What Was New at the Axpona Audio Expo 2019?

Pro-Ject Juke Box S2 Turntable With Acrylic Platter
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Pro-Ject Audio Juke Box S2 Turntable with acrylic platter

Axpona 2019 Show Report

High fidelity shows have been going on since the advent of this hobby. Today the Axpona Audio Expo in Chicago is the largest consumer electronics event of this kind in North America.

For this show you’ll find our attention is on identifying affordable or budget audiophile gear.

We look for systems that cost thousands, but not tens of thousands. Still, we also always keep an eye out for the newest and sometimes luxury priced high-performance gear that these shows offer in an abundance. Here is a summary of the products we covered.

  • Turntables: Pro-Ject Audio Systems, Tien Audio
  • Tube Gear: Raven Audio, Auris Audio, Rogers High Fidelity
  • Accessories & Gear: Muzen, Audioengine, Kimber Kable, Furutech, IsoAcoustics, Synergistics Research
  • Music Streaming: Qobuz
  • Audio Components: Pro-Ject Audio Systems, Primare AB, Quad, ELAC, Bowers & Wilkins, Pear Audio
  • Passive Loudspeakers: Raven Audio, Well Rounded Sound, Auris Audio, CSS Audio, Quad, ELAC, Verdant Audio, Grandinote, Verity Audio, Alta Audio,
  • Active & Wireless Speakers: Dynaudio, Bryston, Vanatoo, Audioengine, ELAC, KEF, Bowers & Wilkins, Goldmund
  • Publications: Vinyl Times
  • High-end Audio Dealers: Audio Consultants, Tone Studio, Saturday Audio Exchange, Decibel Audio, Paragon Sight and Sound, Scott Walker Audio, Glenn Poor's Audio Video, Goerner Audio & Audio Skies

Rateyoursound Axpona Audio Expo 2019 Chicago - Show Highlights Report

Turntables

Fortunately for all audiophiles, the younger generation has fallen in love with record players, tube gear, and the vintage electronics it was originally played on.

Our show report begins with a turntable that overlaps a bunch of other components. With its remote control the Pro-Ject turntable only needs a pair of speakers to make a complete audio system.

The Pro-Ject Jukebox turntable-receiver is a turntable, phono stage, Bluetooth receiver, line pre-amplifier, power amplifier, and remote all-in-one.

Also, attention grabbing Pro-Ject had a three-piece micro-system with a streamer, pre-amp + DAC, and an analog headphone amp. Here’s a video from Axpona that will give you a quick run through of both products.

Tien Audio launched its first turntable in 2011 and now has brought its newest TT5 turntable system to Axpona in high-gloss fire engine red. With adjustable speed and torque the three motors along with the Tien Viroa tonearm are designed to radically improve tracking ability.

Our take is Tien’s latest turntable and tonearm would be worth consideration by any audiophile who wants to extract the most from their vinyl collection. This turntable is for the serious audiophile who wants a very configurable and tweak-able vinyl player.

Tube Gear

What excited us most was the American made entry level Nighthawk integrated tube amplifier ($2995) that is suitable for almost any loudspeaker system.

 Raven Audio Nighthawk Mk3 Tube Amplifier

The Raven Audio Nighthawk Mk3 Tube Amplifier (Image courtesy of James Connell, President, Raven Audio)

This product screams to move your AV receiver aside. Or, add the Nighthawk for the two-channel side of your home-theater-system. Once hooked up this integrated amp guarantees you exceedingly high-end sound quality at a reasonable price.

We found listening to the Nighthawk mk3 integrated amp with Raven’s new CeLest’ Tower and Corvus Reference Monitor loudspeakers was something we hope we get to do more of soon.

Well Rounded Sound had its mighty sounding WRS MM6 mini monitors and a matching integrated tube amp with a built-in DAC and Bluetooth on show.

