Musical Surroundings, the distributor whose headquarters are in my notoriously crime-ridden town of Oakland, had multiple presences at AXPONA. One was on the mezzanine, where Mike Fajen was touting the pairing of the Fosgate Signature headphone amp ($1500) with Musical Surroundings' new MYDAC II ($1200). To these ears, the pairing is felicitous. Heard through revealing Sennheiser HD 800 headphones, the sound was exceptionally nice, warm, and lovely.
A rep from Chinese-based HiFiMan arrived at AXPONA with a host of new products. At the top of their list were the new RE-400 earbuds ($99). Also on display, the HM-901 digital audio player ($999), which handles multiple file formats, HE-300 dynamic driver headphones ($299), and HE-6 planar magnetic headphones ($1299).
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.
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.