AXPONA 2017 Sets Records

See the smiling woman in this photo? That's Liz Miller, Conference & Programming Director for AXPONA, and the fact that she's smiling at the end of the largest North American consumer-audio of 2017 (so far) is a miracle. She and her team at JDEvents—Mark Freed, Joel Davis, Lou Mancini, Dawn Jeffrey, Melissa Cercone, Joelle Coretti, and Jenabeth Ferguson—worked on the show for months. Liz, in fact, works on it year-round. Yet at the end of an expo that sold 6723 tickets—up 13% from 2016!—and welcomed 4726 unique visitors over three days—up from 4092 in 2016!—she was so together that she could still do her work with calm. Brava!

Every industry person I spoke with at show's end considered their time and money well-spent. Some commented that Friday was busier than usual, and Saturday packed. Sunday certainly seemed slow. But when you consider that attendees were spread over a final count of 140 active exhibit rooms, a sprawling marketplace, an overflowing EarGear Expo, seminars, the spacious lobby, and eating areas, "slow" must be understood in context.

As someone who has covered shows for well over a decade, I've often written that it's a miracle that anyone can achieve good sound in a hotel room. After all, most people only had one afternoon and evening for set-up at AXPONA 2017, and everyone except people on the lower level (who had no hotel guests above and around them) was under a 9pm sound curfew. At show's end, those who had brought previously unplayed equipment with them were still wondering what it would sound like in another 100, 200, or 400 hours.

Nonetheless, I heard a lot of good sound, and some great sound. With some of the potentially best exhibits not even covered due to their lack of premieres, any "Best of Show" assessment would be irresponsible. But a careful reading of blogs from me and my colleague, Jana Dagdagan, will enable you to spot the systems we favored.

A few luscious facts about AXPONA 2017. 56% of attendees came from Illinois, and 46% from around the country. International guests hailed from Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Germany, Brazil, Denmark, Norway, Australia, Jamaica, Japan, New Zealand, and Taiwan. 88% of exhibiting companies were from the US, and the other 12% from countries that included the UK, Japan, Canada, Indonesia, Australia, Norway, Switzerland, Hungary, Romania, Denmark and Taiwan.

In terms of ticket buyers, 1% were under age 18, 3% 18-25, and 8% 26-34. Absent from these numbers are young members of families where either Mom or Dad bought tickets for everyone, or where one young person bought tickets for their friends and hopefully got paid back. Nonetheless, at least 12% of visitors 34 and under is not a bad sign. Although figures are not available, women were certainly in evidence.

With this show, AXPONA bids adieu to the Westin O'Hare that has served it so well. (I will especially miss the fabulous concierge and hotel desk people, and the quick ride from O'Hare.) Next year brings a new venue, the Renaissance Schaumburg Hotel and Convention Center, which is a longer distance away from the airport.

The ostensible and proffered reason for the move is simple: more space. According to Liz Miller, "We expect to sell many more standard hotel rooms next year, and The Marketplace and Ear Gear Expo will be combined into one large exhibit hall area to make all the gear much easier for attendees to navigate."

Although virtually every exhibitor I spoke with after the show announced their intention to return, one expressed dissatisfaction with the size and allocation of rooms in the new venue. To this, Liz replied by email, "The standard hotel rooms are different dimensions at the Renaissance than at the Westin. They are a little narrower and a little longer, with approximately the same overall square footage. The ceiling heights are higher at 9'6", which most vendors seem to really like.

"To be accurate, there are more than 30 meeting rooms and suites at the new hotel. We used a very fair and equitable room assignment process to best accommodate all of the vendors that prefer larger rooms."

As always, it has been an honor to cover this and other shows for Stereophile. Believe it or not, I somehow managed to cover at least 17 rooms per day and speak on one panel—one of the best I've ever been on, to be honest—without becoming a walking zombie. For this, I credit GABA, melatonin, coffee cruda (homeopathic coffee), Traditional Medicinals Nighty Night tea, a hotel that was neither abnormally hot nor excessively air conditioned, quiet neighbors, and, yes, the passage of time. It's actually gotten easier. Or so it has seemed, this time around. Knowing that I will return to the calm and beauty of Port Townsend, where I will be greeted by hubbie hugs and doggie licks, sure helps.

