Let’s face it. You need to read all the Best of Show articles to get a real sense of AXPONA. The reason is that AXPONA has become a HUGE show. Mere mortals cannot cover the whole show. It’s just too big. We can write about the best rooms but there is some chance we will miss a really good one.
But here are some items that really stood out for me…
Best of Show Sound
Wilson Alexx loudspeakers and the D’Agostino Relentless mono block amps. I have not felt such an emotional connection to the music since my experience listening to the Wilson WAMM Chronosonic speakers at Dave Wilson’s house. The Relentless simply provided an effortless chunk of power to the Alexx speakers and we truly heard what these special speakers are capable of. Dynamics, power, resolution, finesse, “reach out and touch it” imaging. Just a marvelous pairing. If you happen to see Bill McKiegan (D’Agostino) and Peter McGrath (Wilson) working the same room, go in and have a listen. You’ll thank me for it.
Best New Speaker
The Børresen 05. These simply sound fast, dynamic, and detailed. But detail in terms of natural resolution, not that “hifi sound” that only sounds good for 15 minutes. They look like a million bucks too. Big but thin enough to not be too imposing, just sleek and modern. I’ve been saying this for a while now: watch this company. They are creating an addictive, natural kind of sound.
The Vandersteen System Nine, Pure Music and Seta phono gear was just killing it at AXPONA. I know it’s a cliche but Richard Vandersteen leaned over while we were talking about the system and said, “I know it’s an audiophile warhorse but you’re going to hear Tin Pan Alley on every other system here. You should at least hear it on mine for a point of comparison.” They cued it up and let it rip. Holy shit. This was the best I have heard this song by far and the soundstage was bigger than a house. Midrange was lifelike. A fantastic experience and a true reference room at AXPONA!
Most Promising Speaker
PS Audio had their new AN-3 prototypes on demo at the show but they are not yet finished, hence the “promising.” I like this company a lot. They have a culture that is pushing the envelope but at more moderate levels of pricing with high value per dollar on offer. Their customer experience and overall interaction is A+. I cherish my DirectStream DAC which has led to my rediscovering the great CD masterings I have collected going back to 1983. But I also recognize a good back story and it’s hard to beat Paul McGowan and Arnie Nudell’s friendship and their impact on high end audio evolution. Paul has continued Arnie’s technology into the prototypes and they sounded wonderful. The always accommodating PS team let me get in an early morning listen before noise from the crowd arrived. I was very impressed. Clear highs, a nice presence in the midrange and a terrific servo-controlled bass foundation. Paired with Bascom King’s PS Audio electronics and wunderkind Ted Smith’s FPGA digital artistry, the music came to life. I can’t wait to hear the final design. Arnie may no longer be with us, but I believe Paul is carrying his spirit on. Bravo!
Best Amplifier Design
VAC’s Statement 450i iQ integrated tower continues to impress me. Sounding great again in a giant ballroom on the second floor, I continue to covet this beautiful piece of functional jewelry from Kevin Hayes. Wonderfully paired with equally stunning Von Schweikert ? speakers, this amp offers rare, natural sound while eliminating many of one’s cable requirements. It’s simply gorgeous. Horizontal tubes, beautiful finishing with Tiffany-like vents on the top. This would be a conversation piece in the room of any home. I’ve been to the factory and I can vouch for build quality that is off the charts. Paired with the Von Schweikert Ultra 9s, this amplifier created an eargasm of sound and one of the very best rooms at the show. Well done Kevin, Damon, and team!
Best New Product Introduction
Three new products really impressed me at this show: the Aurender A30, the Synergistic Research Galileo PowerCell, and the Gryphon Ethos. The A30 is truly the Swiss Army knife of music servers. DAC, server, preamp, ripper…everything you need for the modern digital lifestyle. The Galileo promises to be the Bugatti Veyron of line conditioners. We will hear what it is capable of at Munich when it is live in a system. I’m curious as to just how much lower Synergistic can drop the noise floor. The Gryphon Ethos has form following function with spectacular sound quality and maybe the most gorgeous form factor you will find in a CD player. CD tracks sounded like hirez at times. A truly special product.
Best Turntable Marketing
Mat Weisfeld had a clever promo going for VPI. Visit all the rooms a VPI table was in (a total of 16!) and you get a special winner’s medal and some swag. Very clever.
Coolest Digital Product
dCS Vivaldi One. I’m not ashamed to tell you I fell in love with this digital device. Gorgeous chrome finish and equally gorgeous sound. The dCS curved front looks especially superb in a mirror-like finish. What an amazing product!
Best AXPONA Event
We owe Chad Kassam a lot of thanks for getting Shelby Lynne to perform to a full house Saturday night. She was really terrific. I’ve been buying a truck load of Analogue Productions releases from Chad so I’m very supportive financially but I do wonder sometimes if the audiophile community understands how much Chad does for the community. Having such a talent as Shelby perform was a highlight of the show for me.
Best AXPONA Celebrity
Allen Sides. Recording royalty shows up and brings some very interesting and excellent sounding speakers. What a treat to have Allen in the house. Look for his name on the latest Lyn Stanley album and also on many classic albums you already have in your collection.
Best Audio Photographer
Lee Shelly. Scot hired Lee to take some photos of the Part-Time Audiophile crew in the atrium area of the hotel. Lee just has things figured out. Each photo turned out beautifully. It’s no wonder that so many manufacturers are hiring Lee to shoot their products.
Best Show Promotional Item
The Black Cat LP bag. Owner Chris Sommovigo did something brilliant. He created a Black Cat bag that holds LPs and has a zippered pocket on the front. What a genius move! Everyone needs a better LP bag. Bags were free but all Chris asked for was a photo of you literally, er, holding the bag. Chris then placed the photos on Instagram. People were all smiles and we saw all manner of audio celebrities and non-celebrities. Very clever. But these folks will be even happier if they try Chris’ fantastic cables.
Rune Skov just killed it in the Gryphon room. Thirty minutes, five magnificent tracks. And a reference system put together by Philip O’Hanlon. Sublime.
I’m in love with the new HW40 from VPI. This is one magnificent sounding table and it has a fantastic design with a gimbaled tonearm, matte black features, and beautiful wood side panels. It sounded great at the Florida Audio Expo and it sounded great at AXPONA. An end game table for me. I hope Santa is good to me this year. Beautiful engineering Harry and Mat!
Best Use of Marble
Sonus Faber Electa Amator III. Leave it to the Italians. A marble base for the latest Sonus Faber monitor? A thin gold line of metal separates the marble from the artisan wood cabinet. Poetry in craftsmanship. One of the best looking speakers ever. Even the stand is a piece of art.
Most Valuable Player
Liz Miller. Liz runs this show and she does a fantastic job. AXPONA is huge; it’s complex. This is a big job. Liz does it really, really well. And we all benefit from her efforts on a wonderful show. Thank you so much Liz. Keep on keeping on.
This was another fun show in Schaumburg. I am really looking forward to next year. Minus the snow of course. 🙂