AudioSolutions Virtuoso S loudspeaker ($22,500) [see “High End by Oz” room description above]
Dynamic Sounds Associates Phono III phono preamplifier ($19,000). The latest iteration of the DSA phonostage has the capability to adjust cartridge loading with a remote control while you’re listening: 256 loading options for moving coil cartridges and 128 for moving magnets. In addition to the usual RIAA equalization curve, four other curves suitable for older discs are selectable. Both balanced (XLR) and unbalanced (RCA) connectivity is provided on the new version of the product.
Gershman Acoustics Grand Studio II loudspeakers ($11,900). Two sealed-box enclosures are held in the embrace of a 93-pound, ½" stainless-steel stand. The 2½-way design incorporates two 8" woofers with aluminum cones made in the U.S. to Eli Gershman’s specifications and a pair of Vifa double-chamber silk dome tweeters. Well-recorded orchestral music was presented with a reach-out-and-touch-it sort of immediacy, and there was a ton of musically meaningful detail on vintage jazz recordings.
Linear Tube Audio ZOTL Ultralinear integrated amplifier/headphone amplifier ($7,650). The Tacoma Park, Maryland, company has been in business for only five years but already has attracted a good deal of attention, including several loudspeaker manufacturers at the Florida show. LTA's latest features high- and low-gain headphone outputs, 20Wpc speaker outputs, and a stepped attenuator volume control, operable with the included remote.
MC Audiotech Forty-10 loudspeaker ($35,000). Not exactly new, but new to most FLAX attendees and surely a novel design. The Wide Band Line Source (WBLS) transducer was patented by designer Paul Paddock 35 years ago and each Forty-10 incorporates ten of these "predictable flexible membranes." Bass is handled by a separate "folded cube" low-frequency enclosure. With Linear Tube Audio electronics, the scaling of individual instruments on a favorite orchestral recording was impressive. Striking in appearance, if an acquired taste.
Métronome DSS streamer ($4500). An appealingly compact component, roughly 10" x 10" x 3", that handles PCM (up to 384kHz), DSD64, and Roon, and is MQA compatible. As the front end of a system terminating in the small but mighty Kiso Acoustic HB-N1 speakers ($9500), it contributed to a dramatically spacious sonic presentation.
RBH Sound SVTRS Modular Loudspeaker System ($45,000). Honoring the occasion of the company's 45th anniversary and limited to just 20 pairs, these hefty towers—each weighs 310 pounds—comprise an SV-831R positioned between two SV-1212NR subwoofers. The middle module sports an Aurum Cantus AMT tweeter and three 8"alumninum cone woofers, while the subs each have a pair of 12" long-throw aluminum drivers. The package also includes a RBH six-channel amplifier and a DSP processor made by Marani, a pro-audio manufacturer. The price also includes delivery to your home and calibration of the system in situ.
Synergistic Research held forth with its #1 dealer, Scott Walker Audio of Anaheim, CA, and had numerous products deployed to optimize the performance of a system that included Constellation electronics—a Pictor preamplifier ($19,900) and Taurus stereo amplifier ($22,000)—and Rockport Atria II loudspeakers ($26,500). Synergistic had continuous demos of its new MiG SX footers, a set of three costing $995, which could be oriented facing either up or down beneath a component, what SR referred to as "Ambient" vs. "Pin-Point" configurations. This allowed for some obvious (and rapidly accomplished) tuning of the system. Mostly, "Pin-Point" provided the focus and image specificity I value, but on some overly aggressive recordings ("Keith Don't Go") the "Ambient" option improved listenability.
Volti Audio Rival SE loudspeaker ($19,900). The standard Volti Rival, which can be had for under $10k, is well regarded sonically, but it's a clunky-looking thing, best relegated to man caves. The 2020 Rival SE, released on the occasion of the company's tenth anniversary, is visually stunning—especially in the bubinga wood finish of the pair demoed at FAE— with curved sides for both the external crossovers and the speakers themselves. Clean, clear acoustic bass on a jazz recording and utterly unforced vocals.
Andrew Quint's Best of Show
Best Sound, Cost No Object
The Audio Company/Von Schweikert/VAC exhibit (see above). A noteworthy listening experience for even the most jaded audiophiles.
Best Sound for the Money System
The most expensive component in the system, by far, was the RJS Acoustics MD6 subwoofer (OK, "bass augmentation speaker system") but, boy, did it ever elevate the performance of the well-under-$15k Magnepan LRS/PS Audio rig it was paired with.
Most Significant Product Introduction
Gershman Acoustics Grand Studio II. A solid performer that touches all the audio bases admirably. A good value, as well.
Most Coveted Product
Triangle Arts turntables. Any of them. Left-to-right: Hathor ($3999)/Maestro ($7500)/Anubis ($14,995).
Most Notable Trend
Cécile McLorin Salvant. Female vocalists are a necessary evil at audio shows; a well-recorded specimen will demonstrate many systems in their best light. This wonderful singer showed up in multiple rooms, sparing us all at least a little Diana Krall and Shelby Lynne. A little.