Pacific Audio Fest 2022 Show
My next stop was in 1357 sponsored by Salk Sound and McGary Audio. If you've followed my show reporting over the years, it will be obvious that I very much respect, and both enjoy and get, what this partnership consistently pulls off at shows.
Though no mention of what source for files or streaming was used, the DAC used was the Holo Audio Spring 3 KTE DAC / Preamp ($3,698). The amplifier was Mike McGary's Class AB Ultralinear output stage SA 1 E Vacuum Tube Stereo Amplifier ($7,000).
Jim was showing his astonishing sounding Salk BePure 2 speakers ($6,695), finished in an unusual and very attractive Harborica wood finish, and all cabling was from ANTICABLES, including the new Level 4.2 FLEX Speaker Wires ($590/pr.), the new Level 7.3 RCA interconnects ($890/pr.), a Level 3.3 USB Cord ($290), and the Level 3 Power Cords ($330).
Their rooms are always so relaxed and effortless sounding, yet full of detail and present with an engaging musical resolution. I have to say that the way Jim marries these two exceptional six-and-a-half inch Purifi woofers to this exciting Satori beryllium tweeter, as driven by Mike's lush and lyrical, but not syrupy, power, results in remarkable punch, power, and drive, engaging and detailed midrange, and an effortless sense of upper-frequency extension. These partners consistently show with an overwhelmingly strong balance of tonality, dynamics, and resolution. Damn fun room....
Making my way into 1371 proved to present yet another number of pleasant surprises. The room was hosted by Audio-Ultra Inc., founded by Edward DeVito, a successful Seattle-area entrepreneur, and devoted audiophile. Not only was Ed on hand in the room, but so was my audio-bud, Peter Mackay, Vice President of Global Sales & Marketing for Magico.
As much as I enjoy each of these cats' company, I would have had to scold them both for not having an analog front end in the room, save for the fact that the room sounded so bloody good with its all-digital front end.
The file source was the exceptional Taiko Extreme Server ($32,000 as configured) and included the MSB Reference Transport ($27,000), and MSB Reference DAC with Femto 33 and Analog Preamp module ($54,000). Electronics included the exceptional two-box Revelation series Constellation Pictor line stage with DC Blocker ($24,500) and additional DC filter ($8,000), and the Constellation Performance series Centaur II 500 stereo power amplifier ($80,000). The loudspeakers were Alon Wolf's remarkable Magico S5 Mk IIs ($45,400/pr.), the second pair I had encountered at this event.
System power was managed by the Stromtank Q2500 ($27,250), essentially a computer-controlled lithium-iron-phosphate battery array with six outlets, and cabling was from AudioQuest, including the Dragon Power AC cables ($9,900), the Dragon XLR interconnects ($17,900), and the USB cable was the Intona Ultimate ($2,700).
Gear was supported on Joe Lavrencik's Critical Mass Sotto Voce rack using Platinum level filter shelves ($6,500), and the Centaur II was on a Critical Mass OXK amp stand ($4,345), with various Still Point Aperture's ($850) and Magico QPods ($1,700) strewn into the mix here and there.
Now, the second surprise came when, just after I had told them both that I had never really heard the MSB digital gear "speak" to me, they fired up the system and I had trouble believing that what I was hearing was the same MSB gear that I've heard routinely come up just a tad dry and somewhat analytical sounding so many times before.
In this installation, the MSB's contribution was not only surprisingly more warm and analog sounding overall, and in a manner and to a degree to which I have never heard it demonstrate in any installation prior, but the measure of body and bloom that I have always found to be just slightly reserved with these products was also the best I've ever heard from them. I'm quite familiar with all the other products in this room save for the AudioQuest cables – and, the highly intriguing Stromtank – yet I had to admit that this presentation was the most hauntingly musical sounding I've ever experienced from any system fronted with this MSB stack.
Given that I had no previous personal experience with the Stromtank Q2500, I'm forced to surmise that it may have played a substantial role in the clearly more fleshed out, lifelike, and remarkably engaging sound regenerated by the MSB stack in this room, especially by comparison to my many previous auditions. Note to self – check into this Stromtank gizmo!
