AXPONA 2016 Opens Strong

In the crowded O’Hare Westin lobby opening morning of AXPONA 2016 I spy cartridge manufacturing veteran A.J. van den Hul and go over to say hello.

A.J. is standing with some customers and with his importer who had agreed per Stereophile policy, to reimburse me at the show for return shipping costs of a van den Hul cartridge I’d just finished reviewing, and then changed his mind and mailed a check.

“Thank you for the very nice review of the Crimson cartridge” A.J. said (review published soon in Stereophile). Without missing a beat the importer chimes in “Did you get the check?” How do you think that sounded to the assembled? I provided an immediate reputation saving clarification!

AXPONA 2016, still an upstart audio show, was bigger and even better attended than was last year’s show. Unlike at previous New York shows, local dealer support at AXPONA was strong. Despite the gorgeous 70 degree Chicago weather, attendance all three days was high with continuously crowded hallways and rooms throughout the three days.

Some shows have throngs day one or two and clear out for the rest of the time, or there are waves of people in the morning and desolation later. This show saw a steady stream of visitors from morning until closing.

More importantly, the attendees seemed to be appreciative buyers and enthusiasts rather than cynical parts cost calculating “tire-kickers”, who understand the system: manufacturers sell products at wholesale to dealers. Dealers resell them, (hopefully at a profit) to consumers, adding value with expert advice, installation skills and service.

I am often amazed by how many consumers think manufacturers “lend” dealers equipment to display and when one is purchased, the dealer then buys and resells it.

In fact, retailers have to make a substantial investment in inventory. The risks can be enormous if they guess wrong about what will happen in the marketplace over the next year. When you visit a store and see a room full of expensive loudspeakers, know they were bought by the retailers, not lent by the manufacturer for display!.


Music sources at AXPONA 2016 in most ways mirrored what’s been reported in the mainstream press: CDs were hard to find and vinyl was everywhere. On the digital side iPad controlled, server-based high-resolution sources were the most common. Only a few rooms streamed audio and those rooms used CD resolution Tidal.

There was a major uptick in the number of reel-to-reel tape recorders in use at the show, some of which spooled legitimate source material and some of which unrolled sonic stairways to hell. While there’s chicanery in the vinyl reissue business, in my opinion there’s more in reel-to-reel tape.

In the Magico room, Jonathan Horwich played an analog tape he’d recorded of Chick Corea and it sounded superb through a pair of Magico S 5 MkII speakers but so did Ferit Odman’s AAA LP played on a top of the line Kronos turntable.

I found reel-to-reel decks in the /Joseph Audio/Jeff Rowland/Cardas Audio/VPI Industries room (a ½” ATR), and in Paragon Sound’s room, which featured the audio show debut of Wilson Audio Specialties new $100,000 Alexx loudspeakers driven by Doshi Audio tube-based electronics that included custom Doshi tape circuitry replacing the Studer’s. DCS Ltd. demoed in the Paragon room its newly upgraded and enhanced Vivaldi DSD-based 4 box DAC.

There may have been a few other rooms using reel-to-reel tape but I missed them. Myles Astor ran a seminar about reel-to-reel tape, which he called, hopefully tongue-in-cheek, “The Format of the Future”.

In the video embedded below you’ll see what’s new at Jeff Catalano’s Highwater Sound, which was directly across from my hotel room. The Audio Frontiers Stradavari Phono Stage shown in the video costs $11,500. The amps in the video cost $12,500.

From there, before going to breakfast, I visited the waveion room, which had to be among the weirdest. The folks in the room, who are from the Ukraine, claim to have a new technology to produce sound “without physical boundaries” without using any kind of membrande (ie: driver).

Instead “…an invisible pulsating shaft of air generates a 360 degree sound field (with) molecules turned into negative and positive ions, generating powerful, realistic output.”

What I heard in the room was 100% unimpressive. It was as you will hear in the video: very low in level and sounding like an old transistor radio, but if any sound at all was created this way, it is impressive enough. Sort of.

The second video was in interview conducted by Cool Cleveland’s Tom Mulready in The Marketplace area of the show.

