Florida 2019: Wilson Audio, Audio Research, VPI and Transparent

The Wilson Audio room was a bit of a reunion of sorts for me.  This room seemed to be the room that many visited first.  Bart suggested to many to start at the 8th floor and “work your way down”.  And no wonder as it offered, in my humble opinion, the best sound at the show.  But it was a journey to get this sound as I will soon explain.

The first familiar person I saw Peter McGrath who had not long ago set up my own Wilsons which was a tremendous success.  Peter was holding court in the corner with some of his spectacular classical recordings coming off of a small but high quality Nagra machine which in turn fed a stack of wonderful, current issue Audio Research gear including the Ref CD player, Ref 6 line stage, and Ref Phono 3 phono stage which in turn fed a pair of mono Ref 160 amps then on to The newish Wilson Sasha DAWs which I was hearing for the first time.  Transparent XL cable tied it all together.  Rudi Kothe from Palm Beach’s Audio Advisors was sponsoring the room and on hand to help with the demos.

Already we heard pieces of sonic greatness…a full, rich bass, a lush midrange, and pure highs.  The illusion of real instruments was palpable on the CD “Drums & Sticks” which the Audio Research Ref CD9 decoded perfectly.  Peter played some of his small ensemble classical including a choir piece that was breathtaking.  As I enjoyed the sound, I also thought about how the heck was I going to photograph this room as a large acoustical panel was blocking almost all the light from the window.  Fortunately, I had my usual 35mm f1.8 lens on hand.  The room itself was tough being on the smallish hotel room side of things.  My experience with the preceding version Sasha 2 speaker was that it did its best with a larger room.  I believe that was the case here.  No worries…by Saturday that would all improve.

The second familiar face was that of famous mastering and recording engineer Bob Katz who I worked with a bit in the 90s when he was at Chesky Records.  He was in the audience by mid-day Saturday and had a really cool way to play his hirez files from his iPhone.  Bob and Peter know each other and Peter happily agreed to play some select cuts from Bob so he could hear the Sashas on his own material.  Bob had brought a camera kit for the iPhone to move the digits into a M2Tech Hiface 192khz-capable interface which in turn created an AES/EBU cable out which Peter was able to connect to the DAC.  Bob had the vocal group Persuasions’s hirez playing on the Onkyo HF player on the iPhone and being decoded in the system.  Bob’s recording really shined with clearly delineated vocals with lots of presence.  I love the performance on this recording and it felt a little extra special having Bob playing his own files.

The third familiar face was seeing Synergistic Research owner Ted Denney and his girlfriend Nini in the audience.  I kind of talked Ted into coming out to Florida but having Nini accompany him was a real treat.  Ted’s a hardcore Magico guy but is warming up to the new Wilsons.  He really liked the sound but we both heard the limitations of the room on acoustics.  I mean, it was doing so much right it took me a while frankly to begin to hear the issues.  The bass was not as tight as I am accustomed to on my Alexias at home.  The midrange was musical but not quite up to standards.  The soundstage felt smaller and compressed.  Given the sources and electronics, it seemed a bit, well, “off.”  Ted had an idea.  He had brought a zip-loc bag of his HFT room treatments and he politely asked Peter if he wanted to try them on the room in hopes of improving acoustics a bit.  Peter has heard the HFTs at my house and other rooms he has setup and was quick to say yes.  Ted ran up to his hotel room, grabbed the HFT bag, and was soon crawling around the room, placing HFTs on the front and side walls as well as the ceiling.  Like most of the show hours, the Wilson/ARC/VPI room was packed.  Peter and Ted asked the room what they heard at several stages with each stage sounding better.  The audience was unanimous in liking the change.  I personally heard it in the midrange and the width and depth of the soundstage.  Bass was tighter and a bit more air in the highs.  This system was really performing well on digital.  At the fourth stage or so, Peter thought the voicing had gone just one step too far and a few HFTs in the back were removed.  The “room voicing” was finished.

Which brings me to my fourth and final familiar face: Marc Boyle, who runs customer service for VPI and was subbing for  Mat Weisfeld who sadly had gotten sick right before the show.  Marc was hanging out with Aldo Filippelli from Audio Research in the kitchen area of the suite with some, ahem, sweet 75th Anniversary McIntosh gear.  VPI had thankfully brought in the new $15,000 VPI HW 40th Anniversary table and this was outfitted with the Kiseki Purple Heart that Harry Weisfeld is so fond of.  This direct-drive table with gimbaled arm is the latest product and a nice milestone for the company.  Rudi was cueing up some fine slabs of vinyl including a gorgeous Nat King Cole LP.  Frankly, this sounded amazing.  Nat was in the proverbial room and there was an unusual silence that befell the audience of talkative audiophiles.  The LP, the Wilsons, the Transparent, the near top of the line ARC gear, the “optimized room” now with HFTs.  This was breathtaking.  Peter was smiling.  Ted had a giant grin as he knew the HFTs played a role.  Marc was smiling about the analog playback.

The Sasha DAWs were now throwing a deep and wide soundstage in a small room.  The midrange had a gorgeous natural quality to it.  Highs were just right.  The bass was tight and deep but not over-powering.  Violins sounded like violins.  Choirs sounded like choirs.  You could hear the recording venue changed as Peter played his recordings.

Oh boy, this was a reference sound we were getting.  Even though the Florida Audio Expo was in its very first year, the sound was excellent in many rooms.  This, however, was my favorite room.  What a fitting tribute for Dave A. Wilson whom the speaker is named for.  I have no doubt he was smiling down on both his son Daryl and Peter this day.  Congratulations Peter, Rudi and team for my personal Best of Show.  Simply magnificent!

About Lee Scoggins 127 Articles
A native of Atlanta, Georgia, Lee got interested in audio listening to his Dad’s system in the late 70s and he started making cassettes from LPs. By the early 80s he got swept up in the CD wave that was launching which led to a love of discs from Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs. Later while working on Wall Street in the 90s, Lee started working on blues, jazz and classical sessions for Chesky Records and learned record engineering by apprenticeship. Lee was involved in the first high resolution recordings which eventually became the DVD-Audio format. Lee now does recordings of small orchestras and string quartets in the Atlanta area. Lee's current system consists of Audio Research Reference electronics and Wilson Audio speakers.