The AXPONA Jacksonville Experience

The view from the 16th floor of the Omni Jacksonville may look a bit bleak, but AXPONA was anything but. Initial disappointment at the number of exhibits, which diminished to 28 or so when three parties who had contracted for multiple rooms were forced to cancel due to illness, was replaced by delight as I kept encountering enthusiastic attendees hungry for good sound.

Talks with several exhibitors, including Dick Diamond of YG Acoustics and Rob Robinson of Channel D, revealed their delight at meeting a goodly number of knowledgeable audiophiles who were as educated and committed as they were eager to explore. Hey, Jacksonville may not have a reputation as a capital of cultural sophistication, but I could play Schubert and Mahler as well as Rosa Passos and Charles Lloyd without everyone running for cover.

To these eyes, this AXPONA was far more organized than the first AXPONA two years ago. Signage was good, the show booklet accurate, and things seemed to flow. The hotel was good—excellent service, nice workout area, many large air-walled exhibit rooms, fair sized rooms and bigger corner suites, a restaurant with good food and drink and other restaurants nearby—and the staff as friendly as that at the Denver Marriott Tech Center used by the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. Internet, too, was fast and reliable. Overcast did in Florida's fabled sunshine, but it sure didn't affect the sound. And proximity to the Jacksonville Symphony's live reference across the street, and the laid back feel of the waterfront and environs, were other distinct pluses.

Of course, every hotel brings to exhibitors a unique host of acoustic problems. Several exhibitors resorted to the old mattresses behind drapes trick, while one in particular, Alan Eichenbaum of Scaena, went crazy trying to locate the source of the buzz in his air-walled conference room until he noticed that he had the one and only suite in which the Omni was experimenting with LED overhead lighting. Guess who turned what off in a flash. (A word to the wise—install at your own risk.) Exhibitors who didn't have a clue about room acoustics and equipment set-up paid for it, while a surprising large number achieved far better sound than you'd expect from a new-to-everyone hotel venue.

When I visited a small number of rooms at CES this year, I more than once encountered sound that was so off that I found myself resorting to the word "fraud." There were no frauds at AXPONA Jacksonville. Some systems were more neutral sounding than others, but everything I heard reflected a designer's educated understanding of the natural sound of instruments rather than a synthetic, studio-contrived concoction of same.

As you read through these show blogs, you'll discover that five rooms vied for personal "Best of Show." In the end, perhaps because MBL North America's Jeremy Bryan had the advantage of working with a closed system of components that were designed to work in synergy, the Palmetto Leaf goes to the sound of his fabulous Reference Line Combination D array ($259,700 plus cabling). I hate to confess to lust, but there you have it. What especially blew me away was how good MBL North America's far less expensive Corona Line Combination B ($39,000 plus cabling) sounded.

Runners up for "Best" were, in this order, Scaena, Audio Power Labs, and, in a curious tie, the completely different-sounding rooms of YG Acoustics and Avatar Acoustics. Note that the last two occupied smaller hotel rooms on the 4th and 5th floors, which affected the quality of the sound they could achieve. Blogs on these five rooms are especially lengthy and detailed, so I hope you'll give them a read. Check out as well blogs on several far lower priced systems that were a delight to encounter. I'm sure the French Horn Guy, AXPONA's unofficial mascot, would want you to.

On a personal note, I am grateful to return to blogging for Stereophile after a year's hiatus. I was apprehensive at the prospect of covering a Show in three days, and relieved to discover that cancellations had made my job far more manageable. It also made possible, for the first time in my blogging history, the ability to revisit rooms that had made significant changes to their sound, or that I wanted to spend more time in. That luxury also makes me far more confident that my reports are accurate, if ultimately relative to the iffy hotel environment.

I'm hardly a big drinker—John Atkinson frequently joshes that my expenses claim for gallons of spring water usually tops that for alcohol—but I raise the proverbial glass, filled with whatever works for whatever path or step you're on, to this industry. Many of us have been at it for a long time—certainly far longer than I have. Yet I don't think I encountered a single exhibitor whose choice of equipment or music didn't reflect a deep love for this hobby. Yes, there was an over-reliance on female vocals and classical warhorses, but there was also a lot of new jazz and even stuff farther out. And, imagine this, I didn't hear a single track by Diana Krall! For that, and a whole lot more, I give thanks.

Thank you for listening.

lmanley's picture

Thanks for the nice reports Jason.

I am wondering if there is any real information available about the number of attendees at Axpona this year, and whether it was up or down over last year.

Hopefully the show was well attended, and returned some results for the exhibitors.

hesson11's picture

My gawd, Jason, nice going. I was at the show, and I believe I know more about it from reading your entries than by being there in person! That one guy covered so much is remarkable in itself, but to have also produced such energetic, colorful and complete descriptions of what seems like every exhibit is amazing. I doff my cap.


JasonVSerinus's picture

Hi. Writing fast from the Atlanta airport before my one hour of internet is up. My flight is delayed due to high winds in SF. Bob, I'm very touched by your comment. Truly, it was a joy.

I didn't include any stats in my report because they weren't in. I was told that both advance sales and walk up sales were up. But I don't know how that translates into numbers. Certainly Sunday, during which service personnel and students were admitted for free, was very slow. 

Hopefully some exhibitors will post their experiences.



JR_Audio's picture


Hi Jason. Thank you very much for sharing your impressions about the this show. You have done a great job describing the sound of the different rooms and setups. Reading this was just like being there.



DetroitVinylRob's picture

Funny how perspectives differ... one of my all time favorite rooms at the shows with continually excellent performance, always friendly and helpful, and a killer record collection, High Water Audio seems to have had a much different perspective, and experience of this EXPONA and previous ventures.

Happy Listening! hopefully

JasonVSerinus's picture


I don't understand your message. As far as I know, High Water Sound did not attend AXPONA 2012. 


Duck851's picture

He's referring to High Water's blog about AXPONA.

JasonVSerinus's picture

That blog describes one exhibitor's experience at past AXPONAs. As damning as it may be, it does not discuss this year's event. 

I don't believe in judging people and events based on the past. No matter how many mistakes we have made, and how many wrongs we have committed, there is always the possibility of redemption. I'm not suggesting that naivete or ignoring past experience is the way to go, but I do recognize that people can change. Every day is different. IMHO, the law that people are innocent until "proven" guilty is a healthy one to follow.

Having said that, I realize that Jerry did his best to hang with AXPONA as long as he could, and gave the benefit of the doubt until he felt burned to the point of no return. I honor his decision. 

It will be interesting to read feedback from this year's exhibitors, if and when it appears, to see how they feel. Ultimately, all I can say, from a reviewer's perspective, is that I heard a higher percentage of good sounding rooms at this show than I'm accustomed to encountering at shows, which is a good thing.

DetroitVinylRob's picture

Jason, you are correct, HWA did not attend, I was mistaken. On reviewing the dates of three events spoke about from the blog they were not of the more current Jacksonville event. I want you to know my intent was to prove no one guilty, sincere apologies for the confusion. Yet loosing a dealer and rooms of the caliber of High Water Audio and Jeff Catalano is not a good thing for anyone, past, present, or future.  What the past may reflect is why HWA were not seen and heard by you (or anyone) at the 2012 event. I would hope that bridges will be mended and agree that any possible past transgressions would be just that, and we are headed toward a brighter and sunnier future. And again, my apologies.

Who is Jerry?

Happy Listening!