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Lone Star Audio Fest 2016 Show Report

07-27-2016 | By Norman Tracy | Issue 87

We had a great time at Lone Star Audio Fest 2016. From my vantage point inside the event as an exhibitor and listener from Thursday afternoon through Sunday evening LSAF 2016 was once again any audiophile's candy store. The first paragraphs of my Positive Feedback report on LSAF 2015 (HERE) details the history of this 12 year old regional event. The short version is this annual volunteer run show brings together at the Embassy Suites Dallas Park Central hotel audiophiles, music lovers, established high-end companies, young startups, DIYers, and dealers for a long weekend of high end Hi-Fi gear, music, and fun.

Lone Star Audio Fest cannot exist without its volunteers so I will start this report with a photo of the lovely and charming Jeanette Miles taking a turn greeting and registering attendees. 

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Jeanette Miles greets attendees while volunteering at the registration table

Lone Star Audio Fest 2016 presented for attendees to contrast and compare a wide variety of routes leading to the end goal of fine music in the home. Acting as both a journalist reporting the show and an exhibitor (barely concealing the rabid audiophile inside) I split my time between listening to other exhibitors' systems and presenting my own. As you read the comments below keep in mind I consider myself a Hi-Fi egalitarian. I can enjoy triodes + horns as much as solid state amps driving a box full of high technology drivers. As I toured LSAF 2016 a theme of 'maturity' emerged. Alas while that does apply to many of us in the age department, let me hasten to add I was pleased to also observe young people attending and exhibiting. Actually the maturity I am referring to is the products and resulting systems presented regardless of the designers' age. Products from veteran manufacturers and dealers displayed polish and refinements one can only appreciate hearing and seeing them in person. A couple of startups hit the ground running with impressive new product introductions. And the individuals presenting personal systems and DIY creations also showed that their research, resources, and sweat equity has been well invested. Enough with the preamble let us get onto the room by room reporting.

Pete Millet (www.pmillett.com) and David Flores (www.landfallsystems.com) had plenty of beer to share and exotica to listen to. Triodes mated with simple yet full range speakers are the theme again in the Millett and Landfall room. Once the signals left the Technics turntable or Oppo disk player the entire signal chain and speakers are Millet designed. All of Peter's amplifiers on display were housed in Landfall enclosures looking very fine indeed. If you need aluminum enclosures for your electronics projects or production runs contact David at Landfall Systems.

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Landfall and Millet demo system

I vote we award Pete Millet the Most Esoteric Exotic Triode Powered Amp trophy for 2016 and just retire it; no one is going to beat his 316A/VT-191 preamp/headphone amp and PL-177 SET power amp. If you must try the starting point is an anode capped bright emitter triode power amp with mesh plates glowing on 615 VDC B+.

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Mesh plate, anode capped, bright emitter PL-177 power tube

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Millet PL-177 triode SET amp, enclosure by Landfall

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Arcturus 316A/VT-191 pre-amp/headphone amp

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PL-177 power tube dissected after it gave its all for R&D

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More exotic triodes for your listening pleasures, the 3126A/VT-191

Depending on when you drop by the triodes are playing through one of two speaker options. Tang Band full range in a pine box or the di-pole with direct from Japan Pioneer domestic market green cone 4" over 15" Eminence woofer. Also Pete's LR (inductor resistor defined RIAA filter, be gone ye evil capacitors) phono preamp was a treat when LPs are spinning. Have another beer and enjoy.

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Tang Band in pine box and Japan Pioneer green cone 4" over 15" Eminence woofer di-pole

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David Flores of Landfall Systems, Duke and Lori LeJeune of AudioKinesis Loudspeakers and The Unknown Audiophile enjoy the music and friendship in room 201

My fellow Okie Mike Lundy (user mlundy57 on AudioCircle.com) showcased speaker systems using GR Research technology as built in his shop the cabinets displaying his outstanding woodworking skills. Two different systems were shown as examples of the custom commissions Mike builds using GR Research's technology and drivers.

The new wedge 12" push pull di-pole woofer stands for the Wedgies takes that di-pole system from audiophile bachelor chick repellant into décor and significant other friendly territory.

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Michael Lundy's demo system with GR Research Wedgies

Danny Richie's design of the GR Research Wedgies folds the baffles needed on dipole systems back transforming the wide monolith look into a slim modern design while also providing control of the dispersion and power response into the room.

