Wow. What a great beginning for a much-needed, in my opinion, regional Florida-based show. The weather was great, the sound was great, the people were great, the food and drinks were great. Tampa in February? Yes please.
But what were the standouts? Let’s get going.
Most Dynamic System
What can I say? Damon, Leif, Kevin and the Gents from Marietta’s The Audio Company again impressed with a huge and rich sounding reference system in the biggest ballroom at the show at the end of the second-floor hall. Were the big Von Schweikert Audio loudspeakers in bright red ruby more aptly described a candy-apple red or a sparkly burgundy? I don’t know but they sounded simply amazing. The incredibly well-built and engineered VAC Statement gear was letting all of the sound through. Rock, classical, jazz…50s or 90s recordings…it was all good. Even as a jaded show-goer, I visit the Audio Company/VAC/Von Schweikert in the first couple of hours. And I visit 3-4x throughout the show. This kind of system makes high-end audio fun again and the realism can be spooky enough to take your breath away.
Best Music Demo
You have to hand it to Michael Fremer. He can talk on any audio subject and captivate an audience. I think it comes down to a few things. Michael has an out-sized personality, he’s funny, and he knows analog and music. it’s that knowledge of music that creates a well-curated demo list that often covers a number of genres. On top of this, his access to biggies like Chad Kassem and top-flight record collectors and label heads often means he has some crazy rare or one-of-a-kind lacquer that always impresses. That would be good enough for a quality demo but there’s something else. Michael knows how to tell a quality story and “set up” the cut like no one else. Was it helped by his previous career in comedy? Probably did not hurt to have that experience. My suggestion is this: if Fremer is doing a demo at a a show, go see it! Your ears will have fun and you will learn something.
Best Secret Weapon(s)
It takes some experience and knowledge to run a quality show. I give thanks to all four Florida Audio Expo investors, but there are two behind-the-scenes people who kept this show running like a Swiss watch, Angela Speziale and Sue Toscano.
Best Cable Presence and Sound
The magic Cardas Clear cable was everywhere. All those great two-way systems I raved about in my show reports? Cardas Clear. The Bandon Blue was letting the music through. Almost as ubiquitous were Josh and Angela, two of the best people in audio. Now there is an added bonus. We can stare at those gorgeous copper end caps on the super quiet Nautilus power strip. The solid and silent type.
Best Sound of the Show
Rudi of Palm Beach’s Audio Advisors and Peter McGrath of Wilson Audio did a sublime job of showcasing the amazing new Wilson Audio Sasha DAW speakers. The inner detail of this speaker and the large dynamics were spectacular. Add in the clarity and wide open dynamics of the Ref 160 monoblocks from Audio Research, the stellar VPI HW40 and Purple Heart reference source and oh baby, it’s gonna be good!
Prettiest New Product Introduction
Aldo from Audio Research was on hand with the gorgeous new McIntosh 70th Anniversary edition amps. Sleek, modern, but classic in sort of a McIntosh way, these were simply beautiful. On static display only, I hope to hear these products soon.
Best Celebrity Sighting
Bob Katz, mastering engineer and former Chesky Records recording engineer, showed up in the Wilson Audio room and had a cool AES/EBU connector to his own recordings on his cell phone. They sounded great, of course, but one of the show highlights was eating lunch with Bob. Bob is helping end the “loudness war” and for that we should all be grateful.
Best Reel to Reel Tape Experience
Too close to call. Greg Beron’s machine in the MBL room or Nick Doshi‘s Studer machine in the Jeff Joseph room, both sounded spectacular. Tape is well at the “stupid end” of high-end audio. Stupid expensive. Stupid inconvenient. Stupid cool. Stupid good sounding…which is why I am looking for a two-track 15 ips machine. My ears tell me that tape at 15 ips is the best sounding source in the here and now (with respect to Harry Pearson). Who am I to argue with them?
Best Vanishing Act
Borresen speakers just image remarkably well, are fast, and just make me forget about the gear. Lars provides a primo demo of course…but damn, what sound he gets from humble CDs!
Most Natural Sound
Audio Note UK cheated. They had Vincent Boulanger show up and play virtuoso cello again. Such beauty and grace. No wonder that Vincent played to a packed room. The real thing is the best thing. The Audio Note system was superb as well. Bravo, Peter Qvortrup!
Best Digital Sound
Three-way tie. Of course, the MSB Premiere DAC was incredible in Mike Bovaird’s SunCoast Audio room on the AvantGarde Duos. The Lampizator Pacifica was as magnificent as it was beautiful. But the sound of the Border Patrol DAC was perhaps the biggest surprise for me. A lot of great digital sound for the money.
Best Streaming Service
Qobuz. Hands down. Wonderful hirez sound but on thousands of albums. And impresario David Solomon was out and about putting his trusty and excellent sounding AudioQuest Dragonfly Red into service to demonstrate what the possibilities are. Hearing these files on the Legacy Audio Calibre speakers was remarkable.
A fun time was had by all. See y’all next February. And this time I will make my Bern’s Steakhouse reservations in September!