Andover Audio Model One ($3200 with sub). For those interested in a gorgeous, compact all-in-one system, Andover introduced the Model One. What differentiates it from virtually all other all-in-ones is that it is LP-oriented, though for just $100 you can add the Songbird streaming adapter. I highly recommend opting for the $500 subwoofer module; without it, the unit is quite bass shy.
The Bob Carver Company announced a new integrated amp, the Crimson 2180i ($4000); however, the unit itself wasn’t on display, active or otherwise. At this point, all we really know is that it’s a tubed design that puts out 180 watts/channel. More to come.
exaSound Audio Design debuted its new Delta music server ($3000-$4000 depending on storage). The product was spurred by Roon’s rapidly expanding capabilities for DSD recordings. These include EQ, room correction, headphone optimization, and other features. These things require far more processing power than most of today’s music servers can muster. Thus, the Delta, which exaSound claims is even more powerful than Roon’s own Nucleus Plus. Expect to see more high-powered servers in the near future.
The Janszen Valentina A8 ($12,750) made its world debut. The speaker is distinguished from its passive version, the P8 ($9250), by a pair of built-in 500-watt N-Core Class D amps paired to a Hypex input card. Significantly, the latter has both analog and digital ports, so add one or more sources and you’ve got a system! The sealed cabinet, which houses dual sub-enclosures, is made of thick MDF, while drivers consist of two 8" woofers, an electrostatic panel, and a side-firing ring-radiator tweeter. There are woofer and tweeter level controls on the back panel. As described above, I was mightily impressed with this speaker’s sound, even when it was being driven by a lowly smartphone.
Margules Audio was showing a prototype of its forthcoming, as-yet-unnamed music server. The device is simplicity itself, with four USB ports into which the owner can insert any combination—and any capacity—of thumb or USB drives. Most servers have internal storage, but Margules claims its advanced USB interface eliminates the sonic advantage of built-in drives. The unit will begin shipping this summer for a mere $3000.
In the Modwright/Egglestonworks room the latter was premiering its OSO floorstanding speaker ($11,900). Its unusual configuration involves a side-firing 10" woofer paired with a 1" Morel silk dome tweeter and a 6” Morel midrange. The cabinet is 1.5" MDF. Driven by the Modwright gear, the speaker proved light and airy, with plenty of bass punch as well, though coherence could have been better. Also bowing was Modwright’s KWH 225i 225-watt/channel hybrid tube/solid-state integrated amplifier ($8500 with optional phonostage).
The Børessen room played host to accessory maker Ansuz Acoustics’ introduction of an entire line of Ethernet-related products. Of course, there were cables, and the A2 (approx. $1800 for one meter) and D-TC (approx. $12,600 for one meter) delivered a much wider soundstage and more palpable vocals than generic Ethernet cable. The D-TC model added noticeably crisper transients and even more spatial expansion. But the most eye-opening demo was of a line of Ethernet switches priced from $2200 to a whopping $14,000. Generic Ethernet switches are about $100 at Best Buy, but even the entry-level PowerSwitch proved to be a huge upgrade in terms of noise reduction, and the flagship PowerSwitch Supreme ($14k) made an incredible difference in clarity and dynamics. Dang! Yet another seemingly innocuous element (like power cords) that makes a difference.
SweetVinyl premiered its new SugarCube SC-1 Mini. The $1500 box ($2000 with built-in phonostage) is an LP de-clicker/de-popper. The SC-1 Mini is similar in concept to FM Acoustics’ $50,000 phonostage, except that the former operates in the digital domain whereas the latter is pure analog. Nonetheless, the SugarCube worked amazingly well. In the demo I heard, the SC-1 transformed a virtually unplayable Steely Dan album to virgin vinyl. The only adverse effect was a very slight roll-off at the upper extreme. In all, a boon to used vinyl shoppers.
RJS Acoustics is a brand-new audio company based in St. Petersburg, Florida. Its introductory product, the MD-6 ($5750) is a powered subwoofer. However, RJS would rather you call it a Bass Augmentation System to avoid any confusion with the “slow, muddy” sound it associates with subs. To prove the MD-6’s speed, RJS boldly paired it with Maggie LRS speakers. The two systems integrated seamlessly, which was quite a testament.
Active speakers were all the rage at FLAX, but the Piega took the concept one step further with the U.S. premier of the 701 wireless active speaker ($7500). The price includes a Bluetooth receiver that also supports RCA analog and two digital wired inputs. In the demo, Piega was Chromecasting from a phone and the sound was impressive.
Tampa’s own Soundfield Audio introduced two new models. The first, the WT1Ad ($3800), is a relatively slim, fully active floorstander. Each driver gets its own Class D amp. 100 watts for the ¾" dome tweeter, 125 for the 6.5" mid, and 250 watts for each of the two 6.5" x 8" down-firing subs. The second model, the 1212 ($7500), is only partially active. The 12" coax mid/tweeter is passive and features a cardioid radiation pattern, while the dual 12" bass drivers, also cardioid, are powered. Both models feature an active tweeter on the rear panel meant to increase spatiality. While the driver complements and radiation patterns on these speakers are somewhat novel, there’s no denying that it works (see Top Systems above). Soundfield’s Ammar Jadusingh (aka AJ) has been designing speakers for 35 years, and that experience showed brilliantly.
Vienna Acoustics never seems to run out of variants to its long-running Beethoven floorstander. The latest, shown in North America for the first time, is the Baby Grand Reference ($9500). This is a lovely, svelte speaker, and the Florida samples were finished in a luscious cherry wood. Inside, there are new “spidercone” flat drivers—one 6" midrange and two 6" woofers—plus a 1.1" hand-coated silk dome tweeter. The bass-reflex cabinet is heavily braced, and the crossover is a combination of first and second order. As always seems to be the case when I hear a new Beethoven, I was very taken with the latest iteration.
Alan Taffel's Best of Show
Best Sound, Cost No Object, System
There were a surprising number of great-sounding systems at FLAX, including the Constellation/Rockport and, of course, the big VAC/Von Schweikert rig. However, I felt the large Acora SRC 1 speakers, also driven by top-shelf VAC gear, disappeared more completely, and let the music shine more freely, than any other system at the show. Acora is a newcomer to watch.
Best Sound for the Money System
FLAX proved that you can put together a superb system for under $30k. But I was most bowled over by the Janszen Valentina A8 speaker playing Tidal via an iPhone and a hundred-buck Bluetooth receiver. For under $13k, the sound and simplicity of this system was mind-boggling.
Most Significant Product Introduction
The Ansuz PowerSwitch line of Ethernet switches, which demonstrated just how much degradation is taking place when we stream through commodity switches.
Most Coveted Product
What keeps coming back to mind is the Doshi tape head preamplifier. A “phonostage” designed specifically for the idiosyncrasies of tape decks, I found myself wanting one—along with the nearby refurbished Studer deck—very badly.
Most Notable Trend
Tape decks as sources. There were more of them—at least a half dozen—than I’ve ever seen at one show. Both the hardware and source material are getting easier to come by, and the sound is unrivaled.