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The Florida Audio Expo, Part 4

02-17-2020 | By Tom Gibbs | Issue 107

Here's the last installment of my show coverage for the Florida Audio Expo. You can see Part 1 HERE, Part 2 HERE, and Part 3 HERE.

An absolute semi-truckload of VAC, Esoteric, and Kronos equipment was on display in this monstrous room!

The room was filled with people, who where absolutely digging the sound coming from the big Von Schweikert Ultra 11 loudspeakers.

Yeah, I know, The Royal Ballet Gala is an absolute audio warhorse, but it never sounded better than through the AirTight turntable and over the Von Schweikert Ultra 11 loudspeakers!

The Audio Company/Von Schweikert Audio/VAC/Esoteric/Kronos/AirTight/Critical Mass Systems/Masterbuilt Audio Cables/Acoustic Sciences Corporation

Located in the main level Kilgore Room, I was particularly interested to see this setup. Based on all the after show reports following last year's Expo, The Audio Company room was consistently named best of show. Which really puzzled me; I live on the northwest outskirts of metro Atlanta, Georgia, near a small town (Marietta) with a hole-in-the-wall shop called The Audio Company. That regularly had some decent—but not too exotic gear on display. Come to find out, it was one and the same! This was undeniably the biggest room at the show, and it was no joke, showing off the monstrous Von Schweikert Audio Ultra 11 Loudspeakers (MSRP $300K!). Along with other Von Schweikert models, and a massive display of electronics from VAC, Esoteric, Kronos, and AirTight. The massive stands that supported the truckloads of gear were from Critical Mass Systems; all interconnect, digital, loudspeaker, and power cables were provided by Masterbuilt Audio Cables. Room treatments were by ASC. The room was absolutely crawling with people, and the sound was pretty sumptuous!

After we returned to Georgia, we had lunch this past Wednesday on the Marietta square, and popped into The Audio Company, where I grilled the person manning the sales counter: "How exactly do you guys pull this off?" "What exactly do you mean?" was her response. I clarified that I couldn't figure how such a very small shop could command the largest room at the Expo; she responded that The Audio Company actually is comprised of two locations, including a large building that's adjacent to the shop, with equipment evaluations available there by appointment only. Who knew?

The "NFS" (not for sale!) Studer open reel deck helped make this room one of the best sounding at the show.

Classic Audio Loudspeakers/ATMA-SPHERE Systems/Tri-Planar/Purist Audio Design

Located on the main level Pavilion Room, this was the last of the really big rooms at the show. I got to hear CAL's famous upgraded version of the classic JBL Hartsfield design while there; they were being driven by an ATMA-SPHERE preamp and tube monoblocks. One of the signal sources was a Studer open reel deck; the scale of the sound was impressively massive via these monstrous loudspeakers. The T-1.5 loudspeakers were also on display; their drivers employ exotic "field coil" electromagnets. MSRP is just south of $75K for either loudspeaker choice. The turntable (sorry, unidentified) in the room was equipped with a Tri-Planar tonearm, and the cables were from Purist Audio Design. This was one of the best sounding rooms at the show, but I have to admit, it was a little off the beaten path, and finding it was a bit of a stretch—there wasn't much in the way of signage directing you to it!

Sumiko/Pro-Ject/Sonus Faber

Sumiko's room featured a selection of products they represent, most prominently, the seductively smooth sound of the Italian-made Sonus Faber Olympica Nova II loudspeakers ($10K MSRP). Which was very impressive, especially being driven by a complement of all Pro-Ject electronics. Also featured was Pro-Ject's massive HL Signature 12 turntable ($12K MSRP), their current top-of-the-line and definitely a statement table.

Endow Audio/VAC/Hegel

Endow was a company that was new to me; apparently, they showed their product for the first time at last year's RMAF. The loudspeaker employs a very unique looking upper driver that offers what they call Point Array Technology; this driver operates full-range, while the large-ish subwoofer below augments the lower octaves. The sound was very open and had a very good stereo image! The model shown, the T35, has an MSRP of $19.9K. Electronics were by VAC and Hegel.

Upstream Audio/Focal/Aesthetix Audio/Sonore

Really interested to see this room hosted by Florida retailer Upstream Audio, and I finally got to meet Adrian Lebena of Sonore in person! A static display featured Sonore's new and soon-to-be-released music server, which looked very exciting! The sound featured Sonore's Signature Optical Rendu SE streamer playing through Aesthetix Audio tube amplifiers, and into Focal Kanta No. 3 loudspeakers ($12K MSRP). Of course, the digital sound via the Rendu SE was superb, and the LPs they were spinning didn't sound too shabby either. The Focal Kanta's sounded magnificent, and are definitely very beautifully constructed speakers.