The Florida Audio Expo

The Florida Audio Expo

Written by Bill Leebens

I lived on the Gulf coast of Florida for 15 years, and even worked for an audio manufacturer there—VAC, in Sarasota. In spite of that—or perhaps because of that—when I first heard of the plan to produce the Florida Audio Expo in Tampa, I was skeptical of the Gulf coast’s ability to support an audio show.

Well, I was wrong. I underestimated the drive and abilities of the organizers, Bart Andeer, Mike Bovaird, AJ, and John Chait. Bart runs Resolution Acoustics and is head of the Tampa Bay-area Suncoast Audiophile Society; Mike is a dealer, with Suncoast Audio in Sarasota; AJ–Ammar Jadusingh—is a speaker designer and builder, with Soundfield Audio; John Chait is a local audiophile who belongs to both the Suncoast and Sarasota societies. Props must also given to to the PR efforts of the ever-energetic Sue Toscano, joined by Angela Speziale. Both have been around the audio biz for a good while.

Truth be told, I also underestimated the appeal of Florida in February, having become inured to that factor due to my many years in the area. Gulf-coast Florida generally has about one month out of the year when the weather is, to me, absolutely perfect: humidity is low, temps are moderate, and there is a breeze from the Gulf. The show was fortunate to be scheduled during that perfect period, and the contrast for polar vortex refugees couldn’t have been greater. I left Denver at -6 deg F (-21 C), and spent 2 hours at the gate waiting for fuel to unfreeze so the plane could be fueled up. How on earth—?

At any rate, the weekend of the show saw daytime temperatures in the low 80s F, night time temps in the 60s. Aside from brief periods of overcast, the sun was shining the entire weekend. It was pretty damn spectacular—moreso (and I say this without any maliciousness) than the venue, which was after all, an Embassy Suites. It was clean and spacious with (wonder of wonder!) elevators that worked flawlessly all weekend, and a staff that was unfailingly friendly and willing to help, in marked contrast to staff at many other venues. Don’t get me wrong: the hotel was fine, just not fancy-schmancy. Anyway,  fanciness would’ve probably inhibited the amazingly upbeat vibe of the show. Having run an audio show at the Waldorf Astoria in NYC, I can tell you that such a museum-like venue can be a bit of a buzzkill.

The show started bright and early on Friday the 8th at 10 AM. Most shows are light until mid-afternoon on Fridays; the show was full of folks from the outset, and praise be, not just old duffs like me. There were twenty-somethings, teens, families with kids. The women I saw were, without exception, with a male— but that’s nearly always the case at US shows. The only US shows where I’ve seen unaccompanied females have been headphone displays such as Can Jam. But: there were women, far more than usual at US audio shows. And to be perfectly sexist, I’d forgotten something about Tampa: many of the women were distractingly, spectacularly lovely. And that’s all I’m gonna say about that.


Anyway: There were the usually big-manufacturer regulars like Levinson and JBL; the longtime small manufacturer show regulars like Von Schweikert, VAC, Audio Note, Classic Audio, and Atma-Sphere; and some totally unexpected oddballs like the Western Electric-based gear made by Vu Hoang at Deja Vu Audio. It was a good mix: enough whimsical stuff to maintain interest without inducing eye-rolling disgust. There was also the requisite “what the hell was THAT?” entry, which I’ll show you in a bit.

One of the highlights in the big room of Marietta, Georgia, dealer The Audio Company featuring VAC and Von Schweikert gear was The Mikey Show: Michael Fremer put his encyclopedic knowledge of music and vinyl to good use by playing alternate pressings and remasterings to a rapt crowd twice a day. Some of the differences were truly startling; one of my local friends who had been disappointed in the sound of an earlier visit to the room came back, and I pointed out that one of the hazards of really good gear is that it reveals the imperfections of mediocre recordings and pressings. After Mikey’s demos, my friend got it.

At any rate: on with the show.

The unassuming Embassy Suites where the show was held. The staff was terrific.

In the white hat is Bart Anteer, one of the show organizers. In the black hat? The ghost of Waylon Jennings?

Angela Cardas Meredith and Josh Meredith from….Cardas. what did you think??

My longtime friend, engineer extraordinaire Alan Klingbeil, w/ another longtime friend, Music Direct’s  Bes Nievera.

Classic Audio speakers with Atma-Sphere amps. Seemed a little bright this show.

Jeremy Bryan did his usual amazing magic show with MBLs…and I don’t even like omnis!

The giant MartinLogans sounding the best I’d heard, with Parasound.

One of The Audio Company’s two big VAC/Von Schweikert systems.

