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Florida International Audio Expo 2024

03-09-2024 | By Lee Scoggins | Issue 132

One of my favorite audio events every year is the Tampa show. For the past four visits the weather has been sunny and in the 70s every day. This year it rained straight through the weekend. Yet it totally did not matter. There was a level of energy all four days I was there (Thursday through Sunday) that brought out the friendliness in everyone. Bart Andeer and Sue Toscano really know how to do a great show.

This year the show was completely sold out, but the big unknown for me was sound quality. Lately I have made some material improvements to my home system including room acoustics and honestly, I wondered if my standards would be too high with respect to being thrilled by the mega systems. As it turned out, there was plenty of good sound for me and others to enjoy.

Let's start our report with the rooms I felt were really at the top of the sound game, followed by my Best of Show award.

TAD: From Japan with Love

The first room I visited was Dave Malekpour's room for TAD. I quickly learned that the sound at Tampa would be terrific. On one side was the more affordable gear, and the new Evolution GE1 floor-stander with TAD electronics and the big R1 reference flagship was on the other side with even more expensive TAD electronics. Cables and power conditioning were from Synergistic Research, a line I was very familiar with.

We listened to "Rocket Man" by Elton John and there was very good bass and a clear, open midrange. The stage was very wide with medium level depth. It sounded very immersive. Dave is his own secret weapon, as he also builds recording studios and is a real master at it. The big ballroom they had at the end of the hall had very pronounced tray ceilings so this room has had some acoustic issues in the past. Dave essentially solved it by placing Jocavi acoustic panels in the edge of the trays.

On the other side of the room was the compact reference CR1TX, and it was breathtaking. I played my demo song "Man in the Long Black Coat" by Bob Dylan, and it was wonderful. Deep rich bass notes, clarity in the vocals, and a huge deep and wide soundstage led to a lifelike sound that was intoxicating. There are a number of loudspeaker firms that use coincident drivers, but it sounds like TAD is the king of the hill in this category. Later on Saturday night, David Solomon was doing his usual excellent demo of Qobuz tracks, and the full range R1s sounded even more sublime.

Wow. A perfect start to the show. TAD CEO Shinji Turanji was on hand to talk about the technology and the further added to the star appeal of the largest room at the show.

Never Take Acora Acoustics for Granite

On Thursday I saw Val Cora and Kevin Hayes having lunch outside the big second floor room, and sat down and chatted. Last year's Axpona had the Acora flagship speakers, and for my money was the best sound at the show. This year I was curious if they could top that.

Oh heck yes!

This time they had the newish Lampizator Poseidon DAC preamp and a flagship VPI table. It sounded wonderful. Listening to Fink's "Trouble," there was a supremely musical yet detailed presentation with an enormous soundstage. Bass was strong as well. But almost overshadowing the sound was a gorgeous new granite finish that has gray, yellow, and red-orange tones. I have never seen a more beautiful loudspeaker in my life. Also intriguing was a line of new half-width components from VAC. A simply fantastic room from sources to electronics to speakers. Cardas Clear Beyond cabling let all the music through. Amazing job team.

House of Superb Stereo

Walter Schofield had been telling me for months about the Stenheim 5SE speakers that he promised would make me sell my Wilson Alexia Vs. Arrived in Florida, my attitude was a bit "okay wise guy, put up or shut up."

Well, dammit, this room did not disappoint in the slightest. A clear favorite of mine for the weekend, this House of Stereo room was absolutely sublime in its musical presentation. It was also impressive to hear it on Thursday and watch Walter programmatically dial it in by upgrading the jumpers to higher end Synergistic Research cables and by dialing in the speaker placement. It sounded very good on Thursday, but by Saturday the room was absolutely spectacular. Powering this system was a Viva amplifier and those 845 tubes are just beautiful to look at and hear!

