18. April 2024 · Comments Off on AXPONA 2024 Report Part 1 · Categories: Hifi News, Hifi Shows, Industry Insider · Tags: , , , , , ,

AXPONA 2024 REPORT PART 1

HiFi PiG AXPONA 2024 Report Part 1

HiFi PiG’s Lin and Stu visit the AXPONA 2024 HiFi Show at the Renaissance Schaumburg Hotel, near Chicago in the USA…enjoy the HiFi PiG AXPONA 2024 Report Part 1.

A WORD FROM THE AXPONA 2024 ORGANISERS

AXPONA 2024 welcomed 10,391 attendees, coming from 42 states and 31 countries to the Renaissance Schaumburg Hotel & Convention Center over the weekend of April 12th -14th 2024. This was a 14% increase over 2023 and marked its biggest show yet. AXPONA offered music lovers three jam-packed days of spectacular sound, technology, seminars, live music, and the very latest products in the industry.

“The audience growth we experienced at AXPONA 2024 was driven by thousands of first-time visitors to the show, many travelling great distances to attend. We recognize the importance of building awareness of this hobby and industry to music lovers of all ages and backgrounds, so this year we worked on multiple programs to support this mission,” said Liz Smith, AXPONA’s Show Director. “This year our Gen Z pass doubled.  It was exciting to see so many attendees ages 15 – 26 discovering the world of high-performance audio.”

AXPONA featured 202 dedicated Listening Rooms (on 12 floors) crafted by the best in the business, including 600 global manufacturers, retailers, distributors, and brands. The bustling Ear Gear Experience encompassed everything for personal audio, from headphones and electronics to accessories and cables.  Rounding out the show was the Expo Hall, which is home to the Record Fair, showcasing a vast array of turntables, cables, accessories, racks, stands, tonearms, cartridges, and new and vintage Vinyl.

“Our exhibitors were joined by dealers, distributors, manufacturers, and press from over 50 countries,” said Smith. “We are proud to be the annual B2B gathering of the high-end audio industry in North America and we look forward to welcoming everyone back next year.”

Live Concerts nightly at AXPONA are always a big hit. On Friday night, AXPONA welcomed Bobby Broom to a packed and energetic crowd. Saturday night’s concert featured The Secret Sisters, the singing and songwriting duo that wowed the full house.

AXPONA returns April 11th to 13th 2025.

First of all thanks to Mark freed and his amazing team, especially Liz and Deanna, for putting on what is surely one of the very best audio shows in thew world right now. Also massive thanks to our AXPONA 2024 show coverage sponsor, British HiFi brand PMC, who were represented at the show by their USA distributor, Playback Distribution.

There’s going to be a whole lot of photographs from AXPONA 2024 and not a whole load of words…we know what you want. However, we are going to highlight some of the “wow!” rooms that we were lucky enough to experienced at the event. Of course, we aren’t going to be writing reviews of kit we got to listen to, but we will try to give you a bit of a flavour of what we heard.  

AXPONA is a huge event and there’s a lot to get through so buckle yourself in and enjoy the ride. However, it is such a huge show that we are going to split it into two parts. The first part will be the halls where head-fi, record stalls, and other “ancillary” kit was being displayed, and the larger ballrooms and spaces where big systems had been set up. The second part of our report will focus on the bedrooms where there were dozens upon dozens of rooms set up with kit. 

We few in from New York on the Thursday afternoon, got into the hotel room, changed and headed straight down the the “mixer” event that I personally think is a fantastic idea where you can have a bite to eat, a few drinks and meet up with friends old and new and enjoy some of the live music. It’s a perfect way to start the weekend and puts everyone in a party (and business) frame of mind. What I particularly enjoyed about this event was seeing so many of the European (I’m counting the UK as Europe too) HiFi contingent as well as the guys from HiFi Plus. 

