Saturday 30 July 2022

Pacific Audio Fest 2022 (PAF 2022) - Day 1

Hey there everyone, it's Pacific Audio Fest 2022 time here in Seattle! Since it was just a 3-hour drive from home in Vancouver, I figure it would be fun to check out the inaugural PAF this year. The last time I was at an audio show was back in 2019 for what would become the last Rocky Mountain Audio Fest - who knew!

My understanding is that PAF under the direction of Lou Hinkley brings with it experience from Capital Audio Fest held in Washington DC (which will be held this year November 11-13).

I think the audio geeks here in the Pacific Northwest and Western Canada appreciates the availability of an easily-accessible show in this part of the world to check out and listen to some of the latest (and greatest) the industry has on offer.

The venue is the Doubletree Hilton Hotel out at SeaTac; easy to access off I-5 and parking was no problem. I got a room at the hotel and I think parking is something like $12/day, so very reasonable.

Friday AM was not busy and this presented a good time to start the day in the "HeadZone" (I figured lower risk of contracting COVID since fewer folks would have touched/worn the headsets) and you see in the corner there's a "Luthier's Showcase" for those interested in guitars.

Could not pass up the Stax booth to have a listen to their gear. Definitely my favourites were the "classic" Stax Lambda SR-L700 Mk 2 with plush lambskin pads and the flagship SR-009S:

SR-L700 Mk 2 (~$1700). Not the most esthetically pleasing with the rectangular pads but comfy and sounds great.

SR-009S (~$4500)

As expected, the electrostatic drivers are fast and very detailed. Good bass as well. The "price" to pay, beyond cost is that these do require powerful amps. For example the SRM-700 ($3400) behind the SR-009S sucks up about 50W from the wall with output voltage 300-450V.

Comparatively, I wasn't as impressed with the SR-007A which clearly sounded a step down for sonic clarity. Perhaps hard to compare once one hears the flagship product side-by-side.


Nearby, we have some Audeze:

That's the Audeze LCD-5 (~$4500) planar magnetic, part of their "Flagship" series powered with Burson Audio headphone amp (not sure if it's the Conductor or Soloist) and the Holo Audio May DAC. I like the construction of the LCD-5 and very comfortable; I think I need to have a listen again, initial thought was that there wasn't as much bass as I expected although admittedly, I wasn't familiar with the music on the computer.

Next, we have "The Audio Company" room. This is located in one of the larger ballrooms:

Those are blue Von Schweikert Ultra 7 speakers. Notice the picture behind shows the "Rear Ambient Array" with tuning controls. Powered by quad VAC Statement 452 monoblocks (speakers biamped), each amp capable of 450W as single-channel mono. They were playing some 45rpm Melody Gardot while I was visiting.

They used this Kronos Sparta Pro ($42,000) turntable as source. You can see the LED indicator at 45rpm. Cartridge is Hana Umami Red ($4000).

Bunch of other gear on the rack. Here's an example where I think I need to go back to listen to the digital playback when they demo that. I honestly don't understand how some people insist on listening to analogue audio only. Yeah, the 45rpm sounded quite good, but the surface noise is still audible even through this calibre of gear (especially through this calibre!?) and the occasional crackle and pop is clearly an unnatural distraction... Yes, I know one can ignore it but I don't see why one needs to do that when high quality digital is available. Isn't high-fidelity about uncompromising sound? Crackles and pops IMO is completely incompatible with uncompromising, perfectionistic audio reproduction.

Next I popped into the Marketplace for a quick peek. It wasn't too busy there on Friday. No major vinyl crates with stuff on sale. I suspect this will get more busy on Saturday.

Various stuff like Wally Tools, Kirmuss.

Ionoclast (Belden) folks in their booth above with expensive cables.

Hmmm, here's an interesting booth with claims of some kind of "harmonic resonator" circuit for your power. I'm not sure if I'm supposed to be impressed by those graphs!?

There were a few R2R units at the show, mostly passive display though.

