AXPONA 2018: Friday Night Lights, and Saturday delights

Into the light of Saturday.

Lions, tigers, and bears – Oh my.

Substitute the first three nouns in that sentence for women, teens, and children, and you’d get my drift about what I noticed over the weekend in Illinois. This was pretty much the first time I’d seen any of those demographics in any amount of numbers at an audio show in North America. And no, it wasn’t just because there was a large dance competition being held simultaneously in part of the host venue, these were women, teens, and kids clutching AXPONA merchandise, and making the rounds between the more than 150 show rooms.

One of the central lounge areas at the Renaissance Schaumburg.

It’s Tuesday. I know that, so some readers might be wondering why I’m only posting my AXPONA musings from Friday, and Saturday now – albeit with a catchy headline – well, to be honest, there was just too much to see, and do.

This was huge show, not only in terms of sheer numbers when it came to those exhibiting, but also in the layout. The Renaissance Schaumburg Hotel & Convention Centre is a purpose-built facility for large, convention-oriented shows, so the staff innately understands how to handle the innumerable, complex, and I’m sure at times irritating requests from exhibitors. That said, the feedback I solicited from manufacturers, distributors, and bricks & mortar outfits that were showing in Chicago was almost entirely positive – there were grumblings about room sonics, but really, when aren’t there? – from everyone. A rarity in this industry in my experience.

Deep impact with VAC, and Von Schweikert.

Friday was a marathon session of rooms, both small, and large for me as I zigged, and zagged through the lower floors of the hotel hitting some old favourites to see what was new, but it was Friday night that stood out because of the size, and scale of the sound that The Audio Company delivered with Von Schweikert, VAC, Esoteric electronics, Masterbuilt Cables, and Critical Mass stands. If you’ve not been able to spend time with a system which has been purposely-built for a no-holds-barred, cost-no-object presentation, then I cannot stress enough how important it is to try, and make this happen so that you’ve got a reference point for true, ubër high-end audio.

Sources, and pre-amplification as far as the eye can see.
Behind blue eyes.

This was a set-up of epic sonic proportions which had the ballroom space awash with music capable of chest-rattling bass, completely life-like, organic, musicians-in-the-room reproduction of instruments, and vocalists. Tone, timbre, pitch, and decay were infused with a vital essence that I usually only associate with live performances. Given free reign to play what we wanted, fellow PTA scribe Mohammed Samji, and I chose a number of pieces both familiar, and new to us, with more than few appreciative glances, and nods exchanged between us during the listening session.

After hitting the sheets following our Friday night sonic adventure, Saturday came up snake-eyes with a cold front gripping the city, and a real turn in the weather – all the better to spend the day inside listening to tunes.

Avantgarde Trio Classico horn system.
Despite the limited space, this system sounded fantastic.

I hit the elevator early, and made my way to the upper floors of the hotel, and was immediately captivated (and transported) by the room which American Sound has put together on the 16th floor. With a massive Avantgarde Acoustic Trio Classico horn system in place being driven here too with Esoteric electronics. This was a big, ballsy horn sound (that I love) which, because of excellent set-up, never seemed to overload the room despite the physical size of the bass bins, and the huge sound stage the Classicos were capable of impressing through the back wall. This room was setting a lot of mouths wagging because I believe it was the first time a pair of large Avantgarde horns had been demoed at a North American show.

Kronos Pro spinning pretty.
The YG Acoustics Sonja XV.

GTT Audio and Video had an impressive system in place with the anniversary special four-tower version Sonja XV loudspeakers from YG Acoustics, and AudioNet electronics being fed a steady diet of vinyl from a Kronos Pro turntable via Kubala Sosna cabling. This was a room with a lot of resolution, and detail that didn’t stray into accuracy at the expense of musicality. I’ve not spent time with AudioNet amplification previously, but the bottom-end grip that was apparent through the XV setup leads me to believe that there is some serious output-section mojo happening as there are 20 transducers to push around between the four Sonja XV towers.

Nagra HD Preamplifier.

Musical Artisans went with one of my favourite amp, and preamp companies: Nagra. The Swiss company has been on the scene many decades, and their refined designs reflect that as soon as you lay eyes or ears upon them. With a pair of Nagra HD Monoblock amps, and the new two-box HD Preamplifier paired with Kharma DB-11S loudspeakers, and Argento Audio cabling sewing everything up, this was an impressively musical, and transparent-sounding system.

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Rene Lafamme of Nagra was on hand, and went into detail about the new tech the company deployed in the HD Preamp, and it’s astonishingly low distortion numbers. Streaming 16/44 though an HD DAC, if you listened with your eyes closed, you’d be hard pressed to give a convincing answer on whether you were hearing an analog source or a digital one.

I’ll be posting my Sunday musings, and room highlights tomorrow, so please check back for more coverage from AXPONA 2018.

–Rafe Arnott

About Rafe Arnott 389 Articles
Editor of InnerFidelity and AudioStream