Florida International Audio Expo 2023 - Tampa, USA
- Written by Doug Schneider Doug Schneider
- Parent Category: Shows-Events Shows-Events
- Created: 19 February 2023 19 February 2023
Florida International Audio Expo 2023: Orchard Audio, M101, Shunyata Research, MSB Technology, and Coastal Source
My first two reports from Tampa featured new products from companies located outside of the United States, which demonstrates why this event is now called the Florida International Audio Expo. My final report has products from companies based in the United States, with all prices in US dollars.
Before this year’s show, I’d never heard of Orchard Audio, which is based in Succasunna, New Jersey. But apparently, the company has been around since 2017, so I assume that it has had some success.
Orchard Audio had three products on display. Shown above are two PecanPi streamers, each with a built-in DAC and headphone amplifier, atop a Starkrimson Ultra stereo amplifier. Priced at $649.95, the PecanPis have a pair of balanced XLR outputs. If you want a 1/4″ headphone output, which goes on the backside, the price goes up by $95. A pair of RCA outputs adds $75, while a USB-to-S/PDIF converter increases it by another $85.
Insofar as streaming goes, the PecanPi can operate as a Roon end point, or it can run Volumio, MoOde Audio, or PiCorePlayer streaming software. The PecanPi is built around a Raspberry Pi 3B+ single-board computer and employs dual Burr-Brown PCM1794 DACs operating in mono mode.
The Starkrimson Ultra stereo amplifier is said to “utilize gallium nitride (GaN) technology to achieve ultra-high performance.” According to company founder Leonid Ayzenshtat, the Starkrimson features fully balanced circuit topology, and may be the first amp with fully balanced circuitry that employs a GaN-based output stage. The Starkrimson Ultra is rated to output 125Wpc into 16 ohms, 250Wpc into 8 ohms, or 500Wpc into 4 ohms, and is said to be stable to 2 ohms. It’s priced at $2499.95, but optional power-supply upgrades and other features can take its price higher.
The reason that there are two streamers in the first Orchard Audio photo is that in the Florida setup, one of them was connected to the Starkrimson Ultra, while the other was connected to a pair of Starkrimson Mono monoblock amps, which, again, are fully balanced designs with GaN transistors. Each compact, light Starkrimson Mono was placed on the speaker it was driving. The Mono is rated to deliver 150W into 8 or 4 ohms, and is also 2-ohm stable. It sells for $1599.95 per pair, but, like other Orchard products, optional upgrades and features can push the price higher.
M101 is located in Boston, but its founder, Lubomir Dostal, was born in the Czech Republic. He’s a physicist who, according to the company website, “earned his PhD from Berlin, Germany, and then went on to work as a postdoctoral researcher at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Michigan.” The website also explains that Dostal “came across highly debated blogs on the impact of audio cables” and “had to test this for himself.” Obviously, after his tests were complete, he believed the results justified creating a cable company, which today offers various cable types slotted into three lines, with the Hypernova series being the most elaborate and expensive.
I haven’t seen anything quite like them (although the German company Inakustik has some cables that look similar). The Hypernova cables are otherworldly as well as downright cool-looking, particularly with the way Dostal had them lit up in M101’s exhibit. Their prices are a little out of this world too—although there are plenty of cable companies charging more for their products.
According to the website, the Hypernova’s “16 pure silver wires are over 90% in air, and they are twisted one turn every 4 inches.” The 16 wires are held apart by 3D-printed disc-type spacers with tiny holes that each cable pierces through. M101’s Hypernova power cord is priced at $9999 for any length up to 2m, and $5000 for each additional meter, with a 5m maximum. Hypernova speaker cables, which have 48 wires twisted similarly and the same type of construction, cost $12,500 for a 1m pair and $19,999 for a 2m pair. Available with either RCA or XLR terminations, Hypernova interconnects cost $12,500 for a 1m pair and $19,999 for a 2m pair.
Washington State–based Shunyata Research was showing its Altaira grounding hub, which is said to be “a centralized grounding system that eliminates inter-component ground-loops while reducing ground-plane noise that is known to cause audible humming, buzzing, and other undesirable distortions.” One Altaira costs $2998 and can be attached to up to six components. Shunyata also sells grounding-attachment wires, which range in price from $250 for the entry-level Venom v3 model to $800 for the Omega wire. But at Florida International Audio Expo 2023, there were two Altairas, following the company’s recommended way to hook up digital and analog components—purely analog components, such as a preamplifier or power amplifier, connect to one Altaira, while digital components, such as a DAC or streamer, connect to another.