That Voodoo That You Do

Synergistic Research via Scott Walker Audio demonstrated their new Ethernet switch and Voodoo server with the help of JMF Audio amplifier, Ideon Absolute DAC and Clock, and the Estelon XB Mark II speakers. Like a lot of SR products, there are several settings to help "voice" the system in the SR way.

As with all of Ted Denney's demos, the effect is a pure A/B with the same tracks both with the new device in or out of the playback chain. And as is usual, the effects are not subtle.

I have watched Ted and team spend hours and days doing a setup and the result has always been some of the best sound at the show. In one demo Ted removed his thimble-sized HFTs which had been placed on the speakers. This resulted in a loss of soundstage and focus. With the HFTs back in place on the Estelon speakers, the John Kaizen track had better bass and percussive effects. The Estelons provided a complete disappearing act.

On a second demo, Ted demonstrated the impact of changing the bias in the Voodoo server. On "What a Wonderful" by Eva Cassidy, the vocals were much less distinct without the right bias. Using the blue setting, Eva's music had more presence and was more forceful.

On a third demo, Ted showed the impact of removing the SR Vibratron device which is a silver pole with spheres positioned at various height. Sound became muddied with removal of the device. But with every device and properly voiced this room has a glorious midrange and beautiful lush sound. I had planned to stop by briefly since I have heard many SR demos in the past but I stayed glued to my chair for quite a while. This was probably the most open sounding room at the show. Spectacular achievement Ted and Scott!

My Corona

The Wizard of Oz Turan?

Yet again we see the Viva integrated amplifier this time paired with the plasma tweeter-based Lansche 5.2 loudspeakers ($57,000). Holy cow! This was really something else. After spending 10 minutes trying to photograph the purple plasma in the Corona tweeter, I sat back and listened to Oz DJ using CDs! Remember the Compact Disc? I do. I love the format. Oz played some Dead Can Dance and I was absolutely enthralled. Super airy highs, a beautiful, musical, yet detailed midrange. Impressively snappy transients on the toms. There was an ease to the sound here that drew me in.

Great Danes!

I think of all the rooms I heard in Tampa, Audio Group Denmark knocked my socks off with its pure transparency. Playing a spectacular new demo cut I had not heard before from Lalo Schifrin called "Blues in the Bassment," the M3s demonstrated dynamics that were completely lifelike. The track involves a solo bass tune that really swings and is accompanied by a very dynamic jazz orchestra. It was at once full of detail and truly musical. Not overly accurate or "HiFi" sounding, it really had me tapping my toes along to the music. It's truly hard to fault the M3s, which seemingly did everything right.

Now to be honest, $280,000 for the speakers is above my paygrade…but in another room was the debut of the far more attainable X1 Borreson monitors, which cost $5500 and another $1100 for the stands. Michael and team must be building some of the more innovative drivers out there, given the detail and musicality we heard. Michael, Lars, Peter, Emile and team…amazing work here and a standout room for me.

Radiating Sound

There's just something special about the soundstage recreation of the MBL loudspeakers and their electronics. I want to say it was smooth and free-flowing. Digital sounded really good, but when Greg Beron was playing his new Apollo tape machine, it was magical at times.

The soundstage was wide and open. Performers were present. Bass was ample but not overdone. Adding to the quality of presentation was Jeremy Bryan having a high quality demo list. I am always running my SoundHound app to capture new tracks in the MBL room into the app's history, so that I can play them back later at home.


Valve Amplification Company was yet again in another top room with the flagship Clarisys speakers. Mike Bovaird and team created a phenomenally engaging listen with big presence, superb resolution, and stellar dynamics. Using six (!) Master 300 amps (one per ribbon) to drive Clarisys' full-range Auditorium loudspeakers via Audioquest Thunderbird cabling, the sound was rich in midrange with a big, flagship level sound. 

