McGary Audio

Essential Sound

Monday, March 2, 2020

EAN Audio Show Spotlight!
The Florida Audio Expo 2020:
The South's Up And Coming Hi-Fi Show!

A tower of Benchmark at Florida Audio Show

by Paul Elliott
(photos courtesy of Paul Elliott)
  It was thought to be a good thing to be in Tampa in February 2-3, escaping the cold of Winter in Baltimore. Thursday, it was in the 80s when I arrived. Thursday night we had a tornado (F1) pass by and dissipate just a half-mile away. The rest of the weekend was what we come to Florida for, bright and sunny outside while we scurry up and down dark halls sniffing at and lifting the skirts on the newest and best in audio gear. I guess this is where I say “what a strange world we live in.” Is this a mixed message here? Maybe. I like music and I want it to sound good in my home. Yes, this is where I should be. 


The Feb. Florida Audio Expo is growing.

A regional southern audio show
  The Florida Audio Expo, held at the Embassy Suites Hotel, is still in the toddler stage with this being the second year. Last year there were around 40 or so rooms. This year there were 60+. Big increase for the two-year-old audiophile gathering. No public calamities that I saw or heard about. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves — both vendors and participants I chatted with seem to agree. The hotel provides a great breakfast for anyone with a room key. Friday was a busy day, Saturday was very crowded, and Sunday well there was plenty of room to move around in.
  I’m going to touch on 15 to 20 rooms very briefly over three or four parts with a final bit on the overall show and highlighting four remarkable (personal choice here) rooms. I did the top-down thingy, starting on the twelfth floor and working down to the big exhibit rooms on the second floor on Sunday.

An HP audition of Benchmark HPA4 and DAC 3

The king of pristine!
  My first room was the Benchmark room to make my editor happy. All of the Benchmark products were on display. The Benchmark HPA4 Headphone Amp combined with a the Benchmark DAC3+ were all around the room.
  I listened to a wide range of headphones from the Audeze LCD-2($899) to the Focal Stella for $3000. The LCD-2 must be considered a bargain with Planar Magnetic drivers — with a published response of 10 Hz to 50 kHz. They all sounded great with the sonic flavors evident via the revealing Benchmark tandem.
  The Audeze LCD 4Z ($3995) features dual, push-pull magnet structure, 5 Hz to 50 kHz response and high efficiency, with a fit and finish that can only be described as “elegant”; the Meze Empyrean ($2999), with its “Isodynamic Hybrid Array,” were my favorite. The Focal Stella with the highest efficiency and lowest distortion was simply amazing, but a just a bit forward in the highs for me.

A pair of Steinheim Alumine 3's

Aluminum speaker by Steinheil
  New to me was the aluminum-cabinet speakers from Switzerland. The Steinheim Alumine 3 floor stander. Beautifully made and standout looks. It sounded very precise to me. Driving this tandem of 154 pound, 41-inch-tall speakers was the VAC 200 iQ and Master Line stage. When I was in the room it was the Aurender A30 ($18K) — a do-all caching music server, Streamer, CD Ripper, HDD Storage, and Full MQA Decoder DAC, and Headphone Amplifier, —doing the honors. Aurender was in many rooms here in Florida, and I can see and hear why this is such a popular digital piece of kit.

AMG Giro TT/9WT tonearm with optical "stylus"
Budget magnepans from Musical Surroundings
  It is a rare thing to run across Magnepan speakers at an audio show, and they do pop up every once in a while. The Musical Surroundings room up on the eleventh floor highlighted a pair of .7’s ($1,400) sounding very nice. I have been a fan of Magnepan for a long time and have a pair of 3.3a’s in my main system. If your room lets you place the speakers far out into the room, dipoles present a very seductive sound. Starting from the source, an AMG Giro deck and a 9WT tonearm ($14.2K) (with an optical cartridge system), the DS Audio E-1 ($2,750).
  This cartridge system uses light to measure the distance that the stylus moves and converts this to an analog. Included with the cartridge are a dedicated power supply and RIAA equalizer. No need for a phono preamp, so the price is extremely attractive. The little tower thing with green lights standing next to the AMG Giro is the DS ION-001 ($1,800) vinyl di-ionizer, that removes static electricity build-up on the LP surface.



  Powering the Magnepan .7’s was the Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum lll integrated amp ($3k). This 100-watt/channel, KT120, push-pull amp had plenty to drive the power-hungry Maggies. As with every Rogue amp, the sound was impressive — extended stereo image, detail and a tight fast bass!

