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A Day at Axpona 2011

I haven’t been to many audio shows. My first was the Capital Audio Fest in 2010. I suppose you could say that it got me a little curious. The show was in its first year, so it wasn’t too crowded that you couldn’t hear every room in about 90mins, but it was also small enough that 6 hours was enough to be rather thorough, assuming you didn’t dawdle, have a picnic or spend 2 of those hours chasing your kids across the rather luxurious grounds.

RMAF 2010 was a whole ‘nuther thing. 3 days was about the barest minimum amount of time it takes to be haphazard. I felt rushed the entire time. It was a total whirlwind. The show did, however, set the hook — I wanted more.

I did not make CES. The timing just didn’t work out with my holiday vacation with the family. But along came Axpona! And so I went.

A couple of things. First, the show is small. Not Capital Audio Fest small (which, interesting, will be significantly larger this year), true, but it felt like it was far less than half the size of RMAF. There just wasn’t that much there. Which brings me to another thought ….

If you’re interested in going to shows, and you’re not local to it, my recommendation is to skip it. Look, if you’re rich and bored, go by all means, but I have to say that I think that most of the regional shows are a little thin on content. Not all, but most. So, if you’re looking to optimize your audio show experiences it only seems wise to limit the number of shows you hit. Just a word of friendly advice, there.

That said, there are two that you should try for. First is RMAF. Don’t miss this one. The sheer number of “little guys” that make it to this show make the experience a bit like walking a menagerie. It’s just awesome. The second show is CES. This is the show that all the “big guys” hit hard. This is where all the new products get announced and some of them get demoed for the first time. Of course, most of this isn’t really open to the general public, but I think that there might be more creative ways to get in — however you do it, if you can, you should. Between the two of them, you’re pretty much covering the gamut. Montreal and Munich are pretty big in their own rights, but not like CES and RMAF.

Back to Axpona. This is Stereophile Magazine’s show. Seems like a natural winner, right? Well, it was a bit meh. I think the venue was underwhelming. The rooms were uniformly small — in many cases, much too small for an audio show. To succeed, you either had to show small (small speakers) or go big — that is, blow it out and get a much bigger room. The sound quality, across the board, was dramatically worse than at RMAF — and Capital Audio Fest. Bass was boomy or absent. Room treatments can only go so far when the rooms are simply not large enough to support the sound that the speakers are capable of showing. Disappointing.

Another odd thing: where were the vendors? Reading through the list of exhibitors, you got the impression that there would be stuff there that just wasn’t. Like Audience. I was very interested in hearing their speakers, so I trotted up to their room … and found only MBL. Unfortunately, this sort of experience wasn’t unusual enough. I just kept thinking to myself, “where’s the beef?” I don’t know if anyone else has noticed, but there seems to be more and more shows cropping up these days. I mean, wasn’t SSI just 2 weeks ago? And isn’t Munich coming up next month? These shows are all jammed in cheek-to-jowl. I’m guessing that’s why most of the vendors were represented by their distributors. Bummer.

Okay, enough bitching. I had a great time be-bopping around. I was able to meet up with Jeff Fox, of Command Performance A/V, and together we wandered the halls of the Sheraton till our ears were buzzing and our heads spinning. It was a hoot and I got to hear some truly amazing gear. As for the show itself, I think the seminars sounded awesome. I would have love to catch Atkinson talking about measuring speakers or Fremer doing his turntable setup routine with Dr Chris Feickert. I was sad to miss Dean Peer, both his talk and his show. Unfortunately, my schedule only allowed me to duck in for Day One, so I had to forgo all the extraneous stuff. I did get to see Fremer and Feickert and meet a variety of very interesting folks, but dawdling was definitely out for me. I frog-marched Jeff in and out of rooms until we’d hit pretty much everything. And photographed most of it.

Anyway, what follows will be a series of posts covering the show. I’m breaking things up a bit more than I did with my RMAF coverage as that single mega-post approach pretty much slammed the servers. Whoops. Ahem.

Best sound at the show? The Avatar room. The setup was inviting, the sound was enveloping and magical, and the people were fun. The nod also has to go to the Highwater Sound room. Superlative analog, as always. In addition to these two, there were quite a few standouts that I’ll get to, in turn.

My next show will be Capital Audiofest this summer. It’s local (to me), so why not. After that, it’ll be the long pause till RMAF (if I can figure out how to pitch that to my better half). And then CES. And then maybe SSI (I love Montreal). And then Capital Audiofest again ….

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About Scot Hull (979 Articles)

Founder, Editor and Publisher at Part-Time Audiophile and The Occasional Magazine.