Wayne Parham of Pi Speakers (www.pispeakers.com) had a heck of an idea for an audio show that would appeal to both DIY’ers and small manufacturers: A BYOG (Bring Your Own Gear) show with minimal participation cost that would allow most anyone to be an exhibitor for just the cost of a hotel room. The concept also eliminated the headaches and expense of organization.
The first of such a show, held a few years ago in Wayne’s hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, was named the Great Plains Audio Fest. This year, with the support of the Audio Club of Dallas, it became the Lone Star Audio Fest.
I arrived Friday afternoon on May 4th as the exhibitors were setting up. With a few exceptions, all were on one floor of the atrium-type Embassy Suites Market Square Hotel, so a quick lap around the balcony established who was where. I spent the afternoon getting acquainted with the people behind the names of participants on the Audio Roundtable website, www.audioroundtable.com. I also hooked up with my pal Steve Brown with whom I was to deliver a talk on Tube amp building the next morning.
Dallas Audio Club
Steve and I finalized our presentation over breakfast Saturday morning and still had an hour to kill before show would start, so we began our day with a visit to the suite of Fred and Linda Thompson of the Dallas Audio Club. Fred is a frequent contributor of speaker-building ideas on the Audio Roundtable and had brought along his latest, the ART Arrays. These are tall columns containing a line array of inexpensive Dayton mid-woofers and a Vifa tweeter from Parts Express. With simple cabinets and inexpensive components, these speakers had excellent detail and deep bass. Driven by a KT-88 tube amp, they were more natural sounding than I have come to expect from line arrays. Complete instructions are on the group Build Forum of the Audio Roundtable.
Now it was time for Steve and I to deliver our talk, so we headed down to a conference room reserved for LSAF which would be the scene of a half-dozen such presentations, including one’s by Wayne Parham on crossover design and Brian Smith of Audio Note Kits on choosing and building tube gear.
Steve and I had jointly built a 45 tube amp (review forthcoming) and, Steve being the brains of the operation, I was able to simply introduce him, after which he spent the hour describing how to go from a schematic to a wired unit.
Brines Acoustics (http://geocities.com/rbrines1/Enter.html)
Back up on the seventh floor, I visited with Bob Brines of Brines Acoustics, who has taken the mathematical models of Martin King and produced extraordinary transmission line speakers designed as kits or finished units.
The Brines Acoustics designs, as I discovered, present very natural sound from both Fostex and Lowther drivers. His ability to use ingenious baffle step filters completely eliminated the idiosyncrasies of these drivers, i.e., “Lowther shout” while retaining their strengths. I was impressed by the detail and imaging of the Lowther DX-2 model and particularly with the natural sound of piano. These are also great looking speakers.
Next up was the room of DIY builder Skip Pack who brought along his Medallion II speakers with Lowther PM2C drivers, a Jennifer Crock design of the Jena Labs fame. Skip was using music recorded to the hard drive of his laptop with the Squeezebox software and FLAC ‘lossless’ compression. The computer drove a Bottlehead S.E.X. amp and this was also a very good sounding presentation. All this computer stuff was new to me but it may well be the future and we’d better learn it or get out of the way.
Just down the hall was the Audiokinesis room of audio-retailer-turned-speaker-designer Duke LeJeune. Duke has long been a major contributor of his knowledge and wit to many of the audio forums, and I had really been looking forward to meeting him. He had brought his very successful “Jazz Module” speakers with Wave guides replacing horns. This was my first opportunity to hear this type of high-efficiency design. With drivers built to his specifications and a very high level of cabinet construction, the $4500 price offers full value for upscale audiophiles. The sound was on a par with any of the top speaker systems I have heard, allowing for hotel room conditions, and I opined to Duke that they impressed me as much as John Wolfe’s Hartsfields, heard at a show a few years ago. The Wave guides had all the dynamics and low distortion naturalness of horns without any horn artifacts. It didn’t hurt, I’m sure, that the system featured Richard Gray designed PX-50-tubed parallel, single-ended amplification.
The Audio Club of Dallas room came next which also featured the aforementioned ART Arrays, this time driven by an updated Dynaco Mark III amp. More great sound from a $300 project.
Audio Note (www.audionote.co.uk)
Audio Federation, the U.S. distributor for Audio Note U.K., unsurprisingly, was demo’ing the $6,425 Audio Note AN/E SPe HE speakers which our own Chris Redmond reviewed in May 2006, this time driven by the OTO Phono SE integrated amplifier and CDT-Three transport/ 4.1x Balanced DAC. Also on hand were racks, vibration control devices and platforms exclusive to Audio Federation, which made their contribution to some great sounds. As always, the Audio Note system played music that didn’t call attention to the designs or components. Audio Note’s devoted following is well deserved.
Audio Note Kits (http://www.audionotekits.com/)
I next visited Brian Smith of Audio Note Kits. This was another opportunity to meet the man behind the e-mails as I had acquired and built the very fine Kit One 300B amplifier a few years ago. Brian was proudly showing off the latest mono-block iteration of the Kit One with modular chassis plates and acres of territory for easy modification. I talked him into playing some LOUD music through the Kit Three speakers, which really showed off the high efficiency and bass slam of the new hemp cone drivers. As you can see, the very special stands made their contribution, too.
Hawthorne Audio (http://www.hawthorneaudio.com/)
One of two rooms featuring open baffle speakers had Hawthorne Audio Silver Iris co-ax’s built by Brad (didn’t get his last name, sorry Brad), which, when the sub-woofers were turned off, produced the extremely lucid and airy mid-range good OB’s are known for. I was really impressed with the ‘air suspension’ CD player, LOL.
Abraxas Audio (http://abraxasaudio.home.att.net/quicklist.html)
One of the best sounding rooms was that of Jef Larson, designer/owner of Abraxas Audio. He exhibited his latest amplifier, a grid-biased, pentode driven 2A3.
This original design had sufficient 2A3 clarity to give a pair of Pi Speakers 2Pi Towers more air and detail than I have ever heard before. Jef’s really a guy to listen to when it comes to tube amplification.
Maxxhorn was represented here, too, with their gorgeous Immersion speakers. I visited them on Friday when they were just setting up and unfortunately, was unable to get back for a listen. The Immersion features a custom PHL driver, Chimera Labs wiring, Bybee purifiers and VH Audio Teflon caps in the crossover. Other exhibitors remarked on the wonderful Maxxhorn sound which was reviewed here at Dagogo in the June 2006 Issue.
Jumping Cactus Loudspeakers (http://www.jumpingcactusloudspeakers.com/)
All the way from Tucson came James Harrell, an aerospace engineer who seems to machine aluminum as easily as any of us does wood. His ‘Jumping Cactus’ speakers are entirely of thick aluminum. Each of the 3 drivers has its own amplifier and the active crossover is by Marchand. The 3 separately housed drivers are well-integrated and presented a very realistic soundstage. The alto sax on 88 Basie Street sounded quite natural. A best of show contender.
Finally, I get around to our host, Wayne Parham, and his latest creation, in collaboration with wife Melissa that walked away with Best Of Show honors.
Wayne did debut a speaker component, the latest 1600Hz Woodhorn but Eddy has better dynamics with no hint of dryness.
So that’s it from Dallas. A great idea wonderfully realized where audiophiles, DIY’ers and music lovers got together in an informal setting to show off, listen and learn while making new friends. I had a great time.
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