X Marks The Spot

Aurender had a super simple setup that was truly deceiving when I first walked in. Using their Aurender AP20 All-In-One Music Server ($20,000) feeding the Wilson Audio Sabrina X loudspeakers ($18,900 a pair) and Shunyata V2 speaker cables ($10,590) and XC C15 power cables ($3250) on an HRS EXR stand ($4195), the sound was simply glorious in the midband. Listening to Peter Gabriel's Playing for Time, the vocals were clear, the soundstage was excellent, and the highs were extended. The amplification was the Purifi Eigentakt modules from revered designer Bruno Putzeys. A very simple but effective system with very clean looks. The HRS EXR stand in black was rugged but gorgeous.

Smooth Sailing at Gershman Audio

Eli and Ofra are some of my favorite people at these audio shows and I'm happy to report their 30th Anniversary Black Swan system sounded terrific. The system included the superb CAT SL1 Legend Extreme preamps, CAT JL7SE amplifiers, VPI Avenger turntable, Wolf Audio servers, and Aavik D580 DAC. The sound was always clear and clean with very good bass on every track I heard. I asked Ofer if we could hear the old 90s demo "Ask Me Now" from McCoy Tyner's New York Reunion album. This is a favorite test track that was an assistant engineer on. Joe Henderson's saxophone was perfect in timbre and McCoy's piano playing was faithfully rendered. There was also a good sense of the recording studio which thrilled me. I also made a note on how beautiful the fit and finish was on these loudspeakers. An excellent speaker company with a really strong showing in Tampa.

Horns and Flowers

Angie Lisi was down from Toronto with another spectacular system using the Avantgarde Uno SD speakers with electronics from Phasemation. The source I listened to was an Oracle Delphi turntable with an Analog Relax cartridge. Vocal from Stacey Kent were intimate and musical. The midrange was simply wonderful and among the best I heard at the show. Surprisingly good bass for the size of cabinet as well. A superbly musical system.

A Different Perspective

My Best of Show award skips over some high dollar rooms and goes to the Joseph Audio, Doshi Audio, and Cardas room.

I may not win many friends with this choice but the musical nature and surprisingly reasonable cost of the Perspective loudspeakers at $17K is quite an achievement. Nick had the new Evolution version of his stereo amp (I had the previous version) and it's clearly taken a step forward from already sublime sound. Cardas Clear Beyond was the primary cabling and it was clearly letting the music flow. Nick has rebuilt a Studer A810 and thankfully had the tape version of Gillian Welch's The Harvest and The Harrow reel feeding his tape preamp which many of my friends consider the best. The musicians were in the room. I have loved this album from the start but it has never sounded this good. Instrument timbre and imaging were as good as anything I heard at the show. Wow, this was a stellar, lifelike sound. Jeff played a Chinese drum track that had a visceral impact on me. Dynamics were top-shelf and the soundstage was deep and wide on most tracks. "Man in the Long Black Coat" was sublime. I believe the Perspectives are an absolute steal at the price and the pairing with Doshi electronics is pure gold. Roll tape!

Special Mentions

British Accents

The gentlemen at Falcon Acoustics had a very good sound going and also provided a sneak preview of a new product that blew me away but I can't yet talk about it. Nonetheless, after come cartridge setup adjust by Michael Fremer, this room offered super sound with the Falcon M series and an Audio Research I/50 integrated amplifier. Source was a VPI turntable.

Viva Las Vegas!

The Vivid Audio integrated amplifier was powering the superb room of Oz and House of Stereo to good effect. Nope, really great effect. The 845 tubes sounded sublime in both rooms and the fit and finish on this Italian beauty was stellar. Can the Wizard of Oz help a brother out?

Empire State of the Art

Listening to the Mytek Empire Mark 2 DAC playing hirez via Stax and Meze headphones vis the Headamp Blue Hawaii tube amplifier was simply breathtaking. Michal simply keeps refining the sound every year. A stellar product!

Drumming Up Some Fun

A new company out of Florida named subDrum was offering up speakers built from drum kits! Good sound and super cool looks. A possible decorating idea for industry drummers David Solomon and Steve Rochlin.

