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AXPONA 2019 Show Report By Enjoy the Music.com

AXPONA Ear Gear Expo 2019 Show Report
Hi-Fi headgear blows through the Windy City.
AXPONA 2019 Show Report By Dave Hanson




Displaying via the HeadAmp table, Stax new flagship SR-009S ($4,325) was far and away the best headphone at the show. This electrostatic headphone is an evolution of the longtime flagship SR-009, which I've always found to be just a bit on the bright side for my tastes. The new SR-009S is just ever so slightly warmer through the bass and mids and a little less bright up top. And the result, in my opinion, is sheer perfection.



To my ears the change results in a signature that is almost perfectly neutral, but never dry or boring. Listening through HeadAmp's Blue Hawaii ($5,999), I felt like I was hearing the best versions of my favorite tracks on the SR-009S, and I would have been more than happy to camp out there for the entire show.



Also at the HeadAmp table was the much anticipated GSX Mini ($1,795). Preorders have been through the roof on this new amplifier, and there was pretty much always someone demo'ing it whenever I looked its way all weekend.



It's easy to see the appeal. The GSX mini is quiet enough, yet powerful enough to drive absolutely anything you throw at it. The sound is just slightly warmer than the full size GSX MkII, which I've always found to be a little unforgiving unless it is paired with warm headphones. The GSX Mini is more universally likeable and usable in that regard, bringing out the best in bright and dark headphones alike. I especially enjoy it with the HiFiMAN Susvara, which benefits from its power, expansive staging, speed and neutral accuracy.



Just one table over, MrSpeakers had a buffet of goodies, headlined by two new sets of earpads for their planar magnetic flagship, Ether 2 ($1,999). The pads (both $89.99) allow the listener to fine tune the Ether 2's sound for their sonic preferences, and the effect was very noticeable and very positive. I actually preferred the sound of both replacement pads over stock.



The Perforated Pads offer a gentle V-shape to the sound signature, giving the Ether 2 a little more sense of excitement, especially for rock, metal and EDM. There is a little bit of shimmer with these pads that makes them especially great for vocals. The earholes on the perforated pads are also a little bit larger, which folks with bigger ears will definitely appreciate.

The Suede Pads offer the most gentle and relaxed tone of any of the pads. They are smoother at louder volumes for those who like to turn it up, and have extremely linear treble which lends itself to unbelievable cymbal delivery. Both pads attach with a specially engineered adhesive that has been tested to attach and detach 100 times without losing its grip, and using an adhesive-based fastening system adds no additional weight to the ultra-light Ether 2.



Bang & Olufsen
Tucked alongside the excellent noise cancelling headphones from NAD and PSB (which we've covered in a number of show reports) was the B&O Beoplay H9i ($499). These headphones are quite popular, and I've never had a chance to hear them, prior to this show. I sat down for a good long listening session, and I can see now why so many people like them.



The Beoplay H9i had good noise cancelling and a great all-around sound signature that worked with anything I threw at it. It had super punchy bass, with lots of subbass kick and rumble. A very exciting, high energy sound - very good with hip hop, EDM and metal. It had a smaller stage overall, but decent sense of layering for a closed anc headphone. I actually really liked this one, though $499 is a little steep. I think if you can grab it around $350 or so, it's really going to be a steal.



One company that always deserves more buzz, in my opinion is Cleer. They were on hand at the AXPONA with their flagship NEXT ($699) and their wireless noise cancelling headphone FLOW ($279).



I demo'ed FLOW and found it had great noise cancellation and pretty impressive staging for a wireless ANC headphone. Compared to the popular Sony WH-1000X Mk3, the FLOW had better sound balance and tighter bass. It had good tone and wasn't harsh. The sound wasn't perfect, but it smashed its $279 price point for sure, probably landing somewhere between the Sony ($399) and the B&O H9i ($499) in terms of sound. The pads were a little uncomfortable however, hopefully they can address that in the FLOW Mk2 later this year.

The flagship NEXT is a fabulous all-rounder, that is a killer bang for buck value at $699. The headphone is comfortable, very well built and aesthetically pleasing. The sound is punchy and dynamic with explosive bass, musical mids and very nice treble. I'm not sure why more people aren't falling all over themselves to get their hands on these (though it's still fairly new), but the sonics definitely deliver.



Straight across the aisle from Cleer was earpad extraordinaire Dekoni Audio. This is always a fun table, as they always have a ton of stuff to try and their earpads nearly always lead to improvements on popular headphones in terms of both sonics and comfort.



I snagged some replacement pads for my own Sony WH-1000X Mk3, knowing I had some travel coming up, and the Suede Pads we an absolute game changer for me.

The folks at Dekoni have some interesting things in the works, and are currently experimenting with some Stax pads to see how they can improve on the design. Pads have a huge impact on the sound of a headphone, and while it's just one step in the process for many manufacturers, for Dekoni, it's their primary focus.



Chicago hometown heroes ZMF are always a huge draw at AXPONA 2019. After launching their new flagship Vérité and Aeolus at the end of 2018, ZMF has announced limited edition runs of both headphones: Vérité Zircote ($2,699) and Aeolus Bubinga ($1,499), along with a run of Camphor Burl cups for Atticus ($1,399) and Eikon ($1,599).



This new run of limited woods may very well be the best looking ZMFs ever produced, and the sonic properties of all the woods are absolutely stunning. The Vérité Zircote has a little bit of additional punch and speed compared to the one I reviewed, due to the hard and dense wood.

One configuration I also really liked was the Bubinga Aeolus paired with the new ZMF Suede Pads ($49.99). The Suede Pads make the Aeolus almost perfectly neutral, save for a very slightly relaxed upper midrange. The Aeolus and Atticus driver has a naturally sweet, mid-centric tonality. Hearing a neutral take on the usually warm and bassy Atticus / Aeolus sound is a fascinating twist on these ultra-popular headphones.



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