AXPONA 2018: Thursday night bleeds through to Friday


Getting their PonyCon on.

The giant big-box stores, and insurance company headquarters were planted bleakly all around my horizon, and slid past the car windows like Soviet-era monoliths under the grey sky as the Uber I was taking from Chicago’s O’Hare airport rolled into the suburbs for AXPONA 2018.

The nondescript hotel I was booked into for the show was also hosting a PonyCon event (My Pretty Pony for those so inclined), with about a dozen people dressed in strange, stuffed-toy-pony themed costumes laughing loudly in the lobby as I passed by to the front desk, standing out in stark contrast to a hardened group of serial travellers huddled around the bar nursing highballs across from them.

O’Hare never changes.

So began my 2018 hifi trade-show circuit – markedly different from last year where by this time I had already hit CES, and Montreal. The new venue for Chicago this year is the  Renaissance Schaumburg Hotel and Convention Centre, which is without a doubt an improvement on previous years for style, and space, albeit with its own set of unique issues which I found out a number of exhibitors were contending with.

A long skybridge at the Renaissance connecting larger ballroom-sized venues with the the hotel proper.

After dropping off my luggage, and freshening up (slightly) I hit the new digs for AXPONA, and got the lay of the land on Thursday evening, managing to grab shots in several rooms in various stages of set-up for Friday’s start date. With one thing leading to another, and my writing schedule rapidly filling up alongside my re-connecting with friends new, and old, I found myself back at my hotel room pushing 1 a.m., and desperate for sleep, which is why you’re reading this hybrid Thursday/Friday post on what’s going down in Chicago with hifi.

The central “open core” of the Renaissance Schaumburg.

As I mentioned, Thursday was a whirlwind with stops at the Fern & Roby room, (trouble with a Tredegar turntable which was in pieces on a credenza when I walked in), a quick Old Fashioned with the crew from Mobile Fidelity in their suite while listening to a TAD/Primare combo, and several stops along the way on any doors that were open for me to peek into (Triangle Art, United Home Audio, Wilson Audio).

A turntable mishap during shipping: Chris Hildebrand repairs a Tredegar.

Friday dawned early with a visit to film the Zesto Audio room to start, then hitting up Vinnie Rossi to hear his new mono blocks paired with Harbeth 40.2s. CH Precision, and YG Acoustics also got checked-in on, as did the cerebral Jeffrey Catalano of High Water Sound, and Doug White  of The Voice That Is showing off another exquisite Tidal Audio system.

Arte Forma Audio: Due Volte 805 SE amp ($7,500 USD) in the High Water Sound room.
Vinnie Rossi LIO pre-amp with new L2 mono block amps.
CH Precision D1 and I1.

The Renaissance Schaumburg was busy, and I (among many others I spoke with throughout the day) was impressed with the amount of foot traffic for a Friday. I found the layout of the hotel to be easy to navigate, and because the bulk of the rooms are set up around a central “open core” of space, getting around is a breeze as the traffic seems to flow much better in a circular pattern as opposed to the traditional back-and-forth of a long straight hallway.

Check back Saturday for more updates from the PTA crew as we cover AXPONA with a blanket of writers, and photographers this year.

–Rafe Arnott