Best Of AXPONA 2023 Show 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?
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
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
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
1509 Von Schweikert Loudspeakers
1539 Linkwitz Audio
Club Lounge Bending Wave And Gobel Speakers
1414 Dr. Vinyl
1425 Von Gaylord
1205 Vana Distribution, Marten, And Jadis
1234 Vandersteen And Audio Research
1240 Ampsandsound And Acora
1102 Theoretica Applied Physics And Janzen
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
616 Triangle Art
650 Bricasti Design And Tidal Speakers
530 KLH Speaker And Bryston
596 High Water Sound
418 Zesto Audio
352 Shunyata Research, And Clarisys Speaker
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
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
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!