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The Best & Most Unusual Loudspeakers of AXPONA 2024

by April 26, 2024
Loudspeaker Highlights of AXPONA 2024

Loudspeaker Highlights of AXPONA 2024

The Best & Most Interesting Loudspeakers @AXPONA 2024

2024’s AXPONA (Audio Expo North America) kicked off with a gorgeous day in the Northwest Chicago suburb of Schaumberg, a stroke of luck for mid-April since the weather can vary so wildly in the spring in this area. With 200 listening rooms and 600 brands present, AXPONA has become the premiere show in North America. It certainly has grown from when I started covering it a decade ago. With so many brands and products present, it would be impossible to do comprehensive coverage of the entire show, so we will just cover a few of the highlights. I will be focusing on loudspeakers because as Audioholics’ main speaker reviewer, that is where my interest and understanding of audio technology is strongest.

It should be noted that there were a lot of great exhibits at this year’s show, and one of the factors that determined our discussion here is not any shortcomings of the audio systems themselves but rather the ability to get good pictures of the products on display. Many of the rooms were dimly lit, or the products were dark in color and set against a large bright window, or they were very crowded, and that can make photography challenging. Because of this, we decided to limit the discussion of speakers that we managed to get usable images of. With this in mind, please don’t take the exhibits discussed to be the very best at the show; they were simply among the best that we experienced and we have good pictures that are not blurry or underexposed. With that out of the way, let’s talk about some of the cool things we saw…

Perlisten R18s 18" Subwoofer        

Perlisten R18s pair


Perlisten Audio unveiled their new single driver R series subwoofers at this year’s AXPONA, and they did so in a big way by pairing a pair of their R5m standmount speakers with a pair of R18s subs. The R18s use massive 18” drivers powered by 1kW amplifiers that have much of the same technology as their upper-tier S series brethren. The new R series subs come in 10”, 12”, 15”, and 18” sizes (for the R10s, R12s, R15s, and R18s respectively), and all are given 1kW power plants except the 10” which has a 750W amp. They have onboard LCD screens for control as well as app control, so they can be fine-tuned to the nth degree over a wide variety of parameters if users wish. They have the same extraordinary build quality and finish that we have come to expect from Perlisten, and the sound in-room also lived up to the same sound quality that Perlisten has built a reputation around. Perlisten chose to keep a tight leash in the subs for AXPONA, and while they could have blown the doors off with bass, they kept things on an even keel instead, and it sounded balanced and natural. The subs range from $3k for the R10s to $5k for the 18s; not cheap but a bargain for some of the most premium subwoofers on the market. Stay tuned to Audioholics for a possible review of one of these new subs sometime this summer!

Yamaha NS-800A Bookshelf Speakers

Yamaha NS-2000A and NS-600A speakers 

Yamaha NS-2000A and NS-600A speakers close upYamaha brought their new NS-800A bookshelf speaker to the show, and it sounded terrific for the few tracks that I heard, a seriously high-fidelity experience. It looks the role of a hi-fi product with its piano black finish; the finish is applied in the same process used on Yamaha’s actual pianos, so these are quite literally piano black. Yamaha rounds out their high-end NS speaker line with a larger bookshelf speaker, this one with a 6.5” woofer for something with a bit more bass power than their NS-600A and its 5.25” bass driver. The NS-800A employs all the technology found in the other NS speakers such as their Resonance Suppression Chamber, Acoustic Absorber, Zylon/spruce cones, and Twisted Flare port. I listened to the NS-800A back-to-back against their NS-2000A floorstanding speaker and the NS-800A kept up nicely, lacking only a bit of bass authority that would be expected from going up against the larger tower. It’s not inexpensive at $4.8k/pair, but it looks to be bringing a lot more to the table than many of the other two-way bookshelf speakers that we saw at the show that sell for considerably more. We are hoping to do a thorough review of something from Yamaha’s NS speaker line a bit later this year, so stay tuned to Audioholics to get an in-depth examination of what Yamaha brings to the high-end in loudspeakers.