Well Rounded Sound RDM 8 Speakers at Axpona

Well Rounded Sound RDM 8 Speakers And Matching Integrated Tube Amplifier

A show highlight for us were the systems presented by Auris Audio. The boys at Auris have been perfecting these high-end music systems since 2013, and they have created some elegant looking gear.

There listening room featured Poison 4 floor-standing speaker system designed with a switchable rear firing tweeter that helps creates a wider sound stage.

Using one of the two Auris tube integrated amps the sound quality of this three-piece system left me sincerely impressed.

Auris Audio Integrated Tube Amp and Poison 4 Floor Standing Speaker

Auris Audio Poison 4 Floor Standing Speaker And Integrated Tube Amplifiers

Offering “truly musical systems”, Audio by Van Alstine features a full range of pre-amplifiers and power amps that are affordable. There listening room seemed possessed with stellar sound quality.

Accessories & Gear

We thought that it was a very good measure of Muzen when we found their products at Neiman Marcus. This company's line of intimate portable smart speakers features a micro tabletop FM radio designed to look like a 1960s radio that additionally connects to any Bluetooth compatible device.

The radio looked exceptional with a multitude of well-chosen colors. It’s all wrapped in solid one-piece alloy, rosewood, or a walnut finish enclosure. We also liked, as a final touch this intimate audio system has its own travel suitcase!

Muuzen Audio Portable Smart Speaker Old School Radio Style

The Muzen Audio Portable Bluetooth Smart Speaker

Scandinavia is cold, so I imagine the folks at Primare AB have extra time indoors to thoroughly think through a new and stunning home friendly, voice controlled, modern day integrated amp.

Primare AB newest offering is the 125 Prisma integrated amp in its fully loaded version is a ‘best of class’ all-in-one component. The crafty engineers have included a voice controlled music streaming system, a 100 watt class D amp, multiroom connectivity, and just about everything else you’d desire in a modern day audio component.

Music Streaming

We are excited to report that Qobuz the music streaming service has come to the USA after a successful 10-year run in Europe. It is audiophile style streaming and offering true Hi-Res Audio in many formats.

Finding current and back catalog music in poorly serviced genres like Jazz, Opera, and Classical is one of the streaming services strengths. With our group jazz and classical aficionados we hope to have some thoughts on using Qobuz in the very near future.

Audio Components

Quad’s full size and full range electrostatic loudspeaker are highly acclaimed and even the stuff of legend. Today we are looking at a Vena II integrated amp with matching speakers S-1 Bookshelf Loudspeakers. The amp and speakers have that clean compact look we desire for a tabletop / desktop system.

Since 1979 Kimber Kable has envisioned and created beautiful world-class esoteric products in the very crowded category of high-end cables and connectors.

In taking a close look there is a lot that separates this group which has innovative builds that are like works of art. We like they do honest in house appraisals of the value of a given product and absolutely no smoke and mirrors here.

We look forward to testing some of their braided wire speaker cables on some modest and mid range systems, because many have told us that the resulting sound improvement was very obvious after using Kimber Kable. They made a significant difference.

Furutech and Enter Elite Audio / Visual Distribution are purveyors of high-end tweaking goodies and components. If you’re a true hobbyist and hunting high-end accessories (as you should be) here is a look at a one-stop shop for many of your tweaking needs.

For those of you have a high-end music systems and want all that expensive cable very buttoned up and tidy the NCF Booster is both gorgeous and a unique product that provides a better way to do your wire management system.

We do hear the positive effects of using IsoAcoustics isolation stands for loudspeakers. The GAIA available in three sizes, are for many of the most popular floor standing speakers. Keep an eye out for our GAIA III review, coming soon.

IsoAcoustics Gaia Isolating Speaker Stands and Case

The IsoAcoustics Gaia Isolating Speaker Stands

We were unable to demo the Synergistic Research Atmosphere two-channel multi-wave RF field generator. We wondered; Should we review a component that promises to ‘tailor the size and scale of your loudspeakers sound stage’?

