Venimus, vidimus, lusimus musica
It HAS been a while. My last Musing was about our then upcoming trip to Chicago for AXPONA, April 13-15. Before I get to what transpired, I want to make everyone aware at the beginning, in case that is all the farther you get, that this Saturday will kick off our one-week AudioQuest Extravaganza! We will have REALLY special pricing on a great variety of AQ cables from a variety of sources, including AXPONA show demo cables and a treasure trove of rep samples, as well as some of our own Ultra Fidelis demo cables. If you’ve been waiting to upgrade, or if you are non-believer, but could have your resolve melted by a super deal, this is your event. This Saturday, we will do our best to do cable demos on the first floor so you can even sample before you buy. The sale runs Saturday to Saturday, but get in early to snag the gold, or silver this case.
On January 16th of this year, I got an email from our friend and AudioQuest rep Rick Blair whose subject line was, “Are you considering taking a space at AXPONA this year?” There was no additional content in the body of the email. My quick reply was, “No. I may be down there for a day or two.” Less than two weeks later, we had Room 690 at the Renaissance Center in Schaumburg locked up and plans were in heavy motion.
Wednesday before the show, we tore down and packed everything going from the store or my house. Thursday morning, we loaded three vehicles near full, and Marty and Josh headed to Schaumburg, with me a couple hours behind. It was a beautiful, sunny spring day and the load-in went about as smoothly as it could have gone. We were rejoicing not to be at the mercy of the Chicago hotel laborers where we had heard stories that you can do nothing yourself, and everything takes forever and costs a ton. The staff at the Ren Cen were delightful, start to finish; everything went like clockwork. And the new owners of AXPONA were great too. Over the course of the four days, we must have been visited at least six times by friendly folks asking how things were going and if we needed anything.
After a relatively quick and painless setup, Josh and I did a MASTERS set on the Quattro CT’s, and then Richard Vandersteen joined to do the eleven-band bass alignment. Richard has simplified the initial part of the process, and I asked him to do it with Josh, the relative newbie. They knocked it out in what seemed like no time, both because Richard is “pretty good” at it, but also, I believe, because MASTERS already gets you well inside the ballpark, thus requiring less correction. Richard noted that and was pleased. We set some music on repeat to continue burn-in, but we were already quite happy with the sound. The three of us UltraFi folk then went to our hotel to check in and thence out for some dinner, this night at the Ren Cen in-house restaurant where we had fine meals at the bar.
The show proper opened Friday morning, which we expected to be slow, given that it’s a work day. Not so! It was ripping with people from open to close. We saw some old friends early on, and there was a steady, if manageable, stream of traffic all day. It was nearly 2:00 by the time we worked out the lunch plan. Despite it being a Friday, there was virtually never a time when there wasn’t some attendee in the room. The sound continued to get better and better, and we were met with kudos and appreciation, for sound and music, from the vast majority of visitors. I had brought 500 LPs, so lots of folks’ eyes lit up when they walked in, and the AMG/Lyra/Audio Research phono rig was purring.
The great unknown to us going in was the Vandersteen M5HPA mono amplifiers that were debuting to the general public in our room. They could not have been more ready to show off. It may be cliché, but these amps defy, even transcend, identification as solid state or tube (they are entirely the former) combining the most desirable properties of both into what promises to be the world’s smallest, most affordable super amps. By Friday afternoon, I was referring to them as “two boxes of firecrackers” for their explosive, seemingly limitless dynamics.
After a long, but joyful show day, we had the Perfect Vinyl Forever-Evans gang up for the first of what would become a tradition of “apres-show music lovers meetings” wherein Steve and his wife and daughter du jour got to hear their favorites cranked up on our now glowing rig. It was hard to stop, but Marty, Josh and I finally headed out in search of a dinner alternative. There aren’t tons out that way, so we doubled back after running dry and stopped at a really nice steak house chosen, of course, by Marty the vegan. He found some things to his liking nonetheless and we had a delightful meal and headed back to our hotel where we encountered a bizarre scene in the bar too long to go into here, but certainly memorable.
Saturday was a complete madhouse, open to beyond close. There were multiple times where we could not fit the three of us in the room because the crowd was packed in all the way back to the door to the room. Each of the three days, at 1:00 until 2:00, Garth Powell of AudioQuest used our room as his place to present his power products talk and demo from, which made for an even madder scene, but was wildly successful, and some pretty big buck competitors’ power cables were humbled by the new Thunder, let alone the new king of cables- Dragon. Later in the day, Marty even got a spontaneous ovation from a roomful following a track off the newly remastered “Satchmo Plays King Oliver” vinyl. The system was absolutely singing!
We repeated both the after-hours PVF party and the steak house before toddling back to our hotel for a late night “planning session” in Marty’s room, aided by the gluten free beer he had brought from home. Sunday, winter returned with a vengeance, significantly cutting show traffic and, somewhat mercifully, lightening the work load of greeting visitors and demoing music as well as trying to steal a little time for each of us to get out and see the rest of the show as the attendees did. Given how bad the weather had turned (Green Bay, e.g. was having record snowfall), it was still an amazing turnout and we were playing music right up until the 4:00 PM shutdown time.
By this time, the UltraFi crew had figured out there was nothing to be gained by trying to trudge home under dangerous road conditions, especially given that 4:00 PM “last call” means we hadn’t even begun a tear down and load out. We cleverly called our hotel and extended our stay for one more night, giving us a chance to do a more leisurely disassembly, packing and stowing of gear in vehicles, as well as joining Richard for dinner in the hotel, a wonderful, calm, and fitting way to end the relative madhouse the show had been. Eminently pleasurable, and successful, but draining, nonetheless.
Upon our return we spent the next few days restoring various systems to normal back at home, and making contact with folks from the show, both customers and industry compatriots. During that time the reviews began to come in, and made the whole endeavor all the more worthwhile:
We are truly humbled by these comments from some of the best ears in the review industry. We couldn’t have imagined our rookie year would turn out this well, and we are thrilled to repeat next year. Hope to see you all there!
Some “big hits” from AXPONA-
Bring It On
Rare and expensive original LP (but recently released as “20th Anniversary”, although sonically not as good)
Analogue Productions LP
CD (ripped to Aurender)
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Let Love In
Satchmo Plays Kings Oliver
Analogue Productions LP
Jimmy Giuffre Three
Up Up Up Up Up Up
Righteous Babe CD
Duke Ellington and His Orchestra
The Ellington Suites: The Queen’s Suite