In absentia: an AXPONA 2017 preview

  • Room to roam. For the North American-based hifi journalist, audio shows are plentiful: CES, RMAF, CAF, Vancouver Audio Show, California Audio Show, Salon Audio Montreal, the always moving NYAS and, for 2017, two Los Angeles events replace T.H.E. Show Newport Beach.

    For this overseas-located journalist with much further to travel, each event presents a conundrum: to attend or not to attend? On the upside, an audio show is an opportunity to spend time with fellow journalists who would otherwise be scattered all over the USA (or world). On the down, the risk of covering the same gear in the same fashion: a few photos, a paragraph explaining the what and the how much and, for more progressive publications, a video interview with the designer or other company representative.

    In restricting US audio show coverage to RMAF this year, more time can be allotted to reviews and events hitherto untouched by Stateside-locked colleagues. Superbooth 2017 takes place in my new home of Berlin this weekend. That makes deciding on how to handle its direct clash with AXPONA 2017 much easier.

    According to their website, AXPONA – Audio Expo North America – is the biggest North American audio event of them all: “[It] is the largest high-end consumer audio show in North America. The three day experience features multiple hotel floors packed with listening rooms, exhibit floors, seminars and live musical performances…The event features over 140 high fidelity listening rooms, providing guests the enviable opportunity to experience the newest technology in high-end consumer audio products. Attendees are encouraged to go from room to room and sit, listen and compare the various systems. The Marketplace and Ear Gear Expo play host to thousands of products and accessories from cables to headphones to LPs and SACDs.”

    And yet the Force of FOMO remains strong within yours truly. Were I to be spending the next three days and nights at the Westin O’Hare in Chicago this weekend, here’s where I’d go first:

    1. Wyred 4 Sound recently announced an update to their DAC-2. This year, the Californian company celebrate ten years in the hifi business with a “10th Anniversary” DAC-2v2-SE, complete with champagne silver chassis and red display. The first of this limited production run will debut at AXPONA. Details here.

    2. We first caught Neat Acoustics‘ IOTA Alpha mini-floorstander at Munich 2016. I’m jonesin’ for a second listen to a loudspeaker that could almost be tailor made for my new Berlin digs. Hifi Services will be demonstrating a pair of the Neats in Room 338. Also on show will be the visually striking Analogue Works TT Two turntable.

    3. The beauty of Vinnie Rossi‘s LIO system is its modular architecture. When an updated DAC or phono stage arrives, no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Slide out the old module, screw in the new one – job done. Alas, the forthcoming LIO DAC 2.0 and LIO MOSFET AMP 2.0 modules won’t be ready until June (and so won’t be at AXPONA). Why visit Vinnie? Aside from him being a super nice guy, I’m keen for the OTR lowdown on his recent decision to play wait and see on putting MQA into a LIO DAC module. If you care not for digital audio – or nice guys – then visit Vinnie as he once again teams up with US distrubutor Fidelis for all things Harbeth.

    4. Room 635 will be a busy one. On loudspeaker duties you’ll find Clayton Shaw’s Spatial Audio who, behind the scenes, are working on activating an open-baffle loudspeaker with the help of the aforementioned Vinnie Rossi. That too remains a work in progress. At AXPONA expect to see a new Spatial passive: the 16 Ohm M3 Triode Master, explicitly designed for tube amplifiers like Linear Tube Audio‘s ZOTL-40 MKII. If that’s not enough, Lampizator‘s Komputer server and latest DAC, the Golden Atlantis, will also be on show.

    5. In the streaming age, vinyl’s enlarged cover art is more of a draw card now than it ever was. No wonder so many of us want to show off our favourites by hanging them on the wall. But what about hanging the record itself? Twelve Inch‘s invisible display bracket allows us to do either. Their magnetic clip-on/off wall mount system will sell for US$15 and up when it goes on sale later this year. Preview it at AXPONA’s Marketplace, booth 312.

    6. In rooms 414 and 415, Xuanqian Wang will be teasing second generation versions of AURAliC‘s Aries streamer and Vega DAC (see header image) ahead of their official Munich debut. Good to see Wang’s gone with black on both (after years of me nagging him to make a black Vega). Note: these prototypes will be on static display only.

    7. If Zu Audio made turntables, I’d wager they’d look something like that offered up Fern & Roby: robust and sturdy. And if you find this Richmond, VA company’s Montrose turntable coming on like a piece of furniture, that might be because Fern & Roby also design and make furniture. Adding a healthy dollop of German flavour to their room will be Berlin’s Voxativ (whose HQ I’ll be visiting some time in the next few months).

    8. Lastly – VPI Industries. You couldn’t avoid the Weisfeld family’s magnificent range of turntables at AXPONA even if you tried. The company will be furnishing a whopping fifteen rooms with their wares:

    As this article goes live, Chicago is just waking up to Friday 21st April – day one of three for what promises to be another great year for AXPONA.

    Further information: AXPONA

    John Darko

    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has also contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram


    1. It will be easy to go to the Munich Audio Show in may, on the other hand. To check out Chord Hugo 2 perhaps?

    2. Thanks for the write up! I’m I the only one thinking the new Auralic gear looks to have taken an industrial design class from Naim?

    3. I’ll be attending Axpona and it will be my first audio show… evah. Please have mercy on me for what’s to come. lol


      Very good looking…

      But static display…. well it certainly looks well worth the long wait.. Only another month!

    5. Having attended the first day of AXPONA, I found two rooms of particular interest. The Hegel room showed us digital done right. Terrific sound and well presented. The second room was a local Chicago dealer (Holm Audio) demonstrating a system that included speakers manufactured by NOLA. The sound had me entranced for many minutes. Honorable mention goes to the Joseph Audio room, putting a real-to-reel tape player to good use. I saw about a half dozen reel-to-reel machines at the show. What’s old is new again. Finally, I enjoyed the opportunity to have a lengthy chat with Rob Darling of Roon. He was most generous with his insights.

      • Thanks for a most excellent comment contribution, David. I keep hearing good things about Hegel.

    6. 2nd generation Altair from Auralic by any chance???? I really like what the Aurender A10 offers but would need to sell a kidney to fund it. The Auralic looks like it ticks most of the same boxes with a slightly different take on MQA

    7. Hi John,

      It should be noted that the Linear Tube Audio ZOTL 40 is specifically designed to have a low output impedance (1.6 ohms I believe). Therefore, I think it is odd that they were paired with the 16 ohm Spatial Triode Master.

    Designed to turn heads: Master & Dynamic’s MA770 loudspeaker

    OPPO Digital’s UDP-205 – an audio/visual man machine