AXPONA Raises the Bar

The remarkably relaxed, smiling faces of AXPONA Tradeshow Coordinator Jordan Brereton (left) and VP/Event Director Liz Miller (right) say it all. Photographed after show's close, Jordan and Liz were poised to announce that under the leadership of JD Events Founder and CEO Joel Davis, their team of 8 had sold 8134 tickets—up 21% from 2017—and welcomed 5718 unique visitors to the largest consumer audio show in the United States. The number of tickets sold to students ages 15-25 increased by 27%. This to a show with 165 active exhibit rooms and an over-15,000 square foot exhibit hall that hosted booths from 96 companies, half of which were part of the Ear Gear Expo.

By any means and measurement, AXPONA 2018 was a smashing success. Despite some pre-show trepidation about the move to the Renaissance Schaumburg Hotel and Convention Center, the venue proved near-ideal for an audio show. Not only did the sprawling Convention Center have enough space to host the largest marketplace in memory, an impressive headphone display, plus a large number of oversized exhibits, but it was also so big and spread out that the space never felt over-crowded. In fact, Stereophile's Jana Dagdagan (pictured second from left in our AXPONA team photo below), the new editor of our sister site,, observed post-show that since the Schaumburg is "a much larger, open-style venue than previous American audio expos of late," proper ventilation made for a far more hospitable environment.

The Stereophile AXPONA team (L–R): John Atkinson, Jana Dagdagan, Jason Victor Serinus, Herb Reichert

Perhaps the biggest surprise of all was the sound on the seven floors filled with "standard" size hotel rooms. Initial trepidation that rooms would be too narrow, with sonics further compromised by unmovable granite counters and credenzas along one of the long walls, vanished when the rooms' greater-than-average ceiling height helped make them audio-friendly. In the rooms I visited, I recall but one where bass boomed out of control or sound was uncomfortably bright. As hard as it to believe, my sense is that the sound I heard, often in rooms that lacked room treatment, was an honest representation of what the component chain could deliver in a non-custom environment.

I think everyone who visited hotel exhibits enjoyed that floors 3 to 6 are laid out around a central, open Atrium. The sense of space and light did a lot to relieve the claustrophobia that often manifests when people try to navigate narrow, crowded hallways, only to discover that they can't find a seat in the rooms they wish to visit.

Even though heat and air conditioning were often going in the rooms, their operation was uncommonly silent. Compared to the din created by the heating/cooling systems in the renovated Denver Marriott Tech Center, which I expect that the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest will vacate after their contract expires this year, the Renaissance Schaumburg was a dream venue.

Electrical power wasn't ideal, of course. As Vince Galbo of MSB discusses in my report on his room, he had to take multiple measures to ensure quality power for his quality components. But most exhibitors who did have power treatment—quite a few did—probably left AXPONA smiling.

Without wishing to overdo this smile thing, it is important to note the effect of venue on attendees. With the exception of folks in Denver, I have never encountered a warmer, more relaxed, and more respectful group of show attendees. Only once in all the rooms I visited did I encounter any talking, and that was occasional whispers. One company rep commented that AXPONA attendees were amongst the "most astute" she had ever encountered, and were both extremely interested and receptive.

For exhibitors, a major plus of AXPONA was that so many manufacturers and distributors were in attendance. Given the decline of "high performance audio" participation at CES, AXPONA has now become the prime US show where US-based manufacturers, dealers, and distributors can wheel and deal. Because the Renaissance Schaumburg has plenty of room for expansion, and 70% of this year's demo rooms are already rebooked, expect an even bigger AXPONA in 2019.

Yes, Munich High End is considerably larger, with attendance commensurate with its size, and also attracts more industry people from Europe and Asia. (Other overseas shows, including those in Hong Kong and Poland, are also larger than AXPONA.) It also attracts a more diverse crowd, with far more women. But not only is Munich High End unable to expand further in its current venue, but it is also forced to relegate a large number of exhibits to booths in sprawling open air halls, where noise makes honest sonic evaluation near impossible. Munich exhibitors fortunate enough to snare rooms often face acoustic nightmares, with sloped ceilings and glass rear walls presenting major sonic challenges.

If there is one area that AXPONA could improve upon, it is food service. Lines at Starbucks and the grab-and-go in the Convention show were long, and some of the fare in the latter was overpriced and of low quality. (The pre-packaged salads are far better in airports, if you can believe it!) There was also a distinct lack of places to sit, with far too many grabbers and go-ers forced to eat on the floor.

