Axpona 2017-2018: What’s an Audio Expo?
What does spring mean to you? For us, spring is all about The Axpona Audio Expo, North America. This three day event that takes place on April 13-15 is the big leagues for “all things audio - all in one place” and it's our best place to find new Wireless Speakers.
Axpona is not a trade event like the January CES show in Las Vegas where you’ll find all the audio brands showing off all their latest products. Axpona is even better, with all the same goodies and it’s not a trade show so everyone is invited.
If you are first time show goer, pondering a multi room music system for the house, or a new audiophile system, and you just don’t want go to Best Buy and follow the herd to the Sonos section, then you’ll have a great time looking at everything available.
The show offers a chance to audition all the finest music systems and the newest high-end audio gear for all your home and portable music needs. You’ll find all the great audio brands, housed in 150 listening rooms and you’ll also find the best accessories and more for tweaking your setup.
This years Expo Hall is in multiple Ballroom’s which are chock-full with even more exhibitors showing off new and vintage vinyl, DIY loudspeakers and audio kits, custom turntables, exotic headphones, personal listening gear, music software, wireless adaptors, and lots and lots of exotic analog and digital cables.
There are Great Reasons for Audio Expos
Around the country, the Axpona Expo and other high-end audio shows seem to be kicking into a higher gear with the public, music lovers, and audio hobbyists attending en masse.
Among the reasons why these shows are now at the forefront of how to see and buy audio gear, is the dwindling ability that we have to go and visit a local hi-fi audio shop to check out audio systems.
Some of you may remember the local Hi-Fi Shop. It was where you used find out about the latest and greatest home audio products, and for many of us listening to and comparing loudspeakers. Doing this with any audio component in the system chain especially speakers, used to be a “thing” you did at your hi-fi shop. Now, not so much...
I’ll Make Wager You Purchased Your KEF LS50 Speakers Online
Many consumers have moved on from brick and mortar hi-fi shops or big box stores, and now that “thing” is very much about buying hi-fi systems online. This tacit acceptance of new consumer behavior demonstrates that the old rules of the audiophile world are being broken.
Consumers are buying luxury audio gear without ever giving these expensive components a listen.
Buying online: Back to KEF and those LS50’s for one moment. KEF knew they had a winner back in 2013 with the LS50 loudspeakers. Surprisingly, for this specific model the distribution channel was not hi-fi shops, or big box stores. For a number of years now, KEF has sold the LS50’s through online channels. So today, many an audio products success comes from online sales instead.
Most audio products are available for purchase online (and many exclusively). Every conceivable bit of information about those products is also available online.
When you combine online searches, social networks, the wealth of online marketing materials, online written reviews, video unboxings and video reviews, you will quickly find that there is an enormous amount of information out there. Often it’s enough to make a buying decision.
It’s time to return to the show
It’s great that you can internet shop without seeing actual product for much of what is available in the way of audio gear. You may get excited by all the online reviews and social media sites dedicated to home and personal audio systems, but is really enough for most people to make a considered purchasing decision?
We think the Axpona Expo fills that important void left behind by the local Hi-fi store. The experience of being able to play with cool gear that you’re thinking about bringing home is accessible at a show like this.
Whether you’re buying online, offline or even at the show, Axpona definitely fills that huge gap left behind by the disappearing local hi-fi stores.
High end home audio is not cheap, these products are considered purchases and Axpona lets you shop and compare the very best gear to your heart's content.
I found the loudspeaker listening experiences and chance to audition and learn about the gear was truly excellent. It reminded me of those near-forgotten, trusted Hi-fi shops that are harder and harder to come by in most major metros.
Our Visit to Axpona in 2017
Looking back, there were a lot of highlights at last years show. It was much bigger than any of the previous years I had attended. The 2017 Expo was also more enjoyable and seemed much better organized. It was loaded with more audiophile brands than years before, and they brought with them even more interesting audio gear. Technology never stops advancing.