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GR Research Wedgies enclosures by Michael Lundy

The tweeter is the renowned Neo3 plainer di-pole in a time aligned wave guide with GR Research designed midrange and subwoofer drivers employed. The subwoofer is open at the back of the enclosure maintaining di-pole behavior in the bass. At the top of the hi-fi pricing strata manufacturers often brag about the purpose designed drivers employed. GR Research offers this benefit and the depth of engineering it brings to bear at attainable pricing levels.

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Wedgies top module details

Or if you prefer a conventional forward firing monitor format with deep bass Mike has the woofer monitor stand from the prolific Mr. Richie. Richie's design chops plus Lundy's craftsmanship, you won't go wrong here. The Rythmik DirectServo power bass sections of these systems make them very tube friendly.

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Monitor stands with servo-subwoofers

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Michael Lundy

JWM Acoustics (www.jwmacoustics.com) was back with Joshua Miles' stunningly beautiful speakers, turntables, and accessories. Walking in their suite was just like last year "you had me at hello" Joshua after one look at the artisanal staining and polished lacquer over woods on JMW products.

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JWM Acoustics ALYSON AML and NET-1 speaker

The JWM demo system was again anchored with BAT electronics with guest appearances from Raven.

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JWM Acoustics Demo Electronics

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JWM Acoustics Demo Amps and Cable Lifters

Both the ALYSON AML and NET-1 speakers were available for attendees to audition. Listening reconfirmed that at JWM Acoustics music reproduction is a perfected blend of the accuracy, detail, and information dense high-tech school with the rich tonality and emotional connection of the music-is-beauty-and-truth design ethos. A very detailed listening report can be found in my LSAF 2015 show report. The executive summary is JWM Acoustics speakers are extremely transparent revealing a wealth of musical detail without every sounding anything close to strident or hard. Off a foundation of balanced tonality both dynamic range and bass depth effortlessly exceed what one would expect for the enclosure sizes.

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On the analog source front another year on from their debut JWM turntables are matured featuring less and less Rega more and more JWM; for example the main platter bearing has been upgraded from the previously used part. What has not changed are the stunning hardwood plinths into which it is mounted.

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JWM Karen Turntable

Joshua Miles brings an interesting combination of artist and designer to the creation of his products. As an example the new Karen 12 turntable being introduced at LSAF fronting one of the Raven systems. Its gorgeous red plinth is bisected with contrasting darker wood inlays. First impression might be the inlays are Joshua showing off his amazing woodworking and finishing chops. The delightful contrasting wood grains are certainly no accident, obviously selected with an artist's eye. The function beneath the beauty of the inlays is revealed when Joshua explains how the selected wood, its location, and grain orientation stiffen the plinth improving its function as a platter bearing and tonearm platform.

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JWM Karen 12 and Control Box

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JWM Karen 12 detail

In their accessories line JWM introduced wooden head shells cobranded JWM/Ortofon with whom Joshua enjoys a close working relationship. This expands their existing line of cable lifters and record weights to include head shells.

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JWM/Ortofon head shells

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JWM Cable Lifters

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Joshua Miles of JWM Acoustics

Ted Paisley's Cable Pro (www.thecablepro.com) and Charles Hudson's AudiblePC (www.audiblepc.com) shared a room with a system sourced by AudiblePC's very compact room friendly media PC source into Peach Tree Audio electronics and Anthony Gallo Acoustics Classico CL-2 speakers. Of course it was all wired together with Cable Pro cables and low inductance power strip.

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CablePro AudiblePC Demo System

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AudiblePC's compact media PC

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High-end headphones wired with CablePro & AudiblePC source

They also had a table full of high end headphones and amps to bring the head-fi experience to LSAF. One of my big regrets from LSAF 2016 is I ran out of time before I made it back to listen to all the headphones on display and talk media PCs with Charles.

In the Pi Speakers (www.pispeakers.com) room Wayne Parham and his delightful wife Kelly played concert videos through the Pi speakers and subs. While visiting any LSAF the Pi room is always a great spot to chill and be reminded that years ago Wayne mastered the horn + large woofer architecture system.

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Pi Speaker's Demo System

The Pi demo system begins with just two visible components the OPPO 105 disk+media player and Audio Note UK SET amp.

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OPPO source and Audio Note SET amplification

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Model four Pi main speakers, each flanked by model three Pi subs.

