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

Best Of AXPONA 2023 Show Report
Rick Becker gives us his Best Of AXPONA 2023 wrap-up report.
Audio Expo North America 2023 Show Report By Rick Becker


Best Of AXPONA 2023 Show Report Rick Becker gives us his Best Of AXPONA 2023 wrap-up report.


  Before I left Schaumburg I popped the lid on the cooler in my car and feasted on the extra wings and hot sauce from dinner the night before. As I headed south on I-290 I got caught in the wrong lane to catch the exit to bypass downtown Chicago. I ended up almost to the Loop where I jumped on I-94 to take me south to Indiana and around Lake Michigan.



It wasn't until I returned home on Monday that I learned of the civil unrest in the streets of Chicago on Saturday night. It surprised me, and it didn't. Our economy is doing great by one measure. Over the past three decades (the time I've been writing for this ezine) the USA has widened its lead over Europe and Japan in GDP per capita. And we still account for almost 25% of global output during this same period when China has surged. But while production has soared starting in 1970, wages have remained relatively flat and the accumulation of wealth by a diminishing percentage of the population has been rapidly accelerating. It is no small wonder that high-end audio products are becoming increasingly expensive as well as outstandingly good. There are people out there who can afford them.

Yet all is not well in Mudville, or downtown anywhere for that matter. We have a rising G.D.P. and a falling life expectancy. We have poor access to health insurance and paid parental leave relative to other developed countries. And according to a CNBC survey it has been conducting since 2006, 69% of Americans have negative views of the economy, both now and in the future. The Federal minimum wage has been $7.25/hr. since 2009 and during that time it has lost more than 25% of its purchasing power. Is it any wonder that "smash and grab" is the fastest-growing sport in America?

I certainly don't bemoan the existence of $200,000 speakers. Their sales help support craftsmen and engineers who at least make a living wage. And the technology trickles down into more affordable products in many cases. But our industry is missing out on a rising tide of people who can afford our products because so many are sinking or scraping just to get by. Something needs to change, and it will.

How's that for a segue into the Best Rooms Awards?

Well, there were other problems at AXPONA this year. The number of rooms nearly doubled over last year to 200. I made an effort to hit them all, but due to my own mistakes and limitations only hit about 180. Given the number of hours the show was open, that amounts to 7:20 minutes per room, minus travel time between rooms and the two minutes I took out to have a Clif Bar for lunch in the hall on Sunday. (The first two days I ate my Clif Bar while listening.) Obviously, this pace does not allow me time to listen to more than the music that happened to be playing at the time I entered. In a couple of instances, I was treated to familiar recordings. In a couple of others, I walked out without hearing anything.

In essence, it was more like speed dating. I grabbed aural impressions, shot a few photos, 500 of which were published, made some video notes, and moved on. So I was not able to make detailed critiques or mini-reviews of systems or components. For that, you will have to consult the writings of my peers and wait for future reviews. What I did accomplish was to acknowledge the presence of close to everyone (~90%) who had paid big bucks to rent a space and spent a lot of time and money to create the products and get them to Chicago. (And get them home, in most cases.) That's my salute to the industry.

Another problem (for me) was that the level of high-quality presentations was overwhelming this year. We are in a Renaissance of high-quality music reproduction. I reviewed all the rooms I had visited and came up with 40 candidates for Best Rooms recognition. And there could have been more if a better piece of music had been playing, or if the best speaker in the room had been in the system at the time.


To Be, Or Not Tube?
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has been a disaster for the world, except perhaps for China. And while sanctions have had mixed results in stopping this tragedy so far, I am morally compelled to speak out against the purchase of Russian products. As this issue relates to high-end audio, it primarily speaks to the use of Russian tubes. And while the company that makes these tubes is owned by an American, it nonetheless channels money to Russia and employs Russians.

I realize these tubes are used in products that come from countries that support the resistance to the Russian invasion and the ensuing war crimes. I have not let my distaste for this support for Russia to impact my selection of Best Rooms at the show as many worthy products combine to achieve such excellence. But I ask consumers to consider the latent support for Russia in buying such products. And I ask manufacturers to consider alternate tube sources, when possible, and consider the manufacturing of alternate components or circuitry that bypasses the use of tube types that are only available from Russia. Wouldn't it be wonderful if Western Electric was encouraged to expand its production to include some of these tube types?


