AXPONA 2018 was a great show on several levels. The new venue is far better than last year and likely better than any other show venue in the US. The fact that there's an attached convention center made the show feel a bit more official than other shows that are held in so-so hotels in which I'd never sleep.
Enough about the venue. Those who weren't there and have no plans to attend could likely care less about the venue. This show was a bit different for me in that I spent way too much time talking business with manufacturers and dealers. There was a ton of interest in Superphonica. We'll have a couple major announcements coming very soon with respect to blue chip brands selling certified used gear through the site and even selling new gear direct for the first time in their histories.
I was able to spend some time on Friday and Saturday listening and much more time on Sunday not only listening to audio systems but also listening to manufacturers explain their products. Some people get upset when a manufacturer is running through the specifics of a product rather than playing music, but I find it equally as valuable. Of note, was David Solomon working with Gayle Sanders new loudspeaker brand Eikon.
David spent a good 10 minutes walking people, myself included, through the details of what I call the Eikon system. I call it a system because it includes a preamp, amps, speakers, cables, and DAC. For some this will be the type of lock-in they run from, but for others this is the solution to a world of problems.
The Eikon system features active loudspeakers with amplifiers for every driver. The most intriguing feature for me is the Wavelet room analysis and DSP correction in both frequency and time domains. The Eikon system uses technology from Sweden's Bohmer Audio (subsidiary of Aditus AB), similar to what Legacy Audio uses in it's systems. It's about time another legendary loudspeaker designer such as Gayle Sanders produced an active speaker with good DSP for room correction. These systems are very powerful and I hope to see many more in the future.
The Eikon system sounded excellent. I spent about 30 minutes listening to a wide array of music selected by David Solomon, another show attendee, and myself. The single most impressive part of this listening session was the Eikon's ability to make the music sound equally as good anywhere in the room.
For example, I put on Leonard Cohen's Show Me the Place and walked around the room, including in the cavernous entrance area of the hotel room. Anyone who has been to an audio show, knows what music sounds like when standing in the doorway or in a corner of a room. Sometimes the bass is so heavy it sounds like a nightclub. Through the Eikon system, this track should have pounded my ears as I walked into the corner and near the door to the room. The experience couldn't have been more opposite. The sound was fantastic no matter where I stood in the room. It was really cool. Once the room issues are removed from a listening environment, it's possible to hear so much more music and many more fine details. I hope my experience with the Eikon system is only the beginning of something great.
Note: I'm awaiting a response from the company about the correct digital input specifications. The website is confusing.
Follow-up from Gayle Sanders: "The Eikontrol will directly accept USB at 352 kHz and will handle DSD as DoP (Digital over PCM) on the USB at 352 kHz PCM sample rate."
I spent some time in the official Aurender room, one of the 20 rooms featuring Aurender music servers. Yes, 20 rooms used products form Aurender. Two products excited me most, the new truly wireless S5W loudspeakers and the Aurender Content Server (ACS).
The S5W loudspeakers are truly wireless. No speaker cables, no interconnects, and no power cables needed. If inclined, a listener could walk around the house carrying one in each arm and music would still be flowing. The S5W speakers are powered by rechargeable 18V lithium batteries. Aurender wisely elected to use a standard Bosch battery that snaps into place in the back of the loudspeakers. These batteries are available "everywhere" for around $100. The S5W supports a continuous play time of about 50 hours and an idle time of about 30 days.
Not only are these speakers truly wireless, but they accept lossless 44.1 / 48 kHz audio. The S5W requires a USB wireless transmitter (included) be connected to an iOS device, Android device, laptop, desktop, and an Aurender music server. This ensures both reliable playback and configuration so simple there isn't any configuration. A CA reader sat next to me while I was listening to the speakers at the show and asked to use his iPhone to stream music to them. He asked if he needed to be on the wireless network. Aurender said no, just plugin the transmitter and stream music from the phone or Tidal etc... There also are no Bluetooth pairing-type headaches. There is no pairing or "connecting" to the S5W. Plugin the transmitter and that's it.
A red review pair is sitting on my desk, playing the song Chicago from The Staves as I type this show report. The wireless transmitter is connected to an Aurender N100H and I'm selecting music from the Aurender iOS app on my iPad Pro. Much more to come.
S5W Price: $3,000 (excluding batteries and iOS cable)
Briefly, the Aurender Content Server (ACS) was on display at AXPONA 2018. I've seen couple people talk about this as a CD ripper, but I assure everyone this is so much more. I'm really excited about the ACS to store and serve terabytes of my music. There are so many features either implemented or in the pipeline, that I really don't want to dive into this one just yet. I'll be receiving the first review sample in the world later this summer and will fill everyone in on the final feature set at that time. Again, this is far more than a CD ripper.
ACS Price: $5,600 w/ 8TB HDD
Other sights and sounds of AXPONA 2018
The new Audio Research Reference 160 M (REF160M) power amplifiers not only look amazing, but they sound just as good. Quintessence Audio had the REF 160M amps connected to a dCS and Wilson Audio system at the show. Both times I went in this room, once on Friday and once on Sunday, it sounded wonderful. The new look of the REF160M is so cool, it should be seen in person to really appreciate. Power meters are between a dual layers of a transparent faceplate. This faceplate has etched output level markings illuminated by hidden LEDs, with manual brightness adjustment available. Again, go see and hear these if you can!
Price: $30,000 /pair
Bel Canto Black EX system sounded wonderful with a wide range of music.
Price: DAC/Preamp $13,990, Amp $11,990
Avantgarde playing Rammstein = Priceless.
Dynaudio / Octave Audio
By far the best part of AXPONA was meeting up with members of the CA Community after hours. I won't name names, because I'm not sure if there are warrants our for some of you (only kidding), but I had a blast with everyone I was fortunate enough to spend time with. A couple guys introduced themselves just as I was leaving. I'm bummed we couldn't talk more, but I hope to see them next year.
ATTN: ted_b and TubeLover - You guys were missed this year.
Also, on Thursday night I went with Mike from Dynaudio, Thomas from Octave Audio, and Taylor and Antonio from Audio Vision San Francisco to the Afghan Whigs concert. It was held at the Vic Theater in Chicago. I'd never seen the Whigs perform live prior to this concert. We arrived at the perfect time, just as the opening band was finishing. This enabled us to walk right up to the third row, in the center of the stage. The concert was a blast. However, listening to 120 dB music without earplugs wasn't the best move before attending an audio show. The first day my ears were still ringing, but by Saturday everything was back to normal.
I look forward to seeing everyone again next year!
P.S. Not as bad as my drive home through an avalanche, driving home from Chicago was treacherous. Heading home to 15+ inches of new snow, we saw several cars in the ditch and this semi sideways in the middle of the highway. I think I'll fly to more audio shows :~)