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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



  On the 12th floor, I found a company called Songer Audio, from Portland, Oregon. Prominently displayed were a pair of speakers having 10" white cone drivers and a type of whizzer cone arrangement offering full-range audio from a single driver. They are called the S1x. Unique to this configuration is the field coil magnet used in the drivers to provide an adjustable magnetic field that allows the drivers to match well with any environment. This is a ported design that is stated to go down to 27 Hz.




The Nova drivers have no crossover circuitry that might alter the phase of the waveform in any way, so they should reproduce a solid and authentic image… and they do. But the best sound was available from a position in front of the front sweet spot chair in the room. Funny how positioning makes such a substantial difference in sound. Inch thick hardwoods are used to construct these speakers and they are quite nice to look at. The speakers are priced at $45,000, per their literature and they have a good sensitivity of 95dB/W/m, meaning they don't need a high-powered amplifier. Some good tube electronics should suffice nicely. They must be used with their PS 1 variable power supply since the field is provided by electromagnets and requires DC power.




Coming from my hometown of Austin, Texas, I'm familiar with a company called Believe HiFi. They represent the Aries Cerat line of products based in Cyprus. Another company, originally from Hawaii, but now based in the Austin area is JWM Audio. Two Joshes represented each company, which shared room 1411 at the show. Joshua Masongsong is the proprietor of Believe HiFi and Joshua W. Miles is the expert woodworker and designer who crafts JWM speakers, which are not only great sounding but truly, masterful works of art. As to the sound, they are among the best, and are designed to be used with their synergistically-designed stands to bring out superb sound. Demo'ed in the room was the JWM Alyson Pro 8e priced at a very reasonable $20,000. This is an improved version of the Alyson Pro and benefits from a redesigned cabinet featuring curved sides that further reduces any chance of spurious vibration effects. Prototypes of the new Kevin LR pistons were also on display in the room. They were unfinished models having no external hardwood finish and are expected to be priced at $21,000 each for the passive models and $25,000 for the active models.

There were so many products in this room that to list them all would take 50% of this article so I'll list some of the demo'ed items: Pink Faun music server (ultra X2 configuration) priced at $30,000, Torqueo Audio T34 Titanium Edition turntable retailing for $40,000, Suzuki Red Sparrow coreless straight flux cartridge priced at $16,500, and numerous Aries Cerat products stratospherically priced. These products are certainly high quality and exclusively for the audio connoisseur. But I can attest from prior listening at Believe HiFi, that Red Sparrow cartridge really sings.




Audio Group Denmark showcased two rooms at SWAF. But I spent more time in the smaller room featuring Borreson's M1 loudspeakers. Lars Kristensen, one of the principals at Audio Group Denmark was proudly showing off some of their latest creations. He says that speaker positioning is one thing that is too often ignored or done poorly, and that speaker positioning can be more important than room acoustics in many cases. To do that, he says near-field sound needs to be arriving concurrently at both ears. Time alignment, he says, is an important aspect of speaker design, and Lars suggested that some of the new DSP techniques may destroy timing to the point of making the sound quality below expectations. You can tell from Lars's exuberant nature that he is really stoked to show off this beautiful and great-sounding gear.



The M1 was certainly one of the best sounds at the show, and it has a price tag to match, $100,000, for a standmount model measuring 14.5" in height. That number may seem stratospheric, and it is, but this set of loudspeakers sounds every bit as good as their price. I've seen and heard their previous models in much larger rooms, and they deliver. But in this smaller room, more appropriate to their size, they certainly thrived. Eric Clapton's Wonderful Tonight live recording in Royal Albert Hall was goosebump-worthy. And the Beatles And I Love Her sounded better than I've ever heard it. Lars loves those classic pop tunes and on the M1s, they can't miss. Lars also played a percussion track that showed the transient capabilities of the M1s: Again, superb! I can attest that these can fill even a large room. But one must wonder about the value per dollar spent on speakers that get down to an honest 40 Hz.



Planet Venus of Frisco, Texas has a product that should sweeten your sound. The product debuted last year at the AES Conference on Audio Archiving, Preservation & Restoration. Ron Myer, the company owner says that many recordings are not satisfying or goose-bump provoking for the simple reason that they are not musical. Audio production in the studio and further processing through the audio and/or digital chain causes noise elements to creep into recordings. His goal was to remove the noise and let the music come through. He does this with a proprietary algorithm used on a Mac computer that removes some raspiness or noise from the sound.

He played the Doobie's Jesus is Just All Right as an example of what his algorithm can do to the music. Processing takes place in the frequency domain, and it removes some of the noise between the peaks in the audio spectrum, thereby cleaning up the sound. Some of this noise comes from the way audio is mixed from various sources in the studio or during live performances. Signals from different microphones hearing sound from the same source, for example, can confound the output signal, making the sound of vocals and instruments incoherent. The demo played the music with and without processing along with audio of the sound removed from the recording by the algorithm.

