AXPONA 2019 Show Report -- Audio Expo North America
AXPONA 2019: Monstrous Fun in the Windy City
What an AMAZING show! GAWD, how can I even begin to describe or define it! This was one of, if not the, best sounding show I've had the pleasure of attending in years. And don't ask me why; they are the same rooms with the same dimensions and furnishings as last year, but, almost universally good sounding results were the norm this year.
Let's look at some numbers. According to AXPONA Vice President and Event Director, Liz Miller, who always manages to have time for the members of the press, this show is still growing! This was only the second year that the Audio eXPO North America called the Schaumberg Renaissance Convention Center its home. And even though the growth last year was significant (over 20%) Liz explained that, having sold 9354 tickets this year, they marked yet another 15% growth! With over 100 members of the media in attendance, this year saw the addition of 22 more active listening rooms over last year, bringing the total number of exhibitor rooms to just 3 shy of 200! It is no small consideration that AXPONA has become the largest, most successful, and the most significant show in North America.
The industry has quickly, and clearly, adapted and accepted this new-found preeminence. The proof can be found in the massive increase of product introductions seen this year, as they numbered literally in the hundreds, most of which would have otherwise been withheld for next month's European colossal event, High End 2019 show Munich.
It was utterly amazing, and, at the same time, it was nearly infinitely frustrating. It can be a double-edged sword. Let me explain...
Any show as big as this means you can see, and get a fairly indicative sonic taste of, just about any product you'd want to audition. Everyone was here... from Audio-Technica and Aurender to Zanden and Zu Audio! But by the same token, everyone was here!
When you've been trudging show hallways as long as I have, the manifest challenge is enormous. For instance, each floor of the Renaissance, from 3 through 6 has, forty rooms, with twenty-three of those forty housing exhibits. This is not counting the additional rooms on floors 7, 12, 14, 15, and 16, the dozens of larger rooms on the first and second floors of the Hotel and Convention Center, or the Expo Hall!
But the time it takes to travel from one room to another just three or four rooms down the hall may take ten minutes on average. Why so long? Because you encounter at least three or more people you haven't spoken with since your last show during that walk. These inevitable hallway conversations take several minutes, even under the best and briefest of circumstances.
But the real challenge is leaving a room and heading off for lunch or to somewhere else further away, such as the Expo Hall. That walk takes over thirty minutes because when covering that much distance, you're bound to have a dozen or more of these impromptu stopovers! Don't get me wrong – this is not a complaint. Quite honestly, while I love getting to see and hear all the swell and shiny new toys, the real delight of attending is having the opportunity to see so many of my industry friends and colleagues whom I only see at such events. But it is a factor in how effectively you can navigate the venue in a timely and effective manner!
My initial strategy was to cover the ground floor of the hotel and the massive Expo Hall, including the Record Fair and Ear Gear Expo. The Ear Gear Expo would be quick for me, as I'm really not much into headphones or personal audio. Next, I would move on to the Second Floor's grand rooms. From there, I would start on floor 16 and work my way down, floor by floor, until I got to three. Sounds like a solid plan, right? However, when I assessed my progress at lunch on Saturday, I was still on 14. At that point, I adapted my plan, for fear of simply never making it to the lower floors.
Shortly after lunch I finished up on floor 14, took an elevator down, and started on 3. Even so, I sadly never got to floors 6, 7 or 12. Forgive me my failings. Actually, I say we should lay blame at the feet of JD Events for organizing such a monstrous, and monstrously successful, show. Further, I want to spread the blame around to all my hundreds of industry colleagues and friends who slowed me down and shared time with me. ? On the upside, there were three other members of the Enjoy the Music team on hand, so be sure to check back and enjoy everyone's coverage!
Finally, a serious note to the organizers of this wonderful, juggernaut of an event. When I learned that exhibitors were granted only one day to load in and set up, that doors were not opened to any manufacturer I spoke with until 8AM Thursday, I was as surprised as those exhibitors were shocked and exhausted. Trying to unload trucks, move all the crates and boxes into your exhibit space, unpack, assemble, treat the room, set up, dial in, and have any real settle time in just over 24 hours is, well, it just isn't feasible. The single largest complaint I heard this year was the lack of set up time afforded to exhibitors. It is my hope that AXPONA management will rethink this matter and provide adequate time for exhibitors to load in and get the best from their expensive investment going forward. These shows represent a massive investment for these dealers and exhibitors, and it would be wonderful if they were allowed enough time to try to maximize their return on that investment.