Synergistic Research Atmosphere two-channel multi-wave RF field generator

Passive Loudspeakers

Creative Sound Solutions has something really exciting is going on in Michigan where you can shop in person. If not call or go online to order finished speaker systems, kits, or drivers. For the hobbyist or the pure DIY-er you’ll want to check out their hand built fully finished CSS Model P215 passive speaker system.

CSS P215 Passive Speaker System at Axpona 2019, Chicago

Creative Sound Solutions P215 Passive Speaker System

Absolute Sound had no problem anointing the CSS bookshelf speaker as one of the ‘Top 5 Speakers at Axpona.’ For us, after a short time listening and looking at this system we honestly wanted to take a pair home with us.

This Andrew Jones designed ELAC Carina bookshelf speaker with complimentary electronics is a serious audio system, and we found its sound extremely appealing.

Verdant Audio designs big sound and puts it in a small package. Both the Verdant Audio Blackthorn I and Nightshade I stand-mount speaker system were well-designed and powerful sounding for their size.

I spoke with Max Magri and Reinhardt Goerner, collectively engaged in showing off the Grandinote Mach 4 floor-standing speaker. Wrapped in an aluminum enclosure this full range system has four unfiltered and un-equalized woofers combined with a solo tweeter.

Although my time was short with this expensive loudspeaker, it was full-bodied with an open and lively sound that had this listener glued to his chair. It was superb in its delivery of large scale operatic and classical pieces and intimate less demanding material.

Handmade and beautiful, High Fidelity Services offered up electronics and loudspeakers by Verity Audio. We enjoyed the warm living room atmosphere of this listening room. This gear looked perfectly suited to fit gracefully in the modern home.

Verity Audio Floor Standing Speakers

Verity Audio Floor Standing Speakers

It is apparent upon listening to the Alta Audio Celesta FRM-2 that it is a full range monitor very capable recreating the imaging and sound stage of any recording. With its smart looks, high density enclosure, Litz wire inductors, finely tuned crossovers, and custom-built ribbon tweeter, these speakers were a real favorite of ours. 

Active & Wireless Speakers

Speakers that deliver sound via wireless connections is the modern way to deliver hi-fi sound. This year at Axpona it is a hot category with a wide range of brands showing advanced systems designed to deliver stereo sound anywhere in your home wirelessly.

The Xeo 20 wireless speaker system is Dynaudio’s newest and smallest wireless loudspeaker and is a full featured and full sounding small monitor even for a large living space.

Bryston arrived for Axpona with lots of audio innovation packed into two affordable systems. New for 2019 will the Mini A wireless bookshelf speaker.

And the BryFi wireless all-in-one speaker has been updated with technical improvements, and with streaming services baked-in. BryFi also has an improved look featuring soft-touch controls, and was smartly finished in white.

Bryson Mini A Wireless Bookshelf Speakers and The BryFi All In One Speaker

Bryston Mini A Wireless and BryFi All-in-one speakers

For those readers new to the name Bryston. It is a long serving, and trusted brand among the audiophiles. Take a moment and look them up for their range of well healed audio components, and loudspeakers.

Last year we couldn’t get enough of the Vanatoo Transparent Zero. It is mini-powerhouse wireless speaker system. In fact, Vanatoo were kind enough to sponsor our current Vanatoo Transparent Zero Giveaway sweepstakes. (You should enter that, by the way!)

This year for Axpona Vanatoo showed off an aluminum finished Transparent One Encore. These larger speakers are a second generation system and its sound quality impressed all of us listening.

 

Every year there's a reason to take notice of Audioengine and their wireless speakers and components. This year looked at the 3rd generation A2+ speakers, which adds Bluetooth giving you one more way to connect to your music.

We sure had a good time with the new 512 Portable speakers. It was obvious from the design, materials, and just the weight of this pill speaker, that it was meant to annihilate the competition. This handheld portable has impressive specs with loud, non-distorted sound quality.

