Florida International Audio Expo 2023 was held from February 17 to 19 in Tampa, at the Embassy Suites By Hilton Tampa Airport Westshore. That’s the same hotel it’s been held at since the first show, in 2019, when it was named Florida Audio Expo. Except for 2021, when it was canceled due to COVID-19, I’ve been to this event every year—and have been able to witness it improving with each successive year.
This year, as I’ve done for the previous three visits, I arrived in Tampa a day before the event started and left for home a day after it finished. That put me there for all three show days in their entirety, which gave me plenty of time to see everything I was interested in. Fellow SoundStager Hans Wetzel did the same, so together we have been able to provide the best coverage possible for SoundStage! Global. You can see all our show reports here.
This year’s show was bigger than it’s ever been, so I was dead tired when I left on the 20th, partly because covering hi-fi shows the way we do is draining—we start putting reports online not long after the show starts and we make sure to finish our coverage by midnight on the final day—but also because of what happened after we’d completed the coverage, mere minutes before midnight. I got corralled into a two-hour conversation with someone in the industry, and we talked about everything from global traveling to the newest movies and television to—of course—the latest hi-fi, so I barely got any sleep before my flight home in the morning. But that part was on me.
As I’m typing these words, I’ve only been home for 30 minutes and should probably be relaxing, because I’m about to nod off and have my head hit the keyboard. But I wanted to write this article with the show still fresh in my mind, to best recall the products there that impressed us the most. There were three—and all of them are speakers, though that isn’t deliberate, it just worked out that way. These products are now Best of Florida International Audio Expo 2023—and all prices are in USD.
Soundfield Audio Obelisk T710 loudspeaker system
On the final day of the show, Hans wrote an article called “Soundfield Audio’s Obelisk T710—The Most Ambitious Loudspeaker System at the Show.” With a title like that, how could this speaker system not be one of the best products we saw? So, it’s the first one I need to mention.
As Hans described in his article, the $15,000 Obelisk T710 is “a fully active, variable-directivity loudspeaker system sold as a pair comprising a primary and secondary speaker.” Each speaker has built-in amplification and five drivers. On the front baffle are a GRS planar-magnetic tweeter and a SEAS Excel coaxial driver below it. On the rear are a 7″ woofer near the bottom of the cabinet and a 3″ wideband driver nearer to its top. Shooting out the bottom of the cabinet is a 10″ woofer. Each cabinet is 44″ tall and not all that wide or deep, so each speaker isn’t that big. But with a claimed frequency response of 40Hz–22kHz, ±2dB, and with a -6dB point of 20Hz for bass extension, the Obelisk T710 is, as Hans wrote, “a legitimately full-range speaker system.”
The system features three operating modes—Narrow, Wide, and Omni—each affecting the way the speakers’ drivers disperse their sound into the room. In his article, Hans wrote that he “was gobsmacked by the towers’ sound after only a few moments of listening,” and after hearing songs played in each of the modes, he came to the conclusion that Soundfield Audio’s Obelisk T710 was “not only the most ambitious loudspeaker system at the FIAE,” it was also “one of the best-sounding, too.”
Soundfield Audio is a small company based in Tampa, Florida, so this speaker system might be hard to find, but, in our opinion, the innovative approach and the resulting sound make it worth seeking out.
TAD CE1TX loudspeaker
Japan’s Technical Audio Devices Laboratories was founded as a consumer brand in 2007. But as it says on TAD Laboratories’ website, the company’s history goes back further: “Technical Audio Devices (TAD) was originally the name given to a project launched by Tokyo-based Pioneer Electronic Corporation (currently Pioneer Corporation) in 1975 to develop high-end speakers for professional use.”
TAD has had an impressive history, but it hasn’t had a strong presence in the North American market since the brand was launched. That’s a little bit surprising, given the exceedingly high quality of its products, and in my opinion, it’s because they haven’t been well represented here. But that looks like it’s changing. In 2021, Massachusetts-based Professional Audio Design (PAD) signed on to distribute TAD in Canada and the United States. With a well-established presence in the pro-audio market, part of PAD’s original intention was to focus on getting TAD products into the pro environment. But as PAD president Dave Malekpour told me, they also knew they could make a mark in consumer hi-fi due to the high quality of the products and TAD’s reputation among audiophiles. As a result, PAD is serving both audio worlds, with the consumer side as no mere afterthought.
That was apparent this year in Florida. At one end of one of the largest rooms at the show, a pair of the flagship TAD Reference One TX loudspeakers were set up, along with some TAD electronics. At the other end of this room were a pair of Compact Evolution One TX (aka CE1TX) loudspeakers, being driven by more TAD electronics. Those speakers were the focus of our coverage of the show, and what I want to highlight in this article. The CE1TX is an update to the company’s original CE1 and is priced at $32,500 per pair without stands, and $35,000 per pair with companion ST2TX stands.
