I got to AXPONA on Thursday and was delighted to see that, in a drastic change from last year, headphones and related gear now have their own area.

Last year the noise from being in the general expo space was simply too much to hear anything – thankfully the AXPONA crew listened to feedback and the headphone show floor is now carpeted and cordoned off from the noisier speaker and records marketplace. The unfortunate downside seemed to be a number of manufacturers pulling out in reaction to the state of things last year. I hope to see this trend reversed next year as the traffic and setup at this year’s AXPONA headphone area was significantly better.

But let’s get on to the real fun, the pictures and booths.

I was lucky enough to be able to get in a bit early and hear some setups without the hustle and bustle of the crowds on the first day, but still, take these show impressions with a grain of salt as just that – show impressions.

I Swung by the Cleer Audio booth to see the NEXT and Flow II Noise Cancelling and Bluetooth Headphones. I’ve seen Cleer a number of times at shows and been following their gradual improvements and iterations. The Next headphone started shipping shortly after RMAF this past year, and I’m looking forward to reviewing these, especially at the $699 USD price point, I think they’re a solid contender.

The Flow II headphones aren’t out yet, but feature a similar Ironless driver magnet, though without the magnesium substrate used in the NEXT. These will be loaded with Noise-Cancelling, Bluetooth, Google Assistant and tons of other cool features at a $279 USD price point. I only listened briefly but my impressions were of a much larger soundstage than I’m used to with small wireless headphones and surprisingly natural mids and highs. The bass was a bit too warm and elevated for my tastes, but the Cleer team said they’re still working on tuning the sound, so I look forward to hearing these again and giving them a review going forward.

Next up was Linear Tube Audio, who is well-known for the Zotl line of amplifiers. They were showing the Z10, an electrostatic and dynamic headphone and stereo integrated amplifier that can put out a mighty 10 watts. The cost was an eye-watering $6,950 USD, but I must admit, they drove the paired, updated Stax 009 headphones wonderfully, without any of the brightness or thin-sounding bass I’m used to on many electrostats. This was one of the most natural sounding electrostatic setups I’ve heard.

Linear Tube Audio was also showing the MZ3 headamp and integrated amplifier, which retails for $3,700 USD. This is an update of the Zotl 2 amp, with a new ceramic board, relay stepped attenuator, new linear power supply with choke input and filter capacitance, and an updated and very shnazzy chassis done by Fern&Roby. Despite the higher price, I have to admit this amp sounded seriously good. It was much cleaner and tighter sounding than the previous LTA amps I’ve heard, and the purity and richness of the sound was simply superb, and made the Mr. Speakers Aeon Flow Closed sound as good as I’ve ever heard them.

Next up was the Transparent Audio booth. They have a new headphone cable, which has an adapter plug which you can switch – balanced or single-ended and including Transparent’s network filter technology. The cable itself costs a hefty $1,800 USD and single-ended adapters are $100. Nifty for the well-heeled audiophile who wants to easily switch connections however.

More coverage to come tomorrow!