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Florida International Audio Expo 2024 Show Report

Passion, Joy, And Music In Tampa
Fine sounds at the Florida International Audio Expo 2024.
FIAE 2024 Show Report Part 1 By Bill Hanson


Passion, Joy, And Music In Tampa Fine sounds at the Florida International Audio Expo 2024. FIAE 2024 Show Report Part 1 By Bill Hanson


  It is easy to get distracted by the equipment at an audio show. Being my first show in several decades it was a bit overwhelming at times. Yet what is really at the heart of these shows and why this hobby is growing is a mix of the love of music, the passion and emotions music brings us. Music, like a good meal, should take us places and bring back memories. This weekend I had several of these reminders.

Adding to the joy of the weekend was meeting the people creating art with soldering irons and other materials, making some new friends, running across old ones, and being able to finally meet a friend after three decades of talking.

That sense of memory came very early on Friday. Coming off the elevator to my room I was greeted with Movement 8 "Hornpipe" from Handel's Water Music. As music does it pulled me into the Suite and I had my first exposure to Grandinote. I had never heard of this company until that moment. I was presented with a simple system. Their Solo integrated amp with DAC, pair of their Mach 8XL crossoverless speakers, and Kimber Carbons 18XL loudspeaker cables.

It was an inviting room I found myself drawn to many times during my days at the show. After a few visits, I'd be greeted with a Ciao! And a hardy handshake by the engineer Massimilliano Magri (Max). The integrated amp was very captivating. It has slots for changing the DAC and phono stage, which help to make it future-proof.




Full Class A with a very clean, simple circuit. As Max explained in his broken English (still far better than my even worse Italian) we wanted to fullness of tubes with the power of solid state. A memory stick was used for music with a wide range of classical, modern, vocal, and percussion. There was a consistency this room always had. Everything had a sense of passion. There was more than just a system playing notes. Every time I was in the room and listening to what was played, there was a 'life' to the music. In many ways did what a good system playing music should do; have you drawn into the performance and pay less attention to the equipment.

The next surprise was running into someone I worked with well over a decade ago and hadn't seen for years. He has turned his love of tubes and woodworking into an amplifier company ToolShed amplifiers. He was teaming with Charney Audio using their Companion Excalibur. These amps are a labor of love, point-to-point wiring, and hand tooling. An example of the attention to detail is to match the color of the volume display on the line stage, 19th-century Italian glass is sourced to cover the power On / Off LED.




This particular power amp was designed using an 866A mercury vapor half-wave rectifier for each channel. As fun as the leg lamp in A Christmas Story is, I think this might be the true warm glow of electric sex (Editor's Note: You'll shoot your eye out kid ;-)  ).



Overall, visually, a very stunning set.



The sound was very engaging. No audiophile track of the week/month in this sweet. A mix of older and modern blues, folk, classic rock, etc. This was another exhibit room that it was easy to fall into and not want to leave. The prices for the amount of labor and love put into them were less than I expected compared to other products I have seen.

The night before the show I had the honor of spending a good hour talking with Ken Stevens from Convergent Audiot Technologies (CAT). A wide variety of topics were discussed and like a few other times during the show I left far richer from the encounter.  The CAT room was another I found myself constantly pulled into over and over. For most of the show, they were using their JL7 monoblocks with their SL1 Legend Black Path Extreme preamp. The speakers were the Magico 5 MKII along with a VPI turntable and sadly forgot the digital side they were using.



Most of the time I was in there analogue was being played. One of the most memorable experiences of the show happened in this suite. Before I got into the suite again I overheard a discussion related to what they called the limited dynamic range of analogue. Wonder how they would have felt had they been next to me. Ken Stevens had the Muddy Waters Folk Singer album queued up. This was an original pressing and was recorded in 1964. Just Muddy and his band, all acoustic in a recording studio with a stereo mike in front of them as Ken shared with us.

The tonearm was lowered and the song, My Captain, started quietly at first then Muddy bellowed at the microphone like he would at a club. The row in front of me was startled and they all jumped in shock. The speed and resolution of the system were on full display even with this simple recording. One could sense the studio they were in. Every time I was in the suite I felt pulled to a different time and easily forgot the equipment and felt the warm arms of the music surrounding me and not letting go. Was never easy to leave and move on.

I remember hearing the SL1 the first time back in the 80s at the old summer CES show in Chicago. Nearly 40 years ago it made an impact on me and now many decades later and with continued refinement it has removed even more layers between the listener and the music. For me, it is truly a work of musical art.




One of the other suites I went to several times was the Fidelity Imports using Acoustic Energy AE509s powered by the Unison Research Unico Nuovo integrated amp and fed by the Unison Research CD Uno CD player/Dac. When there the demonstration was done via streaming using the DAC from the Uno.



The entire system with cables would run just a shade over $10k. True $10k for some isn't an option, yet for many it is obtainable, especially with the sound far exceeding its price point. I don't know who the artist was or the track, but the first demo I was given was a small combo with a female singer. The sound stage went across the room and even wrapped around to the sides.

The HT demo room next door was silent at that time so it wasn't coming from anything other than this system. I was asked what I wanted to hear and as I did most of the show used "Black Petter" by the Grateful Dead off of Workingman's Dead in true lossless 24-bit/192kHz from original master tapes. The emotion Jerry sings within this song is conveyed in glorious detail. Many systems play the notes, the good ones share the emotion of Jerry's singing. It certainly wasn't the least expensive system at the show, yet one that had a great impact on me for a reachable price point.

At breakfast on the first day of the show started up a discussion with the gentleman from Subdrum. The founder was very excited, and it was easy to see the love he had for this product and the work put into it. It was his first time demonstrating them at a high-end audio show. I made it a point to stop in that first day and give them a listen.



Audio should also be fun, something that with some systems and their nature isn't always the case. And it should also be affordable. They make speakers out of drum sets, using drivers of their design, made for them along with a Bluetooth / Class D amplifier. All one needs to do is plug them in, synch with your phone and you have music. I wasn't sure exactly what to expect, but was surprised at what I heard. Complete systems run between $1,700 and $2,400 at this time.

They threw a big sound that would work well in a large basement, a garage, a family room, a man cave, etc. They are a conversation piece yet to these ears, could provide a level of music far past the novelty stage. Dynamic and concussive, they worked well with the 1970s rock and jazz I heard when I visited. With the mix of energy they have for their company and its fun factor I hope they have a great future.




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