It was a little tragic that we had only one full day to visit the show last year, but we managed to pull off some interesting, exclusive interviews and attend some great product demo sessions.
We started of with a biggie, and thanks to the great team members at Bang & Olufsen, we enjoyed their hospitality at the show.
B&O wanted to make a big splash and set up a full line of luxury home audio products, including a pair of the legendary BeoLab 90 speakers. This was an amazing demo of a unique high-end loudspeaker system with a price tag to match. You can watch our B&O Beolab 90 review & demo video:
Beolab 90 Review & Demo by David Zapfel of Bang & Olufsen
Bang & Olufsen has also created several competitive earphone and headphone products and as a result of the show, we also reviewed the B&O Beoplay H5 wireless earphones. People seemed to like our unboxing video, now up to over 10,000 views. I was happy not to be on camera, and nobody else complained either. Read our B&O H5 Earphones review.
B&O Beoplay H5 Earphones Review
Next up was KEF. We met them in their listening room to hear the brand-new LS50W Wireless speaker system. The detail of the LS50W design, and how to get the most out of it, was described to us in long form by Dipin and Johan, two of the most well-informed gentlemen on KEF in the world. With the great success of the LS50 they made sure to characterize the LS50W as a very special product. We sure agree, and here’s our discussion with KEF on the LS50W Speakers.
KEF LS50 Wireless Speakers Review: KEF Interview at Axpona 2017
We also enjoyed our time with Audioengine and spoke about the company's approach to designing their very successful line of wireless desktop loudspeakers. We talked mostly about their listening sessions when designing a new wireless loudspeakers and why it’s so important to get that right. Read our AudioEngine Interview.
AudioEngine HD6: Interview Axpona 2017
Wrapping Up 2017...
There was so much to see and report but as I said, we attended just the one day. With our GoPro and iPhones drained we chatted about all things audiophile with some friends, new and old, happy that we had met some truly great hi-fi companies.
At Cambridge Audio we found something special in the sound of their passive bookshelf and floor standing loudspeakers. We stayed just a bit longer with refreshments and a great music demo. We talked about some of their newest components and a multi-room wireless speaker we liked.
Goldmund made the news and showed off a wireless speaker system every bit as expensive and the Bang and Olufsen BeoLab 90. After catching a look we had to add it to our most impressive Wireless Speaker Finder.
In the Expo Hall, Roon Labs told us more about their music management platform. With a yearly or lifetime subscription it will work wonders with all of your digital files and is the ultimate music curation tool. Roon can also combine with the Tidal streaming service to further enhance your experience.
And Finally a Most Interesting Hall
The Axpona Hall was the most visited area in last years show. We liked it because you could dig around for the unique audio gadgets, along with lots of new products from established brands.
We liked that we found some amazing home-built audiophile turntables along with great restored vintage gear for sale. It is also the home for the budget audiophile. We found more interesting audio DIY kits than we’ve seen anywhere. We really got a kick out of these cool, easy to put together components that included CD players, digital and tube amps, and of course, loudspeakers.
All the best budget and luxury portable gear was on show to test out. Having the dealers of all this sumptuous headphones and portable stuff in one place was a nice benefit of the show.
As we are now in the digital age, we found plenty of music software and streaming services like Roon Labs and Tidal showing their wares with some great giveaways. And, last but not least, plenty of the best high quality analog and digital connectors for your gear we on display.
Does Apple, Sonos, Google, and Amazon fit into this high-end audio space?
The Apple HomePod music system came on the scene this year and Apple has market leader Sonos, plus Google, and Amazon in its sights, promising a more high-end voice activated speaker system.
Voice activated personal assistant or not, is a HomePod, Sonos or the others high-end sound quality when compared against even budget priced audiophile products? My answer would be, No. Not really.
No one understands our desires better than Amazon, Google, Apple, and even Sonos listening in and waiting for our next command. I do think they’ve figured out that their stuff doesn’t really compete with audiophile kit because none of them will be at the Axpona show in 2018.
