Acoustic Sounds
By: Michael Fremer

April 26th, 2023


Hi-Fi Shows

AXPONA 2023 Video Coverage Continues!

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AXPONA 2023 was an international event that puts the show and finally America on the world audio stage. The Consumer Electronics Show once was that event but high performance audio is no longer a meaningful part of that show.

Founded in 2009 by then retailer Steve Davis, AXPONA (Audio Expo North America) for many years was a regional show, the sparsely attended 2011 Atlanta show being a good example. Shows were also held in New York City, Jacksonville, Florida and then in 2013 at the O'Hare Doubletree by Hilton Hotel, at which time JD Events purchased the show. The company's expertise is event production and over the years the show grew in size, stature and in the all ecompassing word "professionalism".

Covid crimped AXPONA's growth and of course the show was canceled for a few years. AXPONA 2022 was a return to form, though on a smaller scale than pre-pandemic. 2023 announced in a big way that AXPONA was back—bigger, better and more international in scope, with important names from around the world showing up, including SME's Stuart McNeilis, Crystal Cables' Gabi Reynveld, Soulution's Cyril Hammer and Gauder Akustik's Dr. Roland Gauder, plus executive and design teams from Accuphase, Air-Tight Technics and Esoteric, among others. That was new.

The show ran on floors 1-7, and 11,12,14,15 and 16 plus at the connected Convention Center. It was more than any one person could possibly cover and clearly I missed a great deal. To save time I skipped many rooms I'd normally stop in to say hello, including Bluebird Distribution where I'd have run into SME CEO McNeilis. To save time II steered clear of rooms where the products were well-covered in previous videos shot at Capital Audio Fest 2022, Florida Expo 2023 or at the recent Montreal show

The Absolute Sound sent a large contingent and they covered it in a well-organized fashion, assigning to each reviewer, a particular beat. Next year, TrackingAngle will attempt something similar but for this year it was just me and Ken Redmond. Our other writers were for various reasons unable to attend.

Looking through the guide, and from talking with other attendees I see I missed, in no paarticular order, companies anyone covering analog would not want to miss including phono preamp manufacturer Lejonklou, whose products I've reviewed over the years, Primaluna, which had a new phono preamp on display, I missed Doshi Audio, showing with Joseph Audio—first time I missed that room—and I missed J. Sikora turntables, though I've covered their newest tonearm in a Capitol Audio Fest video along with their turntables.

I missed whole floors and so missed seeing some very familiar faces and some of their new products. On the other hand, I decided to broaden our coverage to do more with digital products including streaming DACs, etc. In one room I heard a demo of a soon to be introduced CD player that the manufacturer was happy to compare to a stream of the same material and sonically, the CD trounced the stream!

A week before the show I had to pack up the Esoteric Grandioso T1 turntable, the review of which I'd just handed in to The Absolute Sound, to ship it off to the show. The instructions recommend at least two and preferably three people to pack up the heavy turntable (the platter alone weights 42 pounds), but I had no one to help so I did it alone and managed quite well (I recommend Pilates to all you youngsters!). A few days later while loading up my snow tire wheels, I wrenched my back as I've never before done—never had back pain—and then something I disagreed with ate me, and between the projectile results of that encounter and my back I almost stayed home, but glad I didn't, though conducting a turntable set-up seminar with a wrenched back was no fun, nor was it fun that the turntable's arm was equally "wrenched" and just hung in space wherever I put it.

Still, I made the most of it and used the occasion to show the full house how to diagnose turntable issues like the ones I had that day. I also ran a useful panel discussion on reissues. Finally, I brought with me test acetates Chris Bellman cut for me of a new album by Patrick Leonard, who some of you might remember from his producing credit on Roger Waters' Amused to Death or his credits on the final three outstanding Leonard Cohen albums. Leonard (Patrick) came to me to help get his new double LP out on vinyl and he said by all means play the record at the show, which I did. I also played files of an LP I'm releasing on my new label Liam Records, with my associate Robin Wyatt, of a young jazz pianist Caelan Cardello, who performed live at then Klavierhaus in New York City with bass great Rufus Reid. Bob Ludwig mastered it for vinyl (he also did Patrick Leonard's record) and I think you will like the music and the sound—the two had never before played together and the connection was electrifying.To us he has the light, joyful Bill Evans touch combined with fearlessness and impressive technical chops too. No wonder Reid champions him.