Raven Audio Elite Silhouette
  The Texas guys: Raven Audio is always a “jumping” room. They were showing two systems, sort of top and bottom. Both using the superb Mytek Brooklyn DAC+ ($2,195) and Manhattan II ($5,995) as a source. The budget system had the Blackhawk Mk lll (around $4k, depending on the choice of a wide range of NOS tubes) integrated amp with 6L6’s belting out 20 T-E-X-A-S size watts for the Celest’ Tower ($3995) using their Waveguide (horn) tweeter to minimize room reactions.


Blackhawk Mk lll (top), Elite Series Silhouette Monoblocks

The second system we heard the Corvus Tower system consisting of a monitor sitting on top of a bass module allowing for a full range (20 Hz to 20 kHz) system. For this system, Raven was showing off their Elite Series Silhouette Monoblocks ($27K).  They know what slam is in Texas, maybe they invented it, and it was in the room with aces.

Modwright high end digital and analog
  The ModWright room was sounding right, real right with the debut of the Eggleston Works OSO floor standers ($12K). This was one of the rooms I wish I could have spend much more time in. This was a small floor stander with a big sound; this speaker has the finesse to be intimate. Wolf Audio Systems was doing the honors when I hit the room with the Alpha 3 SX ($9895) music server.

The T+A MP 3100 HV DAC SACD player

The T+A MP 3100 HV DAC SACD player
 This new model pushes the limits of micro-vibration control, electrical grounding, and radio frequency (RF) suppress for black hole quite backgrounds.  The T+A MP 3100 HV DAC SACD player ($21K)” is now capable of carrying out the full-signal processing of DSD bitstream data — in addition to processing PCM data to impeccable standards. This extensive development was necessitated by the machine’s new integral disc mechanism: an SACD drive which is a completely new development, featuring the very latest decoder, and capable of reading CD (PCM 44.1 kHz ) and SACD (DSD 64/2.8 MHz) discs at the highest possible quality.
  The other digital sources, both integral and external, also benefit from this new improvement. As in the MP 3000 HV, PCM data is converted using our outstanding double differential quadruple converter for all the digital signal processing. DSD data are handled by the unique analog true 1-bit DSD converter from the PDP 3000 HV, which processes the DSD data in native form as a bitstream rather than converting them”.
  ModWright kept everything under control with its KWH 225i Tube Integrated ($8,495). This is a Class-A, tube design with increased power to 225W. It sounded terrific!

Valentia Active Speakers ($12,450) 
  David Janszen’s room was unique in that there was no equipment alter. The Janszen Valencia floor standers ($12,450) are active (built-in bi-amplifiers) with balanced inputs (can use adapters for RCA’s). Dave was using a Bluetooth adapter to play music files from his phone.  The sound was lively, full range and focused. These speakers use two electrostatic panels behind the grill cloth that disperse the majority of the sound spectrum at a wide-angle. I detected no beaming; low frequencies were handled by dual 6.5-inch woofers. The frequency response is an impressive 20 Hz to 32 kHz. The crossover is DSP — for a very clean sound.

The Active Janszen Valencia

  Also, David Janszen was showing a prototype (the seventh) of his new Lotus electrostatic headphones. These are getting pretty close to full production. I loved the sound. Laid back and very smooth. No hard edges, just simply marvelous. They do have a battery to bias the diaphragm that one must remember to turn on via a touch switch. The battery is rechargeable, providing four weeks of four hours a day of use. The frequency response is full range — from 18 Hz to 32 kHz. These weigh only 500gr. I can hardly wait to buy a pair.
Part II of Florida Audio Expo coverage is coming!


  Paul Elliott is a long-time audiophile, based in Baltimore. He is a freelance writer and member of the DC Hi-Fi Group. EAN is an audio review web site/blog. EAN Founder John Gatski has been evaluating consumer, audiophile, home cinema and professional audio gear since 1988. In 1995, he created Pro Audio Review, and he has written for SoundOnSound, Audio, Laserviews, Enjoy The Music, The Audiophile Voice, High Performance Review, Radio World and TV Technology. Everything Audio Network is based in Kensington, Md. Articles on this site are the copyright of the ©Everything Audio Network. Any unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited. John Gatski can be reached via email: everything.audio@verizon.net


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