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Florida Audio Expo 2022 Show Report

Florida Audio Expo 2022 Show Report
The Third Time's A Charm: Part I

FLAX 2022 Show Coverage By Maurice Jeffries


  After a two-year COVID-disrupting hiatus, show driven high-end audio returned to Central Florida via the Florida Audio Expo 2022 event with the proverbial bang. Packed rooms, slow elevators, very friendly crowds (many attendees clearly thrilled by the opportunity to enjoy some good old-fashioned person to person contact), and generally good show sound all signaled a long-overdue return to almost normal, or to the new normal.

As was the case in 2019 and 2020, FLAX 2022 took place at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Tampa Airport Westshore Hotel in balmy Tampa, Florida over a balmy three-day (February 18th through 20th) mid-winter weekend. From my vantage point, FLAX 2022 made clear that the worst of the pandemic lies in the rearview mirror, the rare "masks required" sign and actual facemasks the only clear reminders that we are living in 2022, not pre-pandemic 2020.


Florida Audio Expo 2022 Show Report The Third Time's A Charm, Part I FLAX 2022 Show Report By Maurice Jeffries


Without dwelling too much on the obvious, I got the sense, quite palpably at times, that people genuinely enjoyed reconnecting over music and fine gear, swapping bad jokes, and more importantly, simply reveling in the collective warmth radiating from fellow pandemic-weary souls.

As I suggested in the opening to my FLAX 2020 show report, the Central Florida winter gathering is fast becoming an important (albeit smaller and more intimate) destination event for the U.S.A. audio community (plus a growing number of European attendees), particularly in the wake of the demise of the Rocky Mountain show. This is good news for the dedicated legions of audiophiles located in the southeast, music lovers who, prior to FLAX, had to travel to the Washington, D.C. area for the Capitol Audio Fest, the Chicago area for the annual AXPONA show (the most important domestic audio show for several years running, especially given the demise of you know what), or to one of the smaller California shows to get their show kicks.


The More Things Change...
As has become my practice at FLAX shows, the first room I visited was the Audio Company suite on the 2d floor. There, the boys from Atlanta, with some able assistance from the Florida-based Valve Amplification squad and the California-rooted Von Schweikert Audio team, oversaw the official release of the latter's newest reference speaker, the very, very impressive Ultra 7 ($180k the pair). My first reaction was to utter a silent "wow" to myself as I listened to Leif Swanson and Damon von Schweikert's latest assault on the loudspeaker state of the art citadel for the first time. (Remember, this is the first VSA Ultra release since company founder and speaker design pioneer Albert Von Schweikert passed away in May 2020).



My listening notes pretty much captured my initial impressions: As out of the box a box as I've heard. VAC electronics (Statement Line and Phono amps @ $80k each/four (4) Statement 452 iQ towers @ $75K each; Esoteric digital stack ($71K); Kronos analog front end ($51K for the table/arm combo) with Airtight Opus 1 MC cartridge ($16k); MasterBuilt cable loom (price ot given but I suspect around $400k); Critical Mass racks and amp stands. In other words, the usual Audio Company suspects. Maybe the best VSA speaker I've heard to date. They image and soundstage like a great mini, with all that breed's vaunted inter-driver cohesion and precision, but scale (almost) like a big horn speaker.



Dexter Gordon's grooving Tanya (from the superb Blue Note Tone Poet reissue of Long Tall's classic One Flight Up) approached the realism and sense of aliveness that I heard at Bill Parish's New Jersey fortress in November listening to the newly released Kronos Discovery turntable, missing that inestimable mark by just a smidgeon. I did note a touch of hardness from the speakers when driven hard, but that may have been a room-induced coloration and certainly not one that I've heard from any other VSA model. A clear Best Of Show contender.



I returned on Saturday to listen to the little VSA Endeavor Special Editions ($25k per pair). On a CD of the Cedille release, Here with You (Anthony zMcGill clarinet/Gloria Chien on piano) the speaker captured Mcgill's limpid clarinet beautifully, with Chien's piano occupying its own ambient pocket, the piano reproduced with almost full tonal and frequency weight, power, and remarkable delicacy.



I shared with a friend recently my belief that these may be the best speakers for classical music fans on the market at their price, so deftly do they untangle densely orchestrated scores, all the while preserving natural instrumental colors and textures (I have a pair in house for review and will offer my initial impression of this class-beater soon).



My next stop, the Black Ice Audio room on the 4th floor (my room was also on that floor; I had earlier selected the wrong memory card for my camera and needed to get the right one). This dimly lit, tube-powered (and hot as hell) valve temple offered punchy bass, nice focus, and an essentially noiseless presentation, all courtesy of attractive, nicely designed boxes at fair prices.



The Black Ice team spun only their own selections (at least during my visit), so I was not intimately familiar with the music. What I heard, however, suggests that music lovers curious to experience the unique charms of modern tube gear at sensible prices need look no further. Black Ice F100 tube mono amps ($8,200 pair), F360 preamp with equalizer controls ($2,500), Fusion DAC Transport ($3,250), and Bowers & Wilkins 805 D3 stand-mounts (recently discontinued).




---> Next page of our FLAX 2022 show report.















































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