I wasn’t sure what to expect from an audio show that is this new, so I’m happy to report the folks involved in Florida Audio Expo did a great job for year two. Great winter weather, a nice venue, and lots of attendees made for a very enjoyable experience.
Although I heard quite a few great sounding rooms, I’ll share some of my thoughts as far as systems that personally stood out for me.
I found myself drawn to this room repeatedly after my initial listen. Maybe because although instantly impressive, the sound was not exaggerated in any way. Some systems have an instant wow factor, others can be initially less impressive but have a rightness that I’ve found to be a hallmark of long term enjoyment. I got that feeling and confirmed it over the course of several listens.
Digital and analog sounded equally amazing although I was deep in my comfort zone hear while listening to vinyl. I can’t tell you anything about how much of a factor system synergy was in this room, but I’m an experienced enough listener to confidently recommend that serious audiophiles put Stenheim on their short list of must-hear speakers
For me, this room had that instant wow factor, but again in a more subtle and seductive manner, albeit different from the Suncoast Room. If the Stenheim/VAC/Acoustic Research vibe was a fit, outdoorsy Scandanavian beauty, the Joseph Perspective 2 Graphenes fed by Nick Doshi’s gorgeous tube electronics was a seductive, smoky-voiced, 60’s French actress. I fell in love instantly. I heard digital and tape. The digital was incredible. The tape was transcendent.
Not having previously been familiar with the speakers and electronics (except for the excellent Berkeley Audio Designs DAC) it’s only a guess but my intuition says a big part of what I enjoyed in this room had to do with what the Doshi amp/preamp/tape head amp contributed to the Joseph speakers.
This was one of the rooms that I was not assigned to cover but ended up being a favorite. These floor standing, granite cabinet beauties, knocked my socks off. With VAC amps and preamp and Esoteric used for playing digital, I was instantly pulled in by the sound. It’s hard to describe what is so engaging about a very low coloration presentation like what I heard in this room, but I’ll try.
I arrived early one morning before the official opening time and owner and designer Valerio Cora was sitting by himself listening to Zep – Stairway To Heaven, don’t ask me which version but it sounded like an original, not the overly loud and bright reissues.
Even though I love Zeppelin as much as the next person, it’s not exactly hifi show demo fare but it sounded amazing! I heard a tape edit that I’ve never heard along with the phase discrepancies of the drum mics with gives a signature hollow sound that I have heard previously, but not as clear – so Valerio’s excellent speakers are as revealing as they are musically enjoyable. At another point, I heard some more audiophile-centic tunes and the system delivered an expansive and clean yet rich harmonic presentation I found a bit mesmerizing.
This room was one of my favs and that surprised me a little. I am an avowed analog fan, preferably with lots of glowing vacuum tubes. Neither of those things was in this room. This system was jaw-dropping.
MSB has to take the prize for gear that plays digital with the heart and soul of a fine turntable (or tape) oriented system. I would usually run screaming from a system this clean but there was some intangible thing about the musical presentation of this system that I found thoroughly engaging.
Of course their S500 stereo amp controlled the Magico M2’s like a huge Kraken fending off some measly attackers, but it was more than that. The laser-sharp transient control was mated with a lush liquidity that I’ve rarely if ever heard from solid-state amplifiers or any DAC for that matter. Astonishing.
I heard a wide range of music in this room and it all sounded fantastic.
Could I live with the complete absence of ‘vibe’ exemplified in this system? I don’t know, but I’d sure enjoy finding out.
This list could be lengthy, but I’ll just pick a few to give you more of a taste of the excellent sounds on display. In no particular order:
This was a really fun sounding system.
I’m an avowed Rega fanboy so I’ll confess they had me the minute I walked in and spied the Rega P10 with a Beck album ready to go sitting atop the Quadraspire stand.
The Fyne F502 floor standers at $2,500 have to be the best value out there in high-end speakers. The high-quality handcrafted look of these 91db efficiency speakers is impressive at any price with Scottish pride of craftsmanship on full display.
The short story is a pack of ex Tannoy folks take the dual concentric driver concept into high-end modern materials territory and the results are quite impressive.
Bryston electronics fed by the Rega put some very enjoyable jams in this room. Punchy, powerful, open, and clean enough to seriously rival most speakers not only in the higher efficiency camp but a lot of other speakers in much higher price ranges.
Don’t sleep on the Frye’s if you’re in the market to rock, audiophile style, without breaking the bank.
The visually striking, Canadian made Muraudio speakers really caught my eyes and ears. Electrostatic panels curved horizontally and vertically to avoid the ‘beaming’ phenomena usually associated with electrostatic panels. The gorgeous wood enclosure of the SP1 also houses four 6 inch aluminum cone woofers to handle the stuff below 750 hz. What I heard was a seamless integration with the smooth yet clean and present, electrostatic drive elements.
Talking to the folks from Muraudio it was clear they had overcome some interesting challenges in pursuit of a ‘panel’ that is curved in two dimensions, but the result was a wonderfully large sweet spot for listening with no sacrifice in pinpoint imaging.
A Simaudio 340iX integrated amp at 100 WPC seemed like plenty of quality power to show off the SP1’s attributes.
It’s a little hard to draw definite conclusions from a hotel room experience, but I liked what I heard enough to know I’d love the opportunity to hear these speakers in a home setup.
I wrote a report of this room so I won’t repeat the details, but suffice to say I thoroughly enjoyed the sound in this room.
There is something special and a little mysterious in the way AGD can coax such a dimensional and layered sound from Class D amplification. I actually thought they were vacuum tube amps when I first listened. Clean to be sure, but lots of harmonic textures of the kind that pull me in like a great episode of Black Mirror. Engrossing, challenging in a good way and ultimately, lots of fun.
The OWA audio speakers are certainly a serious contender for stand-mounted 2 way greatness, but I felt like the AGD electronics was the Belle of the Ball in this room but the OWA Eureka’s are definitely worthy of serious audition time.
As usual, these guys hit it out of the park.
This system is extreme in price, size, weight, and any other category of extreme you’d care to mention, but it delivers. Oh, how it delivers. As in how much could I get for a kidney, delivers.
I didn’t hear vinyl but digital sounded otherworldly.
Imagine how great your lovingly curated home system sounds. Now multiply that by ten.
I spent some time in this room on the first day but I wasn’t drawn back to it for some reason. Maybe because I like keeping both kidneys, but also because it was so great sounding it’s kind of unfair to the competition, yet…
I think it’s important to hear what can be achieved when cost is no object.
I have to hand it to the collective inspiration and pursuit of uncompromised excellence on the part of the designers and teams in these companies. It really takes a lot to bring these truly SOTA products to market. To those for whom only the best will do and the price is no object, this room was for YOU.
By Dave McNair