Rudy's picture

I just made my return trip home (drove in less than an hour ago), and am jotting down notes before I forget everything. I was obviously not able (nor was I there to) cover everything (which I am presenting on one of my own sites), but I spent quality time listening to the highlights. Here are a couple of my own.

While I myself am kicking tires comparing speakers and power amps (my next upgrades), I always keep an eye out for high quality but affordable pieces I can recommend to others. ELAC's offerings impressed the most, especially when the smallest Debut model with the 4" woofer was still able to give some very nice sound for its modest cost.

Favorite speakers were Martin Logan's new Renaissance. Favorite "box" speaker were the ProAcs, down on the lower level, being driven by a nice VTL power amp. One of my favorite turntable sounds was coming from a Kronos Pro. One underwhelming turntable was the Technics 1200 (where I mentioned the VTA looked to be way off, as though the rear of the arm had dropped down way too far).

My only real complaint is that some manufacturers were under-represented. One example. Oppo Digital was supposedly "represented" on the lobby level in the AIX room, but there was only one Oppo BDP-105D in the entire room, being used as a transport and video player (using external DAC), and out in the lobby, another BDP-105D providing a source for two Oppo PM-1 headphones. Having wanted to audition the PM-2 and PM-3 (which were not in the headphone exhibit either), and wanting to hear about an upcoming Oppo digital player, it was disappointing.

I agree it was very heavily dealer-oriented, and it was pretty much a win all the way around. We really have no other show in the Great Lakes area, so I am hoping more manufacturers latch on to this. If I never see those stairs again, though... ;)

Enjoyed the seminar. Screws and all!

mraudio's picture

"What I heard in the room was 100% unimpressive."

Gotta love the honesty. Wish more reviewers were like you. :-)

Lincoln Matt's picture

By the time I made it to their room late Saturday everything was disassembled. They claimed some problem with our 60Hz power versus their 50Hz. Not ready for prime time.

Otherwise an enjoyable show for my second year. Unfortunately had to leave after Saturday but was able to hit 90% of the rooms. Unfortunately my plan was to check out the vinyl in the Marketplace on Sunday. I guess my wallet is happy I had to leave.

Rudy's picture

...I'm not going to rub it in. But OK, maybe I will. ;) There were some deals to be had.

Music Direct had regular vinyl $5 off. They had overstocked titles for $15. The accessories were all discounted (I bought a few, and Bes helped me out on something that was out of stock--fantastic customer service.) I bought a few MoFi records, of course (three at $15, the others at $5 off). Their SACDs on clearance (overstocks) were also $15 and $20.

Elusive disc had a couple of titles on sale--I scored the Bernie-mastered Rosemary Clooney/Perez Prado 45RPM set on ORG for only $30. Dayum! It was the first one I played this morning. Dayum again! I think it's excellent sounding, better than RCA's original Living Stereo cut (especially considering mine is slightly worn). There is a lot of percussion on there, and I don't think the RCA ever did it justice.

Other vendors had discounts for the most part. Except...Acoustic Sounds had everything at full price, so I skipped their table. I mean c'mon, really Chad? They were simultaneously running a 15% off "AXPONA" sale on their site. What am I missing? They did sell some titles but the bins at MoFi and Elusive were a lot emptier at the end of Sunday.

azmoon's picture

..but may make the Show at Newport Beach!

Go Mikey Go!!

Snorker's picture

I wish they'd do something like this in the Washington, DC area.

Michael, did you happen to hear the Harbeth 40.2 speakers? I read a pretty glowing review from another attendee on the Steve Hoffman forums. Curious to hear your thoughts on those, if you got a chance to hear them.

Thanks, and keep up the great work.

isaacrivera's picture
Snorker's picture

Nice! Thank you, I'll plan to attend.

theboogeydown's picture

Michael, What is the name of the DIY stylus cleaner you mentioned in the video? Is it that tacky stuff my mom used to make me use when hanging my posters in my room in lieu in thumbtacks?

Muso's picture

Onzow Zerodust. I have one and it keeps my stylus nice and spiffy, without as much risk of damaging my cartridge (I'm pretty clumsy with a brush).

deaconblue66's picture

I think Michael said Blu Tack.

mobileholmes's picture

That's hilarious!