Sonos was at last years show but it seems that since jumping in with its own voice activation speaker, and like the rest of Silicon Valley, they won’t attend in 2018. I’m sure once they have something that sounds really decent they will turn up again in subsequent years.
One day was certainly not enough last year! Come this April we will be visiting Axpona for much longer and cover the show in its entirety. We have our sights set on longer battery life for our cameras and recording gear, making more friends, and producing more video interviews.
In no specific order here is who we want to track down:
From Germany, the Kii Three active loudspeaker system seem to be a tour de force when it comes to luxury priced one-size-fits-all stereo systems.
Kii Audio and the Three loudspeaker surely look the part. From many a show we’ve learned there is always a loudspeaker system or two at every Axpona that is extra special, and we are hoping this is one of them.
Dynaudio are the Denmark-based manufacturer with some great loudspeakers. We plan a full review about its wireless range of stereo speakers and their whole-home music system.
Kanto Living has a line of wireless bookshelf and desktop speakers that we think fit the bill for those who like rounded edges, turntables, and quality sound. We know it’s an easy to use setup, and we promise to report more about these products.
We are big-time fans of Vanatoo after just finishing an extended review of their Transparent Zero speaker system. Our reviewer sort of flipped out about them because of more than just the amazing sound quality. We can’t wait to talk loudspeakers with this new company from Canada.
This will also be our first chance to checkout Bluesound. Their system and speakers are all about studio-quality streaming anywhere in your home, and we’d like to ask them more about their loudspeakers and some new partnerships we’ve heard about.
Last year we missed time with Nashville based Emotiva. This year we plan to sit with their head honcho to talk about the Airmotiv bi-amped loudspeaker and some ideas they may have for more wireless and Bluetooth gear.
We will stop by again at Cambridge Audio. They will be back with some new gear and a new range of wireless multi-room speakers that we’d like to review.
Here’s a cool article from the Cambridge website we liked. “Test your speakers like a Cambridge Audio engineer”.
Bryston is a well-established Canadian loudspeaker company (very old school and offer a 20-year warranty). We want to stop by to see their all-in-one wireless/networked speaker system.
We also learnt about Mark Audio who are relatively new to the USA. With one quick glance you’ll see why these could be one of the more interesting loudspeakers at the show. They seem to be in a class of their own, and we are hyper-interested in getting a listen.
ELAC has a new sub woofer and iPhone or Android controller that looks tasty along with a range of affordable bookshelf speakers we like and all-in-one wireless speaker that looks to be a contender.
PS Audio makes the sort of gear most of us can’t afford. One very affordable product from the company is a tiny integrated amplifier called Sprout. We hear that they’ll be showing off a new second iteration of the product. What’s great about Sprout is you can match it up with just about any pair of passive loudspeakers, connect with Bluetooth, digital, analog, or a turntable, and then get ready to rock and roll. No kidding!
It will hopefully be our first visit with a product we know and like a lot. Award-winning IsoAcoustics designs good-looking and flexible speaker stands and other isolation components. They don’t cost a fortune and make a significant sonic difference for the better. We can’t wait to sit down, give them a listen, and find out more.
And finally, we hope to make it to Astell & Kern who make some of the most amazing portable devices on the planet. They now have a home audio line featuring a desktop setup we are quite keen on seeing more of.
Our thing at Rateyoursound.com is to report on all things wireless home audio. I mention that again because Axpona has every type of product for both home and portable audio. All the types of products that are covered in on the WirelessHomeAudio Reddit page.
For you first timers, be sure not to miss some of the larger than life sound featured in the high-end loudspeaker rooms. The prices of these music systems may scare you off but it's good to experience music in this way for at least few minutes of your life. If you love big and bold sound then be sure to make some time to swing by.
This is just our short list of important exhibitors. With hundreds of exhibitors, and as is the nature of shows, I'm sure you will find some great people, and even more audio surprises if you head on down. If you're a serious about your music and like consumer electronics and high-end audio gear don't miss Axpona 2018.