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Florida International Audio Expo 2024 Show Report


The Best-Sounding FIAE To Date!
Florida International Audio Expo 2024 high-performance audio show coverage.
SWAF 2024 Show Report By Maurice Jeffries



  On the 4th floor, the Border Patrol electronics / Volti Audio speaker partnership captivated with some of the smoothest, sweetest sounds of the show. An utterly noiseless tube-powered, Innous digital source-fronted setup (Innuos ZENith Mk3 Music Server at $9,099 and Phoenix USB re-clocker at $4,349) bested systems costing multiple times more on sheer naturalness grounds. Coherent, with laser-sharp timbre and tone, this high-efficiency partnership knocked me for a musical loop on a wide selection of pop and blues gems. Amazingly, not a turntable in sight. Border Patrol's celebrated but imminently affordable DAC-SE-I R-2R DAC ($2,125) delivered the Innuos-sourced signal to the power amp directly.

The all-triode circuited BP S20EXD power amplifier, featuring point-to-point wiring, choke-filtered power supplies, Western Electric 300B tubes, and optional volume control ($25,990 as shown configured) drove the brand new 99db efficient Volti Lucera speakers ($11,750 the pair) beautifully. The Lucera employs a 15" high-sensitivity woofer, a 2" compression midrange driver, and a 1" compression tweeter in a traditional-looking but contemporary-sounding floor-standing 110 lbs enclosure.



Sinne Eeg's pensive The Writing on the Wall knocked me out with its relaxed naturalness, expressive tone, and lightning-quick micro-dynamics, the system capturing the Dane's airy vocals to perfection. I told Border Patrol's Gary Dews that in my view, this showing was perhaps the strongest I have heard to date from the BP / Volti partnership. Linking everything together, a complete Triode Wire Labs cable loom ran the affordable price ladder, from a beer keg accessible $249 for the Pasion USB digital interconnects to a still reasonable $1,499 for "The Obsession" power cables.



The Synergistic Research (manufacturer) and Scott Walker Audio (dealer) team demo'ed SR's new Voodoo Music Server ($15k) along with a complete Synergistic cable and accessory system (price summary below), Ideon Absolute DAC ($47,000) and Absolute Time Signature V Reclocker ($22,000), JMF PRS 1.5 Preamp ($36,000), JMF HQS 6002 Stereo Amplifier ($42,000), and Estelon XB MkII tower speakers ($49,000 the pair) to produce a genuine out of body listening experience.



The partnership demoed SR's patented FEQ noise suppression technology in the new Voodoo music server to wonderful effect, the improvements in dynamic expression, imaging, and tone readily apparent with the technology activated versus not. Taking a very much opposing approach to the BP-Volti team's practiced minimalism, the SR folks delivered equally stunning results, with class-leading transparency, system linearity, and holographic imaging.

There were simply too many SR products to list individually with prices, so I offer instead a representative sampling of the firm's ginormous (vast) line of components for your edification.



Synergistic Research Ethernet Switch UEF ($2,295)

Synergistic Research Power Conditioning Options ($149.00 for the SR Purple Fuses to $27,995 for the Synergistic Research Galileo PowerCell SX)

Synergistic Research Room Treatment Options (priced from $299 to $3,995)

Synergistic Research Racks and Shelves (priced from $449 for a set of four SR Carbon Cable Elevators to $24,995 for the SR Tranquility Rack)

Synergistic Research Grounding Devices (priced from $395 to $7,995)

Synergistic Research Cables (priced from $425 for the SR Master Tuning Modules to $21,995 for the SR SRX Slimline Speaker Cable)



In the cavernous Cypress Room, the Audio Group Denmark team redefined transparency with their nosebleed-priced two-million-dollar reference system (meaning if you "have to ask", move on). Off-the-charts resolution, gut-churning dynamics, room-inflating staging, and laser-precise imaging left me utterly speechless. Audio Group Denmark regional sales manager Peter Hansen walked me through the technology, material costs, and labor inputs that go into each M3 loudspeaker, better to explain to the legions of misinformed pricing skeptics their lofty $280k per pair tariff.