AUDIO GROUP DENMARK

The show starts at 10 each morning, but still being horrifically jet-lagged we were up bright and early, if not wholly bushy tailed and spent the three or so hours before the doors opened having breakfast (many thanks to the hotel staff who are all totally wonderful, and made up for our lack of bushy tailedness with excellent service and broad smiles all round!) and generally finding our bearings before heading to Audio Group Denmark at 8:30 for a press event and the launch of the brand’s new and excellent sounding $16K C1 loudspeakers. The event was hosted by Lars Kristensen, Michael Børresen and their North American distributors Next Level HiFi who we must also thank for their wonderful hospitality on Saturday night. 

axpona 2024 report
Meeting up with HiFi PiG reader Ron, Pete and Tom from HiFi Plus and Audio Group Denmark fans, Charles and Walter, in the bar

The C1 is a really interesting loudspeaker that has more of bit of an air of the Børresen M1, though at a fraction of the cost. I really do look forward to reviewing this speaker in due course and we were really chuffed to meet up with our friends we met at last year’s AXPONA, Charles and Walter (happy birthday, mate) in the bar later in the weekend. Walter owns Audio Group Denmark from snout to tail and currently has the Børresen M3s but is considering the M6s…I’m hoping he might adopt me in due course! Anyway, the C1 came across as tight and very monitor-like, though I did find it very interesting that Michael Børresen told us that the measurements they use are only a guide and that they rely on extensive listening to create the sound they want – this is something I’ve batted on about before and a philosophy I wholly agree with and a “flat” speaker is not necessarily a good speaker for home use. 

As well as The new C1 loudspeaker from Børresen, Audio Group Denmark was also launching at AXPONA 2024 their new AXXESS cables which being a relatively accessible entry into the brand’s cable systems and which are designed to be partnered with their AXXESS range of electronics, and the new speakers that have been announced as we arrived back to Europe, read more about the new Axxess products here.

RUTHERFORD AUDIO

Rutherford Audio featured Vertere alongside Stratton Acoustics.

This was a big room that was being powered by Acoustic Arts electronics (with an Antipodes streamer) into (at varying times of the day) the Stratton Acoustics 12s (their latest and smaller model) or the Stratton Acoustics 1512s. I’ve spoken about my thoughts on the Stratton Acoustics speakers before and how I really like the brand’s approach to creating a loudspeaker series that not only sounds great, but also one that is designed to become heirloom products. In a (audiophile) world where products are constantly being renewed it’s good to see this philosophy.

Analogue front ends in the Rutherford room were by Acoustic Signature from Germany and Vertere from the UK. The top-of-the-line Vertere table with its associated arm and cartridge is pretty spendy, but the brand’s heritage and sound is undoubtable! Acoustic Signature’s vinyl spinners look “Teutonic” and excellently engineered (we have visited their factory and they are) but still represent a significant investment at this level, though they do have very accessibly priced players too…as do Vertere and it’s great to have lots of options available through one distribution company. 

If this says anything to you, I did go back into this room more than a couple of times despite being pushed for time! 

LUXURY AUDIO GROUP

Luxury Audio Group had Vitus Audio, Estelon, Innuos and Crystal Cable playing in what was a beautifully dressed room – this counts in my opinion when you are asking people to take note of what is a significant purchase for most.

The full kit list in the room was the Estelon Forza speakers in a really beautiful “Violet Night Liquid Gloss”, Vitus Audio Signature Line Stage SL-103, Vistus Audio Signature Mono Amps SM-103, Vitus Audio Signature DAC SD-025, Innuos Statement streamer and Network drive, Crystal Cable Art series Van Gogh cables, whilst all the racks were by NEO. The room treatment was by Ekustik.

We got to listen to some piano in this room which was nice but then played us something more up our street. This is high-end audio done very well with regards to the class of finish, sound, and the room presentation.
Very cool room!

