Wrap Up – AXPONA 2016

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There were a lot of rooms we didn’t get to see, some rooms we didn’t get enough time in, but all in all it was all time well spent. The AXPONA show delivered some surprising and refreshing diversity in the crowd this time around, and especially in the personal audio section called Ear Gear Expo.

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Good sights, amazing sounds. There is genuine passion to be found within the waves of thousands of dedicated audiophiles (4,092 to be exact) that roam the hallways, rooms and lobbies of the Rosemont Westin. More college students and female enthusiasts showed up on a weekend that was one of the first collection of warm days in many many months. Having experienced the bitter cold seasons of the midwest firsthand, I can tell you that the first weekend of warmth after the winter season is something so exuberant, so precious, that few feelings of joy and renewal can compete with it. Its not something that individuals born and raised in moderate climates will ever quite grasp I’m afraid.

Benchmark at AXPONA

Pro and enthusiasts straddler Benchmark had a nice display just kiddy corner from the marketplace on the main floor. You can read all about our previous coverage of the real estate savvy AHB2 amp ($3k) [here] and our review of one of their delightfully detailed DACs [here]. Along with the hallway display, Benchmark had a surround sound setup featuring special mixes and one AHB2 per channel running in mono. The sonic tapestry was dynamic and far more lifelike than your average surround setup with individual instruments often isolated to a single channel. The result is more akin to a band playing all around you in well tempered home living room than a performance stage, where sound can come from haphazard directions. It was a very unique listening experience for an audio show and a must hear for any multichannel connoisseur.

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I also came across a great demo going on in the 6th floor Morrow Audio room featuring Larry Mitchell. A severely talented guitarist, Larry was playing through Morrow’s high end Phoenix guitar cable ($700) and other assorted wire from the company.

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Back in EGX, there was an interesting take on headphone stands called Bendy Head ($79). According to the company’s founder Peter James, Bendy Head provides superior support for your expensive headphone’s headbands by virtue of its flexible top.  The slotted bendable crown promises a more even distribution of pressure across the suspension material than your typical single touchpoint rod-based stands. Bendy Head is available in 3 colors and also can be personalized with custom engraving options. The “natural” color seemed particularly striking to my sensibilities.

More info: http://www.bendyhead.com/shop/natural-finish-bendy-head-stand/

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Across from Bendy Head was a interesting niche product that seems perfectly suited to scratch a particular itch. The Sugar Cube from SweetVinyl ($2k) can act as a A/D converter, D/A converter (24/192 max) and vinyl listening station. You can rip your entire record collection down to digital with the Sugar Cube and the device will automatically detect and enter the meta data for you into the files, it even displays the album art for the track you are listening to on a screen located on the front panel. There is also a pop-and-click removal feature that promises to clear up unwanted dirties without degrading SQ. You can even control most of the delicacies of the ripping interface through a handy dandy app the company has developed.

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The hard-to-spell Etymotic universal fit IEM company had a few of their upcoming models on display in EGX as well. The earplug and monitor company has a research facility located in nearby Elk Grove Village Illinois and offers earphone products starting under $100. Etymotic rose to fame among the personal audio crowd with its ER4 balanced armature IEM ($300). The two new models extend the line with SR and XR variants. The XR is intended for those who like a little more in the low end (hence the “eXtended” nomenclature) while the SR promises more of an audiophile/studio neutral feel. Both “Rs” will have  removable cables fitted with a MMCX jack, expect shipping to start in early May.

[AXPONA Wrap Up Part 2]