That Technics SST-1 horn and the SST-25Hz "Super Bass Exciter" look interesting. I don't think these will get pass many "WAF" living spaces but the design is certainly interesting. These were made back around 1988.

I see we have Michael Fremer chatting with some folks on the right.

In another of the ballrooms, we have the Acora Acoustics setup with the SRC-2 speakers ($37k/pr):

Again the system was playing an LP, this time of Nils Lofgren's "Man In The Moon" (off Acoustic Live of course, a common audiophile staple). 

The LTA (Linear Tube Audio) booth did a great job with their headphone listening stations:

Here's the MicroZOTL MZ2 with MHDT DAC and Meze headphones. Hmmm, didn't quite like the headphone sound, seemed a bit dark for my taste. I think the amp probably was good.

A look inside the MicroZOTL. Class A, remote control available. Notice there are some banana plugs at the back if you have very sensitive speakers (as above, 1Wpc into 4Ω).

Higher up, we have the MZ3 amp ($3700), the Border Patrol DAC, and Audeze LCD-XC headphones. I like this combination. Good bass, but maybe a bit excessive with the closed headphones.

And here's the Z10e ($7000), 12Wpc. Headphone is the Audeze CRBN electrostatic. This bad boy looks to be quite versatile, capable of driving electrostatics as well as planar magnetics and high efficiency speakers. I was listening to some Paul Simon "50 Ways...", very nice, clean sound through the Denafrips Pontus II.

As with hotel-based audio shows, there are different levels and "wings" to explore. Here's the ModWright room:

Note the use of the Revel Performa F228Be speakers. The SME Model 15 turntable was spinning some Random Access Memories:

Sounded pretty good... For LP playback. ;-)

Here's the Infigo Audio / Alta Audio room:

Alta Audio Adam speakers, $17-18k 3-way, paired with the Infigo gear sounded great. I chatted with the Infigo and they're based in Kelowna, BC where some of the ESS Tech design also happens.

A peek into the Infigo Method 4 DAC - interesting design, based on ES9038PRO x 2, all 8 channels each chip combined for each stereo out. Compatible with Apple remote control.

And this is the Infigo Method 3 power amp. Specs say 250Wrms Class A into 4Ω. I listened to some London Grammar "Hey Now" (from If You Wait) through the system. Excellent.

Next here's the Daedalus Audio (Apollo 11 v.3 speakers) room with Lampizator Pacific DAC and another VAC Statement amplifier:

Uughhh... The set-up looks great but the sound had audible distortions at higher volume sounding like clipping. Grainy and gritty kind of sound. Hard to say which component at fault here but I hope they fix this for the next couple days.

Salk Audio:

These are the BePure 2 speakers. Beryllium tweeters with Purifi woofers 2-way design. Sounded clean. Can't say anything stuck out, which is not necessarily a bad thing after that previous room!

Wells Audio:

Listened to Tinsley Ellis' "Kiss of Death" off Midnight Blue. The Cipher Tube DAC looks like it's based on the ES9038PRO. I made a note that the sound was very natural and dynamic. Of course I'm sure the TAD speakers also had a large part to play!

Next, let's have a look at the Seattle Hi-FiLegacy Audio room:

These are the Aeris speakers. AMT tweeter. Integrated 1kW ICEpower bass/sub. Notice that they have an external crossover and room correction module:

This is the first room that I saw active room correction applied at the show. Made a huge difference on the Tower of Power track "Diggin' on James Brown" (Soul Vaccination).

They look odd. But these LX521 speakers sound fantastic. Highly recommended listening to get a sense of what a speaker without the box sounds like. 4-way, dipole design. Lots of power and various compensations needed. Those amplifiers on the floor contain 5 nCore modules inside; I believe they're the PowerBox 6pro.

Duke Ellington's "Take The 'A' Train" and Christian McBride & Gina Gershon's "Chitlins and Gefiltefish" (Conversations With Christian) showed off the remarkable soundstaging ability and just the "cleanliness" of the amp and speaker combo. No doubt certainly one of the best (if not the best) sound I heard all day.