AURALIC AND ESD

The ESD Super Dragon speaker system was showcased first at Munich High-End and it is a really impressive system. The price is, however, out of reach for all but the very, very wealthy – it’s around $4 million I heard mention. It comes with all the amps and horns and was playing AC/DC when we went in the room. I heard comments that this system was too high for the room but I thought it sounded much more impressive here at AXPONA 2024 than it has sounded when I have heard it before.

In front of the ESD speakers and electronics were streaming and DAC electronics from AURALIC and whilst these (relatively) unassuming boxes cost a fraction of the cost of the Chinese behemoths placed behind them it goes to show that AURALIC are certainly able to deliver…and it is why we use their products in one of our systems.

For me, though I know others disagree with me on this point, this was one of the experiences of the show for me with a room fully energised and rocking as AC/DC should!

AUDIO TECHNICA

Now this series of rooms was tucked away a little and you could certainly have missed it. However, what a clever concept – four or five small rooms big enough for one or two punters and a rep where those interested could enjoy a headphone experience in their own time and without feeling rushed to move on.

The big amp you see in the first picture below is the Audio Technica HPA-KG NARU headphone amplifier and it’s a beast of thing. The amp takes its name from the Japanese thunder God Narukami and uses exotic Kurogaki wood that looks exquisite. It uses two pairs of 300B tubes in the driver stage and JJ ECC83S tubes in the amplification stage – it can also be used as a preamplifier. If that whets your appetite for what must surely be the most luxurious headphone amplifier on the planet, the price is a cool $108,000, though, in the other rooms, there was more affordable kit that Audio Technica are renowned for.

T+A

T + A is a German brand that always delivers at shows from both a sound and presentation perspective, and at AXPONA 2024 they didn’t disappoint. They were launching the new T+A Criterion S 230 loudspeakers, with a handy cutaway model so you could see the transmission line inside. they feature trickle down tech from the Solitaire series but at 9,500€ this first model in the new range comes in at well under half the price of the T + A Solitaire S430 Loudspeakers which we reviewed at HiFi PiG Towers.

We love the clean lines of the T+A design, as well as the powerful, controlled sound, good to see them making this available this at an achievable price point.

NORDOST, STENHEIM, VTL, dCS AND VPI

A very impressive-looking room and the Stenheim Reference Ultime Two speakers (distributed in the US by Nexus Audio) are certainly an attractive prospect with the VTL amplification giving them their juice. The turntable is by VPI and if memory serves is a Titan Direct Drive. Cables are all, as the backdrop suggests, Nordost.

GRYPHON AUDIO DESIGN

There was no music playing in this room but Anthony Chiarella was keen to tell us about a new power conditioning device that the Danish brand have just announced. Here is the info from the press release to explain more;

“Gryphon PowerZone introduces a unique way of improving the Audio Power Signal. By sending the power through focused and idealized crystalline conductor structures, PowerZone optimizes the electrons’ vibrational flow and minimizes spurious resonances and the distortions they create. This is achieved with the proprietary Hafner Tech conductor, a Patent-Pending design comprised of adapted crystalline structures that facilitate the vibrational flow of electrons in an undisturbed way. As there is no loss of energy within the conductor, this technology produces no additional noise or heat”, Gryphon told us.

Conceived by Paul Hafner, Founder of Quantum Acoustics SRL, Gryphon PowerZone components utilize a series of Hafner TechTM Conductor Modules which have been purpose-engineered to achieve idealized transmission of the audio power signal, accomplished without any current limiting, filtering or active signal processing. Hafner TechTM Modules are potted in resin to mitigate vibration. The chassis themselves are crafted from Dual Layers whose steel cores are clad in aluminium exteriors, delivering vault-like solidity. PowerZone further benefits from SmartStack technology, a patented compound developed by Denmark’s MENETA Group.

Gryphon PowerZone is available in two models: the PZ3.10 ($14,000 US MSRP) offers eight Furutech AC Sockets and 20-Amp Current Capacity while the PowerZone PZ3.20 ($17,500 US MSRP) offers two independent banks of four outlets each and 40 Amps of Total Current Capacity. PowerZone by Gryphon will be shipping Summer 2024.

