Everyone in the high-end audio industry who attended AXPONA 2022 in Chicago had the same feeling when everything wrapped up. That feeling wasn’t “everything is back to normal,” because most of us realize that’s a foolish thing to proclaim these days. But AXPONA 2022 was a return to the way things used to be, with plenty of attendees filling up the rooms—lots of them, in fact. The feeling, for lack of better words, is “we made it.”
This was a show that felt like the shows we attended back in 2019. In this industry, that’s downright inspiring. In fact, I settled back into my old routines rather quickly. For me that means checking out the Von Schweikert/VAC room first thing. Let’s face it, I’ve awarded Best Sound at Show over and over to VSA because Damon Von Schweikert and Leif Swanson and The Audio Company always bring their best. They’ve elevated an exhibitor room into an art form, with an army of dedicated people who keep these standards impossibly high. This year, that famous million dollar-plus system was fronted by the new Von Schweikert Ultra 7, a slightly smaller version of the formidable Ultra 9 and Ultra 11 we usually see.
Was the sound smaller? Of course not. If you want a speaker that will energize a gigantic space, no one does it like VSA. I was even lucky enough to visit after hours and enjoy one of Greg Weaver’s entertaining LP parties, with plenty of rare vinyl that only Greg seems to have. Legendary stuff. Of all the things I missed over the last two years, hanging out in this room was perhaps the hardest pill to swallow. I feel whole again, even though I stayed up until 3am one night. It was worth it.
What else was spectacular at AXPONA 2022? Vinnie Rossi’s new Brama integrated amplifier ($38,995) mated with the $18,000/pair Qln Signature monitors. I’ve been waiting to hear this combo for more than a year—I’m a big fan of both brands. But the Brama and the Signatures delivered a sound that was as perfect as I could imagine. While VSA system shows me the possibilities of a high-end audio system, the Vinnie Rossi/Qln system, curated by Mark Sossa of Well Pleased Audio Vida, shows me the possibilities of what I might enjoy in my home one day if I’m a good boy and I work hard. This is an endgame combo—if I purchased it, I would never leave my listening room again. This may be the greatest integrated amplifier/two-way bookshelf I’ve heard. Period.
So I am a two-way bookshelf monitor guy. Toward the end of the show, I heard the diminutive Credo EV 350 Reference speakers ($7,000/pair). They’re small, and they come in conventional bookshelf enclosures. They look like a number of other mini-monitors until you hear them. Credo was running a big downstairs room with Credo’s largest line array models and plenty of lofty gear from EMM Lab, Van den Hul, VPI and more. I thought the tiny EV 350s would get lost in that huge room. They didn’t. I’ve never heard a small speaker that could energize a huge room with such aplomb.
AXPONA 2022 wouldn’t be a show to me without Joseph Audio, Doshi Audio and Cardas cables. They’ve been partners at high-end audio shows for years, and it shows. Despite the fact that the upstairs rooms at the Renaissance Schaumburg were relatively small by show standards, and Jeff Joseph brought his largest model, the Pearl3 Graphene loudspeakers, it was like going home after a lengthy trip and finding your surroundings just as accommodating and warm as ever.
Other incredible rooms included:
Ideon Audio, JMF amplification from France and huge Vivid Audio G1S loudspeakers ($86,000/pair) were another surprise. I haven’t heard of JMF until now, but these amps are almost bespoke and the entire system was so sweet and refined that I quickly fell under its spell. I also experienced the Ideon Audio Absolute stack—Epsilon DAC ($47,000), Stream ($19,900) and Time ($9,900) Dave McNair at PTA is reviewing the Ideon Absolute as we speak, and he’s bowled over by them. After this demo, so was I.
The Acora Acoustics room was also a pleasure, as always. PTA awarded the Acora SRC-2s ($37,000/pair) our extremely rare Summit Award. This was the first time I’ve heard them in person, and I can finally concur.
Yeah, these prices seem a little high for the uninitiated, but there were plenty of affordable—well, relatively affordable by high-end standards—products that sounded wonderful, such as the Sonner Audio Legato Duos loudspeakers ($11,000), the stunning combination of the $4,900 Rosso Fiorentino Prienza loudspeakers with Norma electronics in the Audio Thesis room as well as the $1598/pair GoldenEar BRX monitors, which I’m currently reviewing, but here with matching subwoofers.
AXPONA 2022 proved that the high-end industry is healthy and ready to move forward after two years of nothingness. It’s clear that many manufacturers took the pandemic hiatus to develop some new and exciting products. I’m already looking forward to AXPONA 2023.
By Marc Phillips