Roll Tape!

Three impressive sounding tape machines were to be found at the show. Metaxas & Sins finally have a North American distributor and they had a full Metaxas system and the design of the products was breathtaking. Second, Analog Audio Design had their TP-1000 on display and it sounded excellent. The fit and finish was on point.

Finally, Greg Beron from United Home Audio had the new UHA Apollo spinning reels in the excellent MBL room. MBL was standing room only Saturday night as Greg pulled out tape after tape. Such amazing sound. I coined a tagline for Greg, "Apollo: you'll love it to the moon and back!"

Circular Logic

With midrange drivers that is! Endow Audio presented a very original design where atop a bass cabinet there sat a tweeter enclosure with midrange drivers arranged around the periphery with alignment right at the tweeter plane. The goal is a more amenable interaction with the room, and the sound was quite good.

Back to School

Charlie Kirmuss and JR Boisclair took over a room and were offering two interesting seminars for better analog performance. JR, who runs Wally Tools now, is a genuine expert on super precise cartridge setup and he explained exactly how to understand the requirements for reference analog playback. I may be trying some of his cartridge shims soon so stay tuned.

Charlie, of course, is an expert in ultrasonic record cleaning, and he spoke to some of the problems and advantages of ultrasonic cleaning. I can't recommend enough attending each of these seminars. Highly informative, and both men are on the leading edge of analog playback. My guess is that if you follow their advice, your vinyl rig will improve substantially.


Yet again I was captivated by the AGD Gran Vivace GAN amplifiers. A very liquid midrange emerged when paired with the Ocean Way Eureka. 

You Spin Me Right Round

As is always the case, Mat Weisfeld's turntables were everywhere and sounding good, especially in the House of Stereo's room with the DS Audio optical cartridges.

Also impressive was the big J. Sikora Standard Max table in a brushed silver finish with their distinctive yellow Kevlar KVMax 9" tonearm ($11,750). This table was in the terrific Margules Audio room paired with Franco Serblin Goldberg speakers ($21,000) and Margules I-240 Integrated Amplifier ($7000).


Western Electric's room had Trent Suggs demonstrating the gorgeous 91E with Rethm Audio loudspeakers. I've seen the 91E a lot, including a trip to the factory in Rossville, but I never get tired gazing at them or hearing them. Arguably the most beautiful electronics product in existence.

Not So Shyla

One of the most endearing things at the show was Mat Weisfeld's daughter walking around with an iPhone making photos and videos of the various rooms. Cute as the proverbial button, I believe Shyla may hold the keys eventually to bringing in more of a younger demographic.

The After-Party

In what has become a tradition in U.S. audio shows, several audio manufacturers opened their doors at night and provided both a quality listen and adult beverages. TAD offered up some reference speakers and Japanese whiskey. Delicious. The Suncoast room with flagship VAC and Clarisys loudspeakers offered up some quality rock music. But perhaps my favorite was the MBL room, which had Jeremy offering good American whiskey and Greg Beron's sampler tapes. It was standing room only most of the evening.

Final Thoughts

The team behind the Florida show have created a super friendly environment for learning about audio and listening to the latest gear. But perhaps the best part of the experience is the comradery you see among people in the industry. Many of these people assemble at all the big U.S. shows and have gotten to know each other pretty well. That creates a friendly energy to the show days and it's infectious.

I think that energy can rub off on local dealers and consumers as well. However, there remains something special about Tampa. Is it the weather? Is it a Bern's or a Charlie's steakhouse? Is it Bart Andeer? Is it Sue Toscano? In any event, Tampa was a huge success, and a bigger, better hotel is already secured for 2025. Well done everyone! See you next year!

Ha, who are we kidding—of course it was Sue!

Sue Toscano at AXPONA 2023: a portrait. (Photograph and image processing by David W. Robinson)

All photographs by Lee Scoggins unless otherwise noted.