by Kevin OBrien on April 18th, 2023


AXPONA 2023 kicked off the nice Spring weather in the Windy City the weekend of April 15th. Just in time for Tax Day! Unfortunately, my flight into O'Hare was delayed out of Denver. Guess we better make lemonade out of this lemon. Off to the Voodoo Doughnut shop for a quick treat before waiting in line to board United Flight 758.


We were excited, as we were here in Chicago to have fun, not to showcase our own YFS gear. It can be fun to show off your own audio creations, but it can also be STRESSFUL. We may go down that road again at some point, but not any time soon. The fact that we could just take it all in this time around, and not worry about how our room was sounding, would make this experience that much better.

Most of our thoughts will consist mainly of coverage of the 'Nirvana B' room at the Schaumburg Renaissance Hotel & Convention Center. EMM Labs, Credo Audio Switzerland, van den Hul, and DS Audio of Japan shared a massive room on the second floor of the hotel. We were invited by John McGurk of Audioshield, to join in on a press release for the new Meitner PRE. This took place after-hours on Friday evening, so apparently, it was by invitation only. We didn't realize that until afterwards. Seeing Michael Lavorgna, as well as some other well known reviewers, we should have put two and two together. Anyway, we were about to embark on a neat little audio adventure. What a great way to kick off this year's AXPONA event.


Amadeus Meitner was in the room along with Shahin Al Rashid, head of sales for EMM Labs. Amadeus is Ed Meitner's son, who we all know by now, and my good personal friend. We were excited to meet William and Marc, from van den Hul. AJ van den Hul's sons to be exact. Van den Hul has a new cable concept called Nano Carbon Tube technology. It's used for their new reference loudspeaker cables and it sure did a fine job, especially since it's the only metal-free loudspeaker cable we know of in existence. We were also lucky enough to meet Michael Kraske, owner of Credo Audio. His parents started the business modifying / repairing DJ setups in Switzerland back in the 1970s. They eventually began building their own loudspeakers and the rest is, as they say, history. They are all second generation entrepreneurs and will be taking on the family business, similar to Amadeus. VERY COOL!

We were totally pumped up by what we saw and heard in Nirvana B. Visually, the room was impressive, but sonically, it was just short of stunning. We have yet to be disappointed by an EMM presentation at a show, and this was no exception. The Meitner PRE was making it's world debut, and what we heard, did not sound like Meitner. It sounded like an EMM PRE2, but we were assured by the turn of the volume knob on the smaller silver and black box, that we were indeed listening to Ed Meitner's budget line of components. Although they can hardly be viewed as "budget", in this hobby, it's all relative. The EMM Labs DS-EQ1 was on display mated to the DS Audio Grand Master EX optical cartridge. The optical cartridge is a great idea, as there's so much less mass the stylus has to contend with. So much less than a traditional moving magnet or moving coil cartridge, that it should allow that much more detail to come through, and keep surface noise at bay. Well, that's exactly what we heard during Amadeus' demo of the DS Audio / EMM pairing. 


Marc and William were kind enough to stay late, after the rest of the folks funneled out of the room, to play us some "fun" music that was not on the menu for the press release earlier that evening. SCORE! We got to hear some fresh tunes from a rock band in Iceland along with some interesting EDM. We don't usually listen to electronic dance music but we must admit, we were impressed by the sounds coming from the Swiss transducers towering over us. Good food, good beer, and excellent reference sounds filled the evening and made us all realize just how lucky we were to be here after the world's recent events. AXPONA is back!

