Before I even begin, let me thank Steven Solazzo for all his efforts with LSAF! Great work man! Additionally, I’m not sure who took all the images in this post but certainly much credit goes to Kelly Parham, wife and obviously cuter half of Wayne Parham and PI Speakers! What a pleasure it was meeting you folks! Mucho mas aloha as well to Dave and Gabrielle Thomson. You two are an inspiration and we hope to see you again soon. OK OK. There are more credits to give out including those earned by my family and friends, but you know who you are. A big hug to all of you! Onward!
Mama said there would be days like this…
Then she told me those days would be followed by ones filled with amazing music, art, people and libation. That is exactly what Lone Star Audio Fest was. I can’t tell you enough how wonderful this little known show is. With a little word of mouth and a lot of commitment, this humble show will become something huge one day. Or not! Frankly, this show is one of those things that file neatly into the “Ain’t broke, don’t fix it” category.
This show was a first for us. With the prodding and encouragement of our friends, family and clients it was time to take our products on the road. What better place to do it than back home in the state where it all began for this little company? TEXAS! I had heard about LSAF on a few forums and web pages, but had never attended. When I saw that RAVEN AUDIO, a company based in Texas whose growth I had been tracking with keen interest for quite some time, was making an appearance at this little show I knew I had to look into it.
I wrote letters to Dave Thomson, the owner or RAVEN AUDIO, Steven Solazo who for all intents and purposes, runs the show, and reached out to a few others who had attended in the past. As the show approached the LSAF social network began to grow and come alive. It started to become clear that LSAF was not just another audio show. This was more like a family of music lovers, gearheads and deep audiophiles, who have found a place to share their love and art. I say art, for more than half of this community of geniuses is DIYrs! Not your run of the mill garage type. We are talking the upper crust here folks. For anyone who thinks that the HIGH END needs to come with a gold plated logo and genuine Corinthian leather baffle, think again. Get in the car, plane or train and high tail it to this show next year. You will be floored and maybe a bit upset that those $40,000.00 leather speakers you bought last week don’t measure up! HEHE...
I was a bit concerned at first, for the talk on the web and forums were inconsistent. One week the chatter was loud and colorful, the next it was gone. For a small company like ours, this is not very comforting. We have a long way to travel from our home base in Hawaii and 2,000lbs of speakers, turntables and heavy equipment don’t travel cheap. “Will anyone be there”? “Is the show still a go”? Only a few of the questions I kept posing to the groups and to the community at large. I never got a clear answer actually. But what the heck! Even if not a single soul was to show up, WE WOULD! For us, this show would have to become a dry run for the next few shows we have on our schedule. Test run if you will. This was a chance to weed out what we would need for the next bigger and more published audio shows. Time to polish up! As for our concerns of attendance, that most definitely was not an issue…
Setup begins: We were a bit concerned at first, for one of our pallets looked like it had been pushed out of the plane from 30,000 feet into the parking lot of the hotel. Perhaps to save on fuel? Well, it turns out the damage was only minor and was not going to be an issue sonically. Lacquer can be re buffed. For our first show, I think we did OK on time when it comes to unpacking and setup. For the next few shows, we will clearly need to tidy up this part.
We were glad to have booked the room 2 days before the opening of the show because we ran into a few issues that nearly had us a “NO SHOW”. While tuning the room, Our Phono stage suddenly lost a channel. NOOOO!!!! Early birds were already entering the room for listening sessions and our finest KAREN 6 Turntable was dead in the water. Luckily, we had a second entry line KAREN 3 already setup with a small MM phono stage to take up the slack for the day. My hat’s off to Balanced Audio Technology. I got Geoff Poor on the horn. He immediately got me on the line with the gentleman who built the amazing VK-P10SE Phono stage, Victor Khomenko. He walked me thru a series of diagnostics to determine the cause of the lost channel. The conclusion was a power supply issue that could not be fixed on the spot. OUCH! BUT WAIT! The next morning, waiting at the front desk was another Phono stage sent overnight! Now you tell me, have you ever had customer service like this? Have you been put on the phone with the designer of any piece of equipment that is down for the count? Have you had a replacement waiting for you before you could finish your breakfast bagel at the hotel restaurant? BUT WAIT! THAT’S NOT ALL! The hotel had a surge that killed the left channel in the brand new VK-6550SE amp we are showing with as well! WHAT?!?! One more call to Victor and that problem was solved in about 5 minutes as well! “HOLY BLOWN FUSES BAT MAN”! Again, I can’t tell you what it means to a little company like ours to have support from a big company like Balanced Audio Technology. Thank you BAT!!!
