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Florida International Audio Expo 2024 Show Report

Surprises At The Florida International Audio Expo 2024
Music can open up the heart and soul.
FIAE 2024 Show Report Part 2 By Bill Hanson

 

Surprises At The Florida International Audio Expo 2024 Music can open up the heart and soul. FIAE 2024 Show Report Part 2 By Bill Hanson

 

  As I alluded to within Part 1 of my FIAE 2024 report, audio shows can be overwhelming. Many of us have seen pics, read reviews, and perhaps even watched YouTube videos. Yet walking the halls, hearing each sound system we dreamt about, plus talking with designers too, it takes shows to a different level.

With this being my first high-performance audio show in a few decades, there were times it was difficult to try to be objective and not just feel like a four-year-old in a candy store. There was a comfort in finding out I wasn't the only one as I had a gentleman come up to me and ask me questions about how to act at the show. It was his very first show like this of any kind and was worried he'd be too excited. I had hoped I would cross paths with him and find out what he thought, but it wasn't meant to be.

Shows can bring many surprises, and this one was no different. One of the great joys was seeing people walking out of a room with eyes like saucers, almost unable to speak as the impact of the music hit them in ways words can't explain.

The first is a company I had never heard of Advance Paris. The Vienna Acoustics Hayden SE Signatures were hooked up to their A10 Classic Integrated amp. 130-Watt Class A/B power amp with linear power supply fed by a large toroid. An active ECC81/12AT7 tube drove the preamplifier, plus there's a moving magnet (MM) phono stage, pre in and pre out. In addition, there are five unbalanced RCA line stage inputs, balanced XLR line in, five digital inputs, plus HDMI for audio and an HDMI ARC to connect with a video monitor, two sets of loudspeaker outputs, two subwoofer outs, and a remote that didn't reek of cheapness.

As an attractive unit, it is very understated yet on full display were the two preamplifier vacuum tubes are flanked by dark blue VU meters. The sound was not harsh and found myself feeling involved as they played "Dark Peter", which is a song I used for every exhibit room I could. The emotion of Jerry's voice came through and the layering at parts of the chorus was easy to pick up and hear the depth. The real clincher was you get all this for a bargain price of $2,500. The only thing possibly lacking is built-in Bluetooth, yet BT is not a lossless hi-res format. For those who do desire BT, there is a module available. I can see many options for systems around $5,000 or under with this as its centerpiece.

 

 

The sound was involving, and the feeling and passion of the performances came across. Playback Distribution did a wonderful job pairing this amp and speakers together. This is a line to keep one's eyes on as they are finally here in America.

The next room also featured Advance Paris this time using their P700 pre-amp and their XA160evo power amp paired with a full range PMC speakers.

 

 

The naturalness and passion from the A10 were there, just a bit more. Now hearing through a full-range loudspeaker, some of the spatial cues of the studio room were there. The Advance Paris P700 is a full-function pre-amp now with MM and MC phono stage. Their XA160evo is a beefy 160-Watt power amplifier with a large toroid as the heart of its linear power supply. Both units also have a clean look, and the power amp includes those wonderful blue meters. At a price of $4,000 for the pair, this was also a sonic bargain! With more products in the pipeline coming to America, I am excited that more people can start experiencing what high-performance audio can bring into their lives.

Another surprise was in the back room of the Focal suite. Two systems based on Naim all-in-one systems. One system was the new Focal Aria Evo X No4 ($5,998/pr) paired with the equally new Naim Uniti Nova PE ($9,999). The other was the Naim Uniti Atom ($3,799) and the Focal OD Stone 8 ($799) an outdoor speaker. Both are very simple systems with an all-in-one streamer / DAC / preamplifier / amplifier and loudspeakers. Simply add a set of speaker cables and you're all set.

 

 

 

After some music, several asked if they could hear the outdoor speakers. There was a smile on the rep's face as he pointed out that listening to them along. We then went to the Aria and yes there was an improvement. Yet here was a pair of outdoor speakers at a shade under $1,600 which threw a soundstage and harmonic integrity of some far more expensive towers. Both were systems not out of reach of many, and very easy to integrate into a living room/family room. Both are musically satisfying and easy for any spouse or significant other to approve of.

These next two surprises could even be called spiritual or religious experiences. The physical and emotional impact was stunning, and I was completely unprepared for it.

 

 

For many years I have seen pictures of the MLB Radialstrahler 101 (now up to the E MkII version). For some reason, I had thought of the original Quad ESL. Beautiful, musical yet limited dynamically. When I'm wrong, I'm wrong! I was at an after-hours event with them playing master tapes of a wide variety of music. One of the early cuts played was a Jim Keltner drum solo. I have friends in bands and have been in a few basements for rehearsals and know how loud and almost attacking a trap set can be. This was as close to hearing a live drummer in front of me as I had ever heard. Mind you, not in a small hotel room, in one of the conference rooms with 25+ people seated in it.

Off the axis and rows back, it was easy to hear the floor toms placement. Gentle soft work, and microseconds later a full-force attack. An SPL meter next to me was hitting peaks of 110dB. So much for thinking they were delicate little flowers. Even after several days removed, I can still feel that tingle and feel transported to other places this experience gave me. I made a little note to myself during the drum track. It was in some ways like being at a Motorhead show up close, that feeling of being assaulted sonically. Yet they were so much more than this.

 

 

A duet with Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald was as stunning in the presentation of two singers in front of a small band as the drum solo attacked us. Later on, Hall and Oates She's Gone was played. Never thought much of it personally, yet uncompressed via the tape took it to a very different level. I watched and nearly every head was moving to the music. To my surprise, I found my foot tapping. Rock, pop, jazz, classical, etc. Every genre thrown at them filled the room and lifted our souls. This room and the next gave me musical epiphanies I hadn't felt for years.

After I left, I walked around and pulled my thoughts together, and went into an even larger conference room featuring the Acora Acoustics VRC-1 (in a stunning sunset fire marble finish), VAC Statement 450 iQamplfiers, line, and phono stage. For digital the Aurender N30SA Reference Digital Source feeding into a LampizatOr Poseidon DAC. Finally, the cabling was all Cardas from their Beyond series.

 

 

That night Tool was played at near concert levels, the complexities of Danny Carey's playing easily followed even as the SPL was sending waves of pressure through my body. Many other samples of music I was not familiar with, yet every nuance could be heard. No matter how loud or wide the dynamic range there was nothing close to a hint of compression from the system. The distortion of the guitar amps / cabinets was there just as they are when next to them. Voices were pure, floating in a space when it was called for, and when the engineer wanted them to sound larger than life, they were. It was a very intense end of the evening.

 

 

The huge shock was when I went back the next day, as they were playing smaller, quieter music. No loud bands, some string quartets, trios, etc. The Acora floorstanding loudspeaker was played in a way one would expect from a smaller, delicate design. Having been away from the industry for a bit, I had never heard of this company before. It was a wonderful surprise.

 

 

Both of the rooms using the MBL and Acora loudspeakers had me a bit lost in thought. They presented music in a way I hadn't experienced in years. Music can open up the heart and soul, it has that impact regardless of how presented. Yet, presented in such a powerful and clear way with almost every layer between you and the musician removed, it was an epiphany.

 

 

 

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