The Hub: Axpona - What'd you hear? Who'd you see?

The problem with being jaded is that the condition is rarely recognized until the presence of wide-eyed newbies makes the diagnosis clear, simply by contrast. There were plenty of newbies at Axpona in Jacksonville, Florida, the first audio show ever in a city not known as a major outpost in the audiophile world.

What's the message Axpona conveys to the jaded ? Here's what: there are plenty of music-lovers and potential audiophiles who haven't been to countless audio shows over too many decades, enthusiastic folks who don't yet have a "been there, heard THAT" attitude. Those folks are eager to see the latest in audio, and Axpona did a good job of reaching out to them. Call it missionary work, if you like. That said, even grizzled veterans were impressed by how Axpona offered plenty that was novel, new, and not just a reskin of last year's reskin of the year before's models.

While one system displayed may have cost as much as a house (the Scaena/TheLars/dCs/Silversmith exhibit room, running about a quarter mil and thankfully offering superb sound), much of the excitement at Axpona was provided by products at the low end of the price scale. Keep in mind that "low end" by audiophile standards might well seem insane to the average buyer of $99 all-in-one audio systems at Wal Mart. Keep in mind, also, that those golden oldie prices that jaded oldsters like to quote are rarely stated with respect to the effects of inflation: those once-upon-a-time $67 AR turntables would today cost around $500, or about what most good-quality but basic tables actually cost today. Yesterday's low prices are generally not as good a deal as TODAY'S low prices.

Anyway, some of today's low-priced audio products offer honestly good sound and honestly great values. You might not choose to run your $4000 speakers with a $700 amp, but Randy Bankert's $4,195 Sonist Concerto 3s sounded terrific powered by Patrick Tang's $684 Glow Audio Amp One, a 5 watt-per-channel single-ended integrated amp with EL84 output tubes. The sound had the punchiness and dimensionality associated with the best SETs, with none of the noise or "thinness" often found in (sorry, Patrick!) cheap tube amps. A win-win situation, and a winner of a system.

Patrick also showed a complete Glow Audio system in a room shared with Audiowood, Joel Scilley's backwoods Florida company which custom-builds turntables from (surprise!) wood. The complete Glow system was another eye- and ear-opener, featuring the Amp One powering Voice One speakers ($348/pr.) with 3" fullrange drivers in spherical enclosures, and dual subs ($348/ea.). Dynamic, sweet, and clearly playing well above its weight, or its price.

If the idea of a compact iPod-based system makes you nauseous, you clearly haven't heard the latest products from veteran British designer Mike Creek (Creek, Epos), marketed under the brand name AktiMate and represented stateside by irrepressible curmudgeon Roy Hall. The AktiMate Mini is a 2-way powered speaker system with a built-in iPod dock atop one of the speakers, and additional inputs in the back. At $695 (plus the iPod), the Mini is an inexpensive compact setup, good-sounding and full-bodied, as one would expect from Creek. The Maxi ($999) has more bass and more features, in a slightly larger enclosure. Besides the dock and aux inputs, Maxi has a Reciva internet radio, FM radio, remote control, and an alarm clock! Clearly, the perfect dorm system.

In days to come we will be featuring several different Axpona exhibitors, all of whom exhibited products made in the USA. Don't forget our room-by-room coverage of Axpona, with high-res photos from Albert Porter and crew, and Audiogon-exclusive sound bites.