AXPONA 2023 wrapped up just under two weeks ago, treating music lovers, audiophiles and technology enthusiasts to three days of exceptional sound, technology, seminars, live music and equipment news.
As usual, the show was held at the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center and Hotel, located 30 miles west of downtown Chicago and barely halfway from the international airport. The superlative connectivity paid off: With 9,115 visitors, the AXPONA 2023 saw an increase of about 20 percent over 2022 – its previous attendance record.
You had to come with time on hand
To see and experience everything, you should allow plenty of time. The majority of the shows spanned 12 floors of the sprawling hotel. In addition, there were numerous large ballrooms. In total, this added up to over 200 listening rooms where setups featuring products from more than 500 brands were displayed and demoed. It should also be remembered that the “Ear Gear Experience,” in a sense a trade show within a trade show, presented headphone-related innovations in parallel with AXPONA 2023.
In the post-event evaluation, Show Director Liz Smith expressed her gratitude to exhibitors, visitors and media partners who made the event a tremendous success. She also added that she looks forward to holding the show again in 2024.
The allure of silence
AXPONA 2023 was brimming with highlights. It would be beyond the scope of any trade show coverage to exhaustively list everything. The show was simply too big for that. So just consider the following highlights as a snapshot, at times venturing a bit to the left and right from the beaten path.
Gryphon traditionally brings everything that is good and expensive. However, the presentation of the Danes came with a minor sprinkle of cold water: The exhibition was “cold”, you could admire and marvel at everything, but there was no demonstration.
Germany was also represented
Just how important AXPONA has become as the largest US show for German manufacturers could be seen, among other things, from the fact that some of the company owners had come to Chicago in person. Among them were Udo Besser (AVM), Robert Suchy (Clearaudio) and Siegfried Amft and his son Conradin Amft (T+A). The latter had their new Solitaires in their luggage. The loudspeakers were able to impressively demonstrate what they are capable of: Interestingly, they managed to play wonderfully in the almost perfectly cubic demonstration room (nightmare fuel for any acoustician). Even the bass – particularly tricky in such environments – sounded controlled and coherent.
Just one room away, we experienced a similarly high level performance. Stenheim and VTL had settled here. The chain can be considered a blueprint for how far resolution can be taken with a “normal” dynamic loudspeaker. By the way, how well the system harmonized can be seen from the fact that we stopped here again and again.
Outta luck …
Luxman presented its brand new heavyweight PD-191A. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get more than a visual impression of the turntable, because every time we stopped by, one of the other sources had its turn. Naturally, this can happen at a HiFi show.
We were more lucky with the exciting new product from Legacy Audio. The manufacturer from Illinois presented an extremely interesting concept for the production of a point source in the models of its Masters Collection. This works by means of two AMT drivers mounted in front of a classic diaphragm. And more importantly, the new driver sounded simply outstanding.
Zu Audio, known for its wideband loudspeaker drivers, demonstrated a transducer with two full-range drivers stacked on top of each other. Something like that shouldn’t actually work well. The two included tweeters make for unpleasant beaming effects. Don’t ask us how, but the setup worked excellently, sounded highly dynamic and very lively. However – this is of course purely a matter of taste – the bass was a bit too much on the “light” side. We would recommend one or two servings of subwoofer as a side.
Floating spinning top
Perhaps the most beautiful turntable we spotted at the show comes from Japanese manufacturer Yuki Pecision. A self-centering platter floating on a magnetic pad with breathtaking optics. However, the Yuki is no longer an “insider tip”: A few weeks ago, the device has also become available in Germany, distributed by Axiss Europe.
At this point, we’ll take the liberty to slip in a small intermezzo, which illustrates the excellent “soft skills” of the organizers. They made every effort to make things at the AXPONA 2023 as pleasant as possible for the visitors. Each floor, even those with only guest rooms, had its own toilet. For this purpose, another guest room was simply provided. It may sound trivial, but it’s a feature you come to appreciate at a three-day show. In addition, there were info booths for orientation and information. And finally, everything was signposted in an exemplary manner. Anyone who has experienced the incomprehensible dimensions of the hotel in the flesh will also appreciate this.
