AXPONA 2018 EarGear Expo Show Report
AXPONA's Ear Gear Expo is an interesting marriage of gear from two different markets: pro audio and audiophile hi-fi. While some industry stalwarts like Sennheiser and Audeze are familiar to both groups, there are also several companies that cater exclusively to one or the other. So a mega show like AXPONA is a great opportunity to get a look at a truly broad spectrum of gear.
Having travelled out to CanJam SoCal 2018 the week prior, I was genuinely stunned that AXPONAhad a vastly different collection of products and manufacturers on hand. So what products stood out? Let's take a look.
I found myself particularly drawn to the hard rocking and impactful sounds of the U12t ($1,999) and tia Trió ($2,299). Both had a hard-hitting low end and ultra clear treble, but slightly different midrange presentations. The U12t's midrange was rich and smooth with a big full body, while the tia Trió's mids were sparkly and full of joyous energy. And of course the flagship tia Fourté always impresses with its incredible combination of spaciousness and dynamism.
Along with the IEMs, Acoustic Research was showing their nice lineup of DAPs, including their newest addition, the AR-M200 ($399). While the interface of the AR-M200 is a bit "old school", after talking to the folks at AR I realized that the M200 is intended more as a balanced Bluetooth amp/DAC than anything. Employing aptX HD and a 4.4mm Pentaconn balanced output, I found the sound in Bluetooth mode was absolutely stunning. I would be interested to compare this one against another great Bluetooth amp/DAC that just hit the market, the iFi xDSD (also $399) – they both make a very compelling argument for aptX Bluetooth as an increasingly viable substitute for a hardwired connection to the source.
Mobius offers 3D sound and room emulation, complete with head tracking – a formidable and well-implemented combo that does a pretty good job of fooling the brain into thinking the sounds are coming from far outside the headphone. 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound cues in the demo were very good, and combined with Audeze's legendary planar bass, it made for a truly immersive experience. Audeze has been taking preorders via an Indiegogo campaign, and Mobius will hit shelves for real this summer.
Alongside Mobius, Audeze had a couple of other relatively new products, including the LCD-4Z ($3,995). The LCD-4Z is a new variant of the flagship LCD-4, with a lower impedance (15 versus 200 Ohms) and a lightweight magnesium housing, addressing the two biggest complaints about the LCD-4, weight and drivability. The sound is certainly very similar, I'd need to spend some more time with them in a quiet environment to pick up any little differences. What I can tell you though, is that like it's harder-to-drive sibling, the sound of the LCD-4Z is absolutely sublime.