AXPONA 2015: No high-end blues in Chicago


By John Stancavage

Driving up to the Westin O’Hare in my rented Kia Soul for AXPONA 2015, I wondered what this year’s show would reveal about the current health of the high-end stereo market.

I didn’t have to wait long to get that question answered, as I glanced over at the dead-center front valet parking spot. There, waxed, polished and gleaming in the late afternoon sun was a jet-black 1956 Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith. A flyer stuck inside the front window identified it as belonging to Quintessence Audio Ltd., a longtime Chicago dealer.

Even though it was just Thursday, the afternoon before the start of the three-day annual show, the inside of the hotel already was bustling with traffic as exhibitors, press and audio fans checked in.

“We’re running about 20 percent to 30 percent ahead of last year,” AXPONA organizer Joel Davis of JD Events told me, with a beaming smile.

The 2014 show attracted about 4,400 people, so it appeared the 5,000 mark will be exceeded with ease this time.

A quick count produced a total of more than 100 rooms of gear, and the buyer’s guide ran 116 pages.

In addition, Davis wisely has expanded the show to include concerts by name acts such as jazz singer Patricia Barber on Friday night and blues legend John Primer on Saturday.

“We’re trying to create more of a music festival vibe, so that there’s something for everyone,” Davis said. “We are hoping to attract more women and young people to the hobby.”

photo-3I can never wait to get started, so I followed my usual strategy of wandering the halls and barging into the rooms of exhibitors who unknowingly had left their doors slightly ajar.


One of the first people I met, outside of hotel security, was Nick Doshi, designer of some of the finest no-nonsense, high-wattage tube amps on the market. I remembered him from outstanding demos at some previous shows (he has a second-generation master tape copy of Fleetwood Mac’s first album with Buckingham-Nicks), so I endeavored to keep my foot in the door.

“Mind if I come in and look around?” I said.

Entering the room, I couldn’t believe my good fortune. Sitting on the far wall were the new Wilson Audio Sabrina speakers, flanking a pair of Doshi Audio 160 watt-per-channel, $27,000 Jhor monoblocks.

I drooled. I had given Audio Traveler readers the scoop on the Sabrinas during a similar Thursday slip into Wilson’s room prior to October’s Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. But what I saw in Colorado was just a pair of nicely-finished wooden shells with nameplates — no drivers. The static display was planned as a tease for the eventual introduction of what would become the company’s entry-level floorstander.

Now they were here, and so was I, and they were playing.

“We’re still setting up — we haven’t really positioned the speakers yet,” Doshi protested as the music flowed and I scribbled notes furiously on my legal pad.

It was true. The room at that point in mid-afternoon was strewn with boxes and packing materials, several tape measures were partially unspooled in front of the speakers and various records were still packed.

For all I know, the electricity to the system may only have been flipped on a few minutes earlier. But none of that mattered. Broken-in or not, warmed up or not, tweaked or not, the Sabrinas — and Doshi’s amps — sounded pretty darn good.


The instrumental piece they were testing the system with showed the Sabrinas to have an engaging presentation, with plenty of detail, a smooth top end (courtesy of Wilson’s newest version of a silk dome tweeter) and surprisingly deep and tuneful bass for a smallish-footprint transducer.

One of Doshi’s partners was complaining about leakage from a loud system right next door, but I had to wonder: If the Sabrina-Doshi combination already sounded this promising, barely off the truck, how much better could the rig get with some adjustments and in more friendly surroundings?

As I’ve told readers before, it’s my personal theory that great gear sounds great in practically any situation, while the fussier stuff often is a good bet for long-term frustration.

I’m not ready to hail the Sabrinas as world-beaters yet — a full, careful, in-home review would be needed (hint, hint, Mr. Wilson), but so far there’s a lot to like. I plan to return to the Doshi-Wilson room during the show proper and give Audio Traveler readers all the details, so please check back.

Speaking of coverage, we’ll have a three-man team covering the event, with our usual insane amount of room-by-room descriptions and plenty of photos. There are quite a few product introductions planned. Click here and we’ll be your eyes — and ears — if you can’t make it.