QUINTESSENCE AUDIO

Big Wilsons, big D’Agostino amplifiers, and DcS streaming and DAC devices with a Stromtank providing a clean signal in the first Quintessence Audio room was a treat for the eyes and ears. There was power and finesse aplenty and I could have sat here longer than I did.

We are obviously in the realms of seriously high-priced audio in these rooms at AXPONA 2024, but just one look at the kit and you kind of get why folk are willing to spend the price of a decent house on audio gear…and, anyway, why not?

QUINTESSENCE AUDIO – MOON

QUINTESSENCE AUDIO

The final Quintessence Audio room at Axpona was a treat with Sonus faber Aida speakers from the Italian brand’s Reference collection of speakers pushing the air in the room. We’d been lucky enough to go to the McIntosh/Sonus faber house in New York a few days earlier and so we were looking forward to this, and the speakers powered by Boulder Audio monos really did work very well in a well-dressed and very cool but welcoming room. We’ve been lucky enough to visit the Boulder factory back when we visited the last Rocky Mountain Audio Fest and this stuff is meticulously put together and crafted. Yes, it’s spendy but it has design and craftsmanship that folk who can afford it will appreciate.

dCS were also in the room as were Innuos.

BOWERS & WILKINS

These are impressive speakers with Classe amplifiers in front of them and at the last North West Audio Show in the UK many folk thought them to be the sound of the show. However, to my ears, the room was over-excited in the bass at AXPONA 2024 and could have used some toning down or room treatment.

Look, it’s very difficult to work in new rooms and unknown spaces for these companies and so this is not an out-and-out criticism of the room, but I don’t think they made the most of it on this occasion, sadly. Or perhaps we visited when an unsuitable track was playing…who knows?

SATURDAY AUDIO EXCHANGE

A good range from the Lenbrook brands including Bluesound, PSB Speakers and NAD, accessible HiFi and popular with the visitors. The corner set up is not as daft as it looks at a show and can help alleviate some of the “unknown” room’s acoustic issues.

MOFI DISTRIBUTION

I’ve a lot of time for MoFi and they distribute some great brands across the price spectrum including Wharfedale, Masstersound and HiFi Rose…among others. What caught my eye in the MoFi room was a very unassuming bit of kit that I don’t think many others will have known it spotted, though it was clearly placed between a pair of turntables. The Ecler Warm 2 is a rotary DJ mixer that costs less than $1000 and was on my very short list when I was looking for a new mixer. In the end, I didn’t buy it and went for a pricier rotary from another brand built in the same Spanish city of Barcelona. I thought the Ecler worked very well as a preamplifier at this level of kit and allowed for easy and quick comparisons between turntables or pieces of music.

PS AUDIO

PS Audio were in the usual room launching the newest of their aspen loudspeakers, the FR5 Standmount, powered by a highly impressive wall of PS Audio electronics that I sat in front of for much longer than I ought to have. The little speakers don’t have the depth in the bass of their larger siblings the FR30 or FR20s but they do something image-wise that I really enjoy with well-engineered and well-thought-out standmounts and at less than $3500 I thought they offered really good value for money.

LUXMAN AND MAGICO

AXPONA 2024 was the North American debut of the new Luxman NT-07 Network Transport as well as a preview of the Luxman E-07 Phono Amplifier (featured on the cover of the Show Directory) and also the first North American showing of the Luxman C-10X amplifier.

The Prosperity Room system from Luxman and Magico featured the following equipment.

