AXPONA 2019 Show Report --
Audio Expo North America
y first audio show was in 1957. It was a small one held in a New York office building consisting of showrooms. Lacking the bathrooms and closets of hotel rooms, there was no congestion at the showroom doors. That, combined with a horrible tweeter demonstration are the only real memories I have of that show. It was in the early days of high fidelity (mono), woofers and tweeters had to be explained as well as how to hook up a system. Being new to the hobby at that time, I made sure to collect brochures in every room. My literature collection was maybe 0.75" thick.
Since then, I witnessed the major developments in audio (stereo, solid-state, and digital) at audio shows. There were the IHF (Institute for High Fidelity) shows, those run by magazines, the CES (Las Vegas, Chicago and the first one in New York in 1967), the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest (RMAF), and AXPONA. My literature consumption at shows gradually increased to a small suitcase and now, thanks to the internet, is down to a trickle. Here's a small AXPONA 2019 show report and hope you enjoy it.
AXPONA 2019: My Thoughts
I was intrigued by the $15,000 Vivace GaNTube single tube monoblock amplifiers. It turns out that the tube is not a triode, but really the Gallium Nitride MOSFET power stage of a Class D amplifier.
Sweetvinyl makes a line of Sugarcube click and pop removers starting at $1500 for their SC-1 Mini. They work by converting the analog to 24-bit/192kHz PCM where the offending noises are removed and converted back to analog.
Since I'm not looking to replace my phonograph cartridge, I don't usually visit their exhibits, but when I saw my initials staring at me from a display of an optical cartridge, I had to investigate. The DS cartridge works by having a thin lightweight light shield attached to the stylus varying the light from an IR LED that is received by a pair of photocells. Their new, lower cost DS E1 cartridge with the included power supply/equalizer is $2750.
Hsu Research, a company noted for their subwoofers, was demonstrating their very affordable CCB-8 speakers. These small bookshelf sized enclosures, containing an 8" point source coaxial drivers, sounded far better than their $700 a pair price would suggest.
The Mag-Lev turntable is truly unique; its platter spins suspended in mid-air while the record plays. Using a patented motorless magnetic coil drive, It comes equipped with an Ortofon OM10 cartridge for $2900. The manufacturer claims no special advantage to the device other than it it "visually enhances the experience of listening to vinyl records by levitating the platter."
Madisound, a seller of speaker building parts and kits was featuring the late Siegfried Linkwitz's LXmini. Rather than selling loudspeakers, Linkwitz sold the plans to his designs. A kit for the two way bi-amp'ed speaker pair, consisting of Seas 6" woofers and 4" full range drivers, digital crossover, stuffing, and all special parts costs $530 plus $105 for the plans. PVC piping, a rubber coupler a few miscellaneous parts and a bit of elbow grease are required to complete the system.
Normally, I don't bother visiting exhibits featuring loudspeakers that are much too big for my living room, or for that matter, my bank account. Nevertheless, I accepted an invitation to audition the Bayz Counterpoint speakers and meet with its inventor, Zoltan Bayz. I did so for three reasons. First, the speaker is new and certainly different. Second, it's omni-directional.
My first stereo speakers were omnis, Hegeman Pros. I've always admired omnis from Stu Hegemen, Dick Shahinian, Ohm Acoustics and German Physics. Finally, the speaker's photos seemed so strange that I had to see and hear them for myself. After listening, I must admit they sounded very good. The speakers disappeared creating a stable image throughout the room. Mr. Bayz described his patented cylindrical radiator, whose diameter increases and decreases to create sound. He explained that the two woofers, one firing up and the other down, stabilize the lightweight carbon fiber enclosure. If I had a spare $95,000 and a much larger apartment, I'd love to own them.
A growing trend in audio is Plug and Play audio systems, designed as a whole using digital signal processing, lacking only a source. Originally thought of as lifestyle products, they are being taken seriously by audiophiles. KEF was showing their $2200 LS50-W powered speakers along with their new more compact $1100 LSX speakers. The $20,000 Kii 3 was demonstrated with their new $20,000 subwoofers.
Joining these established product lines are two well-known names, Voxativ and Gayle Sanders. Voxativ offers a choice of three single driver based speakers paired with dedicated smartphone controlled Absolut DSP amplifier boxes having SP/DIF, TosLink and streaming DAC inputs. Prices start at $7900 for the bookshelf Hagen system. Gayle Sanders, the founder of Martin Logan was demonstrating his new $25,000 EIKON system. This three box system includes room optimization software and is controllable with IOS and Android devices.
Their DAC / Preamplifier / Processor has single-ended RCA and balanced XLR analog inputs as well as digital SP/DIF, TosLink and USB inputs. It connects via a 20' pair of four channel XLR balanced input cables to the powered speakers containing two opposing 8" woofers with a 5" midrange and an AMT tweeter, with each driver having its own 100 Watt amplifier.
One trend I have noticed, that I don't like, is the lack of CD players in demo rooms. Using computer based music servers is good, saving exhibitors a lot of hassle while making demos easier to conduct. Failure to include a CD player often prevents visitors from auditioning components with recordings they know. I suspect that some exhibitors fear someone will play something either unfavorable to their product, or so obnoxious as to drive visitors from their room. For the most part, though, I think this is not the case and is just an oversight that will be corrected in future shows.
The last trend is perhaps the best. Overall, the sound in audio shows has been constantly improving. This is no small feat considering the hotel rooms they are being held in. Although some rooms had problems, I don't recall entering any that was so bad that I had to leave.
Finally, I was particularly impressed by the sound quality of low priced equipment which keeps getting better every year. Needless to say, now that I have recovered from AXPONA 2019, am making plans to see what's new at RMAF 2019 this coming fall season.