Remember the part about “Mama said there would be days like this”? Boy howdy, was that one. Thank goodness Mama was right about the following as well… those promised days filled with amazing music, art, people and libation! That is exactly what LSAF was. My wife Jeanette and I met some of the coolest folks over this long weekend. We would name them all here, but my long windedness would become tiresome quickly if hasn’t already. Let me just put out a blanket ALL THE FOLKS AT THIS SHOW ARE AWSOME!! Each day we shared breakfast with the group, tossed around ideas and talked tunes. Usually, most of us would head to our systems after this in order to get ready for the day. In some cases we were able to get out and see some of the other systems before the spectators would arrive. Not for long though! For a show that is supposed to start at 1:00PM each day… Ummmm… well I think it was more like 9:00AM! In the JWM Acoustics room we had a steady stream of folks from about then till 11:00PM each day! By 11:00AM (which happens to be when the hotel bar opens) that stream of people was also carrying colorful bottles as well. Like I said before, this is a fun show folks!
We had great music in tow, but of course many brought their own to spin up. A few folks were even kind enough to bring JWM Acoustics into the 21st century and load up JRiver on my laptop and stuff it full of great music. Who knew digital could bring a smile to this old analog geeks face? Well it did with the help of the OPPO BD105D we had in the rack. It turns out the internal DAC is FAR better than I had known! The DSD files streaming from the laptop were divine to say the least. (I better not say too much. I’m trying to sell turntables!) Now it looks like I’m going to need a lesson in organizing all this music into playlists for the next show. One more reason to love analog, alphabetical order is about as deep as it goes! Hehehe.
The system worked perfect. The REX preamp fed the mighty VK-655SE power amp with gusto. Having one of the quietest all tube preamps in the world powering a true super amp is nothing short of stunning. Put one of the best Tube phono stages in front of that and now we have something to marvel at. Now, pair the famous PW Windfeld from Ortofon on our new KAREN 6 turntable and I simply can’t explain what happens in words. Cables you ask? A full set of Nordost all the way around, including the Heimdall II speaker cables, Blue Heaven and Red Dawn interconnects and power cables. To clean it all up we added a few QV and QK line enhancing units to our power distribution systems.
The results were fantastic. Yes, we already knew what this system is capable of because many of the components are integral to our reference system at home. What fun we had with that conference room and all three of our newest speaker systems to play with! And boy did we play! For the first day, we tried as hard as we could to break in a brand new set of the JANE JKM speakers that had only been put together a week prior to their debut at LSAF. We moved them all around the room trying to get the most out of them. In one spot the imaging literally had them disappear, but bass response was lagging. Move them 5 inches and suddenly the low end enveloped the room, but staging began to lag. This is a common dance we do in almost any environment the speaker will live in permanently. The toughest part of this room was the drop ceiling and lossy walls. The whole room wanted to become an echo-y rumble chamber to say the least. In the end, we decided on a compromise and the entire system locked into place. Ideal? No. Pretty freak’n good for that room? Absolutely! Even on a bad day setup in a cardboard shoe box, this system would still be better than 90% of the systems I have ever heard. The synergy of these components is that good.