Pi speakers can be configured with various levels of components; the four Pi speakers at LSAF included JBL 2226 woofer and B&C DE250 compression driver on an H290C waveguide. The subs use an OEM driver called a PI-12, which is electro-mechanically similar to the Eminence LAB-12 but is machined to fit Pi's patented cooling plug. SET amps really hit their stride when partnered with larger format speakers like the Pi's. Some of the warmth and fullness of the sound was not due to the tube amp but rather the subwoofers. Wayne explained about the subwoofers. "They are setup as flanking subs, which means they are placed beside, below and behind the mains and overlap with them through the modal region.  This smooths room modes and self-interference anomalies from nearest boundaries, particularly the wall behind the mains. They are passive subs, and handle 400 watts RMS continuous without cooling plugs or 800 watts RMS continuous with cooling plugs. Most people run plate amps and mount them on the back. I ran a 50 watt single ended FET amp to drive them, with an active preamp-level 120Hz second-order low-pass filter.  The mains were run without a high-pass filter, so they also were driven with bass content.  That way all four speakers (both mains and both subs) were driven in the modal region.  As you know, a shallow slope second-order filter allows energy to be present to about 180Hz.  Roll off isn't steep.  So there are multiple sound sources with overlap through the modal region." Its works as this deceptively simple appearing system delivered very refined full range reproduction.

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Wayne and Kelly Parham

Present LSAF director Stephen Solazzo is the founder and owner of Stereo Clarity (www.stereoclarity.com).

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Stephen Solazzo of Stereo Clarity

His room featured the proven recipe of his OneSource media PC model "The Audiophile" with built in power amps. OneSource's latest upgrade is onboard DSP. This allows time correction, EQ, crossovers, implementing DSP on both the two amplified channels and two RCA outputs for powered subwoofers (subs not used at LSAF). As is Stephen's modus operandi the room featured acoustic treatments allowing the system to bloom. Introduced at LSAF his latest speaker system is called the Icon Fours.

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Stereo Clarity Demo System

These four driver towers initially impressed with smooth balanced sound and well integrated bass. As I settled into the audition I noted a really nice vocal presence and well balanced highs. Then Stephen queued up Metallica's 'Enter Sandman' cranked to 11. WOW, the dome tweeter, midrange, pair of 7" woofers, and big port didn't flinch at the 250wpc capability of the OneSource and poured out raw rock energy. A track called '4 Women' by Shay Mane on the Lost Riddims Album was next. Early in the track a well recorded acoustic bass is used and it was well rendered by the Fours. Then at the songs bridge they surprise us with a loud Hip Hop/Dub bass line and via the OneSource and Fours it just HIT. The demo made for an interesting contrast with other rooms featuring systems with larger woofers in bigger boxes. I readily admit to a growing prejudice based on experience that big woofer + big box = big fun. Solazzo's Icon Four driven by his single box solution OneSource demonstrated a more domestically acceptable option can deliver subtlety, bandwidth, and considerable punch.

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Stereo Clarity Icon Fours

Van Zyl Audio returned showing the ZVA 1812 Backfires panel format shallow depth horn loaded system.

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Van Zyl Audio 1812 Backfires speakers

Electronics in the demo system included vintage Sony ES CD player, Grant Tube DAC, and restored 1961 Leek tube amp.

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Sony-ES player and Grant Tube DAC

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Leek tube amp

Bella Fleck's Flight of the Cosmic Hippo may be an audio show chestnut but I have never heard it reproduced with such power and depth, literally a whole new experience, a very visceral experience. There is no other Hi-Fi bass like horn bass. The memory of that audition strongly lingers as I write this weeks after the show, it strikes me that it must be because of that horn bass married to a full range driver for the rest of the audible range. John van Zyl has been perfecting his chosen architecture of back horn loaded full range drivers for over a decade and perseverance's continuous improvement has paid off. Many of us attuned to the phase coherence and resulting spectacularly high fidelity of full range drivers are left missing the full deep dynamic bass available from multi-driver systems. In the ZVA 1812 Backfires we find John van Zyl literally delivers the best of both worlds. The horn loading delivers the expected high efficiency as evidenced by the solid dynamics achieved from the 10 watts per channel Leek amp. Very atypical is fully horn loaded bass that takes up so little living space thanks to van Zyl's panel format shallow depth horn, they need to be up against the wall using the wall to floor planes to extend the horn. For more information contact John van Zyl at 972-740-6317.