I've categorized the rooms that made my report into three basic categories; Good, Better, and Best. Beyond that, you should not infer any further ranking. Now, let's go listen to some music, shall we?
Sourced using a Mac Mini feeding their DirectStream DAC ($5,999), electronics included their BHK Signature Preamplifier ($5,999) feeding a pair of their BHK Signature monoblocks ($7,499/ea.). Power conditioning was managed with a pair of their new P20 PowerPlant Regenerators ($9,999/ea.), and one P15 ($7,499), using all PS Audio AC Series cables. While I did get back for a brief listen during show hours, it was my session late Thursday afternoon, before the Show-Opening Industry mixer sponsored by Enjoy the Music, with Bill and Paul that left me with a very favorable impression of this almost-ready-for-prime-time speaker. Listening to a 16-bit/44kHz FLAC rip of the Dave Brubeck warhorse Time Out, I was quite taken by the remarkable degree of clarity and resolution this system revealed. And its prowess down deep, all the way up through the power range, was uncompromisingly solid and detailed.
Inspiration - Prima Luna-Golden Ear
The EVO 400 Integrated amplifier uses a pair of EL34's developing 70 Watts stereo (8 Ohm, 1% THD) in Ultralinear mode, or 38 Watts stereo (8 Ohm, 1% THD) in Triode mode, with 5 single ended inputs and a headphone output. The EVO 400 Power Amplifier delivers the same power as the Integrated in stereo, but 140 Watts (8 Ohm, 1% THD) mono in Ultralinear, and 82 Watts (8 Ohm, 1% THD) mono in Triode mode.
The EVO 100 DAC is said to introduce the world's first tube-based data clocking device, which PrimaLuna calls the SuperTubeClock, incorporating a low-noise mini-triode vacuum tube into the digital clock. Kevin claims that this rather bold design provides clearly superior resolution, improved clarity, increased definition and detail retrieval from top to bottom.
Never one to be outdone, industry super-star Sandy Gross, who has co-founded three legendary audio companies now, including Polk Audio, Definitive Technology, and GoldenEar Technology, was on hand with Kevin and Anthony, showing a slimmed-down version of his GoldenEar Technology Triton Reference, the Triton One.R ($6,000). The One.R uses a High Velocity Folded Ribbon (HVFR) tweeter, two 5.25" midbass drivers, and three 5" x 9" long-throw subwoofers. Its built-in subwoofer section is powered by a 1,600-Watt GoldenEar digital amplifier that includes a 56-bit DSP engine. The amp drives three newly designed "racetrack" shaped active subwoofer drivers with huge magnet structures, coupled to two side-mounted 7" x 10" "quadratic planar infrasonic" bass radiators, one on each side of the enclosure, extending low frequency response to below 20 Hz!
This system was highly engaging and musical, especially when you consider that it was all well under $20,000. With remarkable dynamic contrasts, articulate and resolute midrange, and shimmering, airy upper registers, this system represented some of the biggest bang for the buck shown at this event.
1421 - Eikon Audio
Improvements I noted here included considerably more extended, more coherent bass, (I was informed by Gayle and company that they had added an additional 10 Hz extension to the previous lowest attainable frequency) and a level of refinement to resolution and transparency that I would not have though manageable in light of what I heard in Denver.
Once again, displaying in an imperfect section of a not-so-great sounding hotel room, with the Image1's just inches from the back wall, the overall presentation was remarkable. I was really stunned by how effectively the Image1's native room correction masked the hotel room's acoustic interaction with the recordings being played, all with none of the telltale "artifacts" I often note when third-party room correction applications are engaged. The spaciousness, the openness, and the overall neutrality were exceptional. Even with the Image1 placed so proximate to the walls, the hotel room's actual walls and miniscule dimensions seemed to dissolve away, replaced by the space captured on the recording!
Bass in that small room was tight and articulate, with excellent pitch definition and substantial weight and body. Mids were finely detailed, yet conveyed with exceptional bloom and vivid tone color. And the sense of air and space in the upper registers was undeniable. The added weight and power of the bass improvements, and the enhanced clarity I noted make this one of the most exciting and interesting produces of its type. Job well done, Gayle and the Eikon Team.