LUXMAN C-10X Control Pre-Amplifier. $19,995

LUXMAN M-10X Mono / Stereo Power Amplifier. $19,995

LUXMAN D-10X SACD Player $16,995

LUXMAN NT-07 Streaming Network Transport: $7,495

LUXMAN PD-191A turntable equipped with newly designed original LTA-710 knife-edge bearing tonearm system, jointly developed with SAEC. $12,495

LUXMAN LMC-5 Cartridge $2,695

LUXMAN E-07 Solid State Reference Phono Equalizer Amplifier. Supports a wide range of cartridges. Full specifications coming soon. Price TBD

Magico S3 2023 loudspeakers and Magico SSUB 2023

Full loom of Audioquest Dragon cables

WORLDWIDE WHOLESALERS

This room featured a system of Aries Cerat with Arya Audio, HornSolutions, Inakustik, Pink Faun and Wellfloat. Aries Cerat is always a firm favourite at Munich and we have heard these speakers previously and been highly impressed by them. Personally, I don’t think they had the same impact on me as they had at Munich, but then we’d listened to a lot of systems by this point and perhaps our ears needed a rest. When these speakers and electronics are in full flow I think they are wonderful…and that design is incredible!

ACORA ACOUSTICS AND VAC

Acora has built a strong reputation with their speakers, as much for their stunning stone finishes as they sound…but the new ‘glowing’ pair with purple touches were just something else. Partnered with VAC amplification, we heard the purple speakers which fit on top of the sub and stand, these were top level, big money systems and the system details are as follows.

The ‘Smaller’ system featured the new Acora GEM-SRB speakers at $55,000 a pair with the ‘as yet to be named’ sub bases at $30k, Vac Master line stage at $30,000 with a pair of VAC 80iQ monos at $10,000 each. Plus the VAC Master 300 iQ Music Bloc at $42,000. Linn Klimax Streamer DAC at $45,000. Cables were Cardas Clear and Beyond Clear.

The other system was the Acora VRC-1 speakers in Sunset Fire….POA for this finish but the base price is $218,000 a pair, VAC amps, Cardas wires SAT Record Player System with Lyra cart and an Aurender source with LampizatOr Posideon DAC and Acora racks brought this one in at over a million US Dollars.

LEGACY AUDIO

FOCAL & NAIM

Pressed for time we only got to spend a few minutes listening to the presentation and tune on the NAIM Statment amps and preamp which was (naturally) partnered with Focal Grande Utopia EM EVO loudspeakers, but it was an exhilarating experience the I and the assembled audience clearly enjoyed. Not only was the sound and system impressive, but the actual set-up and dressing in the room was brilliantly done and you could only have been in a Naim/Focal room.

Again, this massive room with lots of static displays, helpful staff and other systems set up around the room.

WYNN AUDIO

Last year this room really did do it for me and I reckoned it to be the sound of the show, this year it didn’t quite hit the same high spot for me but it was still very impressive. Jean-Marie at Metronome, who had his Kalista CD Player and DAC (both on my final system wish list) playing through Karan amps and Vimberg speakers introduced me to Helmut Thiele who had his TT01 turntable spinning records using the company’s TA01 tonearm – an impressive pair of products that claim “zero tracking error” with the company’s website saying this about the tonearm “The complex kinematics of the Thiele TA01 combines the exact and firm guidance of a pivoted tonearm with the advantages of a linear tracking tonearm. This design enables a guiding of the pickup with a lateral tracking angle error of less than 0,036 degrees. The double wall tonearm-tube is filled with 2 component-gel for optimum damping. The design results in a unique spatial resolution, extreme richness of detail and perfect tonality.” This is impressive engineering! 

Karan amps have been on my radar for a long while now and whilst I’ve never had the opportunity to listen to them at home, I’ have always been very enamoured of them when I have seen and heard them at show.

DYNAUDIO & OCTAVE

The Dynaudio and Octave room was one of the nicest rooms from a staging and dressing perspective and the Confidence 60 speakers are certainly very good speakers when partnered with the (IIRC) MRE 220 SE amplifiers and Jubilee pre from German brand Octave.

JOSEPH AUDIO

Joseph Audio with Cardas cables, Doshi, j.Sikora (and their new 15th anniversary edition turntable) with an Aidas Audio Mammoth Tusk LE cart, and Berkeley Audio Design.

