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📜 Feature AXPONA 2023 'Lite' Show Report

Feature article
Due to scheduling conflicts and other issues (including departing on the next road rally in less than two weeks), I was only able to attend the AXPONA show in Schaumburg, IL for two half days, arriving at the Renaissance Schaumburg on Saturday around 1:45pm and leaving Sunday at 2:45pm.

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My colleagues informed me that the show had been very busy at times, with up 30 people lined up outside of the room to hear their demo system. The entire show was well-attended by visitors, but I noticed some exhibitors from past shows were not in attendance. Morrow Audio (cables), SweetVinyl (vinyl noise reduction), Eikon Audio (speakers), and The Audio Company (retailer from suburban Atlanta) which were show favorites in past years were nowhere to be found.

On the plus side, the show has grown and is likely the largest show in the US, and among the top shows in the world, in terms of the number of rooms. Thankfully, one of our other contributors was covering a lot of the equipment, and our editor was able to get away every so often to see a few rooms himself. (He's spent decades in the industry, both in public relations and as a writer/editor, so he has a lot of contacts.) I decided that with my limited available time, I would do a more low-key approach to the show and cover only the items in the "marketplace," which amounted to such items as record cleaning and isolation devices, as well as room treatments, and more vinyl than the average person can afford. (Spoiler--Acoustic Sounds had a limited run reissue of the 45 RPM set of the complete Riverside recordings of the Bill Evans Trio, and it sold out quickly...at $900 a pop. 😮)

Here are a few highlights that might be of interest to our A&M Corner visitors.

If you've ever wired up a system that uses banana plugs, and especially if have had to wire up a home theater receiver with dozens of speaker connections, this product, Speaker Snaps, offers a quick way to put banana plugs on your bare wires. You strip the end of your cable, flip open the yellow lever, insert the wire, and clamp the yellow wire down again. Done! No soldering, or messing with tiny screws that loosen up over time. Speaker Snaps also fit very snugly into banana jacks, so they will not loosen and cause a weak connection.


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There was a plethora of record cleaning systems, from dozens of dollars up to well over a thousand for cavitation-based (ultrasonic) systems. For those who remember the omnipresent Discwasher from the 1970s, GrooveWasher has a similar product available, compete with a stylus cleaner and cleaning fluids. Their pads use microfiber covering, as opposed to the directional fibers used in the Discwasher.


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For anyone into vintage audio who's looking to buy a refurbished receiver, the Just Audio company had an eye-catching rack of vintage receivers and other equipment, fully refurbished and ready for sale. The Marantz 2216 (second from top) was listed for $999, which seems expensive until you realize that in 1977 this receiver cost $240 new, and in today's dollars, that works out to $1,160.


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I had expected more shelving to be represented, but thankfully Butcher Block Acoustics made their annual appearance, and I gave them a closer inspection this time since I may go for a better rack towards the end of the year. I already own a 3-inch maple block they produced, which is used for turntable isolation. Their products are made in Pennsylvania (they're a subdivision of a company that makes butcher block for home and commercial kitchens, along with other wood products), and the fit and finish of their products is superb. Their audio products include various component shelving, isolation blocks, amplifier and speaker stands, and a unique turntable isolation block with a dust cover, for those turntables that do not include one.


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One of my favorite products are the absorption/diffusion panels from GIK Acoustics. I have a pair of their 2x2 2-inch absorber/diffusers behind my speakers. They offer various items for home audio and home theater, as well as studio use.


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Record vendors were in abundance, and the usual suspects appeared--Acoustic Sounds (Analogue Productions), Music Direct, Elusive Disc (more on them below), and Direct Audio.


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Music Direct started out selling audiophile accessories. They grew into selling audiophile equipment (they have items for all budgets) and, when the label was having financial difficulties, they purchased Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs. In the past few years, they have begun selling their own line of components, starting with turntables. Very recently, they lured both Andrew Jones (renowned speaker designer) and Peter Madnick (electronics designer) into their fold. I didn't catch a picture of the new Andrew Jones speakers, but did get a photo of some of their turntables.


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Below are a couple of random setups at the show. My "home base" was in Schaumburg A at the PS Audio room. Paul McGowan was demonstrating the new line of speakers, the FR30 (pictured) and the FR20. The stack in the middle includes (top to bottom) the upcoming Air Lens streamer, BHK preamp, optical disc player (CD/SACD), DirectStream 2 DAC, all sitting atop a PowerPlant power regenerator.



