Florida Audio Expo 2022 was held from February 18 to 20 at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Tampa Airport Westshore in Tampa, Florida. The city and hotel have been home to the Florida Audio Expo since the inaugural show in February 2019, and from what I’ve been told by the show organizers, it will stay that way for the foreseeable future.
When I arrived at the 2022 event, I wasn’t counting on doing what I used to do at audio shows prior to the pandemic—which was to pick out the best products on display for articles like this one. Instead, my goal was just to gather up some material for a series of articles on the show for our SoundStage! Global site, which I did along with one of our newest SoundStage! writers, Jason Davis, and call it a day. This was, after all, the first show I and many others had been to in two years—so I was going to take it slow.
That idea changed when we looked at what was going to be included in our coverage and I realized that the show was just as good as the last time it was held, in February 2020—there were some excellent products on display that deserved more praise. As a result, it made no sense not to do what I’ve done at previous shows, so I went back through our show coverage and selected the products that I felt stood out. I wound up with four—which I can now present as the Best of Florida Audio Expo 2022. All prices are in US dollars.
Perlisten R7t loudspeaker
“Where did Perlisten Audio come from?” That’s what I keep hearing from people when the name comes up. I don’t blame them—I wondered that, too! That’s because, I’d never heard the name until just over two years ago—though the company website states it was founded in 2016. It also says the company is in Verona, Wisconsin—not exactly a hotbed for hi-fi. But over the last two years, I’ve seen its speakers reviewed in publications and discussed in online forums repeatedly. What’s more impressive, however, is that Perlisten speakers seem to have some real technology and super-innovative ideas behind them, which you don’t see often enough from new speaker companies these days.
Perlisten S7t (behind) and R7t loudspeakers
Case in point: the R7t floorstanding loudspeaker, priced at $9990 per pair in high-gloss Piano Black or Piano White, which debuted at Florida Audio Expo 2022. The R7t is basically a less-expensive version of the S7t, the company’s current flagship floorstander ($17,990/pair in the standard black or white finishes).
Like the S7t, the R7t is a largish floorstander, though it’s a wee bit smaller than its big brother—it measures 49.9″H × 9″W × 13.7″D, while the S7t measures 51″H × 9.5″W × 15.7″D. But like the S7t, the R7t has seven drivers controlled by a complex crossover topology. There are four 6.5″ drivers arranged vertically above and below what the company calls a DPC-Array, which is used throughout their product range. In this model, the DPC-Array has three 1″ tweeters. One of the tweeters is nestled deep into the throat of the DPC-Array’s waveguide, while the other two are mounted on the frontmost edges of the waveguide, above and below the recessed tweeter. The tweeter placements and the crossover configuration ensure that the directivity of high frequencies is well controlled.
I could tell you more about the R7t, including the driver materials, which differ from the S7t, but you can see all that in our show articles. Jason Davis’s listening impressions are in an article he wrote as well. Instead, I’ll just say that I wasn’t the only one who was impressed by the R7t. When writer Hans Wetzel read what I wrote, he got very excited and immediately asked for a review pair from the manufacturer—and they have just been delivered to his house.
Infigo Audio Method 3 mono amplifier
Infigo Audio is another relatively new company, this time from British Columbia, Canada. As I wrote in my Florida Audio Expo 2022 show report, company founder Hans Looman said that he was ready to show the Method 4 DAC-preamplifier ($35,000) and Method 3 mono amplifier ($50,000/pair) a couple of years ago, but COVID-19 stopped that from happening. Now, he’s hoping his company and products will get noticed.
The Method 4 DAC looked interesting, but it was the Method 3 mono that caught my eye, mostly because it uses a novel class-A amplifier technology that purportedly allows for class-A operation with the cool-running behavior of a class-AB design. When Looman first described it to me, it sounded like what was being used in an amplifier I saw many years ago from a now-defunct company called Resonessence Labs, which was actually an offshoot of ESS Technology, the world-famous maker of DAC chips. It turns out that there’s a reason for the similarity—Looman also designed that Resonessence Labs amp, which, unfortunately, never saw its way into production. So he struck out on his own with Infigo Audio. I don’t remember what the power output for the Resonessence amp was, but the Method 3 mono is rated to deliver up to 250W into 4 ohms.
Infigo Audio Method 3 mono amplifier
The fact that the Method 3 mono runs in class A but remains cool—I put one hand firmly on the case just to make sure—is a bit of a headscratcher. Looman did assure me that the positive and negative transistors remain on all the time, like in a typical class-A design, but to keep the heat at bay, the current is fluctuated—though it’s not yet clear to me how that’s done. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting design that I’d like to learn more about, so I hope we can get a pair of Method 3 monos in for review at some point—like the Resonessence amp I saw so many years ago, this amp seems special.
Graham Audio LS8/1 loudspeaker
I was impressed with the number of new products that I saw at Florida Audio Expo 2022, but I wasn’t all that thrilled by the sound of most of the systems there. This actually had me a little concerned. Most of what I heard sounded thin and bass-light, so I wondered if it was a problem with some of the rooms where the systems were installed—perhaps the rooms were letting bass frequencies leak out, or the systems hadn’t been properly set up in them. But I was also worried if it was a problem with my ears, perhaps from the flights I took to get there, or even the drastic change in weather from icy-cold Canada to hot and humid Florida.
