AXPONA 2018 At The Schaumberg Renaissance
There was the new venue. The original revival of this show, in March 2013, had been held in the O'Hare Doubletree By Hilton in Rosemont, and marked the first time in 14 years that the Windy City had played host to a high-end audio show. That last previous show, Hi-Fi '99, had been held at the Palmer House downtown, and yes, I was there to cover it. While the Doubletree was a nice place, and easily accessible from O'Hare, it really had kind of a smallish feel to it... what can I say?
By the following year, AXPONA had reorganized and moved to the Westin O'Hare, not even a mile further north on N. River Road from the Doubletree. Nice digs, nice people, and this resuscitated show remained there as it grew and blossomed over four years, through 2017.
The Schaumberg Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center played host to this year's fully resurrected AXPONA. Located in Schaumburg, Illinois at I-90 and Meacham Road, just a 15-minute jaunt from O'Hare International, and eleven and a half miles North West of its previous location, this 500-room hotel, run by Marriott under their Renaissance brand, opened its doors in July 2006. With vast, sweeping entryways, enormous open spaces through the lobby and services areas that include an atrium which opens through the first 7 floors of the hotel; complete with crossing walkways, its scale and aesthetic clearly set the tone for this burgeoning event.
Damn, has this show grown! Liz Miller, AXPONA's Vice President and Event Director, shared some numbers with me right after the show. Boasting over 165 listening rooms, with another 125 exhibits on site, and with attendance up 21% from 2017 (5,718 unique visitors and 8,134 tickets sold), this show has clearly announced its intent to be both the biggest and most important high-end audio show on the north American continent.
With Schaumberg just a two-and-a-half-hour drive from my home, traffic permitting, and with an early evening meeting slated for the Thursday before the show opened, I left work at lunch and arrived mid-afternoon. Before I even made it to the desk to check in, at the top of the escalators, I ran into Michael Vamos of Audio Skies and Gamut USA, and Myles Astor, of Audionirvana and Positive Feedback.
Stepping out of the elevator into the foyer on the seventh floor as I made my way to my room, I found Bill Leebens (PS Audio), Mat Weisfeld (VPI), and Kevin and Darleen Hayes (VAC) all deep in conversation. After catching up briefly, including congratulating Mat (and his wife Jane) on the recent birth of their first child, I made it to my room to unpack. Entering the bathroom, I discovered a small color TV carefully “concealed” in the large vanity mirror behind the sink that sprang to life as soon as I turned on the lights! Excessive, but really kind of cool.
Before I start sharing this exceptional show experience, did I mention that this was an enormous event? It was simply too vast a show, with too many rooms and exhibits, to be adequately recounted over its three-day life cycle. As such, let me apologize to all those manufacturers, distributors, and dealers whose rooms I just never found time to visit, and I assure you, there were many! While I had the best intentions, as anyone who attends these events regularly will be able to tell you, you are often diverted from your goals and pulled here or there by the people you inadvertently run into, that schedules become optional at best.
And though there seemed to be a midbass emphasis problem affecting the sound throughout most all but the largest rooms, the overall accomplishment of sound quality achieved was remarkably good.
American Audio's Angie Lisi and Jody Hickson pulled out all the stops in 1620. While the enormous and stunning looking Avantgarde Acoustic Trio XD with 4 Basshorn loudspeakers ($148,700) caught the eye, it was the Esoteric electronics, fronted by the Grandioso K1 SACD/CD player ($31,000), G-01 Master Clock ($20,000), the N 01 Music Server/DAC ($20,000), and driven by the superb Grandioso F1 Integrated amplifier ($31,000), that provided the heart of the seductive and engaging music that this system served up. With everything resting on Harmonic Resolution Systems Equipment VXR series stands ($23,260 each), all cabling was Transparent XL series.
Esoteric's flagship integrated, the Grandioso F1, utilizes their unique next-generation silicon carbide MOSFET for the core of the power amplifier, as well as the Esoteric-QVCS volume control, which employs four precision switched resistor ladder networks, which change in unison as the volume knob is rotated. With 30 Watts per channel into 8 Ohms (doubling to 60 into 4 Ohms), and a bandpass boasting 10 Hz to 150 kHz, this integrated made those big gorgeous horns sing!
While the Trio XD's effortless and blistering transients, enormous scale, revealing microdynamics, and engaging immediacy were to be expected, their achievement of tone color and texture, with full and well delineated body, abundant air and space, as well as the engaging sense of intimacy and surprising liquidity, were the best I can ever recall hearing from this immense horn system.