Kevin Hayes from VAC, in nearby Sarasota.

Three days of trying, and this is as far as I got into the Levinson/JBL L100 room. Sheesh. They were loud and punchy, even in the hall.

Bob Carver amps with KEF Blades. A very sweet, unexpected combo.

Magico’s Peter Mackay gave a great demo with Luxman gear—all CDs. Terrific sound.

Avantgarde/Viva system—please show these speakers with more-dynamic music. Please.

A wide range of Raven tube amps—and speakers? The sub is SVS.

Big Avantgarde Trios with small amps from David Berning. Again: let’s hear some dynamics!

The other VAC/ Von Schweikert system, with Michael Fremer playing DJ.

Mikey gets emphatic. Can I get an Amen?

They’re kinda odd-looking, but the Muraudio hybrid speakers with Merrill amps sounded punchy, clear, and enjoyable.

Sumiko/Pro-Ject demoed a modest system with Pro-Ject table and boxes, through Sonus faber speakers. Nice sound from a modest system.

A nice looking Pro-Ject table at $1500.

The Deja Vu South/Audio Note room was up to AN’s old standards: terrific sound, great music.

The other Deja Vu Audio South room featured this custom speakers, an odd mix of ’80s Bag End woofer, Japanese permanent magnet Western Electric 555 replica, Japanese theater horn, and an alnico ElectroVoice T35 twweeter. I really enjoyed these. Sweet, powerful, melodic.

An interesting mix of authentic Western Electric amps and look-alike gear (including DAC)—and a rebuilt Thorens TD-124.

Stereophile’s Jason Victor Serinus getting goofy over the suicidal music played in the Deja Vu room.

Vu Hoang of Deja Vu cracks up over still more sad music….

A tidy Harbeth/Luxman system, sounding very smooth and musical.

Hugh Nguyen’s Angel City speakers are always a treat, with Melody tube gear. You should see the amazing finish on these speakers.

Legacy had a whole lotta speakers in a relatively small space.

AVM with Raidho floorstanders.

AVM, Raidho standmounts,

Could only get half the system in frame: Nola sub/sat system, with Rogue integrated.

Auralic/Doshi/Ryan system sounded terrific.

Lampizator and VAC electronics with still another pair of Von Schweikert speakers. Nice sound, but as always, those freestanding tubes make me nervous.

A basic but pleasant system from A la carte Productions with Spendor speakers.

Joseph audio speakers are always terrific, and the full Doshi kit didn’t hurt.

The giant 125 watt Class-A mono amps from DSA in a fine-sounding system with a VPI Avenger and Spendor D9s.

I’ve paid little attention to Paradigm speakers in the past. These were clean, dynamic, and really lovely.

It appears I was overly-caffeinated. Sorry about the shakes. This will warm you up for the speakers.

Neither the sound nor the aesthetic were my cuppa. Props to them for the effort.

Border Patrol and Volti often show together…

…and it’s a great pairing. Here’s Volti guy Greg Roberts with the Rival, Volti’s little speaker. Comparatively.

The bar/restaurant was small, but big enough for Audio Note’s Peter Qvortrup to hold court, here with Florida dealer John Geisen.

Audio Advisors showed this straightforward Audio Research/Wilson pairing, aided by….

Wilson’s Peter McGrath playing his own superb recordings.

Vincent Belanger played in the Audio Note room along with a recording of himself. He sounded terrific both times.

This will tell you about…

…that black box full o’ drivers behind the left hand standmount speaker.

Of all the horribly-lit rooms, this one from Hegel took the cake. Nevertheless, their gear sounded great.

Tortuga offered some unusual products…

…demoed with their own speakers, Schiit DAC and QSC pro amps. Sound was surprisingly refined and detailed…but isn’t that a huge port?

This simple Cyrus system was okay-sounding, but I was driven out by a string of horrible cover songs.

MoFi showed a Feickert table, Primare electronics and Falcon LS3/5as with lovely results.

I wasn’t the only one surprised by this show: plenty of exhibitors were pleasantly surprised, and vowed to be back. It was a very pleasant experience—and I can’t say that about all shows.

As always, photography in unlit/underlit hotel rooms is challenging, especially when full Florida sun breaks in. My apologies for somehow missing photos of a few rooms in spite of a fairly manageable size: the Antal Audio/ Adirondack audio room had a very nice system with Triangle speakers and some really promising and reasonably-priced tube amps from Tsakiridis in Greece; Vanatoo showed a new, larger speaker that continues the company’s tradition of astounding value and sound in compact speakers; and House of Stereo had a nice system with the small TADs. Mea culpa, and you can see the exhibitor listing here.

See you next year!

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