Suffice it to say that Ed and Peter had assembled an exceptionally transparent, resolute, and musical collection of gear. Ed had offered to take me to visit his retail location some half-hour's drive from the hotel, but time restrictions just didn't permit it. You can bet that if the offer is extended next year, I'll make a point to try to accept it.
As I neared the end of the hallway on thirteen, I came upon my second helping of both Linear Tube Audio and Daedalus Audio in room 1375.
Again with this room listing of gear, while the DAC was mentioned, the very same Lampizat0r Baltic 3 ($6,600) that I reviewed back in January of this year, and subsequently bought, no mention of source or streaming device was given.
Electronics were pure Linear Tube Audio, including the Level 2 MicroZOTL Preamplifier ($5,750), with a pair of ZOTL Ultralinear+ Power Amplifiers ($13,6000/pr.), which represents the latest amplifier design from David Berning, a set of mono power amplifiers that LTA states to be the first ultra-linear amplifier not limited by traditional output transformers.
The loudspeakers in this room were the Daedalus Audio Argos V.3 Loudspeakers ($15,850/pr.), with the Daedalus + WyWires Speaker Cables ($1,995/pr.), and all other cabling was from Final Touch Audio, including the Sinope USB cable ($1,500), Ganymede XLR ($2,950) and RCA ($2,750) interconnects, and the Elara Power Cables ($795).
Once again, one of the key attributes here was this system's unquestionable naturalness, sounding refreshingly neutral and relaxed, while maintaining an edifying degree of detail and resolution. The system presented a delightful sense of body, with faithful tonal color and realistic textures. All in all, room 1360 may have been more accomplished overall, but this room and system were still quite musically engaging.
That brings us to the room directly across the hall, 1376, both the last room on the floor and the final room of this show for me to cover. In my discussion of the Enjoy the Music hosted opening soiree at Maxi's Thursday night in Part One of this report, you will recall that I mentioned Anton Dotson, almost in passing, of NFS. Well, here was that room!
Now, as I told Anton Dotson, aka "Rusty Trombone," and his room partner and cohort, Mike Alazard, aka "Big Mike", on several occasions over this event, I was both surprised, and at the same time quite pleased, to see the reemergence of the NFS room at a national manufacturer's show. I had first encountered the NFS room, which quite amusingly stands for Nothing For Sale, back in the Alexis Park Consumer Electronics Show Era in the mid to late 2000s. Though I mentioned NFS and featured photos of the room in at least one of my CES show reports from that era, I honestly cannot recall the first time I experienced the room. I should have asked Anton when NFS first surfaced on the show circuit.
The first time I walked into an NFS-hosted room back in the 2000s, in the main area of the hotel room, I was met with an array of beautiful vintage gear playing LPs and a spinning Mirrored Disco Ball mounted to the ceiling and lit by multicolored pin spots. I shall never forget the response to my original question when I asked, "What does NFS stand for?" The response was simply, "Nothing For Sale, have a drink!"
The supplemental rooms of the space had shelves brimming with bottle after bottle of spirits and wine on display, and I could see many other cases stacked and waiting at the ready when the countless displayed bottles were emptied.
Jump to 2022 in Seattle, and it was like a step back in time. Now, though there was no ceiling-mounted Mirrored Disco Ball, the atmosphere and vibe were the same. Simply put, the NFS room is an inviting space that is all about FUN! Remember that? That was why we all originally got into stereo gear…at least, it was for almost every one of my generation. We just loved music and wanted to have a good time.
The system here was comprised of all vintage gear (I didn't take notes, sorry), and it sounded pretty damn good too. Big speakers (Cerwin Vega?), and a DIY home-built preamp, an Adcom GFA-555 II amp, and a 1984 turntable, all conspired to set the stage for visitors to be able to decompress, unwind, listen to some tunes, and have a good time! I cannot tell you how pleased I was to find NFS back on the show circuit! Great job, gents. I can't wait to see you again.
Well, that about wraps up this report. Next up, my final report on the "Fab Five," wherein I'll share with you my choices of the five most authentically musical systems presented at this initial and amazing show. Stay tuned, and...
Enjoy the Music!