It seems, from the online comments of those who attended AXPONA 2017, that I am not alone in my praise for the show and the way it was run. Liz Miller, Steve Davis, and JDEvents have much to be proud of. My thanks to one and all. And that includes John Atkinson and Art Dudley, who have done editing, posting, and corrections in rapid time.

My next show reports will be from the Los Angeles Audio Show, which takes place June 2-4 at the Sheraton Gateway, around the corner from LAX. Stereophile held its show there some years back. It's a good venue. I still recall the huge Sony billboard outside my window, singing the praises of…could it really have been a Walkman (which I called Walkperson)?

On April 22, LAAS reached its maximum active exhibit room target of 115. Although exhibitors are still asking for rooms, it's believed that show manager Marine Presson will hold firm at 115. What this means for you, the reader, is that with major shows in Chicago and Southern California, Rocky Mountain Audio Fest and Montreal still going strong, and smaller shows in DC, NYC, Oakland, TX, and Toronto, North American audiophiles have many listening adventures ahead of them in the coming year and next.

Thank you for being the committed reader you are. The show is done. On with the show.

tonykaz's picture

plus a small percentage ( maybe ) of Room Sales, cut 8 ways.

Seems darn near break-even, considering it's a years worth of work.

We should consider that "Real" wages are at 1971 levels and decreasing. We have to realize that "everyday" wage earners can no longer afford luxuries like Audiophile Gear. Individual health insurance can cost $5,000 per year, iPhone bills are realistically $2,000 per year, housing is expensive and Cars are crazy expensive considering that every family member with a driver's licenses "must" own, maintain & insure a Car. Licking Dogs, our needed friends, are becoming another pricy extravagance.

Plus, Mortality Rates are increasing ( for the first time in Civilization's complex history ): We traditional Audiophiles are dyeing off at younger ages.

The foundation of our hobby is descretionary funds. Who has em?

Tony in Michigan

dalethorn's picture

Software Engineers - the people who we used to refer to as Computer Programmers, have plenty of money for all of that. Not only that, but until the rest of the world catches up in providing software engineers, the great majority of them will continue to reside in the U.S. and purchase those very things, not to mention enjoy the very best of health insurance. Consider for a moment that this is not a bubble in the job market - software engineers are and will be the dominant skilled workers for the no-limits technological future.

tonykaz's picture

They average about $90,000 yr. income.

I know three, they're quirky nerds that get into stuff like Canon 5d Cameras and digital printing, astronomy, they go to Star Trek Conventions. If they own a Music System, it'll be their teen years Sony Separates. Their coolish basement is their home workstation where they'll have multiple computers. They are "Security-Crazed" . This group would do Home Audio from the Pro-Audio perspective, non-glitzy gear thats deeply Digital Processing based. They'd buy from Sweetwater. I rather doubt that any of them would buy-in on any of the Audiophile nonsense that permeates High-End. They wouldn't last 5 minutes in front of a Audio Salon Salesman.

They "might" buy my St.Anthony's Holy Water if it had a Red Bull type Caffeine ingredient that promises 3X improved performance.

Those guys are buyers, oh-boy, but it'd be tech stuff like a Mavic drone or an electric, lithium latest gen. battery, brushless motor powered Carbon Fibered disc.braked bicycle.

They might own a Mytek DAC ( the one with the Femto Clock ) but they're more likely to build a DAC from a Chinese kit. They'd also get the Tektronix test gear to evaluate the darn thing.

These Computer guys move around like a butterfly, there's no nailing them down to a committed hobby like Audio.

Tony in Michigan

dalethorn's picture

No, Tony, those are kids. I'm talking about people like me, who are well-fed, sport beards, and order those kids around. We make just a bit more money than you're thinking about.

tonykaz's picture

I went to reported income averages, which is about $45 per hour, typical of all skilled trades and the equivalent of about $20 per hour in 1971 dollars.

Skilled Trades managers of engineers ( like me ) fare better but we are the few, not the plurality.