The CE1TX doesn’t look exactly like the CE1—even the cabinet dimensions have changed somewhat. But as Hans outlined in his write-up: “High-level specs remain the same as before, with a 1.4″ beryllium-dome tweeter nestled inside a 5.5″ magnesium midrange cone.” And as with the previous version, a 7.1″ woofer resides below the coaxial driver array, which makes it a three-way design. The clever venting system via the protruding side panels also remains in place.
Hans listened as the TAD/PAD team played Israel Kamakawiwoʻole’s cover of “Somewhere over the Rainbow” and wrote in his report: “The haunting version really popped from the Compact Evolutions. I heard a slight forwardness that propelled Kamakawiwoʻole’s voice into the room with abundant low-level detail. I could also discern each pluck of his ukulele with ease, and the stereo image was rendered with pinpoint precision.”
It’s unfair to say TAD is back in North America, because the company has had a presence here for over 15 years. It simply hasn’t been seen that much. But with a new distribution system in place, it’s safe to say that TAD isn’t taking a backseat in North America anymore. PAD appears to want TAD to be at the front of people’s minds, and we’re excited to see where that now takes the brand. We’ve long been fans of the products on offer—and the CE1TX seems to be carrying their reputation for quality forward. In fact, we’ve already requested a review pair.
Falcon Acoustics M10 loudspeaker
I have a confession to make—after “The Best of Warsaw’s Audio Video Show 2022” was published last December, I realized there was one product that probably should’ve been in my report: the Falcon Acoustics M10 loudspeaker. Jason Thorpe loved what he heard from the pair of M10s at that show, wrote about them at the time, and at one point literally dragged me into the room to listen to them. How I missed anointing the M10 as one of the Best of Audio Video Show 2022 is beyond me. But including the M10 in this report isn’t to make up for what happened after Warsaw. It’s because Falcon Acoustics was in Florida with a pair of M10s and they were sounding just as good again. This was merely a second chance.
Priced at $2295 per pair, the M10 is a two-way design with a cabinet that measures only 12.4″H × 7.2″W × 10.2″D. The standard finish is a real-wood veneer in walnut, but a rosewood veneer is also available for an additional $200 per pair. The M10 has a 1″ soft-dome tweeter, custom made by SEAS, and a 5″ B110 midrange-woofer made by Falcon Acoustics. The Falcon B110 is basically a replica of the decades-old KEF B110 that was used in a bunch of speakers, including the legendary BBC LS3/5A. (Falcon Acoustics was founded in the UK in 1972 by Malcolm Jones, who was KEF’s first employee—he was hired there in 1961—and was said to be responsible for the design of many of the early drive units. Jones retired from Falcon in 2009 and sold the company to his friend Jerry Bloomfield, who is carrying on Jones’s vision for the company.)
The M10’s frequency response is quoted as ±2dB from 70Hz to 20Khz, and ±3dB from 40Hz to 25kHz. Those frequency-response specs—particularly the claim for fairly deep bass—seem plausible based on what I’ve heard from the M10s in both Warsaw and Tampa. That deep bass gives the speakers a big, ballsy sound that belies the small size of the enclosures. But that also makes me suspicious that the claimed sensitivity of 86dB (2.83V/m) is probably a tad high. That’s because a small speaker that outputs bass like this typically has a lower sensitivity than that.
But even if the sensitivity is a few decibels lower, it really doesn’t matter. This is a small speaker designed for a small room—not unlike the kind of rooms they were being demonstrated in at both audio shows. In that kind of environment, they’re not going to require gobs of power. But besides sounding robust in the bass, both times I heard them they sounded notably natural throughout the midrange, with an almost tube-like liquidity, and sweet in the highs.
Lovers of compact, two-way standmounts should check out this small speaker—it has a bit of a retro vibe to its look, but a modern, refined, and big sound. Call me doubly impressed by Falcon’s M10 now.
Montreal next . . .
The Florida International Audio Expo kicked off the 2023 hi-fi show season—and in March, there’s another show, but this time in Canada. Montreal Audiofest runs from March 24 to 26 at the Hotel Bonaventure Montreal. For over 20 years, I’ve always enjoyed going to the Montreal show: the city itself has a great vibe and the Bonaventure is right downtown, the show attendees tend to passionate about hi-fi and music, it attracts a good number of quality exhibitors, and it’s only two hours by car from my home in Ottawa. As a result, I can take a leisurely drive, look at and listen to hi-fi for a few days, report on it all when I’m there, hang out with friends, and eat plenty of good food. And when all is said and done, I can hop in my car and get back home quite quickly. Jason Thorpe will be accompanying me on this trip and our coverage will appear on SoundStage! Global—so watch for it being posted as the show happens.
. . . Doug Schneider