As far as other topics of interest, we had not nearly enough time to even scratch the surface. We made it to a few rooms that really impressed us, but as per usual, a lot of rooms sounded good but not great. You can pretty much guarantee that all of the rooms will sound good, but getting 'great' sound is challenging in a hotel environment, especially in the small sleeping rooms. But, with that being said, we stumbled upon a few things we were not expecting, which was a nice surprise. The first surprise was a tip from Mark, a past Absolute Sound reviewer, and friend of our beloved YFS customer, Thomas. Thomas and Mark have known each other over the years and go way back. I'm sure they traded gear back and forth before we even knew that "Audiogon" existed. These two guys are both the real deal when it comes to sound, and they know a good room when they hear one, immediately. As we found out traveling the busy halls of the Renaissance Hotel, these guys had pretty much the same musical tastes and preference for system tone / overall presentation as we did. That made this particular show extra fun for us. We all got to bounce ideas off one another and stir the 'audio pot', all while enjoying time outside in public, FINALLY.

Mark tipped us off to a guy named Bill Stierhout of Coherence Systems. Bill got his start in audio by installing studio consoles and digital tape machines for the Pro Audio market back in the 1980s. This guy has been around the block a few times. He has an interesting idea that helps everyone's system by inducing psycho-acoustic effects into your listening room. This is done by inserting a type of AC Line Conditioner in parallel to your current power conditioner. They are not actual power conditioners, and you don't need to plug your components into them. We're not sure what to call them? Bill calls them 'AC Harmonic Resonators'. Bill started a brand by the name of ADD-Powr. Under this new brand, he has launched several products, all inducing a sag on your AC power line that is supposed to create a presence in your listening space that can make your music sound better. Better than it does without these products in your system. This is a similar concept that has been visited prior to now in history. Mainly in the field of psychology. Scientists have experimented with playing subsonic and supersonic frequencies to individuals with schizophrenia and other disorders, to invoke some type of 'calming effect'. VERY COOL! We don't know if Bill's products work, but we bought one, and we're going to find out. Stay tuned for a forthcoming review of the ADD-Powr Sorcer X4 Plus. EXCITING! This is a perfect example of why you should give next year's AXPONA event a shot, as you never know what you're going to find.

As far as rooms went, we really enjoyed the CAT / Magico room, right next door to Nirvana B. This room had nothing but good sounds coming from it that were hard to fault, at all. 'Incredibly effortless' is the phrase we would use to describe what we heard. The fact that Convergent Audio Technology is extremely well-designed tube gear, made right here in the USA, we didn't expect anything less. We are all familiar with Magico. We also didn't expect to be able to purchase any of this gear, as it was all well above our pay-grade. That's a common theme in this hobby unfortunately. But hey, you don't go to a car show to look at a Honda Civic, do you!?

The one rather interesting room we visited was the Aretai / OePhi combination. This room featured the CAT SL1 Legend preamp and the CAT JL5 amplifier. I believe the most affordable component in the room was the set of speakers themselves, the Aretai Contra 100S, coming in at $9,000 USD. The Aurender A20 provided the source duties (music stream / DAC). WOW! We couldn't believe such wonderful sounds were coming from such a tiny footprint. Impressive indeed. We are SERIUOSLY thinking of trying to find a way to become authorized US Aretai dealers. These little speakers from Latvia impressed one of the most seasoned audiophiles we know, our very own YFS customer, Thomas. He couldn't believe these little guys could sound so smooth, detailed, and open, yet sound so big and full range-esque. Our hats go off to Aretai.

Octave / Dynaudio also showed us what a smooth, laid back, yet highly detailed presentation can sound like. No harshness whatsoever and never "shouty". This pairing, along with the Simaudio MOON source components, really impressed. We love a warm presentation, but enjoy a lot of detail and PRaT. This system delivered all of that in spades. Way to go and job well done.

Overall, we had a great time in Chicago, and even got to experience some late-night pizza on our way to the hotel. Chicago is a friendly city, with great food, and even better people. The main reason to visit this part of the country every Spring: AXPONA. We extend our gratitude to Mark Freed for all the work he put into this event to make it what it is today. It's been a great run so far, let's keep the momentum going.

We hope to see you all at next year's 2024 AXPONA event...

Thank you for reading.