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Southwest Audio Fest 2024 Premium Audio Show Report


Southwest Audio Fest's Inaugural Event
A successful Southwest Audio Fest 2024 event in Dallas.
SWAF 2024 Show Report By Michael G. Harkins


Southwest Audio Fest's Inaugural Event A successful Southwest Audio Fest 2024 event in Dallas. SWAF 2024 Show Report By Michael G. Harkins


  Southwest Audio Fest kicked off on March 15 with a medium-sized, but lively and well-attended event at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas. The show's organizers, Gary Gill and Lou Hinkley, are experienced audio show proprietors, having hosted the Capital Audio Fest and Pacific Audio Fest respectively. They make it a family affair for themselves, the exhibitors, and attendees at the show. Many well-known and lesser-known audio brands, including several from Texas, were here to show off their latest and greatest. It was my goal to see and hear as many as possible, and to spend some quality time with them when the rooms weren't too crowded to simply enjoy the music!

The Anatole is huge, and at least three conferences were going on concurrently. SWAF took place in the 14-story (to assuage triskaidekaphobics) hotel building with its spacious atrium at the center. That center space was filled with several booths exhibiting DIY products, record cleaning technology, turntable setup devices, and of course, our favorite audiophile recording artist, Anne Bisson who had plenty of vinyl and UHQ CDs for sale.



Adjacent to that area was a large ballroom with mostly vinyl records for sale, but I saw some tapes, and CDs on sale too. Next to the ballroom, there were two large semicircular rooms with 20-foot-high ceilings housing exhibits. The other large semi-circular room on the ground floor featured Infigo amplification gear and DAC along with a turntable, Van den Hul cartridge, and Stenheim Alumine 5 SE speakers with their solid aluminum dual cabinet design. The speakers are very efficient at 95dB/W/m sensitivity. The power amp was a bias-adjusted Class A amplifier that self-adjusts to the input signal.



This allows it to run much cooler than the typical Class A model since it doesn't waste energy. And ns not waste energy when there is a low-amplitude or zero audio signal. The amplifier runs 70 watts and doubles down into 4 Ohms and nearly double that into 2 Ohms. It is said to be one of the fastest amps on the planet with capability extending up to 500 kHz (although purposely rolled off well below that frequency). Again, the room's echoic effects were still annoying, but they were tamed a bit with the positioning of the loudspeaker cabinets.

I later confirmed this with Infigo's chief evangelist, Walt Schofield. He said it took several hours to determine the best positioning of the speakers to make them sound good in this room. And they certainly did. The SteinheimAlumine 5 SE speakers produced some smooth, rich sound when I listened to a nice female vocal recording of the jazz standard, Route 66 (where you get your kicks). This was truly a high-end system and the only budget-priced item seemed to be the Audiophile W11 Mini PC with linear power supply streamer at $1,000. By contrast, the StenheimAlumine speakers were priced at $72,000 a pair. Sonically, I must give Infigo credit for having only one set of speakers going in this difficult room.




Moving on to other rooms, Scott Walker Audio, of Dallas and Anaheim, teamed up with Estelon, displaying their Forza speakers in Dark Silver Liquid Gloss ($170,000/pair). These speakers are made from a matrix material that is molded into a bottom-heavy tower form. They are indeed rock solid and weigh over 400 pounds each.



The electronics chain consisted of a Taiko GSM Extreme Music Server ($30,000), MSB Select DAC ($115,000) input into a Select Digital Director ($27,000), and M500 Mono Amplifiers ($75,000 ea.). Power conditioners, interconnects, and cables from Synergistic Research added a hefty $69,995 to the price tag. Of course, this was a "top-of-the-line system, which demonstrates what is possible in audio, but they do have a range of products from $20,000 up. Program material included London Grammer's Hey Now, an always popular selection to demonstrate bass response.



In this case, the comparatively smallish room was pressurized a bit too much with bass energy. Sara Bareilles' Goodbye Yellow Brick Road live recording sounded perfect! The piano sounded right-sized because of the way the live recording was done, and Sara's voice was localized on the soundstage. But this speaker pair truly needs a larger room to sound their best.




YG Acoustics of Denver was well-represented at the show with four rooms displaying several different speaker models. Their Sonja 3.2 loudspeakers caught my eye. These are part of their Reference range or top-of-the-line models claiming to exhibit the best in accuracy and musicality achievable and they are priced at $165,500. The speakers are a three-way passive design with dual-layer aerospace aluminum cabinet with constrained layer damping. Aluminum is gaining popularity among designers these days, probably because its acoustic properties make the cabinet rock solid with no ringing. Even with lightweight aluminum construction, these speakers weigh a hefty 320 pounds each. They come in standard black or silver finishes. The system showed a detailed image, based on my brief exposure to it with limited program material. Listening in various parts of the room proved that the sound was quite good throughout the room. The room was well set up with plenty of bass traps, sound absorption, and dispersion material in evidence.

Amplification came from a Constellation Audio Centaur II monoblocks (approx. $40,000 each). The preamp was a Constellation Audio Virgo II (approx. $51,000), and the DAC was MSB Select DAC with renderer module (approx. $116,995). The turntable was the Pure Fidelity Harmony Mk2 (approx. $7,995) with Pure Fidelity Stratos MC cartridge (approx. $1,695), and the phono preamplifier was an Audio Research Reference Phono 3 SE (approx. $17,000).




Daedalus Audio exhibited their Apollo 11 v.3 loudspeaker model ($27,000 / pair). Daedalus is the company owned by show host, Lou Hinkley. He has been manufacturing custom speakers since the early 1990s. Lou believes in using real hardwood components for the speaker cabinets because hardwood is a much stiffer material than the usual MDF and it is a renewable natural resource. Lou custom builds them to customer requirements, so each set of speakers can be unique. The cabinets are internally braced with some metal parts to make them rock solid. They are certainly works of art. I found the Apollo 11 v3 model not only gorgeous but also unusual in that the midrange driver was bumpy looking. This, I'm told, helps control the cone so that a coherent in-phase waveform is produced, allowing for good imaging and natural sound.




The midrange driver is a modified Fostex full-range design, but it is used purely as a midrange driver in the Apollo 11. Bass comes from a proprietary designed woofer and the tweeters are Satori soft dome tweeters, one of which is offset to allow greater, more natural dispersion of high-frequency content. These speakers are easy to drive since impedance variations are quite small compared to other commercially available speakers. They are ideal for tube amplification due to their high efficiency and easy load. In keeping with that premise, Linear Tube Audio supplied amplification using their Ultralinear Monoblocks ($6,800 each), and MicroZOTL Preamp ($5,750).



LTA's brand-new DAC headlined the audio chain, priced at $3,600. The InnuousZENith Mk3 Network Streamer ($6,299+) was the streaming source. WyWires interconnects and cables adorned the entire audio network from start to finish, including inside the loudspeakers. If bespoke is the name of your game, contact Lou. He'll set you up with great sound and the finest example of the woodworkers' art.




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