Each M3 sports four lovely and unique 4.5" M-series carbon / Aramid honeycomb mid-bass drivers wed to the firm's CAD-optimized high-sensitivity closed ribbon tweeter. The mid-bass driver basket geometry stems from exhaustive studies and computer-optimized finite element analysis to yield a materially optimized 3D-printed zirconium web-like structure meticulously engineered to defeat errant standing wave colorations. The price of each mid-bass driver exceeds by a factor of two my late Uncle John Bowen's starting salary as a baby lawyer in the late 1950s (not as low a salary as one might think in today's dollars).



Source and amplification electronics, all Aavik reference level offerings matched the build quality of the speakers: here, the C-880 preamplifier, the P-880 mono amps, and the stunning Music Streamer / DAC. Fit and finish approached museum quality levels (each component priced at $70k I later learned after an online search). I suspect that AGD doesn't mind not broadcasting the price of each Cypress Room item to visitors. Instead, the team seems to be saying "this is what we can do with two million neurosurgeon-sourced system dollars" which, as things stand, is quite a bit. On the other hand, the loss-leader narrative seems to be that sensitive listeners can experience large portions of AGD's reference sound with the X-line speakers and Axxess / Forté integrated amplifier / DAC / music streamers, all priced at a fraction of the cost of the M-line speakers and Aavik electronics.

Well-recorded pop selections like Francine Thirteen's Queen Mary transformed the exhibit hall into a ginormous soundscape, with floor-to-ceiling height cues, reference layering, and spot-on tonality. Just a short 3.5 meters from the listening seat, Prince materialized right in front of me on his Avalanche track, his androgynous gospel-drenched falsetto sounding utterly of a piece and spookily real. The second-best room at the show, just behind the Stenheim Alumine 5 SE / Viva amp pairing.



My last stop of the show, the big Acora Acoustics loudspeakers, VAC vacuum tube amplification, and LampizatOr DAC exhibit in the massive Westshore room charmed my socks off! Miles Davis's Teo (the album version mastered in stereo) sounded "in the studio" immediate and immersive, with great imaging and lovely dynamic shading. Instruments sounded ‘in the room' present, much like they do in real life.



Coltrane's spicy tenor balanced equal parts honey and vinegar, with nary a trace of hardness. The VAC amps (VAC Statement 450 iQ mono-blocks at $67K each plus VAC Statement Line and Phono Stages at $80,000 each) and the new LampizatOr Poseidon DAC ($23,000), all driving the massive Acora VRC-1s in Sunset Fire finish (prices starting at $218K the pair in standard marble finish) worked beautifully in tandem.



I think that the Acora speakers sounded just a smidgeon better this year versus last. The UHQR version of Aja tickled my fancy in all the right places, the turntable, thankfully mated with the impressive Hana Umami Red MC cartridge ($3,950), delivered pure analog magic. Surely this must rank amongst the finest-sounding pop vinyl LP reissues ever. I detected nary a trace of surface noise, no wow and flutter, just measure after measure of pure analog glory.



On the digital front, Fred Ainsley of LampizatOr North America streamed a Wayne Shorter cut over the stellar Poseidon DAC, the tune permeating the large space with pulsating sound. Shorter's steely tenor crouched and growled like a wolf pack hunting its unsuspecting prey. The new "baby" Poseidon DAC, second behind the stellar Horizon DAC, borrows from its pricier sibling in overall form factor but is scaled down a bit. The Poseidon comes in a range of custom colors, all black, a necessary cost-cutting measure Fred shared. This lovely vacuum tube DAC tips the scales at a hefty 60 lbs.



All in all, I really enjoyed my time at the 2024 FIAE. Indeed, as I hinted earlier in my report intro, I thought this year's show was perhaps the best-sounding FLAX / FIAE to date!





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