Jeff Joseph gave us a talk through the system and said that his new speakers (Pearl Graphene Ultra) had been 25 years in the making and have the graphene midrange driver introduced a few years ago but now have a pair of Magnesium graphene-coated woofers which are essentially a whole new driver…and new crossover. It is a beautifully integrated design and Jeff is clearly a person who once he changes one part of a design has to (as he says) “go down the rabbit hole” and see what is achievable with new designs and new components. The new speakers are $52K.

The Doshi monos are $45K for the pair and cables in the system are by Cardas. Jeff was keen to tell the audience that he uses Cardas cables in the speakers themselves. The Doshi Audio Linestage was the preamp used with the digital front-end being Aurender.

The cartridge used was from Aidas in Lithuania and uses very exotic materials for its body…the white section of mammoth tusk. Only ten of these will ever be made.

CREDO, EMMLABS AND MEITNER

If we want to get into the whole sound of the show then I think this room hit that spot for me at AXPONA 2024. You can see the brands involved on the backdrop but the Credo Cinema LTM speakers paired with Emm Labs Amps and pre really did it for me with a tight but full sound that I went back to several times during the show. Emm Labs promoted this on their Instagram account as being an unforgettable experience, and it was.

The turntable is a VPI model and cables are by Van den Hul.

C.A.T. AND CLARYSIS

I really do like the Clarysis (Auditorium) speakers a great deal and have heard them a handful of times at different shows. They use a double-sided bass panel, the ribbon midrange starts at 250Hz (-6db) and is a multi-segmented 7-trace design with 42mm width. Clarisys says this is the widest ribbon midrange ever put into a speaker. The three-trace ribbon tweeter starts at 5500Hz (6db) and plays open end. The three-way design has a passive external crossover with components from Jantzen Superior Z, Multicap and custom-built inductors and resistors. They use an external crossover.

The Convergent Audio Technology amplifiers used in this system were The Statement mono amps that between them use 16 x 6550C valves.

The first tune we got to hear on this system was hugely impressive but the next had some kind of top-end sibilance that I didn’t get on with, which I guess was there on the recording and the system just put out what it was fed with.

Clarysis were also demoing their new Clarysis  Piccolo speaker which is as the name suggests a much smaller version of the speaker costing just shy of $20K. Sadly we didn’t get a listen to this.

THE EAR GEAR EXPERIENCE

The Ear Gear Experience is the place to go for all the Head-Fi fans at AXPONA.

Manley Labs had their new Oasis Phonostage, it’s got an all-new chassis with easy-access gain selection on the back panel, it replaces their Chinook model with lots of upgrades. Always cool to see EveAnna Manley too.

iFi had lots of attention for their gear, including their iCan Phantom, which Oscar reviewed recently.

THE EXPO HALL

A huge space packed with crate diggers searching through new and vintage vinyl, stacks of accessories, record cleaners, cables, racks and stands, power products and anything else you could possibly need.

Great to see GIK Acoustics panels well represented along with the UK’s Puritan Audio Labs power products and Keith Monks record cleaners.

We were very taken by the looks and build quality of the Butcher’s Block stands and platforms, well-designed, lovely and stylish furniture.

And of course, Kostas of Metaxas & Sins really stole the show with his range of electronics and speakers including the new Metaxas & Sins Ethereal Electrostatic Headphone System...a real embodiment of quality HiFi that follows its own design path. He was also showing off his new full-range Prinz panel speakers that I am dying to hear as well as his Siren speakers. Stunningly beautiful design that can only be from the mind of Kostas Metaxas.

Now read part two with floors 16 down to 11, here!

And part three floors 7 through 3, here!

Linette and Stuart Smith

Click here for all of our AXPONA 2024 Coverage!

AXPONA 2024 Report Part 2
Axxess L1 And L3 Speakers, Axxess Cable Loom And Axxess Noir Resonance Device

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