Florida Audio Expo 2023

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Rogier van Bakel  |  Feb 26, 2023  |  2 comments
It was bound to happen sometime. The day after my return from the Florida Audio Expo, I tested positive for COVID. I'd worn a facemask on the plane, but not during the three days of pressing the flesh, listening, and reporting. (In fact, no one at the show did.) I suppose I paid for my lack of super-caution with several days of chills, headaches, violent coughing, and brain fog. This also accounts for the delay in getting the final batch of show reports out to you. Apologies!
Rogier van Bakel  |  Feb 25, 2023  |  1 comments
A real drum kit at the Florida expo? Standing in the second-floor hallway, I could've sworn I heard just that. Five seconds later, reality set in when Dave Brubeck's famous piano chords joined Joe Morello's 5/4 jazz groove. It was the recorded sound of Morello's drums on "Take Five" that had emanated from the Embassy Suites' Kennedy Room, where High End by Oz, a Connecticut distributor, was demoing its wares. (I sincerely love it when my brain gets tricked like that.
Rogier van Bakel  |  Feb 25, 2023  |  1 comments
"There's a party going on in Room 713, and only true freaks are invited!" That's the promise of a bawdy little book called Room 713, about four friends who travel to another city and indulge in outsized carnal pleasures.

No such titillation was to be had in room 713 of the Embassy Suites in Tampa, but other delights abounded. To wit: a pair of Triangle Magellan Quatuor 40th-anniversary speakers ($20,000/pair), plus three Electrocompaniet components: the new AW 800M NEMO 2 monoblock used as a stereo amplifier (800W in mono, 300Wpc in stereo, $22,500), the EC 4.8 MkII preamp ($4900), and an ECM 1 MkII streamer ($5700). Wireworld took care of the cabling.

Rogier van Bakel  |  Feb 22, 2023  |  1 comments
In Tampa, Latvian brand Aretai made another very good impression with its 100S speaker, a 2.5-way standmount in a sealed box ($9000/pair). Visually this speaker was among the more arresting offerings at the Florida expo: a neodymium-magnet tweeter in a handsome white horn sits atop a 16"-tall, matte-black enclosure. (The 100S is also available in piano gloss and various wood veneers.) Each speaker has two 6" drivers that deliver bass down to about 32Hz.
Rogier van Bakel  |  Feb 21, 2023  |  7 comments
Although TAD is a Japanese brand, there's something dry, almost German about the name, which stands for Technical Audio Devices. It's comparable, in my book, to T+A, one of Germany's leading high-end companies, whose initials mean Theorie + Anwendung—that's Theory + Application. I like this just-the-facts approach, as long as the products leave room for emotion . . . maybe even a spot of sorcery. On that score, no worries about either brand.

After a years-long absence, TAD is back on the US market, represented by Dave Malekpour of Massachusetts' PAD Hifi Distribution (PAD stands for Professional Audio Design. Were these two made for each other or what?)

