Axpona 2023: HiFi Gear Highlights

A HiFi Show is many things to many people.

There’s business being done between businesses, consumers consume, gawkers gawk, scribes scribble, YouTubers pan, photographers shoot, and listeners try to listen. A hifi show is a multivariate thing, and one would hope that everyone in attendance shared at least the common goal of being polite, courteous, and just generally acting goddam genial.

I love a good hifi show where I get to conduct business, gawk, shoot, listen, and socialize. Among my favorite things a hifi show brings is gathering old friends together, making new ones, discovering music, and getting a big dose of the communal commingle, being part of a group who share at least one common interest, hifi, in most cases two, hifi and music, and in many cases even more (watches, whiskey, art, beer, movies, selvedge jeans, Earglasses, etc.). Walk into either bar at the Renaissance Schaumburg Hotel and Convention Center in Schaumburg, IL where Axpona is held, especially after hours, and you will bear witness to good old fashioned face to face fun.

By most any measure (that I can think of), Axpona 2023 was a roaring success. The place was jumpin’ from the get-go on Friday and remained so until early Sunday afternoon. Lots of new gear was introduced, lots of familiar gear was in use, and plenty of old audiophile chestnuts roasted (I think it’s time for Keith to go), sharing ear time with more adventurous musical fare. Spirits were high and I’d like to think a good time was had by all. I know I had a proverbial blast.

My plan of attack for Axpona 2023 was to get to those rooms I was most interested in and then spend my free time on Sunday exploring even more. As you might expect, the free time part was a silly notion so once again my apologies to the multitude of rooms I never got to.

Avantgarde Acoustic Duo GT ($58,000/pair) are a joy to behold but I arrived early Friday morning before they had time to settle into their temporary home in Schaumberg.

Seawave Acoustics AM45 speakers ($136,000/pair) partnered with the Ayre Acoustics KX-R Twenty Preamplifier ($32,950) and MX-R Twenty Monoblock Amplifiers ($17,950/each) for lightning fast nuanced bold sound.

Cardas Audio, makers of fine audio cables who also happen to be nice people, offered a step back to the 1970s, complete with posters (Farrah Fawcett, Jimi Hendrix, Kiss), memorabilia, classic JBLs, and a MAC SE computer, which I worked on back in the day (yes, I’m that old).

I ran into Diptyque Audio again, this time their Reference panel speakers ($49,999) that are distributed in the US by Fidelity Imports, and I remain very interested.

I got a grand tour of Vivid Audio speakers at NJ Distributor/Dealer GTT Audio recently and their Giya G1 Spirit Speakers ($95,000/pair) were singing sweetly driven by Audionet electronics.

The new Mola Mola Perca Amplifier ($9850) made its world premier in GTT’s smaller room. If you’ve read my reviews of the Mola Mola Kula Integrated (review) and Tambaqui DAC (review), you know I’m a fan.

Of all the servers out in the wild, those from Innuos tickle my visual fancy mostest. Pictured is their new Pulsar Network Music Player + USB Reclocker ($6899). One of these new Innuos steamers will be headed to the Barn in the not so distant future.

Linear Tube Audio always delights at HiFi shows, and Axpona 2023 was no exception with their Ultralinear+ Integrated Amplifier ($7650) powering a pair of PureAudioProject Duet15 Prelude Open Baffle Speakers ($6490/pair). That’s a prototype LTA DAC looking all Frankendac under the amp.

Auralic teamed up with ATC, once again using the ATC Tower Series SCM100ASLT Active loudspeakers ($51,000/pair), filling their large ballroom with powerful sound. The Auralic stack, albeit spread out, included their Aries G2.1 Wireless Streaming Transporter ($5,699), Sirius G2.1 Upsampling Processor ($7,899), Leo GX.1 Clock ($10,499), and Vega G2.1 Streaming DAC ($7,899).

Well Pleased A|V is another company that knows how to make great sound. I chose to zoom in on the Merason DAC1 Mk II ($8000) because every time I hear one in one of Mark Sossa’s system, I like what I hear. Stay tuned for more…

Eye + ear candy—the Nagra Audio Classic DAC ($27,000).

This particularly lovely 300B Parallel Single-ended amp, one of two Phasemation MA-2000 Monaural Power Amplifiers ($51,5000/pair), was in the smaller Avantgarde room where they made sweet sweet music.

Primaluna‘s new EVO 100 Tube Phonostage ($3695) was on silent display in the Upscale Distribution room.

Upscale is also the US distributor for Tannoy, makers of classically classy speakers since 1920 (!). Pictured is their  Kensington Loudspeaker ($9895/each) with a spotlight (apologies for the lousy photo) on their famous flagship 250mm (10.00”) Gold Reference Dual Concentric driver.

