Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The 2013 AXPONA Show Report

The reviews are in, and AXPONA 2013 was a hit. For months everyone in the industry had been talking about AXPONA--mostly because it was the first high-end audio trade show in Chicago since 1999. Chicago used to host the Summer CES back in the 20th century (that sounds so weird, doesn't it?), and the Windy City has always been a strong market for audiophiles. It seems strange that Chicago has been neglected for so long, and all of the AXPONA exhibitors were anticipating a very strong turnout despite the fact that the show was being held in early March, when Mother Nature likes to play cruel tricks on the entire Great Lakes region. It did snow for a couple of days before the show, but for the most part the weather wasn't too severe for Colleen and me. We were reminded once or twice from the folks back home that Texas was in the 60s and 70s while we were gone, however.

For CCI, the AXPONA show was full of blood, sweat and tears. Blood: the day before we left, I burnt the hell out of my right index finger while making breakfast for Colleen (yes, it was bacon). A couple of days later at the show, I sliced open my left right index finger while opening a recalcitrant wooden crate carrying the MAD Duke Royal Limited speaker. I had to work the show with just eight fingers.

Sweat: Colleen and I had to supervise two rooms instead of one, and there was a lot of gear this time. We had plenty of room partners helping out from Tweak Studio (our Chicago dealer), SOTA turntables (who graciously manned our second room) and Steve Holt from MIT Cables. But a funny thing happened to Steve on the way to the show--first he lost his phone on set-up day, and then he didn't show up for the first day of the show at all. We were worried and couldn't get a hold of him. Then we found out--on Facebook, of all places--that Steve was quite busy having his appendix removed. (For all of those customers who came into our first room to talk about MIT cables, Colleen and I are sorry for not being more prepared. But shit happens, especially in the world of high-end audio.)

Tears: This is the good part, because we managed to get great results in both rooms. In room one (Unison Research, Opera, MIT) we had attendee after attendee come in and ask, "Are these the Opera speakers I've been hearing about?" We decided to show the Quintas ($5495/pair) since we hadn't had a pair in our possession since we debuted it at the 2012 CES, and we even had to drive down to Indiana the day before the show to pick them up from a reviewer. With the exception of the Quintas, we used pretty much the same system we used at CES in January: Unison Research Simply Italy, Unison Research Unico Upower booster amp, Unison Research Unico CDE...with the MIT cables being the main difference. But there was something about those Quintas. They made love to that room, and people noticed. Arnold Martinez, owner of the Tweak Studio, came in to listen and tears starting coming to his eyes. "I'm sorry," he said, "but I get emotional when I hear something this beautiful!" Two reviewers came in and said this system was one of the best in the show (and this included Constantine Soo of Dagogo, who took the above photograph.)

The second room was a bit more ambitious. We featured the My Audio Design Duke Royal Limited loudspeakers ($48,000/pair), the US debut of the PureAudio Reference monoblock power amps ($15,500/pair) and Control preamplifier ($9500), the PureAudio Vinyl phono preamplifier ($4500), the SOTA Millenia turntable ($9500) with SME iV.Vi tonearm ($4000) and Soundsmith Hyperion cartridge ($7500), all tied together with the wonderful cables and power conditioning from WyWires. Scot Hull, the Part-Time Audiophile, covered our room for The Absolute Sound (that's his photo above) and said the Duke was "putting out some of the most elegant sound on display at AXPONA." Colleen and I were a little nervous about the room for several reasons: the PureAudio amps were brand-new and I hadn't spent much time with them in advance, and the price of the Dukes might seem prohibitive to Chicago audiophiles who might not want to pay that kind of money for the stunning Union Jacks on the sides of the cabinets that take almost a month to create. (The Dukes sell very well in places like Hong Kong and the UK, where they are considered true works of art.) I'm very glad Scot "got" the system--I was certainly thrilled with the end result.

Aside from Steve Holt's mad dash to the hospital, as well as an unexpected fire alarm at the Doubletree on the second day of the show (see pic above), AXPONA far exceeded our expectations. The show was such a success that Steve Davis, who heads AXPONA North America, has already announced that the 2014 AXPONA will take place in Chicago as well. The Doubletree was a great venue--good sounding rooms, an attentive staff and the legendary Gibson's Steak House on the ground floor (where I had one of the best slabs o' meat in my life)--and Colleen and I definitely have plans to return.

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