This was my first AXPONA and it was an amazing experience.
Some of my favorites:
Big Von Schweikert Room - What can you say about a room of gear that costs more than most homes? It was absolutely amazing, full range, incredible sound stage and imaging, absolutely effortless dynamics, smooth and detailed, just about perfect in every way.
Big MBLs - Incredible volume output without losing coherency, and on an African chant and drum track they played the speakers demonstrated an absolutely chilling brutality - I could feel the beats of the drums in my bones, it was like standing in front of a marching band drum line playing at full-tilt, it was visceral and breathtaking (literally, almost hard to breath from the SPL they were producing at some points).
Revel F228be and M126be - The most well-rounded, top-to-bottom-excellent speakers at the show for a price that's attainable for most. They didn't falter on anything, soundstage, dynamics, imaging, very surprising bass extension for the bookshelf (and that without compromising the integrity of the midrange which was even more impressive with it only being a 2-way), beautiful finishes, etc. The F228be were easily the best $10,000 speakers at the show, with the M126be getting so close in performance for 40% of the price that Revel might have a problem on their hands.
Gayle Sanders Eikon - Another great entry showcasing the future of high-end audio. Active speakers with amplifiers matched to each driver, digital crossovers, and excellent room correction solve so many of the old problems of audio it's amazing more companies aren't embracing it. These just sounded flat out awesome, with great dynamics, some of the best coherency at the show, and a clear open sound that made anything played on them come alive.
Legacy Audio - Like Gayle Sanders, Legacy has embraced the future with active drivers (though their two setups I checked out, the Aeris and Valor are hybrid active/passive designs) and room correction with their amazing Wavelet Processor. Beautiful cabinets, big rich sound with a nice full lower midrange and midbass that made male vocals sound very fulfilling, truly deep bass, dynamic slam, open clear treble without harshness, just great sound all the way around. I'd love to have a room and budget big enough to own a pair myself.
Paradigm Persona 5F/Martin Logan Expression 13A Room - More hits on the 'room correction makes better sound' parade, with the Paradigms using Anthem's amazing ARC-enabled STR-Pre and STR-Amp, and the ML's taking full advantage of their built-in ARC for their cone woofers while being driven with McIntosh electronics. There were so many rooms at the show where poor acoustics harmed what should have been amazing set-ups it's almost ridiculous that more companies haven't been embracing digital room correction. The Paradigm Personas sounded great as they always do, but the big surprise was the MLs. They had probably the best imaging of the entire show, with an orchestral piece drawing the entire orchestra across the soundstage with appropriate size, width, and depth an each instrument coming from exactly where it should. They also showed incredible blend between the Electrostatic panels and the cone woofer, with a big bari-sax solo in a jazz piece they played traveling up and down between the cone and the ESL panel and not changing in tonality at all.
Salk/Schiit Room - The entire setup cost less than single pieces of gear in adjacent rooms, and it absolutely killed in terms of sound quality. The Salk Song3As with their RAAL ribbon tweeters, Accuton ceramic midrange, and meaty Satori woofer down low just sounded beautiful and musical, and looked great with Jim Salk's famed cabinet work. The Salk Streamplayer fed a stack of Schiit gear (Gungnir DAC, Freya Preamp, and two Vidar amps bridged to act as monoblocks) that was beautifully transparent, delivered plenty of power, and got out of the way to let the Salks do their thing. Easily one of the absolute best bang-for-buck setups at the show.
Elac - Everything Elac brought sounded great. The new Debut 2.0 line raises the bar again for ultra-inexpensive speakers. A pair of $300 bookshelves has no right to sound that good. Combined with the Elac Element integrated (which, full disclosure, I own one of myself and love) handling power and room correction this setup killed, not just for the price, but overall in terms of SQ without budget being in consideration. While they have nice rich bass they don't have the low-end impact of larger speakers, but that Elac Element has built-in bass management with a sub-out and automatic blend and phase correction for a sub, so adding low-end oomph would be very plug-and-play.
