw and heard the reissue Mission 770 speakers, looking both retro and timeless, combining classic looks with updated components. The system shown also included Audiolab 9000 Series electronics and a Dual CS 618 turntable. The other systems in the room featured Audiolab 7000 Series electronics, Mission M700 and LX2 speakers, a Dual CS 429 automatic turntable, and the compact Mission 778X integrated amp.
The HiFi Rose RS150 B music streamer ($4,995) in the MoFi Distribution/Piega/ Balanced Audio Technology room offers a choice of "virtual" faceplates, from the one shown to displays that look like 1970s receivers, modern-day streamers and much more.
Estelon debuted their Extreme Mk II loudspeaker ($269,000/pair), mated with Vitus Audio electronics. The system also included an Acoustic Signature Ascona NEO turntable, Stromtank battery power supplies, Innuos Statement music server, cables from Crystal Cable, HRS equipment racks, and various accessories. It was being touted as the "million dollar system," which it in fact was; the total system cost was actually more.
Joseph Audio always has a standout room and this year's was no exception with the premiere of the Pearl Graphene speaker ($43,999/pair). The room also showcased Doshi Audio's EVOLUTION vacuum tube electronics, a J. Sikora Reference turntable ($47,000) and KVMAX g tonearm ($11,750), Lyra Atlas SL Lambda SL Cartridge ($12,995), cabling by Cardas Audio, a Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC Reference 3 ($28,000), the Aurender N30A 8TB Music Server ($25,000), and HRS EXR stands.
Middle River, Maryland retailer Just Audio displayed a range of retro-new components from LEAK, including the Stereo 130 and Stereo 230 integrated amps ($1,195 and $1,695) and CDT CD transport ($895). They had plenty of other gear including a spectacular selection of vintage Japanese receivers...see Rudy Radelic's report in this issue.
What the heck is this? I am known for my terrible sense of direction. In an effort to avoid the crowded elevators I took a stairway on the third (or was it the second?) floor and somehow wound up in this huge corridor, in true Spinal Tap fashion. Luckily I ran into a hotel worker who showed me the way out.
Acora Acoustics exhibited their new top-of-the-line VRC-1 speakers ($218.000/pair), featuring granite enclosures. They were complemented by Valve Amplification Company (VAC) electronics, an Oracle turntable setup, the LampizatOr Horizon DAC, and Cardas cabling.
Here's one of the most beautiful turntables I've ever seen, the new matte white Technics direct-drive SL-1500C-W. it features a switchable phono preamp, dual-layer chassis and platter, and an S-shaped tonearm. It will be available in May for $1,299. Technics also premiered their SU-GX70 networking integrated amplifier ($1,999), featuring an HDMI ARC connection for optimum sound, compatibility with popular streaming services and digital source components, and even a phono stage.
There was no lack of components with visual appeal as well as high-end sound, like those from T+A. The company showcased a wide range of electronics and speakers, in several different series and price points. In a world of cheap, almost disposable consumer electronics, it was refreshing to see companies like T+A and others at AXPONA 2023 who are committed to such high levels of quality, sound, fit and finish.
This was the most adorable product I saw: the McIntosh MHA200 headphone amplifier ($2,500). Measuring about 9 by 6 by 6 inches, it looks like a miniature version of a classic Mac tube amp (and has 12AT7 and 12BH7A tubes, the latter used as power tubes). It was part of the merchandise and records offered for sale at Chicago retailer Saturday Audio Exchange, and every time I walked by it I wanted it really badly just for its un-toppable coolness factor.
Saturday Audio Exchange also offered a wide selection of audio components and speakers from Bluesound, NAD, Lenbrook, PSB Speakers, Pangea Audio, and GoldenEar.
The Haniwa Audio room played LPs from the late Harry Pearson's personal collection, which founder Dr. Kubo acquired some years ago. I was unable to stop in, and it would have been fun and touching, to again listen to the very records that Harry and I spent all those days and nights enjoying.
Header image: McIntosh was smart in showing this display in one of the main lobby areas, with the music playing quietly so as not to intrude upon the other exhibits. DALI did the same thing in one of the second floor lounge areas.