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John van Zy

Audio Thesis is a Fort Worth Texas dealership run by Derek Skipworth (www.AudioThesis.com). His system was anchored by Rosso Fiorentino's (www.rossofiorentino.com) Elba loudspeakers from their Classic series.

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Audio Thesis Demo System

While I was familiar with Fiorentino's Reference series from 'net mentions and reviews the Classic series Elba was a pleasant surprise for their subtle elegance compared to the flash of the more upmarket models.

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Rosso Fiorentino Elba loudspeaker

The first time I dropped by Derek had a Dayens Menuetto amp driving the stylish Italian speakers. On my next visit he had slotted in the high bang for the buck iFi Stereo 50. The iFi Stereo 50 is a great bridge product bringing together classic Hi-Fi virtues and 21st century connectivity with phono and Bluetooth inputs, golden age retro styling in a bamboo sleeve and 25wpc EL84 tube power amp.

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iFi Stereo 50

The Elba plus iFi 50 paring delivered elegant refinement for both the ears and eyes. The music reproduction was smooth, sweet, tonally juicy, and capable of surprisingly deep bass. Audiophiles often whine about their house-proud spouses not allowing a decent stereo into the living room. If the elegant Italian styled and made Rosso Fiorentino Elba loudspeakers resplendent in mat white paint and leather driven by the iFi's sweet EL84 watts can't be allowed into the house, sorry it's time to give up and start shopping soundbars. You really have to see and hear this to appreciate how elegant Hi-Fi can be.

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Derek Skipworth proprietor Audio Thesis

Next up was Audio Circle's own Darryl G (user voltz on AudioCircle.com) who setup his Omega Speaker Systems Alnico Super 7 monitors and redesigned deepOmega 8 subwoofer.

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Darryl's Omega based system

Such a treat I have waited years to see and hear Omegas. These were SET triode powered using Dared VP-300B mono-blocks that are 9 wpc and Dared SL-2000A preamp with a Marantz SACD deck as disk player+DAC for the Laptop full of FLAC's. The music was managed by JRiver media software with wireless tablet control. This was handy during the afterhours party Darryl hosted where we stress tested the Omegas. Nothing focuses a party on music like passing around the tablet and letting the guests pick the playlist. One tends to think of stand mount full range single driver systems as quietly detailed and all about finesse and exquisite imaging. The Omegas did all that but turn up the wick and these babies ROCK THE HOUSE. The deepOmega 8 is powered and a sealed box design so it is not a surprise they can also boogie. Louis Chochos founder of Omega Speaker Systems designs the proprietary drivers and builds all cabinets in house. The EKO Olivewood Laminate on Darryl's speakers has the look, color, and an embossed grain that feels and reflects light like wood. If the easy care long life laminates of their Level 1 finishes look this good the upgrade Level 2 finish wood veneer must be out of this world. Chochos is so detail oriented the speaker's name badge is a medallion stamped by a coin company in Virginia. Thanks again Darryl, great sound and a great party.

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Omega Super 7 Mk II

Still on the subject of full range drivers worth a listen James Harrell's Jumping Cactus Loudspeakers (www.jumpingcactusloudspeakers.com) was showing James' new Woody 1 featuring MarkAudio Alpar 12p driver in a generously sized sealed enclosure with electronic EQ for a quite reasonable cost of $2500.

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Jumping Cactus Loudspeakers Woody 1

Very enjoyable playing classic rock LPs on this working man's system via Rega P3, Bellari VP130 Tube Phono Preamp, Aural Thrills stepped attenuator, ART EQ355 and a recapped Dynaco ST80. Audiophiles and online pundits often whine about why does the hobby have to be so expensive? James Harrell's solution shows it doesn't have to be that expensive to sound very fine indeed.

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Jumping Cactus owner/designer James Harrell

From Austin Texas dealer Brian DiFrank's Whetstone Audio (www.whetstoneaudio.com) we had abundance of elegance and the esoteric; with a good measure of funky thrown in. As I entered the doorway my eyes locked on the legendary Dynavector DV-507MkII bi-axis tonearm.

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Dynavector DV 507MkII tonearm and Te Kaitora Rua cartridge

It sat on the new DV500 thread drive turntable produced in partnership with Well-Tempered Labs, front end completed by the Dynavector Te Kaitora Rua cartridge.

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Dynavector DV 500 turntable

Electronics and speakers in the demo system came from German manufacturer Thoress, including their Preamplifier, 845 Power Amplifier, and Loudspeaker – 2 CD12 MKII.