Food was good in the one big restaurant, but the staff was so overworked that errors were multiple and delays long. In addition to what was available this year, AXPONA needs a self-serve cafeteria-style line plus salad bar where people have a choice of hot and cold entrees that are prepared with health in mind, and where lines move at a fairly rapid pace.

The reports already posted are not the full extent of our show coverage. Still to come are videos that Jana shot of John Atkinson's keynote address, plus additional in-room visits with Herb Reichert and myself. I trust they will give you a further sense of the optimism and good spirits that pervaded AXPONA 2018.

From my vantage point as a short person who often had to mount chairs in exhibit rooms in order to take adequate photos, I had a ball. I wish I could have auditioned more rooms—shooting video takes lots of time—but what I did see and hear was so rewarding. I was amazed at how many people not only recognized me, but also took the initiative to offer up prime listening seats without being asked to do so. "You're working" and "I know you guys only have limited time to listen" were phrases I heard over and over.

I am humbled by the respect and generosity that were the norm during my days at AXPONA. As someone who somehow made it through the 1968 Democratic National Convention in the Windy City without getting his head bashed in or being forced to inhale more than a mild amount of tear gas—guess who leaped over a 6'-high wrought-iron fence topped with sharp spikes and kept running for several blocks without ever pausing to think about the fact that he had risked impalement!—the kindness and warmth I experienced at AXPONA 2018 affirmed the American potential for goodness and camaraderie.

A deep bow to Liz, Joel, Jordan, the staff at JDEvents, and the manufacturers, dealers, and distributors who made the show possible, and a second bow to all who attended. Thanks to you, AXPONA 2018 was a great show. Here's to many more years of celebrating audio at its finest.

sideshow bob's picture

"I was amazed at how many people not only recognized me, but also took the initiative to offer up prime listening seats without being asked to do so."

would you really ask someone to offer up their seat?

thanks, bob

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Sometimes, however, exhibitors make the request without checking with me. A case in point is when I enter, every seat is taken, and someone the exhibitor knows has been sitting there for a long time.


sideshow bob's picture

i think thats a fair scenario. its really annoying when people camp out in the crowded listening rooms. if i get a front seat, i listen to one or two tracks maximum and then get up. last year in the mbl room, there was a media guy that was in the front row sweet spot lounge chair for over 45 minutes and the whole time his head was down while he was playing on his phone. the room was packed with people standing in the rear. thanks, bob

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Was media guy taking notes on his phone, or was he just being a jerk? I have no need to defend irresponsible members of the media, but I do feel it important to have all one's facts together before passing judgment.

My pet peeve around the media is the guys who barge into a room, ignore everyone, stand in front of the speakers, and and take 15 shots while ruining the presentation for everyone seated. Then, without saying a word, they leave. Music seems to play no part in their coverage. Maybe they're supporting a fellow journalist who is doing the listening, but I doubt it.

What also pisses me off is when I go to a room and the door is locked because "the crew from so and so" is in there. I usually never return to that room. I get pretty upset when I discover, after the fact, that an exhibitor locked the door after I entered their room and didn't tell me. My bottom line is to keep the door unlocked. Closing it without locking so that the music pounding from the room across the hall doesn't make listening to a string quartet impossible is another matter. I think that benefits everyone.

When Jana and I shot video at AXPONA, we made sure that others could enter and exit the room. There was a brief period when music was off because we were shooting the exhibitor telling us what equipment was in the chain, but I do believe that was useful for everyone who was present.

sideshow bob's picture

was not taking notes. even so at over 45 minutes parked in that seat would be selfish. it took me about 30 minutes to go from standing in the rear to work my way up to seat right behind him, so i know for sure. you just reminded me of another of my favorite dealers, audio consultants of chicago/evanston showed up to axpona last year for the first time. i was so excited to see them but when i went to their room in the middle of the day, they had their door locked for 'setting up'. couple small gripes...axpona is awesome and most everyone really is friendly and enjoying.

i forgot to thank you and the others for all the great coverage. you all reported many items that i had missed, like the new sprout 100, and much more.

thanks, bob

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

For the surprise iPhone photo of me standing on the chair.

John Atkinson's picture
PS Audio's Paul McGowan posted some video footage at I offer some comments on the show starting at 0:38.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile