Welcome to our multi-part coverage of AXPONA 2022 once again thanks to our good friend Walter Liederman of Underwood HiFi, https://www.underwoodhifi.com/ , the best place to find high-end audio at affordable prices. This was my first AXPONA since coming to write for Headphone.Guru and it follows a three-year layover due to COVID, so it was a pretty exciting event, being one of the few shows that cater to the Personal Audio community as well as the two-channel loudspeaker community. As such, we will be running these reports on both Headphone.Guru and HiFiAudio.Guru simultaneously. Joining me at AXPONA 2022 was Frank Iacone who will be providing a report on his experience there.
Qobuz was the official music streaming source for the show and David Solomon negotiated special pricing with the Hotel so that any exhibitor could run streaming content if they so chose, and given the number of streamers on display it was clearly a huge success. Qobuz did host a table which I note featured the exquisite Manley Absolute Headphone Amplifier and David gave seminars on Hi-Res streaming.
Of course, my first stop was the Personal Audio room, and prominent as always was AUDEZE who were highlighting their two flagship models the AUDEZE CRBN Electrostatic Headphone($4,500 USD) and the AUDEZE LCD-5 Planar Magnetic Headphone ($4,500 USD). This was my first chance to listen to the CRBN (the lines at CanJam SoCal 2021 were too long) whose original development was as a specialized headphone for use in MRI machines. Long-time fans of the AUDEZE sound who want to move up to the higher resolution of electrostatic headphones will love the CRBN, it was simply fantastic. What can I say about the LCD-5, which was also a first listen, they are truly the best sounding AUDEZE headphones to date and lighter and more comfortable than previous models to boot. AUDEZE also had a gaming display for their groundbreaking Mobius, Penrose, and LCD-GX Gaming headphones as well as their usual headphone tree containing examples of their full line for attendees to enjoy.
Cardas was present with their exceptional IEMs, amazing custom headphone cables, and accessories. They also had a solid presence throughout the show being the cable of choice with a lot of manufacturers and audiophiles.
It is always a pleasure to visit iFi with their large selection of state-of-the-art products at affordable prices exhibiting the best of British design and technology. On display was their new iFi GO Blu HD Bluetooth DAC ($199USD) as well as the eye-catching iFi iDSD Diablo Portable DAC/Headphone Amplifier ($999 USD), iFi NEO iDSD desktop DAC/Headphone Amplifier ($799USD), and flagship iFi Pro iDSD Signature Tube/Solid-state desktop DAC/Headphone Amplifier ($3,249USD)
The real pleasant surprise of the show was at the HeadAmp booth where they had the STAX SR-X9000 Electrostatic Earspeaker ($6,200 USD) paired up with their fantastic HeadAmp Blue Hawaii Special Edition Electrostatic Headphone Amplifier ($6,995 USD) along with the AUDEZE CRBN Electrostatic Headphone ($4,500 USD), clearly the best STAX has ever made and a significant advancement over the popular SR-009 in both tonal balance (especially bass extension) and dynamic range, placing STAX back among the top-performing electrostatic headphones. Also on display along with the HeadAmp GS-X mk2 Balanced Headphone Amplifier / Pre-Amplifier ($2,999USD) and HeadAmp GS-X Mini Balanced Headphone Amplifier/Pre-Amp ($1,995USD) was the revolutionary RAAL|requisite SR1a Ribbon Headphone ($3,500USD) paired up with the exciting new RAAL|requisite VM-1a Variable Mode Vacuum Tube Ribbon Headphone Amplifier ($6,500USD)
It is traditional for reviewers who are reporting on high-end Hi-Fi shows to pick a room that represents the best-sounding room of the show, if I were to do so, I would very likely pick the Warwick isolation booth. While headphones don’t quite have the same depth of field as a two-channel loudspeaker system (unless listening to binaural recordings), the inherent peace and quiet of the sound booth coupled with the detail and sonic purity of the Warwick BRAVURA Electrostatic headphone and Warwick Sonoma DAC/Amplifier ($6,795USD as a package), not to mention personal control over the sound level and choice of music, make it no contest. Not only is the system now available in black as well as silver, the BRAVURA headphone is available separately ($2,400USD) for those who have an existing Sonoma Model One and would like to upgrade to the new model. Also on display was the Warwick APERIO which I was able to listen to for the first time, though sadly not in the isolation booth.
Meze had their whole line on display including the exciting new IEM the Meze Audio ADVAR ($699USD) which was launched just prior to the show. Of course, there was also their new flagship Rinaro Isodynamic Hybrid Array Driver headphone the Meze Elite ($4,000USD), along with the original Rinaro Isodynamic Hybrid Array Driver headphone the Meze Empyrean ($2,999USD), the Meze Liric Closed-Back Headphone ($2,000) which also uses Rinaro’s Isodynamic Hybrid Array Driver, their original Meze Classic 99 dynamic headphone ($309USD) and what appears to be a new prototype open-backed version of their Classic 99 (TBA).
Bob Carver Corporation
Moving over to the tower, an exciting find was Bob Carver Corporation’s room where they were demonstrating their fantastic new Bob Carver Corporation Black Magic 25 Tube Amplifier (TBA) and Bob Carver Corporation Model V-12 Reference Tube Preamplifier (TBA) driving a pair of Channel Island Audio R3 Loudspeakers. I admit I have been a Bob Carver fan since his Phase Linear days, in fact, I still have the handmade Xeroxed owner’s manual from my first Carver M400 amplifier, and I still use my Carver M400T amplifier in my home theatre system. Judging from the great sound in this room, these latest products are the best he has ever produced.
That concludes part 1 of our comprehensive coverage of AXPONA 2022, stay tuned for more. . .