Located in Brooklyn, New York, Bache Audio mostly manufactures audiophile speakers. On July 5, 2020, Greg Belman, Bache’s founder, invited me over for a listening session. It was my first face-to-face audio meeting since the global pandemic’s start.
The times have changed. If not for the global pandemic, I would have been reporting recently from audio events that were scheduled to be held in Germany and Switzerland, not the least of which was Munich’s High End 2020 show. Of course, those events were cancelled, and SoundStage! Global, which covers worldwide audio happenings, has had to at least temporarily scramble to find content. So on June 26, 2020, I attended an Audiophile Society Zoom meeting during which members of Krell Industries gave a presentation. Truth be told, since I am a Society member, I would have attended the meeting and reported on it anyway.
Doug Schneider, the SoundStage! Network’s founder, isn’t much into audio gimmickry. He’s seen a lot of products in his 26 years as a journalist, and he pretty quickly separates the wheat from the chaff. Products that are based on suspect or imaginary technologies don’t get much attention from him.
On February 14, Andrew Singer, proprietor of Sound by Singer, an audio store in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood, hosted Denmark’s Gryphon Audio Designs for a demonstration that asked a simple question: could Gryphon’s statement Ethos CD player/upsampling digital-to-analog converter ($39,000, all prices USD) compete with a high-end turntable?
Having only one unallocated day left to meet with audio manufacturers during my planned January 2020 trip to Japan, I called Andrew Jones, Elac’s vice president of engineering, for a manufacturer recommendation. Before joining Elac, Jones designed speakers for Japan’s Pioneer Corporation and its high-end subsidiary, Technical Audio Devices Laboratories, better known as TAD. Perhaps not surprisingly, Jones suggested that I contact TAD’s Tokyo headquarters, which I did. Shortly thereafter, January 16 was confirmed as the date of my visit.
I’m always on the lookout for interesting companies to tour when I visit Japan. On this last trip in January, I thought it would be informative to check out Asahi Kasei Microdevices (AKM), maker of, among other things, digital-to-analog converter (DAC) chips. AKM doesn’t sell directly to audiophiles, but rather to many audio manufacturers who incorporate the company’s products into their components. However, despite AKM’s industry-wide reach, it’s known only vaguely, if at all, to most audiophiles. As it turns out, I had no idea just how interesting my visit would be.
I’m not the kind of audiophile who tweaks my system endlessly -- I usually set up my components and speakers well and pretty much forget them unless something really intriguing comes along. Still, I like regularly looking at audiophile accessories, power products, and stands, if for no other reason than to see what’s out there and what could pique my interest. At Florida Audio Expo 2020 I found several things worth writing about, which I’ve detailed below. All prices are in US dollars.
Is there any product genre that has more diverse offerings than loudspeakers? Florida Audio Expo 2020 saw a dizzying array of models of all configurations, sizes, and shapes -- and at all price points. And as you’ll see in the first entry in this installment of our coverage, you can even get them in all stages of manufacture. (All prices are in US dollars.)
There were a few new products at FAE 2020, and some that weren’t brand new but that were playing at a show for the first time. Trends? Integration is still a thing. We saw lots of products that combine functions that are typically handled by standalone components in separates-based systems. What has always occurred to me is that some functions should be combined -- for convenience, yes, but perhaps also for performance. As a prime example . . .
I know the spiel about sound at shows. I’ve written about it, edited commentary on it from our writers, and read about it in other publications over many years. Blah blah blah. OK, so perhaps the one qualification I’ll make in my assessment is that these systems won’t sound like what I heard at FAE 2020 if these mega-systems were set up in your carefully constructed custom listening room. But then you already knew that.
The vinyl revival is real and big, so turntable sales are brisk -- but at every hi-fi show, it’s uncertain how many new turntables and related products you’ll see, and in what price ranges. I don’t know why that is -- it just happens that way. At the Florida Audio Expo 2020, however, I wasn’t expecting the diversity of vinyl-related products, as you’ll see in the coverage below. Call it a pleasant surprise. All prices are in US dollars.
Based on my Florida Audio Expo 2019 experience, I originally thought we’d end up with two features on loudspeakers. After finishing walking the floors, I think we’ll get three or more features. There are far more products being shown at FAE 2020 than there were at FAE 2019, which is why I’m glad I’m not the only one here covering it. Below are more new and/or interesting loudspeakers I found, with all prices in US dollars.
There were new models of electronics at this year’s edition of the Florida Audio Expo, at all different price points and with vastly different form factors and functions. Here is a selection of the most interesting pieces that I saw. All prices are in US dollars.
Florida’s fabulous wintertime weather was the excuse most of us used last year to justify visiting the first-ever Florida Audio Expo. No one knew what the show would be like, but we all had an inkling that the weather would be much nicer in Tampa in February than where we were coming from. So if the show didn’t pan out, which is a real possibility for any new show, it would still be a nice weekend away. Little did we know that the first Florida Audio Expo would turn out as well as it did.
Thanks to an introduction made by Canadian distributor Audio Alliance, Accuphase Laboratory was the first stop on my January 2020 trip to Japan. Traveling from my hotel in Tokyo’s bustling Ueno area in the Taito district, I arrived at a local train station to meet Kohei Nishigawa, Accuphase’s international marketing supervisor. “I came to pick you up in the Accuphase car,” Nishigawa offered. Sure enough, he directed me to the station’s parking lot, where we got into a white Toyota SUV bearing orange Accuphase logos on its sides and rear.
On December 16, 2019, I visited Synergistic Research’s headquarters and factory, located in Santa Ana, California. Glad to avoid the unwieldy Los Angeles International Airport for the smaller and virtually painless John Wayne Airport, which is located only about ten minutes from my destination, I was greeted curbside by Andy Wiederspahn, Synergistic Research’s general manager.
Shortly before the beginning of 2018, Soundstage! Network founder Doug Schneider visited Magico founder Alon Wolf at the company’s headquarters and factory in Hayward, California, to hear the then-new Magico A3 loudspeaker ($12,300/pair, all prices USD). On December 17, 2019, almost two years after Doug’s visit, I arrived at Magico to hear the company’s new A5 loudspeaker ($21,800/pr.).
I was back at New York City’s Chelsea Wine Vault on October 19, 2019, for another audio event, this time featuring product demonstrations by Dragonfire Acoustics and Theoretica Applied Physics. As I have written before, the Chelsea Wine Vault mixes a gorgeous retail wine store with high-end audio. Now-retired Wall Street tycoon Andrew Hoover III, who stores his wine collection in the Vault’s commercial wine-storage facility, has so many high-end audio systems that he uses the Vault as his system overflow space. High-end systems are everywhere!
Vivid Audio has a new loudspeaker coming -- the S12. It’s part of the Kaya range, and it’s the brand’s smallest and most affordable loudspeaker yet. I covered the S12 when Vivid presented it at the recent Audio Video Show in Warsaw, Poland, and it was shown again at the Tokyo International Audio Show (TIAS).
In my report on speakers, I mentioned that new hi-fi electronics are much easier to find at TIAS than speakers are. That’s why, for this Tokyo International Audio Show (TIAS) 2019 coverage, I wound up with one article on speakers and, with this final installment, three on electronics. Below you’ll find more electronic components that I found at TIAS 2019, with all but one from Japan-based brands. All the prices are in Japanese yen (¥). Right now, one US dollar is equivalent to 108.62 yen.
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