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Thoress uses all hardwired tube circuitry in very cool retro enameled folded sheet metal enclosures. The power amp with its massive 845 triode drove the speaker featuring 12" woofer and compression driver with constant directivity (CD) horn.

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As an amateur woodworker I was extremely impressed by the flawless impeccable build of the Loudspeaker – 2 in a very high grade of birch plywood. All this topped off, literally, with an upward firing horn loaded super tweeter. 

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The turntable and electronics were sited on a handsome understated Box Furniture Company rack. This Dynavector and Thoress system delivered the goods in abundance serving up a rare sound experience, warm and rich while also being transparent and detailed. My notes describe the sound as open, detailed with naturally balanced highs and essentially perfect tight bass, pace rhythm and all that crap. Triodes attract audiophiles and music lovers with tone and the Thoress system was saturated with musical tone. This is one of those stereos that are just more fun to listen to while displaying all the audiophile bona fides. Comparing my 'serious' listening in the sweet spot to moving around the room while taking pictures the tonality of the rig filled the room with good vibes. The great sound and excellent DJing made it very hard to leave the Whetstone Audio room.

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Brian DiFrank proprietor Whetstone Audio

Brines Acoustics (www.brinesacoustics.com) returned to LSAF in 2016. Bob Brines demonstrated his latest design, one he considers a work in process, which already sounds as good as many designers' completed production release models. Bob is known for his work with full range drivers in MLTL (Mass Loaded Transmission Lines) enclosures. So looking at a two way was a bit of a surprise but the fact the 'tweeter' is a 3" cone gave a hint this is not a typical architecture.

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That 'tweeter' is actually the new Scan-Speak carbon fiber cone full range covering the lion's share of the audio spectrum. Below 300 Hz the woofer, another carbon fiber cone driver from Peerless took over. Fans of DSP and chip amps will be pleased to hear fronting the new speaker in bi-amp configuration were Topping amps and a miniDSP digital crossover.

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The computer on which FOOBAR fed the DAC+miniDSP music was plugged into the hotel room's HDTV and Bob scrolled through windows as he played demo music and discussed the new speaker.

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The PC was also running the open source REW room acoustics and loudspeaker design software. I use REW but soon realized I have barely scratched the surface compared to Bob as he showed the drivers' measurements and resulting crossover designs. The clean flat low resonance responses of the Scan-Speak and Peerless drivers on the screen were reflected in the sound. It was excellent, as is often the case with flat response low resonance system not immediately impressive but the longer the demo went on the more capability was demonstrated. All musical genres were equally well served with subtle sophistication. All in all the music spoke to a very promising debut for Brines latest design.

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Bob Brines

Step with me into John Bush's Manzanita Audio Solutions (www.manzanitaaudiosolutions.com) room at LSAF and together we will utter "What the frack!" (Or your preferred f-word).

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Manzanita Audio Solutions demo system

Stare in awe, those woofers are big, no make that Big, no Bigger than Big. Shoehorned onto a 24" x 48" dipole baffle is a coax with 3" horn loaded compression driver centered in a 18"(!) mid-woofer above a 21"(!!!) woofer.

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A few good tube watts is all it takes

One more WOW those drivers are BIG, fortunately I can gawk and listen at the same time. And listening revealed this iron fist named WidowMaker II wears a velvet glove. Of course the bass is deep and along with the rest of the bandwidth dynamics are effortless, how else could it be given the displacement brought to bear? If you are familiar with di-pole bass you won't be surprised when I say it was open, fast, and non-resonant. Behind the panels the massive driver chassis, compression driver, and overbuilt crossover were on display.

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WidowMaker II rear view

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Note the size of the wire in that top inductor, and the caps are the good stuff.

Seated back in the sweet spot that crossover achieved a seamless blending of the three drivers. John explained the extended highs were thanks to an advanced design of the compression drivers' phase plug and horn entry allowing the center of the 3" compression driver to extend past 15k Hz with the remainder of the dome contributing lower in its range. Both my audition and accolades of other LSAF show goers confirmed John Bush is a master of the passive crossover Open Baffle speaker system. It occurs to me that compared to the box that would be required for a 21" woofer Bush's 2 by 4 foot baffle is quite compact, especially in an audiophile context. She just needs a grill cloth to allow a little modesty so the WidowMaker II does not scare the visiting civilians.