Rogier van Bakel  |  Feb 21, 2023  |  0 comments
One new Focal product was present at the Florida show, sitting on the floor in a corner: the Littora 200 OD Stone 8 outdoor loudspeaker ($799 each), shaped like a roughly 17" pebble. Littoras are "designed for listening in marine, coastal and wet settings," says Focal. Oddly, an indented band of indeterminate function runs around the back of the speaker's faux-stone enclosure, doing nothing to make the model 8 seem like a naturally-occurring object. Humph.
Rogier van Bakel  |  Feb 20, 2023  |  0 comments
While my collection of personal audio is pretty much complete (with high-end entries from HiFiMan, Audeze, Focal, and Sennheiser), I'd consider an addition from Britain's Warwick Acoustics if I were currently in the market for further headphone bliss. Warwick's Aperio Black (above)—a $32,000 combo of a balanced electrostatic amp/energizer plus an accompanying open-back headset—is near the top of Mount Olympus.
Rogier van Bakel  |  Feb 20, 2023  |  0 comments
A friend had advised me to go listen to the single-ended Auris Nirvana IV headphone amplifier ($5700), deeming it "in some ways" an improvement over Auris's beloved Headonia model. Mission accepted.
Rogier van Bakel  |  Feb 20, 2023  |  20 comments
On the third and last day of the Florida Audio Expo, I realized I hadn't listened to Von Schweikert speakers in donkey's years. With only 35 minutes to spare till closing time, I made my way to the third-floor room where, according to the show literature, I should hear a pair of Von Schweikert Endeavor floorstanders ($31,000) being driven by a generous complement of multikilobuck tube components. Sure enough, the candy-apple-red speakers were there, tethered to a VAC Master Signature preamp ($44,000 with a phono stage), and from there to VAC Master 300 monoblocks ($74,000/pair). The $36,000 VPI Avenger Direct turntable was in repose when I arrived, ceding front-end honors to a $28,000 Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC Reference 3.
Rogier van Bakel  |  Feb 19, 2023  |  11 comments
No hyperbole, no exaggeration: This morning, a pair of Danish speakers made me cry. Not mainly because of the hole they'd be burning in my meager finances if I actually shelled out the $100,000 needed to own them, but because of the emotions they evoked . . . without even seeming to break a sweat.

What's extra crazy is that the song that made my eyes well up wasn't some audiophile chestnut.

Rogier van Bakel  |  Feb 19, 2023  |  0 comments
At 32, David Strunk is one of the younger designers and entrepreneurs at the Florida show—and yet he's somewhat of a veteran. Strunk started seriously tinkering with electronics and audio when he was still in britches. Four years ago, he and his father, Tim, started Endow Audio with a hugely ambitious goal: redefining high-end speakers' capacity for sounding just like live music.
Rogier van Bakel  |  Feb 19, 2023  |  0 comments
Mind if I slap some quick virtual labels on Gershman Acoustics' $17,000 pair of Grande Avant Garde speakers? From my notes: "Very big-sounding for small floorstanders." "Their brawn belies their size." "Elegant overachievers."

They're all that...

Rogier van Bakel  |  Feb 18, 2023  |  0 comments
If you're pressed for time at a busy audio show, it can be a mistake to walk into a room just to say hi to an industry contact. Should the music speak to you, and the sound is dead-on, you may succumb to the temptation to sit down for a longer-than-expected listen. That's what occurred this morning. You know what? I regret nothing.

Mexican electronics company Margules and Denmark's Raidho speakers, both brands represented by distributor Bruce Ball's AV Luxury Goods, have a rare synergy.

Rogier van Bakel  |  Feb 18, 2023  |  0 comments
It's a personal thing, perhaps a shortcoming: I don't care for harps, having never heard a piece of harp music I found appealing. Truthfully, that didn't suddenly change when I heard French Canadian harpist Isabeau Corriveau perform in the Embassy Suites room outfitted with hi-fi gear from On a Higher Note, distributor Philip O'Hanlon's company. (O’Hanlon can be seen on the right in the photo.) But Corriveau is a fetching presence and a helluva musician, and it was impressive to listen to her play along to A Leap of Faith, a vinyl disc of her own music. With eyes closed, I had a hard time reliably delineating the sonic boundary between live instrument and recorded music.
Rogier van Bakel  |  Feb 18, 2023  |  0 comments
Remarkably, much of the Embassy Suites' 10th floor was taken up by relative newcomer Fidelity Imports, an import and distribution company started four years ago by industry veteran Steve Jain, who'd held management positions at Klipsch and Pioneer. Jain, 46, likes to move fast. After first signing three British companies in short order—Cyrus Audio (amplification), Q Acoustics (speakers), and QED Cable (duh)—he looked to other parts of the globe for further expansion. These days, his stable includes 17 brands, including Slovakia's Neo (high-end audio racks), Italy's Audia Flight (amps, preamps, CD players), and Japan's Soulnote (amplifiers and other stereo components).