By Rafe Arnott
Three days, and three nights.
72 contiguous hours.
I mean, sure, there were only 22 literal hours of exhibition to clock at the venue, but I mean c’mon, even that should be plenty of time to see it all… right? Not even close when it comes to a monster audiophile show the size that AXPONA 2018 morphed into with brand new digs at the Renaissance Schaumburg Hotel & Convention Centre. This venue seemed to stretch as far as the eye could see, and you need not only your big-boy pants to pull up, but your big-boy shoes to lace up.
This was not a show for the faint of heart or faint of wallet. With more than 150 audiophile rooms for sonic listening pleasures, and 561 exhibitors on hand demonstrating their wares, this was truly the big leagues. Some of the sound systems that had been curated to impress what cost-no-object is capable of producing sound-wise were topping out into the deep six-figures, with many others hovering around the $200,000 – $300,000 USD mark.
Many would read numbers like that, and shake their heads, saying that madness has gripped the industry. On some levels I see the zeros adding-up like that, and I think things are getting pricey, but at the same time research & development is not cheap. Nor is first-world labour, and neither are using top-tier components in circuit pathways, chassis, crossovers, or loudspeaker enclosures. Or conversely, tooling-up, bringing it all in-house, and building everything on your own from scratch regardless of what it is made of: carbon fibre, composites, titanium, copper, gold, silver, platinum, other exotic metals.
So when you note an $80,000 USD price tag on a pair of speakers sheathed in Unobtanium, and painted with the same quality of coatings that a Maserati, or Bentley is, and take into consideration that several highly-trained craftspeople spent 200 hours to build said speakers, the MSRP starts to make sense.
While there was a lot of upper-tier gear in Chicago from big names like Von Schweikert, Dan D’Agostino, Sonus Faber, Wilson Audio, and CH Precision to name buy a very few, but there was also a lot of affordable gear too. There was probably more affordable gear on display at one show than I’ve seen outside of High End in Munich to be honest, and that’s heartening because not everybody who really loves music has pocket depths that match their passion for great sound.
Companies like VPI Industries were showing off turntables that retail for under $1,000 USD, as were ELAC with their Debut Line of loudspeakers, ditto for Schiit Audio, Rega, Klipsch, B&W, etc. There’s more high-quality betray-level gear available now because of trickle down technology than ever before in my opinion.
This was a show that truly had something for everyone, and I personally enjoyed it on a number of levels: I got to see, and hear a ton of fantastic gear, the layout of the new location is one of the best I’ve experienced to navigate, and I also got to reconnect with old friends, and make a ton of new ones. But I have to say, it wasn’t easy to spend time catching up with people, and lending an ear to all the rooms I wanted to spend time with in just three days.
Several acquaintances, manufacturers, distributors, and friends all said that with an event of this stature perhaps it was time to extend North American shows to four days, but others countered with the fact that brings in a whole other level of costs, and complexities.
Regardless of what happens moving forward, and the fact that many feel three days, and three nights should be enough time, I have to pause, shake my head sadly, and say no, they are not.