Searching For Good Sound at AXPONA Chicago 2014
I attended my first AXPONA audio show over the weekend. The show was held at the Westin O'Hare about thirty minutes outside Chicago. I had a really good time at this show. The venue was terrific. It's always nice when luxury goods are on display at a hotel where a luxury goods buyer may actually stay. In other words, high end audio shows shouldn't be at rundown hotels or motels. The Westin O'hare is a very nice location. I hope to attend the show there next year. I spent much of my time at AXPONA searching for good sound and good music amongst a sea of subpar noise. I say noise because much of it didn't sound like music. A guy beating on some tree roots with sticks isn't my idea of a good time. I like music for its ability to bring out emotion and connect with people. Playing this music on a great audio system can really enhance the experience. Most of the rooms we just plain bad. The sound quality wasn't representative of the equipment on display and worse yet, the noise that was played through these systems was so unemotional I felt like I was in a laboratory. Oh wait maybe I was. One manufacturer was displaying his equipment connected to an audio analyzer so people could see the waves on a small green screen rather than listen to music through his components. Maybe I'm an outlier because I prefer to bring my own USB
stick of music and play it on a variety of systems as if I was sitting in my own house. That brings me to another issue I had with people demonstrating equipment at the show. I had a difficult time getting manufacturers or dealers to play music from my USB
stick. This is computer audio people, not rocket science. If your system is setup so bad it's nearly impossible to import audio from a patron's USB
stick maybe you ought to spend some time getting educated on the ins and outs of computer audio. When it's easier for a user to order a component online, demo it for thirty days in his home at no cost, and ship it back if needed, something is wrong. High end audio should be on the cutting edge of sound quality, convenience, and customer service. The prices are certainly on the cutting edge, but not in a good way. Enough of the excuses about being "analog guys" who don't understand all this "new" digital stuff. It's time to adapt or die.
That said, I had fun at the show and found some real gems. My favorite room featured exaSound DACs and JansZen loudspeakers. George from exaSound was running the room with his laptop and JRiver Media Center connected to both his stereo and multi channel DACs. George played a piece of music for me and a colleague that sounded so much better than most of the other rooms combined, we asked to hear it again. The piece of music featured a terrific violin solo that sounded as if the violinist was standing between the speakers. The texture of the violin strings and bow could almost be felt just by listening. Another room that is worthy of praise is the Quintessence Audio (Morton Grove, IL) / Dynaudio / Simaudio room. I was handed an iPad that contained a "real" music collection rather than Scottish nose whistle recorded at 33 bit / 384 kHz. I queued up a bunch of Pearl Jam, ask for the volume to be set somewhat loud, and tapped play on the MiND network music player iOS application. The large Dynaudio loudspeakers and very powerful Simaudio monoblocks energized the room. The sound was great and enabled me to have fun as if I was sitting at home with my iPad and remote control. This is the type of experience I'd want to have if I was at the show searching for new HiFi equipment.
In addition to the audio rooms, the AXPONA show featured several seminars and presentations. I attended the presentation given by Pono CEO John Hamm. John's presentation was a breath of fresh air in a frequently opaque audiophile world. Simply put, John has done his homework and he gets it. He shared several slides depicting how the Pono model will work, addressing naysayers, and showing industry trends for streaming, MP3 downloads, and high resolution downloads. Wrapping up the talk John answered every question posed without a hint audiophile vagueness that turns good people away from this hobby. I believe the presentation was recorded. Hopefully it will be available online in the near future.
Here are a few photos from AXPONA Chicago 2014.