The product is called Spectral Coherence Control, and it allows the user to adjust the sound to personal preference, a use high-resolution DSP. There are presets in the program to improve the sound. They are labeled "Muddy Low End", "Dense Mix", "Forward Mids and Highs", "Thick Vocals", etc. These settings are adjustable, and you can save a particular setting based on the recording. Ron says that people who come to an audio show are "forever doomed" to hear what the exhibitor, sound engineers, room acoustics, and other variables present to their ears. This product allows customization of the sound to what you want. That may be true, but I would think that there is at least some noise in the music.

You might take away some reverberant content, some of the sharp staccato sound of a snare drum or some sibilance. Who knows? Nevertheless, it was an interesting demo of some new DSP features that might well be the beginning of a new movement in audio, certainly at the professional level.




Seems like some things never go away in audio. We are very much surrounded by turntables, tape decks, ribbon / AMT tweeters, etc. in 2024. But another audio product patented in 1969 is the Walsh driver. An improved version of that driver can be seen in German Physiks loudspeakers. Locrian Audio, German Physiks, Accuphase, EMM Labs, and Ypsilon Electronics filled room 1239 with some wonderful sound. The room featured the Thales Compact II turntable (used with Thales Simplicity II pivoted tangential tonearm $12,000), Accuphase AC-6 MC cartridge ($6,975), Accuphase C-47 Phono preamp ($12,575), EMM Labs DA2V2 DAC ($30,000), EMM Labs NS1 Streamer ($4,500), Accuphase A-80 Class A Power Amplifier ($26,575), and German Physiks Unicorn Mk II Loudspeakers among other gear. FM Acoustics of Switzerland provided cables and interconnects.

It's hard for anyone to evaluate which components lead to the best sound in any room. But I will make note that the German Physiks Unicorn Mk II speakers were certainly a unique aspect of this room. Improvement to the original Walsh design has led to a speaker that provides sound at all frequencies down to the very lowest bass. The horn loading of the driver along with the omnidirectional nature of the speaker cone allowed the sound in this room to be excellent in all seating positions. That's often one weakness that is difficult to eliminate in rooms with more directional speakers. But here, one could sit and listen without fatigue for a very long time. I loved this room!




By contrast, another room with a different kind of sound came from Sound Lab Inc., a Japanese firm that has been making its products in Utah since 1978. They are makers of electrostatic array speakers, another technology that won't die because it has so many good features that can't be ignored. Electrostatics have several problems that have been solved by engineers at Sound Lab. For example, the membrane needs shape and tension to work properly at all temperatures, humidity levels, and altitudes. The structure that holds the membrane has been redesigned into segments that allow controlled motion of the membrane. Dr. Roger West has several videos explaining the technology and how many of the problems of electrostats have been solved. The videos can be seen on Sound Lab's YouTube channel.

Dr. West is the founder and CEO of Sound Lab Inc. Although many similar designs using magnetic structures such as Magnepan models are available today, they suffer from one problem avoided by a properly designed electrostat: mass. The magnetic films on those speakers are laminated to a conductive layer that provides a variable magnetic field analogous to the audio signal coming in. That adds considerable mass to the film causing the diaphragm to be resistant to motion – not a good thing when you want fast response time. Sound Lab's electrostats, on the other hand, use a segmented design mylar membrane that has much less mass than the air moved when the film vibrates in sync with the incoming audio music signal. The framework design provides the proper tension and geometry for the membrane to actively move air with the proper dispersion into the room.

In addition, segmentation tames resonances that would alter the bass response. These speakers are full range despite being 100% electrostatic. The speakers are slightly curved so that every point in the listening room receives the same sound. The proof is in the listening, and I found the sound to be well dispersed throughout the room. That doesn't mean it is immune to room effects. Certainly, the room plays a role in the sound signature, but room effects are diminished greatly, and full-range sound coming from a thin membrane electrostat is a joy to hear.


The inaugural Southwest Audio Fest 2024 was an enormous success. It wasn't the biggest show on the planet, but in many ways, that's a good thing because more time could be devoted to each room. The show is certain to grow over the years, and I feel privileged to be among the first to experience an absolutely wonderful event.

I should mention that there were other parts to the SWAF 2024 event. For example, sponsored live music events in the evening featured American Idol star Jade Flores, whose voice and repertoire tickled the fancies of many country fans at the show. Her voice is reminiscent of a new Dolly Parton, and she is a fine entertainer. The Last City, an Indie Chamber pop band out of Dallas entertained show-goers on Saturday evening. This live music event was sponsored by Snake River Audio, with Enjoy the Music.com sponsoring the Thursday night Happy Hour, which is a strong backer of many audio events.

The show also featured several talks by experts who explained aspects of the technologies present at the show. For example, Charles King gave a talk about wrangling the best sound from analog tape, J.R. Boisclair of Wally Analog talked about how to get the best from vinyl playback, Grammy-winning recording engineer Dave McNair talked about what it's like to be an audiophile in the recording industry, and Ben Zwickel discussed how to get the best from audio streaming, which is can be a challenge…audio shows being most difficult.

All-in-all, the show packed in a sizable number of audio treasures in an event space that was perfect for an event like this. And I surely appreciated the fact that there were plenty of no-wait elevators taking us to the two top floors of the hotel where much of the action took place. Thanks to Lou and Gary for providing audiophiles with a refreshing dose of audio nirvana. See you next year!




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