Acoustic Energy Corinium Tower Speakers

AE Corinium

Audioholic’s President Gene DellaSala was quite impressed by the sound of Acoustic Energy speakers at the 2024 Florida Audio Show, not an easy thing to do for a hi-fi veteran of so many loudspeakers, so when he advised me to give this brand a listen, I decided to give them a chance. I am glad I did because the speakers that I heard sounded quite sublime. I spent the most time with the Corinium speakers, Acoustic Energy’s flagship speaker. The Corinium is a three-way tower speaker that uses a host of technologies and build techniques to make a very special speaker. The enclosure uses a 6mm thick aluminum front plate, as well as nearly 2” thick paneling in some areas, and the panels are made from wood sandwiching a damping membrane in a structure that Acoustic Energy calls ‘RSC’ (Resonance Suppression Composite). The cabinet uses curved side walls to reduce internal standing modes, and the midrange/tweeter section of the enclosure is sealed off from the bass driver section. The midrange and bass drivers use carbon fibre cones and the tweeter dome uses a very light but stiff polyester material called Tetoron. The crossover circuit uses air-core inductors, film capacitors, and metal oxide resistors. The Corinium is stylish as well as high-tech, and it looks as terrific as it sounds. I would have expected a speaker like this to be at least five figures but was pleasantly surprised at its $7.5k/pair pricing; not inexpensive, but it looks and sounds a lot more expensive than I would have guessed.

Legacy Audio Goliath XD Subwoofer

Legacy Goliath XD Super Sub 2 

Legacy Audio always brings the goods to AXPONA, and 2024 was no exception. In addition to their usual spread of high-performing loudspeakers, Legacy brought their new Goliath XD Super Sub. The monster couples two 15” high-powered drivers with two 15” high-excursion passive radiators and feeds them 2,000 watts of power. That sounds like the recipe for some big SPL, and Legacy claims it can hit 130dB at 1 meter. I did not get to hear it in action since it was on passive display, but the sight of it was impressive nonetheless, especially in the gorgeous Olive Ash Burl finish of the display unit. Legacy has cleverly engineered the Goliath to pack all of this punch with a relatively small footprint thanks to the passive radiator design as well as the driver configuration. Readers who want Audioholics to review this behemoth will have to petition Gene DellaSala to review it, since its 190lbs. weight is enough to make Audioholics’ resident sub reviewer James Larson wince to even think about it. The Goliath XD is a premium product and it commands a premium price tag; it can be yours for a cool $11k. 

Hsu Research VTF-TN1 Subwoofer

hsu vtf tn1 

We finally had the chance to experience Hsu’s new VTF-TN1 in person at AXPONA this year, and it was every bit the blast that we had hoped for. We had written about the VTF-TN1 previously, and those who want deeper details can refer to that article, but the skinny is that this sub uses a 15” high excursion driver powered by a 600-watt amp and has Hsu’s variable tuning port system but pushes it to deeper frequencies than ever before. Indeed, the VTF-TN1 can be tuned down to 15Hz which is how Hsu had it running in their exhibit. During movie demo scenes, the bass in their room was positively visceral as was noted with a smile by many of the attendees. One highlight of the VTF-TN1 is its pricing; $1,199 for a large ported 15” puts it at a big advantage against many of its rivals and could make it one of the best bang-for-the-buck champs on the market. We will find out for sure when we run our full review, so stay tuned to Audioholics to see how much the VTF-TN1 delivers on its promises.  