On day two and three we began playing with the other speakers in the lineup. First the ALYSON AML, then the NET-1. It took less than 3 seconds of Fever on Lyn Stanley’s Lost in Romance LP before the entire audience looked back at me and said “NO WAY”! The room locked in with grace and a sense of ease I had not heard even in our studios. We didn’t even attempt to voice the room or go through the usual speaker placement steps. It just worked. Obviously this speaker was a FAR better match for the room than the giant JANE floor stander. Why? Great question! For anyone interested in dropping this kind of coin on a system of their own be advised. Bigger is not always better in your particular room. In this case, you would have saved yourself $10,000.00 between the price of the two speakers and would easily have doubled your capabilities. I have a renewed pride in our smaller speaker offerings, but as always, we recommend hearing our entire line before making the determination we did on this day, in that room.
The fun didn’t stop there! How small can we go was the next question? Well, let’s see! The NET-1s were dropped into the same footprint of the ALYSONs and away we went. REALLY?!?!? A two way mini monitor filling a 4,620 cubic foot room full of people like a full range floor stander is simply not heard of. (Pun intended) The NET-1 did exactly that. I built the damn things and still had no idea of what they could do in a room like this. I heard of such sound coming from our designs, but never paid much attention to what was said. This was not the design goal after all. This was supposed to be a mini monitor turned into a near full range speaker for small environments. BUT I’LL TAKE IT! The little NET performed like a rock star without a hiccup. I am so proud of this little giant killer and will yell it from the roof tops! “Viva la NET”! “Viva la NET”! “Viva la NET”!
We had a chance to meet and get to know the owner of Raven Audio, Dave Thomson. I had only seen his equipment in reviews and on line, but as in art and fine wine, this never does justice to the actual piece in person. Trust me when I say you owe yourself the pleasure of giving these pieces a listen. Although our time with the equipment was limited, what I heard in the Raven room was fabulous. What I heard from Raven paired with our speakers was fabulously promising! On the last day before packing up the show, Dave was kind enough to bring down his killer new BlackHawk integrated amp to our room and plug it into our ALYSON ALM and NET-1 Speaker systems. The pairing seemed the most logical for the size, price point and output capabilities of the pairing. With limited time, in less than ideal conditions, every eyebrow in the room was raised and the tiny NET-1 opened up like a Oklahoma double wide in the middle of storm season! No tight lipped brick and mortar mini monitor sound with this pairing folks. PLEASE go hear this amp if you get a chance. The NET-1 is not the most efficient speaker in our lineup, nor does it have the depth capabilities of our larger offerings, but for some reason, in that room, on that day, with that amp, like we never heard, they blossomed.
Next, Dave was kind enough to allow us to bring a set of the ALYSON AML up to the Douglas Connections room to hear them paired up with the Spirit MK2 300B tube mono block amps and Silhouette Reference preamp. Folks, The specks on the ALYSON mean nothing when combined with this system. The true monitor characteristics were apparent from the first track that was spun up. Focus and detail were my first impressions, and then I realized that the low end of the drivers was being taken down to a level by that 300B tube I had not heard before. It is true that the 300 may not have the grip of other tubes I have heard on our speakers, nor the power, but the rumors of that tube bringing chills to your spine are all true. I WILL be looking into purchasing this amp in the future. It is truly a reference design that needs further investigation. Don’t believe me? Look into what Art Dudley said about it in the May issue of Stereophile magazine. Still need more proof of this design. Get off your butt and go hear it. It is impressive.
We truly hope to have a chance to hear some of RAVENs other offerings in the future. Not only for the obvious stellar sonic quality, but also for the fit and finish of the product. Perhaps I’m picky due to my industrial design background. This is truly well put together equipment kids. I have a few other reasons for wanting to explore RAVEN as well. This is a true American product built in Texas with love. If you hadn’t noticed, the system we are showing with for the next few events is all American as well. As a proud MADE IN AMERICA company, this means a lot to us. We plan to keep it that way. Lastly, much like JWM Acoustics, it would seem that RAVEN is a family affair. We were so happy to meet Dave’s wife Gabrielle, Mrs. RAVEN herself. Talk about lighting up a room! If you guys are reading this, it was a great pleasure meeting the both of you and we will keep the porch light on for ya if you ever decide to come out to Da islands…
OK FOLKS! That's enough for now. Again, big thanks to all responsible for this awesome weekend. Hope to see ya'll next year, ya hear!