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John Bush of Manzanita Audio Solutions

Another Open Baffle speaker system was displayed by Bradley Baker who called his room Audio Brad, a DIYer inspired by John Bush and other practitioners of the open baffle art. Brad brought a simple yet interesting collection of gear to share with fellow audiophiles. He showed that thoughtful selection of components and some sweat equity yields great results.

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Audio Brad system

The system's front end featured Marantz SACD player and custom media server feeding a NuPrime DAC-10H so a proper High-End signal source was on hand. It wouldn't be LSAF if somebody did not show up with speakers in trendy blond unfinished MDF. Brad maintains the tradition with his baffles holding two big Hawthorne Augie 15" woofers per side and on top sub-baffles with Tang-Band W8-1808 full ranges. Bi-amping makes good things happen; Brad's take combines full-range and DSP.

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Audio Brad source and amplification

A special tube amp we will get to in a moment drives the mid and highs direct without crossovers. Filling in the bass a Crown XLS-1500 pro-audio amp with onboard programmable DSP cross-overs keeps the quad of woofers under tight control. That special amp was the Dennis Had Inspire Firebottle EL84 SET. If the name Dennis Had is familiar in a Hi-Fi context that is because he founded and only recently retired as president of Cary Audio. Apparently the fire horse isn't quite ready to be turned out to pasture and Had is building limited editions of compact tube amps and Audio Brad treated us to a listen to this rare bird.

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Dennis Had Inspire Firebottle EL84 SET

As usual the sound from an EL84 powered amp just drips tone and liquidly. As usual dipole bass was tight and tuneful.

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Brad (on the right) and Barry Solof (left)

Barry Solof deserves a special mention. He has been a regular attendee since the show started in Tulsa in 2005, he flies in from the Philadelphia area each year to join in and help make the fun.

BlowTorch Audio Werks  chief designer Russ Gates played lots of power music demonstrating his production prototypes of the BlowTorch One speaker. With Rega front end and Jolida JD 801ARC tube watts the BlowTorch One speaker was generating buzz up and down the halls.

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BlowTorch Audio demo system

The sight of this relatively compact stand mount monitor is at odds with the big dynamic sound they belt out.

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BlowTorch One speaker

My pet theory is our expectations have been set by the multitudes of stand mount monitors featuring 4"-5" class woofers, Russ is using more like a 7" driver. Visually it is not that big a change, acoustically it is. That and Gates obviously knows what he is doing with driver selection, the box, bass alignment, and crossover design. On Sunday night when the after show party hopped from Darryl's room to the BlowTorch room the draw was to listen to Ones with the Raven Blackhawk Limited Edition amp.

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BlowTorch Ones with Raven Blackhawk Limited Edition amp

That match immediately clicked as the One + Blackhawk partied on impressing a room full of hard core audiophiles, music lovers, designers, and industry veterans. After experiencing the big systems at LSAF it was a great reminder what a sweet spot exists when a moderately powered push-pull tube amp is paired with an appropriately sensitive not-too-mini-monitor.

Doug Ashworth of Douglas Connection (www.douglasconnection.com) has his audiophiles' candy store of cables and accessories setup in the Carroliton room. Doug's product lines include Cardas, HRT, Wattgate, Furutech, Vampire, Xhadow, KLEI (Keith Eichmann), and DC's house brand. This extensive lineup allows Doug Ashworth to offer products ranging from DIY cable kits for under $30 to Furutech Speakerflux and Lineflux Ultra High End cables.

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World class Hi-Fi for the Carroliton room came from private owner Ron Little's system featuring Dynaudio Confidence C4 Platinum speakers driven by a freshly restored pair of massive Threshold monoblock amplifiers. Ron is justifiably proud he is only the second owner of the Thresholds having purchased these pristine examples from Polk Audio founder Matthew Polk. The frontend included Modwright Instruments LS100 preamp, Moon 780D DAC, Pioneer Elite DV-79 disk spinner, and a media PC. The custom amp stands and equipment rack are from Chris Futrick's Timber Nation (www.timbernation.com). Sitting in the sweet spot with all too little time to listen and the refinement, bandwidth, and dynamic ease of a great system made it easy to settle in and enjoy this musical treat.

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Raven Audio (www.ravenaudio.com) set up in the Mesquite banquet room two complete demo systems along with static displays of their extensive model range. Raven Audio owner Dave Thomson and Chief designer Se Han played the Raven Audio amps driving Legacy Audio (www.legacyaudio.com) speakers.

