Axpona Approaches

Axpona, the Audio Expo of North America, is geared up for its premiere next Friday in Jacksonville, Florida. The new Show runs March 5–7 at the 350-room Wyndham Riverwalk Hotel, which overlooks the St. Johns River and is just 15 minutes from the Atlantic Ocean. Sponsored by Stereophile, which will blog live from the show, Axpona is already looking like a winner. Impressive figures for advance Internet registration (discounted through March 1) indicate that Axpona might meet or even surpass attendance at last year's Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, in Denver.

The list of exhibitors continues to grow. As of February 23, Axpona promises 92 manufacturers and distributors exhibiting 165 different brands of audio products, accessories, software, and magazines in 42 rooms, plus six table displays on three different floors. Manufacturers include Advanced Transduction, Atma-Sphere, Audience, Audiowood, Ayon/Lumenwhite, Balanced Audo Technology, Blacknote, Boulder, Cable Research Labs, DH Labs, EgglestonWorks, Emotiva, Jaton, King Sound, Koetsu, Krell, Lamm, Legacy, Music Hall, Nightingale, Oracle, Phase Technology, Scaena, Triode Corporation, VAC, Vitus, and YG Acoustics. In addition, AIX, Elusive Disc, May Audio, and Music Direct will have software for sale. A 24-page directory will be full of maps and juicy ads. In this economy, that's a major achievement for a show in its first year.

One distinct highlight will be AIX Records' ongoing HD 5.1 high-resolution surround demo featuring Boulder electronics and Thiel loudspeakers. The big climax will come not in the form of explosions in outer space, but in a special live recording session with pianist John Yurick, Axpona marketing director and professional musician Steve Davis, and veteran bass guitarist John Atkinson.

In addition, Mike Chafee will conduct a second 5.1-channel demo. But most exhibitors will feature two-channel audio, and many will use turntables and tubed gear.

The lineup of seminars is impressive. At the top of the list is the return of Stereophile's hotly anticipated "Meet the Editors" panels. While we can't promise a reincarnation of Corey Greenberg leaping onto the speakers' table, it should be juicy. In addition, John Atkinson will chair two panels, "New Frontiers in Digital" and "Loudspeakers"; each will feature leading designers, writers, and/or engineers.

Michael Fremer will deliver three seminars in "Turntable Setup." Having sat in on Mikey's presentation at RMAF 2009, I assure you it will be as dynamic as are Mikey's writing and instructional DVDs. Jim Smith, author of Get Better Sound, will present a Saturday-afternoon seminar on "System Optimization." And AIX's Mark Waldrep will deliver "HD Music: What, How, and When" and "Computers and Audiophiles: The Future Is Now."

The "live reference" will be in ample supply. In addition to performances by JA and Yurick, Mikhail Levitsky's Levitsky Violin Orchestra, eye-catching in a Florida kind of way, and The Difference/Mumbleypeg, a rock band of which Steve Davis is a member, will perform at different times throughout the show.

There's good news about the hotel's acoustics. Because Florida is hurricane country, hotels there are built like bomb shelters, with walls of solid block. You'll find neither air-wall partitions in conference rooms or suites, nor drywall paneling over hollow space. Ceilings are at least 8' high, with large suites and other spaces offering ceilings 10' to 12' high. That's not saying that exhibitors won't need acoustic panels, room-correction and tuning devices, and a generous helping of potted palms to help achieve optimal sound. But at least the Wyndham Riverwalk Hotel is a major step ahead of the air-walled conference rooms at Las Vegas's Venetian/Sands and the not-so-sorely-missed Alexis Park and St. Tropez.

Why Jacksonville? First and foremost, the East Coast hasn't hosted a major consumer audio show in many years. Old and new audiophiles hunger for the opportunity to explore a wide variety of components and systems without having to fly to Denver or Montral.

Second, given the high costs of rooms, lodging, food, and union labor in New York City and Chicago, Jacksonville seems heaven-sent. Certainly the weather is. By show time, temperatures will average in the mid-70s during the day and in the 60s at night. For those wishing to exercise their legs and arms as well as their ears, the ocean and two of the top golf courses in the country are close to the Wyndham. And if you want to make a family weekend of it, you can send the spouse and kids off to Disney World and the like while you play in your own acoustic theme park. If you're into cowboys, Indians, and conquistadors, the oldest city in the country, St. Augustine, boasts a Spanish fort just 25 minutes away.

Florida boasts 10 high-end audio stores between Daytona Beach and Jacksonville, as well as a number of major audio manufacturers. So far, eight Florida dealers are showing at Axpona, with others coming from as far away as Pennsylvania and New York. The pool of potential attendees being tapped by print, Internet, radio, and other channels is a cool 35 million.

One of Axpona's enticements is a raffle open to all ticket purchasers. Prizes include an Abbingdon Music Research (AMR) CD-777 player valued at $4500. AMR will also supply every attendee with a $20 audiophile fuse—bring your fuse value to the show. Napa Acoustics will give away a full iPod-based system, Micromega and Beyond Audio/Video will give away their Airstream player, and HDtracks will donate a free download.

Axpona has big plans for the future. Steve Davis, who has a long history as an audiophile, dealer, and distributor, intends to create a mobile show that will travel to several locations each year. Axpona will also create a membership-based trade organization to mount its shows and have meetings each year. Stay tuned for the announcement of the 2011 Show dates.