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AXPONA 2023 Luxury Premium Audio And Hi-Fi Stereo Audiophile Show Report By Enjoy the Music.com

The AXPONA 2023 Chronicles: Introduction
A mix of both younger and older attendees... plus a Chicago riot.
Audio Expo North America 2023 Show Report By Rick Becker

 

The AXPONA 2023 Chronicles: Introduction Audio Expo North America 2023 Show Report By Rick Becker

 

  "Three grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for."

-- Joseph Addison, British essayist, poet, playwright, and politician (1672 1719)

 

 

Joseph Addison lived far earlier than our era of recorded music, yet the value of his wisdom has trickled down and sheds light on our pursuit of luxurious premium high-end audio as individuals as well as societally.

 

It wasn't until I arrived home after the show and discovered that "Hundreds of teenagers stormed the streets of downtown Chicago, smashing car windows, attacking bystanders, and sending panicked tourists running from the sound of gunfire" (Fox News). Was this just a typical Saturday night in Chicago?  "Hundreds of police officers assisted by SWAT teams descended on downtown in an attempt to restore order as gunfire was reported multiple times amid the unfolding scene" (Fox News, again). Or is this "teen takeover" further evidence of the failure of unbridled Capitalism?

 

 

As I look back on AXPONA, multiple themes emerge from the conflation of Addison's quote, the Saturday night "teen takeover" in downtown Chicago, and the audio show itself at the Renaissance Conference Center in the wealthy suburb of Schaumburg. Society, and civilization on a broader scale, are complex subjects. Overlays of Covid and the war in Ukraine add significant complexity. There were a noticeable number of attendees who continued to mask up, mostly older folks who showed signs of additional health risks. And I found myself reluctant to patronize products dependent upon Russian-made vacuum tubes, though I'm well aware of the international interdependence on materials and solid-state components. Regardless, there is a particular world outlaw into whom I would gleefully insert a KT 150 and encourage it to implode if I could get away with it. Likeminded individuals in the Western world are legion.

Doom and gloom aside, AXPONA was a huge success this year with 200 rooms listed in the show directory, plus the Ear Gear Experience and the Expo Hall, each with a multitude of vendors. The hotel listening rooms were frequently packed, the halls were streaming with people, and the wait for elevators was frequently an opportunity for a moment of serene self-reflection.

The mix of people seemed skewed both younger and older than in recent years. Perhaps this was due to younger guys getting involved in audio during the isolation of Covid, as well as older guys who maybe feared the lingering death threat of Covid, finally deciding to get back into the fray while they still have a few years left. And though the number of women attending was not huge, there was a definite uptick in their presence.

Still, regardless of the casual t-shirts and torn jeans, these were all people with money and aspiration. While many of the people in the halls were Press or other Industry Insiders for whom audio shows are part of Addison's "something to do" formula for life, most others were not. For them, audio gear and music are a "something to love" affair in a materialistic or experiential way. And given the creative drive of manufacturers to produce ever more musical components (or complete systems in many cases), there was no shortage of "something to hope for," whether that meant waiting for a component to appear on the used equipment market, or waiting for a career advance or in some cases, a significant lottery win.

 

And anyone can fill his life up
With things he can see but he just cannot touch
-- Bob Dylan, "Dear Landlord", 1967

 

Thinking about the teen takeover again, or any of the "smash and grab" thefts that occur daily across the country, it is easy to see there is an aspirational gap in our country that has swelled as the wealth has not "trickled up" to the uppermost class, but rather gushed upward during the short lifetimes of Generation Z. Sure, we have powerful cell phones, magnificent TVs, and incredible audio gear that far outpace the standards back in the mid-1900s, but food quality, health care, housing, education, and meaningful employment or career advancement have been a mixed bag for much of the middle class, not to mention the poor. There has been a major suck out of opportunity and a feeling that it is impossible to get ahead for many people and not just the youth.

On Maslow's hierarchy of needs, an audio system would likely be considered an expendable luxury, except for a cell phone with earbuds, which is culturally deemed a necessity. And if the NRA had its way, we would all have an arsenal instead of an audio system. I like to think the country (and the world) would be a better place if we spent more time and money on music than we do on guns and ammunition.

The Boomers had a much broader field of opportunity when they were young adults. They were not the originators of the high-end, but they are certainly the backbone of the premium audio industry today and the largest constituent of its consumers. Whether we Boomers continue to spend on luxurious audio gear until we die off or age out of the hobby like Harley-Davidson riders, remains to be seen. At AXPONA, there was no shortage of exotic components that could seriously challenge the retirement funds of all but the wealthiest audiophiles. I'm grateful for being among the privileged few who can partake in this hobby.

 

 

I rolled into the Renaissance Thursday afternoon in time to register and attend the first of two private listening sessions for the Press. I've been a big fan of Vitus Audio from Denmark since day one. And the same can be said of Estelon speakers not just for their outstanding sound quality, but also for their artistic design. That the small country of Estonia has been such a staunch NATO contributor and supporter of Ukraine has also earned my heartfelt respect. The room here, set up in conjunction with The Audio Experience of nearby Palatine, IL was in Schaumburg D, around the corner to the right of the Registration Desk on the First Floor.

 

 

To call the Estelon Extreme Mk II stunning is an understatement. It is as much a work of art as it is a technological tour de force. The dark part of the speaker, from the top down to about 18" above the floor is a motorized unit containing the tweeter, midrange driver, and woofer in ascending order. The unit itself is motorized to ride up and down the lighter-colored part of the speaker which contains two more woofers, identical to the top one. The speaker is dialed-in to the listening position by finely sliding the dark module up and down with a remote control. This allows for accommodating different listening distances from the speaker as well as perfecting phase and time alignment.

 

 

Around the back, the Estelon is bi-wired with Crystal Cable daVinci speaker cables from their Art Series. Gabi Rynveld of Crystal Cable was in attendance, but I didn't chance to talk with her. We had been introduced many years ago by a mutual friend in Montreal, but I'm sure she wouldn't have remembered me. The black generic cable is the power cable for the speaker's motor and the thin black wire is for the multiple floor lights illuminating the speaker.

 

 

The other end of the speaker cables was connected to the Vitus Audio MP-S201 Masterpiece Series Stereo Power Amplifiers (configured as mono for this demonstration). Notice the three Crystal Cable  AC power cords across the upper business side of the amplifier. Statement pieces frequently come with a high degree of complexity.

 

 

 

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