ADLAlpha Design Labsa bargain division of Furutech, arrived at AXPONA complete with the ADL H118 headphones ($299) and ADL X1 portable 24/192 USB DAC and headphone amp ($550). The latter, which supports Apple's iOS and Android digital at up to 16/48 for iPods, iPhones and iPads, and runs 24/192 S/PDIF with high-resolution files from a PC, comes complete with a Li-ion battery that lasts 80 hours before recharging. Expect its appearance in early May.
Sankar Thiagasmudram, President and co-founder of Audeze, was happy to show the company's LCD-2 ($995) and LCD-3 ($1995) planar-magnetic headphones. I was wowed by these headphones when I encountered them at Audio High last year.
According to Michael Goodman and Stacie Romashchenko, hands down the sweetest non-couple I encountered at AXPONA, CEntrance's business is upgrading computer audio sound. To that end, the team were showing CEntrance's premium DAC, headphone, speakers, and other components. Goodies include the CEntrance DACport, a portable 24/96 USB DAC and headphone amplifier ($299); the DACport LX ($249.95), a portable 24/96 USB DAC with line-level output; the DACmini; and DACmini PX ($999.95), an all-in-one 24/192 USB DAC, headphone amp and speaker amp. New to the list of products is the HiFi-M8 (699), a portable DAC/amp with internal battery that streams music from either your iPhone or laptop to headphones.
Booth exhibits occupied much of the open space on the Doubletree's mezzanine level. First on my path was Sumiko's, where Jaime Moreno declared the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon turntable ($399.99) "probably the best turntable available for under $400." The table, which can play either 33/45 or 33/78, comes complete with an Ortofon 2M Red cartridge, which costs $99 on its own. Best $498.99 turntable package for under $400?
Roger DuNaier of KingSound had plenty of reason to smile. His King III full-range electrostatic loudspeakers ($12,000/pair) were sounding the best I've ever heard them. That means the music they produced sounded exceptionally smooth, warm, relaxed and inviting. How Roger managed this on the Mezzanine of the Doubletree, where rooms had a 10' air space above the ceiling that sucked the life of most active systems on the floor, is no mean feat.
My first visit at AXPONA was to the large ground-floor room where AIX Records' Mark Waldrep (pictured) was playing back some of his superb-sounding multichannel recordings from Blu-ray, complete with hi-def video.
The following morning, Friday March 8, the line of Showgoers formed at the will-call booth at least an hour before the official 1pm start of AXPONA. More than 2000 tickets had been presold and the exhibit rooms were full until the end on Sunday March 10.
At the opening reception, AXPONA organizer Steve A Davis occasionally played double duty, retrieving drinks for folks as his wife Carmen dispensed drink tickets along with press and exhibitor badges. At one point, he even managed to hush the well-lubricated crowd long enough to pay homage to his late business partner, Andrew Spaulding, to whom he dedicated Chicago's first consumer audio show in 14 years.
The night before AXPONA's official opening, people mobbed the reception for press and exhibitors. As audiophiles chattered, drank, and ate awaythe food was a major notch above the oft-mediocre, and the bartenders quite busyChicago's Deep Blue Organ Trio turned up the heat. With Bobby Broom on guitar, Chris Foreman on organ and Greg Rockingham on drums, the heat was certainly welcome, given the freezing temperatures outside.
You may wonder why this report of AXPONA Chicago lacks the usual exterior shot of the show venue. The answer is simple: It was too cold in Rosemont, where the Doubletree was located near Chicago O'Hare airport, for anyone from the "season-less" Bay Area to want to stand outside. Knowing that I would discover up to 9" of new snow on the ground and face sub-freezing temperatures at night, I went shopping before my trip for a hat tailor-made for Nanook of the North. What do you think Nanook would have thought of the "Made in China" label? Of course, John Atkinson, who's from a colder and wetter clime, will be posting a photo of the Doubletree hotel later in this report.
Greeting Showgoers at the Chicago Axpona was this steampunk-style MP.III speaker from Mancave Metal. With its glowing red LEDs around the tweeter and cut and welded steel construction, the MP.III is unlike any other speaker I've encountered. How did it sound? No idea, as it was on passive display.
Axpona runs today and tomorrow at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel in Chicago suburb Rosemont (5460 North River Road) near O'Hare Airport.
It's not just the first audio show in Chicago in 14 years, since Stereophile's Hi-Fi ’99 at the Palmer House. It's also the first in a millennium where computer audio is changing every aspect of the music and audio industries.
Nor is it a minor effort. AXPONA Chicago, which runs March 810 on five floors of the Doubletree by Hilton O'Hare Airport, promises 90 separate exhibit rooms, 74 table displays in approximately 30 different booths presenting 100 or so brands, and equipment from over 400 manufacturers. Dealers exhibiting number 26, with 15 from Chicago, and others from New York, California, Florida, and other states. That's a lot of show.