The Two Brightest Stars
Two experiences stood tall, far above the rest. The first was the Euphoria room (How appropriately named is that?) on the second floor where an Oracle turntable feeding VAC electronics drove the new Acora VRC speaker to the most convincingly realistic reproduction of music I've experienced. I could close my eyes and imagine the orchestra or Rickie Lee Jones was right there in the room with so little effort it was like bobbing in the sea with a wetsuit on. In fact, I didn't even have to close my eyes.



The second peak experience occurred in the Journey/Creation room (Again, how appropriately named?) tucked out of the way on the 1st Floor. Scott Walker and Ted Denney have consistently been among the Best Rooms in the past, but the demonstration of the Acoustic Art Vibratron SX and the way it brought the physicality of the music into the space between the speakers and the listener and filled the room in front of me shattered my expectation of what was possible with only two speakers. And the Estelon were certainly fine speakers to begin with, driven by the Soulution electronics. There was no shortage of fine components, cables, and high-tech tweaks here.



Below I've listed the 40 Best Of AXPONA 2023 rooms. Aside from the vacuum tube issue, and the fact I'd need a bigger listening room for many, I could live happily with any of them. And there were hundreds of great products in rooms that were not on this list.



AXPONA 2023 Best Rooms List

Part 1 16th Floor

1602   PureAudioProject With Silversmith Cables

1603   Bayz Audio Speakers

1608   Next Level And Børresen Speakers

1621   Von Schweikert And Scott Walker Audio

1628   Axiss, Air Tight And Franco Serblin

Alexander Room   American Sound, Avantgarde Acoustics, And Phasemation



Part 2 15th Floor

1509   Von Schweikert Loudspeakers

1527   MBL

1539   Linkwitz Audio

Club Lounge   Bending Wave And Gobel Speakers



Part 3 14th Floor

1414   Dr. Vinyl

1425   Von Gaylord



Part 4 12th Floor

1205   Vana Distribution, Marten, And Jadis

1234   Vandersteen And Audio Research

1240   Ampsandsound And Acora



Part 5 11th Floor

1102   Theoretica Applied Physics And Janzen



Part 6 7th Floor

702   (Wolf) House of Stereo And TAD

705   Arion, Trinnov, And Aric Audio

708   Constellation And Magico

709   Aretai, CAT, And OePhi

728   KMD / Orchestralls Speakers

739   Stillpoints, Rockport, And Viola



Part 7 6th Floor

616   Triangle Art

650   Bricasti Design And Tidal Speakers



Part 8 5th Floor

530   KLH Speaker And Bryston

596   High Water Sound



Part 9 4th Floor

418   Zesto Audio



Part 10 3rd Floor

352   Shunyata Research, And Clarisys Speaker



Part 11 2nd Floor

Nirvana C   CAT, Essential Sound Products, And Magico

Nirvana A   Joseph Audio, Doshi, And Cardas

Serenity   Next Level, Borresen, And Aavik

Epiphany   Scaena And Silversmith Cables

Euphoria  VAC And Acora

Utopia C   Wynn Audio, Vimberg, Crystal Cables, Kalista, And Karan Acoustics



Part 12 1st Floor

Perfection   Quintessence, Wilson Audio, Audio Research, Clearaudio, And Kubala- Sosna

Connection  Quintessence, Sonus Faber, Boulder, dCS, And Transparent Opus

Schaumburg B   MoFi Distribution, Piega, And BAT

Schaumburg C   Rutherford Audio, Rockport, Acoustic Signature, And Acoustic Arts

Schaumberg D   The Audio Experience, Estelon speaker, Vitus Audio, And Crystal Cable

Journey/Creation   Synergistic Research, Scott Walker Audio, Estelon, Soulution, And Berkeley Audio Design



Premium Audio At Its Finest
It is a great time to be into premium high-end audio. There are new products galore and the overall sound quality of the industry is rising. AXPONA 2023 was almost too big to be fun, but there are lots more regional shows that are growing as well. As Americans continue to migrate to warmer states we are rapidly becoming a Sun Belt nation with over 62% of our population there already. It wouldn't surprise me to see the Florida show grow or for a new show to emerge in Texas.

I hope you've found something of interest in my show coverage that will move you along in your audiophile journey. I'm looking forward to some product reviews over the summer and getting back to listening to music again. In the fall, the Toronto show (October 20th through 22nd) and Capital Audiofest (November 10th through 12th) are on my radar. I hope you can make them too. Now, it's time to lower my tonearm.


As always... Enjoy your music, too!




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