The Elac Adantes also impressed, and they were showing off the first Elac in-house designs since Elac acquired Audio Alchemy. The new Alchemy gear is black and sleek, and sounded great paired with the Adante stand-mounts. Unfortunately it doesn't have the bass management and room correction features of Elac's lower-cost Element integrated, but apparently they're working on a higher end line of Alchemy gear that will, stay tuned.
Hsu - As mentioned above one of the absolute greats in terms of sound quality for budget. Hsu's CCB8s punch well above their weight. Dr. Hsu thumbed his nose at some of the crazier cable/electronics setups at the show by running his setup from a cheap Onkyo receiver using the kind of cables that come free in an HTIB setup, and it still sounded great. His most affordable sub, the VTF-1 combined with the CCB-8s in a 2.1 channel music demo had great soundstage, imaging, full-range sound, and a great blend of detail and musicality. Turning to his HT demo with three more CCB-8s creating a 5.1 demo really raised the bar and lowered the price on a turn-key HT setup (this was essentially his 5.1 Hybrid 1 package with CCB-8s, adding the Onkyo Receiver and Sony Blu-Ray player he was using you could get the entire setup for well under $3,000). After the HT demo he indulged me and hooked up his flagship VTF-15H subwoofer along with the CCB-8s in another 2.1 channel demo, this time playing some great organ recordings that featured 32' pipes and 16hz bass - it was epic.
JTR - Another great HT room (though considerably larger and pricier than Hsu's ) the full-range coaxial-compression-driver-driven Noesis 215RTs fed by multiple kilowatts of Lab.Gruppen power don't need subs to shake the room, and delivered a goose-bumpy HT movie demo. In pure 2-channel driven by Digital Amplifier Company's new Megaschino amps (had a great chat with their owner/designer, he does everything in-house, and his amps are apparently stable down to sub-ohm loads) the Noesis 210RTs really delivered, with no horn-y sound, no boxiness, great dynamics, and a very 'live' presentation. At $4,600/pair these are speakers a lot of the Tekton fans should check out. IMO they did what the Tekton Impact Monitor did in terms of dynamics and immediacy, but did it all better and without the slightly shouty PA-speaker nature I noticed in the Tekton.
Raidho XT1 - Holy smokes, how does so much sound come out of such a tiny speaker? I wish I'd been able to hear the bigger Raidho room, because if they can get this much quantity and quality of sound out of such a tiny speaker from their entry-line, what could they do with the big-boy D-series? I loved these, they're probably the priciest mini-monitors I've seen, but man did they deliver, and completely disappeared into the music. They're claimed down to 80hz, but I could've sworn I heard much deeper bass coming out of them.
TAD Micro Evolution - Right up there with the Raidho XT1 and Revel M126be in terms of being one of the absolute best bookshelf/standmount speakers at the show.
Open Baffle Stuff - Both the Pure Audio Project Trio15 Horn1 and the Spatial Audio X2 sounded great, I've never considered open baffle speakers before, but there was a lot to love about their sound, which was natural, open, and big compared to the size of the speakers. Emerald Physics didn't bring their OB speakers, but they did bring a new 24" subwoofer in a folded open baffle cabinet. The driver is designed by Dan Wiggins of Periodic Audio/Starke Sound/Blue Microphones/Sonos fame, and will hit a claimed 120db at 10hz with an outboard 1 kilowatt amp. That's a bold claim, but I'd love to see a test report.
Biggest Surprise - The Cube Audio Bliss Magus, a single-driver, no-crossover, full-range paper driver in a quarter-wave cabinet was the first full-range single-driver speaker I've heard, and it really opened my eyes to that sort of configuration. They sounded amazing, completely natural with the old-school jazz and big-band they were playing, with more bass, more natural treble, and an effortlessness doing it all at once that I would have never expected a single small-ish driver to be able to do. They're not cheap at $10K/pair, but they sounded great, really great, I wish I'd had more time to go back and listen to more. These are the kind of speakers you could set up in a room with a big comfy chair and just lean back, close your eyes, and soak it all in while being completely fulfilled.
There was a bunch of other stuff I loved, and I'm probably forgetting some, but this post is probably getting too long. Suffice to say, AXPONA was an eye-opening experience, one of the best vacations I've taken.