Technics new SU-GX70 Network Audio Amplifier ($1999.95) is coming this July and brings a host of Technics tech including the same low-noise JENO Engine (Jitter Elimination and Noise-Shaping Optimization) amp technology found in its flagship Grand Class amplifiers.

The new and sexy Simply 845 Integrated Amplifier ($9999) from Unison Research made its US debut, thanks to Fidelity Imports, at Axpona 2023 after which it’ll be headed to the Barn for closer inspection. Those are honking (and hot) 845s producing the power.

The Yukiseimitsu Audio AP-01 Turntable courtesy of Axiss Distribution. I didn’t ask.

Bel Canto‘s Black E1X Integrated Amplifier ($8500 see review) was paired with the Audiovector QR 7 Loudspeakers ($6500/pair) and I was mightily impressed with the wonderfully airy, detailed, and silky presentation of music from Fela Kuti.

Look familiar? I reviewed most of this Credo/EMM Labs system from Audio Shield Distribution as well as the Credo EV 1202 Ref. Loudspeakers (review) so follow those links for more info. The smaller black EV 1202s had many a show goers aghast when they learned they were not listening through the massive Cinema LTM. “Really? All that sound is coming from the little ones?

Dynaudio hosted jazz singer Anne Bisson who performed live and unamplified along with a Dynaudio/Octave system to dramatic! effect.

Gryphon Audio‘s new EOS 2 Loudspeakers ($20,800) were on silent display.

France’s JMF Audio’s HQS 6002 Amplifer ($39,000)/PRS 1.5 line stage and preamplifier ($34,000) and PCD 102 Power Line Filter ($16,000), fronted by digital gear from Greece’s Ideon both imported by Audio Skies made compelling partners for the Harbeth M40.3 XD speakers ($22,500/pair).

Luxman‘s new flagship PD-191A Turntable ($12,495) is all lust-worthy dressed in red and silver attire.

Speaking of lust-worthy, I’ve got my eye on the Octave Audio V 16 Single Ended Integrated/Headphone Amplifier ($10,000).

Magnepan + Rogue Audio = great sound at a great price. Period.

MoFi Electronics made waves (again) with the new Andrew Jones-designed SourcePoint 8 Loudspeakers ($2999/pair). I went to this room twice to get a listen with no luck—first time there was a demo in an adjoining room and the second time I couldn’t get into the room as it was packed with happy listeners.

The big Piega Master Line Source 2 Loudspeakers ($100,000/pair) filled the huge room they occupied, hosted by MoFi Electronics, with ethereal gut-punching joy driven by BAT amplification.

Sometimes it is easy being green and the Volti Audio Razz Limited Edition three-way, hybrid horn/bass-reflex loudspeaker ($6500/pair) made compelling music with a BordenPatrol S20EXD dual mono 16W/channel parallel 300B single-ended amp, Border Patrol DAC SE-i (starts at $1525) all wired with Triode Wire Labs cable.

Bel Canto‘s new Black DAC ($40,000) was singing in Room 402 along with the Bel Canto BLACK EX Dual Mono Amplifier ($10,500) driving the YG Acoustics Talus Loudspeakers ($14,200/pair) while their Descent active DSP-powered subwoofer ($7800) added more woof! to the bottom end.

Acora Acoustics‘ flagship VRC-1 Loudspeakers ($218,000/pair) weigh in at over 400lbs. a piece and were paired with a pair of VAC Statement 452 iQ Musicbloc Power Amplifiers ($75,000/each) for (rock) solid sound.

Constellation Audio‘s massive Centaur II 500 Stereo Amplifier ($80,000/each) provided more than enough juice (500W into 8 ohm, 1000W into 4) for Magico‘s M2 Loudspeakers ($76,500/pair), making Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga dance in air.

McGary Audio MA1 Mono Amplifiers ($20,000/pair) drove a pair of Usher ML-802 Loudspeakers ($14,300/pair) in the ever affable Dr. Vinyl‘s room and the sound was so involving I nearly forgot that all of this gear was involved in its making.

ModWright‘s new KWA 99 Class A MOSFET Monoblock Amplifiers ($tbd) made their debut at Axpona 2023 paired with the Studio Electric m5 Loudspeakers ($6700/pair).

Rethm‘s redesigned MAARGA passive Loudspeakers ($9750/pair) were paired with the lovely Phasemation MA-2000 Monaural Power Amplifiers ($51,5000/pair), producing a huge yet precise (and nice-) sounding musical image.

The new no-frills Weiss DAC204 DAC ($2895), brought into North America by Bluebird Music, descends from their pro line and it is as cute a button. Yes, I asked and yes I will. Stay tuned.