Graham Audio LS8/1 loudspeaker with Bergmann Audio Modi air-bearing turntable and Moonriver Audio Model 4 Reference integrated amp behind
Thankfully, not all the systems sounded that way. The sound in the On a Higher Note room—which had a Bergmann Audio Modi air-bearing turntable connected into a Moonriver Audio Model 404 Reference integrated amplifier, which was driving a pair of Graham Audio LS8/1 loudspeakers—was flat-out fabulous with every piece of music played. There was plenty of bass, while the midrange was so palpably full, you’d swear that there must be giant tubes somewhere in the system—though there weren’t, because the Moonriver is a solid-state design.
I am purposely mentioning these other components because I have to give credit where it’s due—I wasn’t listening to any one thing, I was listening to a whole system. But I’m singling the speakers out in this article because the quality of sound that was coming out of the LS8/1s surprised me. That’s because when I first saw the LS8/1, which is priced at $9700 per pair, with stands, I couldn’t have imagined it could work so well, mainly because of its oddball driver arrangement. I detailed that in one of my show articles:
Graham’s website describes the LS8/1 as the company’s “take on the classic 8-inch bass driver in a 2-cubic-foot box format, as used by many designers over the years, including our own Derek Hughes (and his father, Spencer, who of course designed the BBC LS3/6).” Graham’s interpretation is interesting, because placed above the 8″ bass driver, which appears to operate all the way up to 3.5kHz, are two tweeters—a 1″ unit that delivers sound from about 3.5kHz to 13kHz, plus a 0.75″ one that takes over for frequencies above 13kHz.
How that 8″ bass driver rides so high in frequency to transition to the 1″ drive unit so well is beyond me. But it does seem to do it, because the sound I heard wasn’t just exceptional in the bass and midrange, it was seamless from the lowest lows to the highest highs as well. There were no telltale signs of that big cone driver handing off to the tweeter above it, or from that tweeter to the next one in line. I figured there should be some strange discontinuity somewhere in the audioband, or perhaps a muddiness in the midrange from having that 8″ driver do so much of the heavy lifting—yet the sound was consistently full, but clean and clear. Color me impressed—and add the LS8/1 to the list of products worthy of a future review.
Margules U-280sc 30th Anniversary Special Edition amplifier
Finally, it would be criminal of me to neglect mentioning the Margules room—because the sound coming from the company’s floorstanding Orpheo speakers was great, as well. I can’t recall what tracks were playing during my visit to the Margules, but they all sounded robust, dynamic, and clear. In fact, this room and the On a Higher Note one were, for me, the two best-sounding rooms at the show—by a long shot. What’s more, it was encouraging to hear not one but two great-sounding systems because I could rest assured that whatever the problem was at the Florida show, it probably wasn’t to do with my ears.
But, again, what stood out to me was one component—in this case, the new 30th-anniversary version of the company’s classic U-280 amplifier, which, according to the timeline on the company’s website, debuted in 1990. It’s now a decades-old, super-successful tube-based design that owner Julian Margules and his team have been constantly upgrading and refining. Subtle tweaks to the amp’s name along the way have signified those step-by-step improvements.
This latest version—appropriately called U-280sc 30th Anniversary Special Edition—is rated, like previous U-280 models I’ve seen at earlier shows, to output 50Wpc into 8 ohms when operated in Ultralinear mode or 25Wpc into 8 ohms in Triode mode. It can also be configured as a monoblock for double the power in each mode by simply turning a knob. From what I gathered in Florida, the price for this version hadn’t been established by showtime. When I pressed Julian Margules for it, he told me: “About $10,000.” I reached out to the company after the show and confirmed that the price he gave is correct.
I also learned that this new model is replacing the U-280sc Black, the company’s flagship amplifier until now. Compared to that older model, the 30th Anniversary Special Edition has a redesigned differential circuit and active servo bias, as well as upgraded parts. These changes reportedly result in improved distortion characteristics, dynamic range, microdynamics, and stereo imaging. The look has changed a little bit as well.
In the room that day, Julian Margules made sure to tell me that the amp was in its Triode mode when the music was playing. I was surprised, because the sound was so bold and loud, with no sign that the amp was straining or clipping. That’s not to say that you couldn’t make it strain or clip—it’s just to say that it can play plenty loud with just 25Wpc on tap. I was also taken with the amp’s look—mostly black, but with natural wood side panels and sexy, curvaceous KT88 tubes glowing on top. I’m not itching to review an amp with tubes right now, but if I were in the market to buy one, this new anniversary model, with its great sound, wonderful looks, and long history, would be at the top of my list.
Montreal next . . .
I was happy to see the Florida Audio Expo go so well—its success bodes well for future hi-fi shows. In fact, as I was writing this article, I was taking breaks from typing to pack my bags for my next audio show—Montreal Audiofest 2022, on March 25–27. By the time you’ve read this article, that show will have happened and the coverage for it will have appeared on SoundStage! Global. So, since Florida Audio Expo 2022 went well enough for me to write this best-of-show article, I have every reason to think that you’ll see another one to highlight the best products I saw at Montreal Audiofest 2022, which will be online in this space on May 1.
. . . Doug Schneider