Dayton Audio OPAL1 Bookshelf Speakers

Dayton Audio OPAL1


Dayton Audio took the opportunity at AXPONA to launch their new upscale bookshelf speaker, the OPAL1. Dayton Audio has long been known for their very affordable products, so their move upmarket took a lot of folks by surprise, myself included. Dayton Audio may be best known by their venerable B652 bookshelf speakers which sell for $50 for a pair. The OPAL1, on the other hand, retails for $799/pair; a loudspeaker far more expensive than any Dayton Audio has sold in the past that wasn’t a kit. So what does Dayton Audio do to justify that kind of pricing increase? Firstly, they load the speaker with one of Dayton Audio’s high-performance Epique series of woofers which is a $100 retail cost by itself. They pair that with their highest-performing and most expensive silk dome tweeter. Instead of using a simple port for low-end output, Dayton Audio uses two long-throw carbon fiber passive radiators; this eliminates port noise and allows the speaker to be smaller. The speaker is heavily braced, and despite its modest size, still manages to weigh 20 lbs. It also has a gorgeous gloss finish along with all edges being rounded. In Dayton Audio’s room, the OPAL1 jad a smooth sound with a shocking amount of bass for a small bookshelf speaker. Many attendees were asking if a subwoofer was in use. Those interested in this form-breaking speaker from Dayton Audio are in luck: Audioholics will be running a full review in the coming months, and we are excited to see what it can do in our own listening rooms.

RBH 61/PX Unrivaled & New Impression Gen 3 Towers

RBH Siganture 61 plus Impression 85-1 


RBH Sound brought their behemoth active SVTR setup, and, as regular readers will know from extensive coverage of Gene DellaSala’s system, they sounded superb, and that was no surprise. But what surprised me was RBH Sound’s new 61/PX Unrivaled speakers, a bookshelf speaker with some stylish side-panel designs and a fantastic sound. The imaging and tonal balance were excellent. This is a passive speaker that uses the same 1” AMT tweeter that has deeply impressed us in other RBH products such as the PM-8 monitors. RBH also uses their traditional aluminum cone that they have also had tremendous success with in a slew of loudspeakers. These speakers are essentially passive versions of the active speakers that we reviewed last year, and my time with these proved that the fundamental design was so good that you don’t need a sophisticated DSP system to elicit a great sound from it. While not inexpensive, the $3.6k/pair cost makes them a bargain versus many of the far more expensive but no better-sounding speakers at the show. These were one of the show stand-outs for me.

Focal Aria Evo X No.3 Tower Speakers

Focal Aria Evo No.3


Much like RBH Sound, Focal brought their bug guns, the epic Grande Utopia Evo EM speakers, and no surprise, they sounded fantastic, but at $280k/pair, they had better. The surprise came in Focals new refresh of their Aria line, the Aris Evo X series. I spent a little time with the Aria Evo X No.3, a three-way tower speaker using three 6.5” bass drivers, a 6.5” midrange, and a 1” inverted dome tweeter. The improvements over the outgoing Aria speakers mainly consist of driver enhancements. The tweeter uses Focal’s TAM design which increases the dispersion and also increases stiffness so that it can play out to a higher frequency while maintaining pistonic motion. It also now has a rear chamber that limits interference from back wave pressure. The woofers are given a much stronger motor that has 40% more magnetic strength which helps increase the sensitivity on what was already an above-average sensitivity to begin with. The woofer surrounds now feature something that Focal calls the Tuned Mass Damper which are some weighted rings that act as a counter-weight to surround deformations that can occur between 1kHz and 2kHz. The Aria Evo X line comes in the usual walnut and gloss black finish, but now it also comes in a neat high gloss ‘moss green’ finish that looks a lot cooler than the traditional finishes. Focal tells me this new green has had unexpectedly high demand, and I take it as a sign that there is starting to be more demand for speaker colors than wood grains or some kind of black. Moss Green is certainly the one I would get. The Focal Aria Evo X No.3 speakers can be had for $5.2k/pair. 


Focal Grande Utopia Evo EM 

AXPONA remains the best way to get exposed to different speakers in North America, and the 2024 show made that fact truer than ever. While high-end audio is a niche hobby, one wouldn’t think so given the crowds who showed up at this year’s show. Even though I have been going to AXPONA for a decade now, I always find surprises, and I look forward to next year’s show to see what unexpected delights await!


About the author:
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James Larson is Audioholics' primary loudspeaker and subwoofer reviewer on account of his deep knowledge of loudspeaker functioning and performance and also his overall enthusiasm toward moving the state of audio science forward.

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