Not content with just showing the Altaira, Shunyata Research wanted to demonstrate its efficacy in a system comprising Clarisys Minuet speakers, a Hegel Music Systems P30A preamplifier and H30A power amplifier, and a Lumin P1 DAC-streamer. Typically, I’m not a fan of these kinds of demos, because there can be some sleight of hand. But this one appealed to me because company founder and chief designer Caelin Gabriel conducted it authentically. Gabriel played the first minute or so of Leonard Cohen’s “You Want It Darker” repeatedly while sales manager Richard Rogers very quickly connected or disconnected the components from the Altairas—quickly as in seconds, so that aural memory was intact. It actually appeared that they wanted to give us the best shot at sussing out audible differences. And with Hans Wetzel beside me, we thought we could hear subtle-yet-consistent changes each time the Altairas were switched in and out. I want to learn more before I declare anything definitive—so for right now, consider my interest piqued enough for us to get an Altaira or two in to experiment with in our own systems with our own components.
Now for the room belonging to California-based MSB Technology. The company had a rackful of its electronics, plus amps on the floor. But since we focus on the newest products in our show reports, I zeroed in on . . .
. . . the Reference Digital Director, which was on the bottom shelf and is priced at $24,000. It is intended to be matched to the company’s Reference DAC. MSB also offers a lower-priced Select Digital Director as a natural companion for its Select DAC, as well as a Premier Digital Director for the top-of-the-line Premier DAC.
MSB’s Digital Directors aren’t external power supplies, even though that’s what they look like and what some people might confuse them with. On its website, MSB says the Digital Director’s purpose is “managing digital audio sources, noise isolation, and processing,” which, in conjunction with the company’s “proprietary ProISL laser fiber optic connection … eliminates noise coupling into the DAC from any digital source.” Whether a Digital Director makes a significant difference isn’t clear to me because I haven’t heard a demo with it in the chain and with it out. But it’s probably something a current MSB DAC owner might want to try to see if it does provide a benefit.
When I covered the Focal Littora 200-series outdoor speakers in my first Florida International Audio Expo report, I wrote that “outdoor sound isn’t usually our thing, but since this show is in Florida—a place where outdoor speakers are popular and make perfect sense—it’s appropriate to cover Focal’s new Littora 200 range.” Likewise, it’s appropriate to cover the 12.0 Line Source, the flagship in Coastal Source’s Bollard outdoor-speaker range—particularly since this is the most ambitious and interesting-looking outdoor speaker I’ve ever seen. At $9500 each, it’s also the most expensive. Coastal Source is based in Moorestown, New Jersey, but I was told that much of the development of the Bollard series of outdoor speakers and subwoofers took place in the Florida Keys.
Coastal Source had set up its Bollard-series speakers in various parts of this show—upstairs in a display room, downstairs in the lobby, and even out by the pool. According to the company’s literature, the 12.0 Line Source stands just over 5′ tall and “takes full advantage of line array technology for high SPL & fidelity over very long distances. It utilizes patent pending variable waveguide technology to further enhance typical line array performance with constant coverage of near-infield (4′–12′), mid-field (12′–36′), and far-field (36′–100′) listening areas.” The 12.0’s driver complement consists of 12 Radon Pro 3″ planar-ribbon tweeters, six Radon Pro 4″ midrange-bass drivers, and one Radon Pro 10″ woofer. The frequency response is claimed to be 35Hz to 20kHz (no deviations are provided), and the sensitivity is said to be 94dB (1W/m). The recommended minimum amplifier power for low frequencies is said to be 200W, and the same is recommended for the midrange and highs, so presumably, this is a fully passive design that needs two channels of amplification per speaker.
While the complex acoustic design intrigued me, I was just as interested in learning about the product’s durability, given its intended use. The perforated grille that goes over the drivers protects them from water, but I learned that the drivers can get wet without being damaged, and the grille’s main purpose is to protect the drivers from dust and dirt. To accomplish this, there are several layers of different materials on the grille’s backside that keep dust and dirt out. Furthermore, the grille can be washed. If water from a rainstorm, sprinkler system, or pool gets in, the baffle is channeled so that the water quickly drains out. The cabinet is said to be made from a single piece of ABS, which apparently has great weather resistance. This allows the speaker to not only be left outside but also partially embedded in the ground.
Frankly, I was astonished to learn about the effort that went into making such an ambitious outdoor speaker. I’m also amazed there’s a market for an outdoor speaker of this size and price. Before Florida International Audio Expo 2023, I never imagined such products existed or that there would be a demand for them. But this is Florida after all, and if there’s a place in the world for a high-end outdoor speaker, this is it.
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