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These are the big boy toys, the sound, fit and finish of the Raven electronics and Legacy Audio speakers is world class. Dave was especially proud of their new introduction "The Raven" 300B Integrated Amplifier. Alas, it was part of the static display so I cannot report on the sound of those push-pull 300Bs.

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The Raven 300B Integrated Amplifier

What I can report is Raven Audio continued a trend elsewhere evident at LSAF 2016, affordable High-End audio options. Sure the big monoblock amps and top preamp of their Elite Series have mid four and five figure price tags along with the fit, finish, and content to justify those costs. It is in the Goldfinch and Avian series where Han's design skills and Thomson's manufacturing smarts are evident delivering real High-End sound and build at costs the working middle class can afford.

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Goldfinch and Avian series by Raven

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Raven Blackhawk

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Raven Goldfinch system

Well done gentlemen!

Raven had two complete demo systems setup for attendees' enjoyment.

System #1 Raven Silhouette MK2 Reference Preamplifier (in silver finish), Raven Spirit 300B MK2 Monoblock amps, Mytek Manhattan DAC digital source, Legacy Audio Aeris speaker system, and Douglas Connection Alpha series cables.

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System #2 Raven Silhouette MK2 Reference Preamplifier (in black finish), Raven Shaman MK2 Monoblocks  (and Raven Goldfinch power amp during part of my demo), JWM Karen 12 analog source, Mytek Manhattan DAC digital source, Legacy Audio Focus SE speaker system, and Douglas Connection Alpha series cables.

Both systems were plugged into P.I. Audio Group's UberBUSS AC power filters (http://www.piaudiogroup.com/UberBUSS.html).

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Sitting down in front of the Legacy Aeris based system with Dave running the demo initially the Legacy speakers seemed a little flat and not quite up to the resources on hand. That was not a system issue, it was a listener issue. Nearing the end of a long fun but hectic weekend it was this listener not the system that needed to settle in and open up to the experience being presented. The Raven electronics and Legacy speakers greatly facilitated this, definitely a system that melts away stress, perks one up, and then invites the listener to lean into the music. Experienced listeners learn systems that immediately jump out with zinging highs and thumping bass are not naturally balanced and that the detail enhanced first impression sound will soon become fatiguing. As a transducer system the Raven amps and Legacy speakers are the polar opposite of hyped, their natural reproduction resulting from tonal and dynamic balance is quickly revealed as a core design goal of both amps and speakers. As Dave selected the demo material off the media server into the Mytek DAC and the selections ramped up in complexity and dynamics the system responded and I realized the system had been loafing along like a Ferrari in 2nd gear. As Dave explored his demo material we hit the autobahn's onramp and accelerated to 200-mph thrills. The powered bass section of the Aeris speaker system left the Raven Spirit 300B MK2 Monoblock amps to concentrate on the other 80% of the music with top tier results. A delightful characteristic of the present state of the high-end audio arts as typified by this system is the ability to reveal a wealth of inner detail even as the music scales up for large complex works. Approvingly I noted that no matter how complex and loud the music got the Raven/Legacy system effortlessly scaled to match. Rich tonality, wide dynamics, full range bandwidth, and low distortion at all levels are this listener's recipe for musical fun and Raven's Aeris based demo system delivered big fun.

While I was enjoying the first system Dave was making a temporary change to his second demo system installing the Goldfinch series power amp to drive the Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers. At LSAF 2015 I was greatly impressed by the Raven Goldfinch tabletop system including how it drove the Focus speakers. As the demo on the second system began the Goldfinch + Focus combo again proved their worth, given the much larger banquet room it was even more incongruous that this compact tube amp did such a good job driving the Focus towers. The point remade of the excellence of the Goldfinch series Dave reconfigured the system reinstalling the Raven Shaman MK2 Monoblocks restoring a full Raven Elite Series amplification chain into the Legacy Focus speakers fed with JWM Acoustics Karen 12 analog source alternating with the Mytek digital. Dave cued up French jazz/pop sensation Isabelle Geffroy (AKA Zaz) albums 'Zaz' and then 'Recto Verso' on the Karen 12. Geffroy's music swings along a heady mix of pop, funk, and gypsy jazz. Her crystal clear voice and the band's strong beat poured out of the Raven & Legacy system as the music danced along like a mountain stream rushing downhill. Her high pitched voice mixed front and center on lesser systems I expect could be shrill and piercing, not a hint of that here as the JWM analog front end, Raven electronics, and Legacy speakers boogied on delivering the sweetness, tone, and clarity inherent in this very talented woman's voice backed up by a tight combo. As our time came to an end Dave queued up his secret weapon, a mint LP copy of Linda Ronstadt's 'Canciones De Mi Padre (My Father's Songs)'. As Linda Ronstadt sang the songs she learned from her father and mentors the beauty of tone simply amazed. This rich pure tone is why tubes and analog are so valued by music lovers and audiophiles. Then a level beyond that clicked as the emotions a loving daughter brought to a project honoring her beloved padre reached out through the electro-mechanical artifice to touch the heart of this listener.

