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.
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!