ELAC is simply a great speaker company with an extensive range of high-end loudspeakers. The demo of the NAVIS ARF-51 “active hi-fi speaker” caught our attention with impressive sound and a living room friendly look.

ELAC Navis ARF-51 Active Hi-Fi Speakers Demonstration Room

ELAC Navis ARF-51 Active Hi-Fi Speakers

The new KEF LSX “digital hi-fi speaker” are a visual knockout with a new ABS and fabric enclosure. Matched to the Uni-Q drivers and in colors galore it’s easy to see that KEF is committed to high-end wireless speaker systems at an affordable price.

One cool bonus, when you register your KEF’s you’ll receive a 6-month FREE subscription to the Tidal music streaming service.

KEF LSX Wireless Active Speakers

The New KEF LSX Wireless Active Speakers

You can tell it’s a new Bowers & Wilkins these days. Formation Audio is a component that turns any passive audio system into a multi-room wireless system. And Formation Duo is formidable pair of wireless speakers with Wi-Fi, Apple AirPlay, Spotify Connect, Roon and is Bluetooth compatible.

It’s still big and bold for the smallest in Goldmund’s line of exemplary speakers. Logos Sukha is an active system with 600 watts a side and is DSP enabled. The system is ultra-expensive, but we love it for all the right audiophile reasons.

Goldmund Picture

Publications

What’s novel about Vinyl Times is they cover a little of everything music hounds and audiophiles will be interested in. From the top local music stores in your local and related events. They report on vintage and new gear, plus lots and lots of vinyl reviews too!

Spending time with Robert Ross from Vinyl Times is always a treat. We both agree you should get out of your listening chair, put aside all your audiophile magazines, go buy some vinyl, and grab all the FREE issues of Vinyl Times you can. By the way, the mag can be found at Vinyl Record shows and Vinyl Record stores across the USA.

High-end Audio Dealers

Audio Dealers are very much a part of Axpona, and they come from across the globe to looking to develop relationships with hi-fi enthusiasts. If you’re in the hunt for the best audio systems available here is our shortlist of great home audio system dealers no matter your budget.

In the Midwest we can certainly tell you to stop by Audio Consultants in Evanston, Illinois and Tone Studio in Indianapolis, Indiana.

When you’re shopping for gear on the weekend, Saturday Audio Exchange in Chicago, Illinois and Decibel Audio in Chicago, Illinois are also highly recommended for shopping both new and preowned gear.

Making a big splash at Axpona dealer, Paragon Sight and Sound, based in Ann Arbour, Michigan showcased Rogers High Fidelity electronics with Wilson Audio loudspeakers.

You’ll find exciting brands and top offerings at Scott Walker Audio in Anaheim, California.

Glenn Poor’s Audio Video in Urbana, Illinois will cover you for your high-end audio and video needs. You can talk to Geoff at (800)-255-4228.

We also found some unique audiophile brands at Goerner Audio including Grandinote Loudspeakers and Trigon Electronics.

High-end electronics and loudspeakers are personified at Audio Skies. We thought a good example of something we’d covet is this Pear Audio Blue Reference pre-amplifier.

Pear Audio Blue Reference Audio Pre-Amplifier shown by Audio Skies

Pear Audio Blue Reference Audio Pre-Amplifier shown by Audio Skies

Visit Fidelis Music Systems when you're in New Hampshire, or on the phone. What you’ll find is this audio retailer is perfectly positioned to help you find your dream system. Please take a moment and survey their broad range of audiophile brands and you’ll understand what we mean.

Axpona 2019 Done & Done!

With so many high-end audio rooms we heard some really amazing and affordable music systems this year. Our plan is to review as much of this gear as we can in the coming year. We also hope you’ll let us know what’s on your mind when it comes to your favorite audio gear.

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Axpona Audio Expo 2019 in Chicago was bigger and better than previous years. It's an important date in our calendar!

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