I don't critique room sound, though some do, and do it pretty well. I just think hotel rooms never do justice to audio gear, though there was some very good sound at the show and a lot that was bad in rooms where I know how good the equipment was.

The lead photo of the Franco Serblin/Air-Tight/Reed room is there because the sound there was memorably good. The late Serblin, who founded Sonus Faber, was such a unique and gifted designer, it seemed that with his passing the company would end but instead, it continues to produce excellent sounding and stylish looking loudspeakers.

This Yukiseimitsu Audio turntable (below) from Japan, which was featured in last year's Munich coverage for my previous endeavor that included an interview with the design team, is now being imported by Axiss Audio and I hope to get one to review (sorry about the photo slant). Also in the photo is are products from Accuphase and Soulution. I played the Patrick Leonard acetate in this room using Gauder Akustik speakers and the sound was accomplished. That's as far as I go with hotel room sound.

Yukiseimitsu AudioHere's the system it was a part of:Axiss DistributionHere are some other rooms that had good sound:

The curious got to hear the Hill Plasma tweeter. The tank is filled with Helium. While the people running the room insisted the system didn't produce Ozone, something smelled unusual and that smell was like being around a chlorinated pool. They said they also smelled it but didn't know what it was. I'm ok with higher mass tweeters but glad they took the trouble to bring and use it with Eminent Technology planar magnetic speakers. Was a fun listen:

Hill Plasma tweeters

Hegel room with Clarisys Minuet ribbon speakers paying homage to Apogee, but much easier to drive, was among the best show sound. I wanted to take these home! And Hegel shows how to turn a hotel room into an oasis of sight and sound, though Clarisys the name sounds like a decongestant:

Hegel-ClarisysMost unusual look were these speakers from Laufer-Teknik They sounded pretty good. I can only imagine how they measure:

Laufer-TeknikJeff Catalano's High Water Sound:

High Water SoundI played through this Aurender AP20 the record I'm releasing called "Who's the New Cat" (and then erased it). Note it says "unknown". I agree with Bob Ludwig's assessment after he mastered it: "In five years everyone will know who Caelan Cardello is.:

Caelan CardelloWhen Franco Serblin passed away (he earlier founded Sonus Faber and the drama related to his exiting the company could be turned into a miniseries) it seemed like the company would leave with him, so singular were his efforts, but the company survives and prospers with exceptional sounding and looking speakers. What style! I met Mr. Serblin at his home when he was still running Sonus Faber. I walked out onto his deck where he was relaxing on a chais lounge wearing a white T-shirt and white slacks. I said to him "Franco, I could come out here in a tuxedo and you'd still look more elegant. And that's the truth. The sound in the Serblin/Air-Tight/Reed room was memorably good.

Franco Serblin/Air-Tight/ReedThe big Vivid speakers driven by Audionet amplifiers fed by a Kronos turntable sounded fine in the GTT Audio room. I could have stayed longer, but of course had to move on

GTT AudioOne of the most memorable rooms was American Sound of Canada, Angie Lisi's 16th floor space. The powered Avantgarde Duo GT speakers that sounded pretty miserable fresh out of the box shoehorned into a small room at the Florida Expo sounded glorious at AXPONA fed by dCS Vivaldi digital and the very Esoteric Grandioso T1 turntable I reviewed for The Absolute Sound (next issue), here with the Ikeda-built for Esoteric arm with Phasemation cartridge and phono preamp. At home, the SAT CF1-09 and Kuzma Safir arms took this turntable to even greater sonic heights. I greatly enjoyed these horns, but I'm still not a "horn guy".

Avantgarde Duo GTNever a problem hopping on a machine at the hotel gym during a hi-fi show

Gym JordanHere I am, having just landed in Chicago with a wrenched back and and seriously upset digestive tract, seeing my old friends and TrackingAngle partners Nick Despotopoulos on my right and David L'Heureux on my left. We hadn't seen each other since 1999. The well haberdashered gentleman to my far right is our attorney, Jay Coleman, but you probably guessed that without him being identified.

TrackingAngleYou'll see many more rooms covered in the video below (below photo of Michael Fremer with AXPONA founder Steve Davis by Grover Neville).


  • 2023-04-26 07:45:11 PM

    George white wrote:

    Great stuff there, as always!