Those kids are now competing with a competent group of Russians and Asians, in an increasingly Global Marketplace for tech.stuff.

Tony in Michigan

dalethorn's picture

I made about $45/hr in the early 90's, and much more until 2014 when I quit. Today a good developer makes $110 to $150k, sometimes more, depending on location and task. Senior developers aren't the same as supervisors - they merely "guide" the kiddies as the kiddies learn the jobs.

tonykaz's picture

2016 Median Pay $49.17 per hour / $102,280 per year

Bachelor's degree

Number of jobs -- 1,114,000

Ten year growth projection - 17%

You did better, lucky you, you won "Life's Lottery"

Supervisors typically earn 25% more, which would apply to any field.

I live in one of the wealthiest areas in the USA, we have a Vibrant Indian Population of IT people. Our local public schools have children speaking 58 different first languages. Phew.

Software is a hot field but I can hire an IT guy in less than a day, it'll take me three weeks to find an available Electrician.

I did just get off the phone with someone from the Pohl group ( software developers all ), suggesting that a senior developer can land a Hot Job paying in the quarter mil. range.

Anyway, expecting Software people to save HighEnd Audio is a stretch. It's gonna take a national population of music lovers willing to pay for music, USA folks want everything for free! ( or at Best Buy prices levels )

Tony in Michigan

ps. I left my loved B&K Imports & Esoteric Audio in the mid 1980s, it was one of my best decisions.

dalethorn's picture

"but I can hire an IT guy in less than a day, ...."

Sure you can. I've seen that more times than I can count. The rewrites after that "instant hire" are the stuff of legends.

tonykaz's picture

That's probably why you get the bigger bucks. Do good work, consistently, everyone needs you, you get to choose who you work with, they're desperate enough to pay for the best available.

It might even stop being about the money and become about solving difficult or near impossible problems ( perhaps quickly ).

Top of your game.
A home run hitter.
The first one they call.

I hope you get to write the code for Universal Health Care

Tony in Michigan

dalethorn's picture

I wrote that code, Tony. My Congressman has the code on a USB flash drive in his safe, right next to my neighbor's schematics for a carburetor that gets 200 mpg on a mix of 90 percent water and 10 percent petrol.

Anton's picture

For you Krauthammers and Krugmans out there...Please do not forget that the exhibitors pay quite a handsome fee for their spaces.

I don't know what AXPONA got, but the upcoming LAAS gets about 4,000 bucks per room.

Plus, the venue gives kickbacks for restaurant business, bar business, etc.

Shows are cool because attendees pay to go and exhibitors pay to exhibit.

tonykaz's picture

Those room rates go to the Venue, it's how Sheldon Adelson became a Billionaire.

The Show Organizers do get a slice of the Pie, god bless em, consider it a "Finder's Fee", it helps but it's peanuts for little turnouts like this Show.

I've been an exhibitor. These Shows are to build Dealer Networks, not to sell the odd piece.

I took a quick tour of this Show, I overheard a few guys talking about the iPhone8 and Android Application security issues.

I have empathy for the Exhibitors who probably spent $20,000 to do this Show or any Show ( for that matter ). The iPhone people are in Front of you and your Products.

Tony in Michigan

Anton's picture

The show gets the bulk if the exhibit room fee.

The model is well known.

I have exhibited at shows and know where the money goes, down to the man
running the show running me through it when he was considering looking for investors.

This model is one which can benefit all four sides of the show: the hotel and its vendors, the showrunner, the exhibitors, and the attendees!

It's a fine model that benefits all parties.

dalethorn's picture

The iPhone's native music player app has been all but killed (just like the video player) by Apple, who have reengineered it for market research and selling the Cloud. But since it plays CD quality and below only (and no FLACs), these vendors are probably looking at the phone as a transport to feed a high-res player app. The current maximum storage is only 256 gb, but if playing 96 khz FLACs on a suitable app, that's about 212 hours of high-res play time, assuming the 256 gb Apple storage is really only about 230 gb.