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Gabriella and Dave Thomson; Se Han of Raven Audio

A personal show highlight was the debut of Bandwidth Audio (www.bandwidthaudio.com) and getting to know its founder/owner Matthew Beardsworth. Matthew's girlfriend (and fellow engineer) Kelsey and his brother Scott helped setup and run a very successful demo.

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Engineered and manufactured in Dallas Texas USA Bandwidth Audio amps were a treat to hear on Tannoy Turnberry speakers. The demo system included VPI turntable and tonearm feeding the Pro-Ject Phono Box S phono preamp, Pro-Ject Pre Box S preamp and for digital a Sonos Connect.

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Introduced at LSAF were the Bandwidth Audio 22A3 SET Mono Tube Power Amplifier and 288 Mono Tube Power Amplifier. The 22A3 is a 5wpc parallel single ended design using 2A3 output tubes. The 288 is a push-pull Ultralinear design using dual KT88s to yield 60 wpc.

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Bandwidth Audio 22A3 SET Mono Tube Power Amplifier

Matthew is an Application Engineer for high power audio amplifiers at Texas Instruments thus bringing to his Bandwidth Audio designs the experience and maturity to know both sound and reliability need to be considered when designing, testing, and manufacturing a product. It was good to hear this young man in an age of disposable electronics and smart phones with 18 month half-lives talk about offering products with service life measured in decades and extending the lifespan further by serviceability being one of his design goals. Examining both the completed units and subassembly parts I was impressed by the completeness and attention to details evident. As Ludwig Mies van der Rohe said "god is in the details". The crisp precision of the amp's constituent parts assembled into the understated elegance of the completed units is very impressive for a first effort; lots of god details in evidence. This is a bright young startup to keep an eye on. Of course without great sound all Matthew has is a rather large high voltage paperweight, but that is not a problem. Driving the Turnberry speakers the 22A3 sounded simply marvelous. I have a great affection for and long experience with the sound of triodes driving high efficiency speakers so with some confidence I can state this is the real deal. Adjectives would include rich, detailed, luscious, and warm; i.e. the triode sound audiophiles the world over pursue. With The Dave Brubeck Quartet spinning on the VPI into the Bandwidth Audio 22A3 driving the Tannoy Turnberry speakers that special synergy we chase after was achieved.

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Matthew and Kelsey

As Audio Crafters Guild (www.audiocraftersguild.com) your author showed the ACG 1000 Direct amp driving ACG Aero speakers featuring laminated birch-ply construction, Fostex F120A alnico drivers and folded ribbon super-tweeters.

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ACG Aero speaker

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ACG 1000 Direct amp + Powerpack external capacitor bank

ACG Aero speakers are a custom built to order design featuring low diffraction aerodynamically shaped stacked Baltic birch plywood enclosure with sand filled damping cavities. The folded ribbon super-tweeters add the air and extension one gets when high frequency response extends to 30kHz. The ACG 1000 Direct amp is the most extreme of the 1000 series. Intended for single source purist systems or bi/tri-amp installation demanding the finest signal integrity only a true H-bridge switched attenuator comes between the input and power amp. With the F120A alnico drivers running full range sans crossovers their direct connection to the 1000 Direct amp was intended to dispel the black sheep image of the class-D amplification technology in use.

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An often repeated knock against audiophiles is they are nerds alone in their bachelor pad straining to hear some minutia of sound from their hi-fi. The comradery among those who attend Lone Star Audio Fest debunks that insulting and inaccurate characterization. I cannot promise the beer will always be free (it would not hurt to bring your preferred beverage to share) but I do assure you friendly fun loving music lovers brought together to share our love of Hi-Fi.

Free Beer 1

Free Beer 2

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Your author with new friends Matthew and Kelsey


We are already looking forward to Lone Star Audio Fest 2017.