AK Fest 2009 Show Report
The 6th annual AudioKarma Fest, 2009 edition, was held this past May 3rd and 4th at the Embassy Suites Hotel, in Livonia, Michigan, hosted by website owner and co-founders David and Nancy Goldstein. Their hard work and dedication to both the site and the event made for a casual and enjoyable experience, much like a visit to their website. AudioKarma discussion board is well known in enthusiast circles for living up to their credo of "All audio, no attitude". This year, the 'Fest was bigger and better than ever, having over 50 individual listening rooms and attended by over 1,000 audio enthusiasts. Door prizes abounded for those lucky enough to win them, as well as well as three seminars held in the hotel's banquet rooms. Larry Moore of Ultra Fi presented a seminar entitled "Analog, What Separates it From Digital", while Joe D'Appolito of Snell Acoustics covered the art of modern speaker design. Lastly, Vince Saunders of VRS Solutions gave a two-part presentation on computer-based audio.
Rounding out the event was a musical performance by the Laith Al-Saadi Trio, a group of amazingly talented performers who performed blues standards as well as some fantastic original works. For the audio lover, there is no experience more fulfilling than AK Fest. It left me smiling from ear to ear, warm with the camaraderie of the site's members, the graciousness of the hosts and administrators and my ears filled with sounds and music yet to explore. Naturally I scrawled the artists and tracks down on paper as I moved from room to room.
Highlights of the show included a display and audition courtesy of Chuck Hinton of McIntosh Laboratories and Ryan Kilpatrick of Audio Classics Limited. Ryan was proud to feature a beautiful pair of restored 50W2 amplifiers on static display. From McIntosh Laboratories, a main system composed of McIntosh XR200 speakers, MT-10 turntable, MCD-500 CD/SACD, as well as a few new models including the MR-88 tuner, C22 preamp, and MC-75 monoblock tube amps as part of the company's special anniversary system.
Snell Acoustics was proud to show off their flagship Phantom Tower ($20,000/pr) speakers that are comprised of 3-way dual 8-inch drivers with a pair of 4.5-inch midrange drivers and an extremely low-resonance 1-inch SEAS XL silk dome tweeter.
Brian Bowdle of Venus Hi-Fi, AudioKarma's first sponsor, was present this year as always and proudly showing off a display of Soundstring cabling. They were being utilized on an impressive system of all Luxman components (shown here is the L-550A integrated amp along with the DU-50 universal player resting on a Yamamoto Sound Craft rack).
Manley Labs also had quite an impressive display, featuring their Snapper amps and Jumbo Shrimp preamplifier that were driving a pair of Gershwin Acoustics Sonograms through Vampire Cables. The source unit was CD2 from Bel Canto. Best of all was the opportunity once again to speak with Albert of Manley Labs, one of the most personable and friendly guys in the audio biz.
Located in the hotel's Presidential Suite was the critically acclaimed Tyler Acoustics as they showcased their new Decade D10 speakers ($13,500) and they were driven by McIntosh components. Each cabinet holds four 10-inch paper cone woofers, a pair of 6-inch paper cone midrange drivers and the company's 1-inch soft dome tweeter. With the Decade 10 being available in over 80 finishes it would be hard to not have them seamlessly mate into any room décor.. They are also quite efficient, at 91dB/W/m sensitive yet bring a friend during setup as they weight 230 lbs each!
One of the highlights of attending AK Fest for me personally is the chance to audition some of the vintage and DIY audio in the members' listening rooms. Step inside to check out what's doing… and find yourself greeted with a smile by all of the proud people whose electronic artistry is nothing short of incredible. Here we see AudioKarma member and moderator Scott Armstrong proudly standing by his flawless Pioneer SX-1250, restored to perfection by AudioKarma's own Glenn McDonald, known there to many as "EchoWars"
Another personal favorite of mine is seeing what's doing with Craig Otsby of NOSValves. This year Craig had the opportunity to show off his VRD tube monoblocks, which are switchable and produce 60 watts ultralinear, 30 watts triode . The tube compliment consists of KT88 output tubes, 5AR4 rectifiers and direct coupled front end valves. Craig's creations currently have a waiting list. After spending some time with him and his products it certainly stands to reason.
Another good friend, Paul, known to many as "Kegger" stands here proudly with his handiwork.
Upon occasion, you stumble on the unusual and different… such as this set of speakers designed and built by AudioKarma member Ray Wagner. They are exactly what they appear to be, and after listening to them a bit I couldn't decide if I was more wowed by their sound or their appearance. Either way, it was a refreshing treat!
In the Regency Ballroom of the hotel was Classic Audio Reproductions displaying the Atma-Sphere M60 monoblock amplifiers and the Tri-Planar Mk VII precision tonearm. Simply seeing Atma-Sphere amplifiers and large speakers in any room is enough to wow any audio enthusiast! Being that this was my first opportunity to see them in person, let alone listen to them (although very briefly), I can now lay claim to an experience I've been wanting to have for quite some time.
Going to AK Fest, it's very hard to tear yourself away from every room to venture to another because it seems that each room is filled with enough conversation, coffee, and laughter to keep you occupied for half the day or longer. There are those who attend audio events to sell their wares, there are those who attend to buy. Then there are those who attend to be social with others… and there are those that go to learn and pick the brains of some of the most talented people in the industry. No matter what category you fall into, AK Fest has a place for you. Not one person that I spoke with, either vendor or attendee, was unfriendly, boorish, shy, or pretentious. And that is, as AudioKarma's David Goldstein will tell you, what AK is all about.