Usually, by late January, as we pass New Years, my birthday, and the snow begins to pile up around us, my wife and I routinely question ourselves and each other about our decision to live “where the air hurts our face.” As we flip the calendar over to February, the cold has reached its zenith and the sun has all but become a distant memory. The continual Midwest gray during this period causes many inhabitants to flee south for a badly needed respite from the seasonal depressive disorder and winter blues.
Now in its second year, the Florida Audio Expo in Tampa occurs at just the right time to escape the snow and cold. This year, the show expanded to 66 rooms, from the 12th floor down in the Embassy Suites. Not nearly as large as AXPONA, and free to attend, the three-day show can be covered in one day, even given the long conversations that I ended up embroiled in all morning and afternoon.
Starting on the main floor, there were the large exhibition rooms where I had the opportunity to experience the MBL loudspeakers again. The 360 degree radiating speakers are quite the experience. The large Von Schweikert speakers were on display in another ballroom and are always worth stopping by to listen to. One perk that I did not take advantage of were the lectures that took place here in these rooms, including one by Michael Fremer, but there were simply too many people that I needed to meet with in too short of a timespan. Next year, this might be a two-day event for me.
Heading to the 12th floor, moving from room-to-room, descending each level, there was much to see and even more to listen to. I will do my best here to recapture for you what I feel were the highlights. I would love to be able to tell you that every room was better than the next, but this simply wasn’t the case. There were great systems and pieces, and then there were systems that caused me to give polite responses and make quick exits, hoping that I wasn’t making tell-tale funny faces. However, there were certainly enough bright spots to make the trip well worth it again this year.
On the 11th floor, the folks at Audeze had a great view overlooking Tampa, and an amazing product spread. I was able to sample a few headphones through a Burson DAC/headphone amp. Comparing the LCD-2 Classic to the LCD-2 proved to be an enlightening experience. I found myself preferring the soundstage of the Classic model. The Audeze representative then let me listen to the LCD-1. While it had a decidedly narrower sound, it was a respectable entry-level headphone from one of the best brands in the business.
A floor down, a highlight for many audiophiles were the MC Audiotech Forty-10 loudspeakers. At $35,000/pair, there was much commentary about the unique look of these speakers, but overall agreement regarding their performance. The speakers were in a room much too small, given their size and space requirements, but the Forty-10’s still made a statement; designed for unique dispersion, imaging, and low end emanating from a total of four Peavey 18” bass drivers. The MC’s were bi-amplified by a pair of Linear Tube Amplifier units that increased the overall presentation. In all, one of my favorite rooms.
Further on through the rooms, listeners were treated to the Magico M2 speakers, another highlight of the Expo for me. At $56,000/pair, these speakers cried out for a better environment than they were surrounded with, but I did my best to get the best listening experience that I could from them.
Room 1005 proved to be much more of a winner for me, with a pair of well-placed Focal Kanta speakers and Aesthetix Audio components. This was a thoughtful system that wasn’t over-the-top, but extremely comfortable to listen to.
Around this time, I was fortunate to meet up with up with a couple friends from the industry in another also particularly comfortable room. The conversation shifted from audio to our real lives, and we went from business to joviality. Someone brought out a bottle of Macallan 12 scotch, the drink of choice of recently departed Neil Peart. We toasted Peart, drank some fine spirits, and enjoyed a short break from speakers, turntables, and amplifiers. After some vigorous handshakes and even a hug or two, we all went back about the business of audio again.
The folks at Music Hall had a fabulous display of turntables and phono preamps to show me, and I was eager to see every one of them. Just down the way, I encountered a new company from Mexico City called Margules, demonstrating their floorstanding speakers. They also displayed an interesting pair of bookshelf speakers as well.
For me, one of the highlights of an audio show is getting to spend time in the Joseph Audio room. Whether it’s their bookshelf speakers or their floorstanders, Joseph’s speakers always blow me away. At Tampa, Joseph audio was showcasing their Perspective2 Graphene loudspeakers. At $14,999/pair, these run at the top of my dream speaker list.
I am generally leery of headphone rooms, and am not tremendously keen to try on ‘phones that have been on lots of who-knows-who’s heads and such, but it was hard to walk away when I came across the Blue Hawaii rig, complete with VPI turntable and Mytek phono preamp. With a set of Audeze headphones, it was a formidable setup that I needed to jump into. My instinct proved correct. The risk was worth taking, and I was treated to a deep, rich, immersive headphone experience.
A higher-end Pro-ject turntable along with a pair of Sonus faber Olympica speakers made room 708 a great stop. A couple floors down, my friends at Mofi had a plethora of fun items on display, including a new Quad integrated amplifier. You had me at Quad.
One of the most spectacular rooms, of course, was the Triangle Arts/Usher room. With three of their museum-quality turntables showcased, I sat back and listened through the large Usher Diamonds. It’s always a treat!
However, the biggest treat for me personally at an audio show is when I find where they’re hiding the Daedalus Audio speakers. At Tampa, it was in room 408. Driven by VAC amps through the Lampizat0r Pacific DAC, it was hard to not camp out there for the rest of the afternoon.
When the show was over, it was time to enjoy a sushi dinner with a friend. We walked up the street to Ocean Prime and found a spot at the bar amongst the beautiful people.
My stay extended a few days, since my wife & I have good friends in St. Pete. The weather was a perfect 80 degrees. We soaked up the sun, Italian food in Gulfport, the Florida State Fair, sunsets in Madeira Beach, ice cream at the Candy Kitchen, shuffleboard in the park, and as much outdoor time and laughter as we possibly could before returning to the frozen white North.
My compliments to the hardworking staff that run the Florida Audio Expo. Once again, they have brought us a good show, kept it free, and managed to provide plenty of space for all. I hope that this will continue to expand and grow and bring great high-end audio to South Florida, and a much-needed break from winter.