The important concept of the high-res phone is for something I've been advocating since 1980 for pocket-size computers (in existence since 1974): To be able to play your high-res content at home on your best gear, then simply pull the cable from the phone and stick it into your pocket, so you can play your content in your car, at a friend's house, or at a dealer etc. where you are demo'ing gear that you might purchase.

tonykaz's picture

Your Storage System made from Beach Sand instead of Barrels of Crude Oil based Vinyl.

At some point in the Future we'll realize that fashioning Art Form Storage Systems out of Fossil Fuel byproducts is harmful and destructive.

I suppose that your high-res phone concept already exists, in part, in the AK240 type device ( $3,000 ). Here citizens can purchase music and transport it. It's not enough for me.

I'm leaning to Renting the Music from Tidal ( or some other outlet ). I'm a "Stereophile" who's joy comes from searching out interesting performances, the excitement of discovery and perhaps purchasing.

All the above aside

I can easily imagine you and I having reserved a 20 minute segment of time with those Legacy Whispers. We walk into the Room with your device and we put the Whispers thru a brief play series. We could repeat that experience with all the Loudspeakers we are able to reserve time segments with. Axpona and every other Show would become useful. JA and Stereophile get to do it, I want it too. The downside being that I'd be impulse spending like crazy, my wife would try to limit me to one Show per year.

To the Loudspeaker Company, I say: build-in an Amplifier that makes your speakers work well, sell them as a unit. I can't imagine making Cars with no engine, leaving the new owner to search out a good match for their new Auto. If Herb Reichert can find an Amp for the Dynaudio 20 so can Dynaudio ( maybe better than Herb ).

In the Spirit of Fairness to Everyone concerned

Civilization has existed for 10,000 years, God finally decided to give Electricity to an Atheist 250 years ago, we've come one hell-of-a-longways in a very brief period of time.


Guys like Bob Katz DIY'd their own version of your ideal high-res device, we saw it demonstrated at Tyll's Big Sound 2015. I figure that our Consumer's Version v.1 is somewhere "just around the corner", maybe a few years away ( maybe less ), we might just get the device as part of our little Phone device.

Lucky us

Tony in Michigan

ps. we can clone Bob Katz's Laptop, can't we?, for maybe $2,000.

dalethorn's picture

No, Tony - the 256 gb transport for high-res music does exist, and it's the iPhone-7, and anyone can buy it.

tonykaz's picture

Those Pohl people are recommending the above Apple phones, and Verizon. 125 or 256

I like the Red one.

Tony in Michigan

dalethorn's picture

And that's the rub with these phones - not only are you limited to one device/phone per phone number, the difficulty of swapping files on Apple's closed system makes it impractical to change to a different model. The red would go perfectly with my DragonFly red. But what am I even saying? As soon as they launch the iPhone 8, we lemmings will camp out at the store for hours just to ooh and awe.

tonykaz's picture

Is there room for one more Lemming?

Tony in Michigan

Anton's picture

I've seen plenty of guys with their sampler sticks who record 6-8 second snippets of given audiophile approved opprobrium and they blast though a compete 'system audition' in a manner of seconds.

It's alot like how they listen at home.

We call them audiophiles.


If someone comes in with a record to play, we ask him if he realized that the PVC used to make that record could have been used to charge a Prius to drive him to the memory stick store and thereby save the planet.

tonykaz's picture

You're right!

It's not a purfic world, we're always gonna get things wrong.


We're only about 30 years away from supplying the Energy needs of the USA with Solar.

I won't live to see it.

Tony in Michigan

ps. some of those Toyota Electric Cars might still be rolling.

Anon2's picture

The Axpona 2018 show is moving. We will all have a place in our hearts for the 3-4 years that the show was in the the current venue.

I think that any regrets over the change in venue will quickly dissipate when you see the new venue. There's less public transportation, and no CTA to go to Chicago. But the facility itself is almost new--gigantic yet self-contained--and is only about 15-20 minutes further out (in good traffic) from the current venue.

There are plenty of places to go nearby for dining (cheap to expensive) when the show closes on Saturday and Friday evenings. There's also a lot more elbow room in the common areas of this facility than in the Westin. There are 4 new hotels within a couple of miles of the new facility, a couple that are less than 10 years old, and the Hyatt Regency Schaumburg (across I-90) just got remodeled.