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Angela Cardas, of Cardas Audio, says: "Can't we just have NORMAL MUSIC that people actually listen to at HI-FI SHOWS?" With that in mind, her husband Josh Meredith put together a room at AXPONA that tweaked the noses of attendees. Cardas had their cables in many of the rooms at the show, so they didn't really need a high dollar system to show off. Instead, they offered up a modest system, centered around the JBL L100 speakers (a reissue of one of JBL's most popular speakers, including the orange foam "egg crate" grills). And yes, Josh actually does play the guitar.


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The Cardas room was dubbed the Flashback Lounge and was decorated like a teenager's bedroom. (Although as teens, we hid the booze, before the parents came home. 😁)


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They also found a vintage McIntosh computer (which still boots up and runs!), and like any teen in the 70s and 80s who played the guitar, one often dreamt of having a "Marshall stack" to play through. No room for the genuine article, so a wall banner did the trick.


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Back in more serious territory, I found a room with a Technics SP-1000R. This is basically the rebirth of the SP10 turntable unit, but mounted in a plinth that has the ability to use as many as three attached tonearms. You can see the SP-10R with its control unit to the right; Technics designed it to fit into the same mounting space as the original SP-10s. A Technics integrated amp sits below. The LP was the first Wynton Marsalis classical album.


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Kimber Kable had an interesting setup to demonstrate the differences between their cables. They had two pair of speakers custom built where all the components were matched very tightly. That way, they could switch instantly between two different amplifiers powering each left/right pair for comparison.



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In the demo rooms, CDs were essentially non-existent this year. In the past, there may have been half a dozen players scattered among the rooms but this year, I didn't encounter any. Streaming, either from a server with ripped files or via Qobuz, was the digital playback of choice. And vinyl was the centerpiece of many rooms at the show, as in years past.

Elusive Disc, the vinyl seller I mentioned earlier, has purchased Impex Records, the audiophile reissue label. One of their recent projects was producing a new reissue of the classic Getz/Gilberto album. Yes, I know...it's already had a couple hundred releases already, even a 45 RPM reissue by Analogue Productions. This one ups the ante a bit, as it was produced with the cooperation of the Stan Getz estate, including permission from Getz's widow to use rare photographs and letters she's had in her possession. It will be a 2-LP 45 RPM release using the Impex "one step" process (making stamper parts directly from the lacquer master).

Impex Records representative Abey Fonn put on a presentation featuring Stan Getz's son Nick Getz. It was very interesting to hear first-hand information about the recording of the album. I admit I did a double-take when I walked into the Luxman room and saw Nick sitting there--from the right angle, he's the spitting image of his dad. It was an enjoyable half hour with stories from Nick, and a sampling of the first two cuts from the album, "Girl from Ipanema" and "Doralice."



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I came away from the marketplace relatively unscathed. I never knew that Impex Records had reissued the Brubeck album Time Further Out, so I left there with a copy of it. I also picked up more of the Iso-Acoustics isolation pucks for my components, as I am swapping out the Vibrapods I have been using (they work OK, but they are a bit clumsy to position). Thanks to Saturday Audio for the great sale price on those.

That's a wrap on 2023 AXPONA. Provided the schedule works in my favor next year, I may be able to attend all three days again.
 
Rudy,

Was Mark Levinson in attendance with his new company Daniel Hertz?
I didn't get to too many rooms this year, but just looking over the exhibitor list, I don't see the company listed as attending. With the company being located in Switzerland, I would suspect they make an appearance at the Munich show which is coming up soon. With this economy, some companies are cutting way back on their budgets, and audio shows can be expensive if they don't result in an increase in sales. Some of the manufacturers have switched to a direct-only model, forgoing a dealer network, so a good presentation at an audio show is like gold.

I arrived too late on Saturday to catch a discussion panel with some noted speaker designers such as Richard Vandersteen, Andrew Jones (KEF, TAD, Pioneer, ELAC, Mobile Fidelity), Chris Brunhaver (PS Audio), and a couple others. I also missed a good seminar from Music Direct (presented by Bes Nievera) about how to get into audio without breaking the bank.
 
Very enjoyable report Rudy and very impressive despite the limited time available to you you really made the most and best of it I imagine the Nick Getz part was worth the trip alone.
 
Hearing Nick Getz's presentation was a highlight of the trip for sure.

The more I'm reading other show reports, the more I realize that I missed. And I think one of my Chicago pals mentioned that Bob James was in one of the rooms...? I would have gone to see that as well, had I known.
 
Mike at The In Groove (a record store in Phoenix) also attended AXPONA and took a video of one of the Nick Getz presentations. The other presenter is Abey Fonn of Impex Records.

 
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