And now on with the program
Fans of classical organ music absolutely had to stop by at PS Audio. To demonstrate the low-frequency capabilities of the new Aspen FR20, the Americans repeatedly played tracks with large church organs. It’s incredible how even the “little one” – the FR20 ranks one peg below the FR30 already presented in FIDELITY – made the room tremble in the very lowest octaves.
As usual, the presentation of Audio Note (UK) was also a real treat in Chicago. One involuntarily asks oneself “How do they manage to do that with a small 2-way system?” Only the Brits themselves can probably answer that. At first glance, the concept and technology of their speakers are not very spectacular. However, the hand-picked composition of the specially produced components make the components something very special.
Guided waves and tight bass
No less amazing were the rather small Contra 100S from Aretai. Here, one should by no means be deceived by the size: A second, rear-firing bass provides a solid foundation, and the tweeter’s striking waveguide produces a directness that one would never expect from compact speakers.
Another incredibly coherent performance was offered by a small amplifier from Border Patrol. Unfortunately, we could not tell whether it was the S20 or the P20 – both come equipped with 300B tubes. He/she/it had Volti Audio’s horn speakers well under control. It was one of those demonstrations where you seriously wonder if you really need more than 20 watts.
The setup played wonderfully dynamic, had excellent resolution with fantastic “grip,” and didn’t annoy at any point in the frequency spectrum. Only the rabbit hutch grille as a cover for the bass reflex channel of the speakers gave us a bit too much of a “Do It Yourself”-vibe.
A system to dream of
Probably the strongest presentation goes to the account of Audio Group Denmark. The Danes had several world premieres in their luggage: Børreen’s new floorstanding loudspeaker M3 was shown (and played). It was driven by the preamplifier C-880 and the power amplifier P-880, which were shown for the first time. The musical qualities of the exclusive team left nothing to be desired. We are tempted to give the chain the title “Best Of The Show”. However, one should not forget that the components, together with the cabling and the countless “tools” from Ansuz, weigh in at a total price of around 1.5 million. You would expect that to sound excellent.
A small disappointment, however, was the show of the Heretic Loudspeakers Company. The Canadians build loudspeakers that are strongly inspired by the classics from Altec. The demonstrated speaker is based on the Altec 612. Unfortunately, the sound was undynamically flat and didn’t have a good bass range either. Maybe it was due to the inappropriate front end, maybe the music program, maybe the room. Unfortunately, the spark did not fly here, although we were looking forward to exactly this presentation.
They can also do “small”
Another novelty from Audio Group Denmark could be admired on one of the upper floors. The new all-in-one all-rounder, the specially founded brand AXXESS. A quality integrated amplifier with DAC and streamer, which can do almost everything and incidentally makes wonderful music. The AGD enters new territory with this machine, offering the device at an attainable price of around 5000 €. This makes the AXXESS the absolute entry-level model in the range. Design, form factor and sound, however, are oriented towards its significantly more expensive siblings.
AXPONA 2023 also delivered live
Musical performances were also a highlight of the event. Anne Bisson, Canadian jazz singer/songwriter, performed on Friday evening and wowed the audience with her beautiful voice, bold arrangements and a touch of the 70s. On Saturday night, it was singer/songwriter Amber Rubarth’s turn. In no time, she had her audience in the palm of her hand. No wonder, the artist has already toured all over the world, opening shows for legendary artists like Emmylou Harris, Kenny Loggins, Richie Havens, Dr. Ralph Stanley and Jason Mraz. And throughout the show, you could listen to a harpist in the lobby of the hotel who created a wonderfully decelerating atmosphere.
In summary, AXPONA 2023 was an incredible success, bringing together music lovers, audiophiles and audio enthusiasts. The impressive number of visitors, the large number of exhibitors and products, and the exceptional musical performances made the show a memorable experience.