The venue itself is also a full-blown convention facility. Parking is free, at least when I have gone to events there. As long as Axpona works with the Village of Schaumburg to transport people to the Renaissance easily from O'Hare, getting to the venue should not be too difficult (easier than a cab to downtown Chicago). If the show works with Pace to get the local Schaumburg trolley running to the venue--it may already-- I think show goers will be pleased with the new digs for Axpona 2018.

Here's a look at the venue.

Medieval Times is also nearby for those who want to see jousting, eat rubber chicken with their bare hands, and who want a colored-paper crown for their favorite knight. Maybe the Stereophile staff can have a pre/post-Axpona outing there :).

I think that Axpona 2018 will be a success. I wish tickets were already on sale.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Thank you for all this. In your educated opinion, might the lack of CTA make it more difficult for area residents who don't have cars to reach the venue? Or do you think they can easily find ways to get there? Do you think AXPONA would be wise to add hourly shuttle service from the nearest public transportation spot? etc..

jim davis's picture

For those coming from the lakefront / loop / downtown Chicago, it is less than an hour on the blue line train to Rosemont, but now another hour and two busses to Renaissance. Each way. For those who've been attending from the suburbs, they've probably been driving. Folks out in Schaumburg, Hoffman Estates will be pleased with the change. Those coming down from the moneyed North Shore will have a 20 min longer drive, which they'll be glad for since their R8s have been in the garage all winter.

Anon2's picture

The show will be better with the move to Schaumburg. Getting to Chicago for non-Axpona outings will be worse.

The loss of CTA will force more Chicago residents into their cars to drive out to Schaumburg. I'd imagine that it will make it harder for people who flew into Axpona-Rosemont to go downtown to see Chicago on Friday and Saturday night, as I often heard exhibitors saying they were planning to do.

Cabs are run around $30-$35 to the venue. The venue is just east of Roselle Road, which is the dividing line for the next fare range for fixed rate cabs.

I'd hope that Axpona, or the Renaissance, would organize more transportation to O'Hare. Schaumburg, like Rosemont and Oakbrook, is one of the big corporate-type of hubs in the Chicago suburbs. I am sure that they have made arrangements in Schaumburg for conventions in the past; I just don't want to assume that they will do for Axpona.

Some hotel vans might run people out to Schaumburg from O'Hare. If you live near where the show will be held, it's a regular sight to see a Doubletree or Hyatt van dropping off a foreign flight crew at the grocery store on Saturdays.

The show will be a boon for people who drive to Axpona. The venue will be better. It will be a cab ride or rental care, worst case, for people who fly in. Cabs are no problem to get at all hours of the day or night.

Pace, the suburban transportation authority, has this trolley-type of thing that does the rounds through the commercial area of Schaumburg. I'd have to think that the service goes to the Renaissance, given the importance of the facility in the local area.

So you may have to get a cab, but getting away from the show in the evening should be a lesser issue. There are also a few chain-type eating establishments that are in feasible walking distance across the new pedestrian bridge of Meacham Raod that goes over I-90.

Metra has trains that run to Chicago regularly. There are three stations in the area, but they are all about 3-5 miles away.

Axpona Schaumburg will work for those who have been to Chicago many times and don't need to add a Chicago getaway. For those who want an add on trip to downtown Chicago, then Rosemont was a better location. We'll have to see how it works out in 2018.

Until more details come out, I'd say plan a cab ride to and from O'Hare.

jim davis's picture

For the locals who drive to the show, I doubt the move to Schaumburg will have an effect on attendance. But for those who fly in, the 3 minute ride on the blue line over to Rosemont is hard to beat. Plus, as you note, there's that easy access down to the loop from Rosemont that'll be missed. O'Hare to Schaumburg Renaissance via mass transit involves taking the blue line over to Rosemont, then TWO busses, one hour total.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

no worse than the ride from the Denver Airport to RMAF at the Marriott Tech Center, assuming, of course, that Super Shuttle actually honors your reservation. They're notorious for not doing so.

jim davis's picture

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