Saturday, May 4, 2013

Lone Star Audio Fest 2013

We're in Dallas for my third annual Lone Star Audio Fest. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, we stopped by to support two Unison Research amplifiers that were being used this year. Our friend Russ Gates used his very own Simply Italy integrated amplifier to debut his first speaker design, a pair of hefty-looking stand-mounted monitors. Unfortunately, I didn't get any photographs of his speakers--we spent plenty of time Friday night listening to them, and I figured I'd get plenty of time with them on Saturday. But Russ had to leave his room for a bit, and we just couldn't get the timing right. Below is a photo I stole from his Facebook page.

Russ was very modest about his first attempt at a commercial speaker, and even told us the Simply Italy was "too good for it," but after it settled in for a few hours I have to say it really started to sound nice. I heard plenty of bass from his monitors mated with a very pleasing tonality. Soundstage depth suffered a bit with the smallish room, but I think Russ definitely has a future as a speaker designer if he sticks with it. Even the appearance was pleasing for a first-time design--not like many of the unfinished plywood designs we've seen at LSAF in years past. Russ told me he finished assembling his speakers the night before when he'd changed his mind about a design parameter at the last minute.

Our other Unison Research integrated, my own personal Sinfonia, was donated to the Soundfield Audio Room. Located in one of the big meeting rooms downstairs, the Soundfield Audio system sounded big and full and impressive. Designer Ammar Jadusingh was very picky and critical about set-up and it took a long time for him to be happy with the sound, but he finally got there.

Here's a pic of the Sinfonia with plenty of products from Audio Electronics--the affordable line from Cary Audio. Ammar switched back and forth between the two lines of amplification and while I'm partial to the warmer, textured sound of the Sinfonia, the AE gear held its own with a slightly more exact and refined sound.

The real star of the show, however, was the Evolution Acoustics MMMicroOne speakers in Scott Warren's room. Scott is the proprietor of Advanced Home Theater in Plano, Texas, and he took my "best sound of the show" two years ago with the incredible YG Acoustics Carmel speakers and Luxman electronics. He wasn't at LSAF last year, but he more than made up for his absence by presenting another stellar system this year. Using a BMC integrated, a Playback Designs DAC/transport and MIT cabling, these modest little speakers filled the room with relatively deep bass, an enormous soundstage and an exciting sense of realism.

The kicker? These speakers are only $2500 per pair, including stands. Evolution Acoustics is known for their very expensive speakers--the next speaker up in the line retails for $38,000 according to Scott--so the pedigree is there. These speakers exude quality with their proprietary ceramic drivers and ribbon tweeters, along with their beautifully finished cabinets.

The new speakers from Bamberg Audio were also impressive. Phil Bamberg has known Colleen for many years--he's always used Cardas binding posts in his designs because he's a huge fan. Despite using a modest stack of electronics from Emotiva with his speakers, which retail for more than $8,000, he achieved holographic imaging and amazing soundstage depth. In this photo he's actually using a pair of his more modest $900 monitors as the head units for the speaker--the speakers sitting on the floor are the actual head units.

Finally, I had to visit the always impressive room set up by Raven Audio. Of all the small Texas companies that come to Lone Star Audio Fest, Raven Audio is the one that seems to be growing the most and achieving a reputation beyond the confines of the Lone Star state. I've mentioned Raven Audio to people at other audio shows across the country and they definitely know the name.

Every year it seems that Raven increases their product line by numerous models. I didn't actually count all the integrated amplifiers, preamplifiers and power amplifiers in the big conference room, but it must have been at least twenty.

As I said, Raven has a huge product line, and I expect to see them at all the other trade shows within the next year or so.

Overall, the show was quieter than last year, when the show organizers were debating about the future of LSAF. Was it going to remain a haven for Texas-bred audio DIY-ers, or were the pros going to come in and take over? This year it seemed like there were less rooms, but those rooms were filled with much better equipment. I didn't see a single unfinished plywood speaker, and with one or two exceptions I heard excellent sound in most rooms. If you're a Texas audiophile, however, you owe it to yourself to check out LSAF every May. It's down-to-earth charm is unmatched by any of the other audio shows we attend, and it's free!

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