Let's wrap up here... There was more (quite a bit more) I saw and heard this first day, but I think the above was a good taste of the stuff here. A very nice first day at the show. Also a nice return of audio shows since the COVID pandemic. Time to get some rest; chat later!

Ending the night with some swing... I wonder if the fellow with the Sennheiser headphones and R2R recorder is able to share some "Jazz At The Pawnshop" type material from this evening. ;-)


Thought I'd add a few more pictures from Day 1 for completeness...

AudioUltra's room:

This is an example of some very fine gear but in a room that IMO was just way too small. We have "high end" gear here for sure - MSB DAC, Magico S5 Mk II ($45k) I think, even the Taiko computer and Stromtank power source.

It is a shame that there's not enough rock and pop being played on systems like this, often unavailable even when asked for (not every room appears to have Qobuz or Tidal streaming for example). Anyhow this was playing "Tinpan Alley" at the time. Due to the small room and limited acoustics, the bass was way overpowered.

Another Daedalus Audio room - these are the Argos speakers with a Lampizator Baltic-3 DAC. Here's an example compared to the more expensive Daedalus room above with Lampizator Pacific where the sound was way better. Notice they set the system up at an angle as well. Some Monty Alexander "Battle Hymn of the Republic" was on.

Here's the NFS Room (Nothing for Sale):

Lounging around with drinks in hand, dark room with cosmological light effects... This seems to be the hangout place just listening to music and shooting the breeze. Very cool. Looks like there was something like this in the Newport Show a few years back.

Neil Young "A Man Needs A Maid / Heart of Gold" was playing over LP at the time, certainly added to the vibe.

Estelon X Diamond MkII ($79k/pr), Krell KSA i400 amp ($35k), MSB Reference DAC ($54k), Innuos Statement streamer/server:

Authoritative sounding system. Nice clear vocals on Shelby Earl's "Strong Swimmer" (off The Man Who Made Himself A Name). Again, bass in these rooms are a bit over-powering; a little EQ would help I think!

Eficion F300 ($17k/pr) speakers, with Plinius amps:

Check this out, a Topping D90 DAC (pre-SE, AKM-based) at an audio show ;-). I thought the system had a pleasant warm character, tons of dynamics when he played some FIM/LIM Super Trio. I suspect the dynamics on that could kill some systems if the speakers can't handle it!

Aurion Audio Apollo System:

Dipole, DSP controlled, open baffle. I see a Meitner EMM Labs DA2 in the room with the Audio Research amp. Big sound, good integration with the bass module in the room. Might still want a sub for lower frequencies? 

From an affordability price point, there's MarkAudio-SOTA room. We're talking speakers around $2k or less. Low order crossovers, based on drivers you can actually buy also for DIY work.

I listened to the middle pair and outer red pair as well. Setup was along the widest dimension of the room; so wide that my camera did not have the ability to capture the right speaker. Another example of the limitations in hotel rooms.

Pretty good sound. I appreciated that I could hear some rock/pop rather than the usual audiophile fare. ;-)

Alright... That's a wrap for Day 1.


  1. Nice write up for day 1. With regard to the LTA booth, the Meze Empyrean is well known to be a very dark headphone which would make them an especially poor match for tunes. The Audeze LCD-XC is a bright and detailed headphone, with treble that could be sibilant without EQ on solid state so the higher end tube amps may help to tame them. They didn't want to make their flagship offering sound worse than their entry level model, I would think.

    Looking forward to your Day 2 experience!

    1. Awesome, thanks AudioPhil,
      Yeah, something wasn't quite right for me with the Empyrean. Since everyone has their own preference, I suppose it might be right for some... Overall, I did prefer the LCD-XC at least in that configuration with the amp and BorderPatrol DAC which is NOS and will also add a -3dB dip into 20kHz by nature of that. So probably all aided with excess treble...

      I think you would have liked checking out the 'wares ;-).

    2. If PAF returns for 2023 or 2024, I may be enticed to join you in your adventures, Archi ;-)

  2. - -"Isn't high-fidelity about uncompromising sound? Crackles and pops IMO is completely incompatible with uncompromising, perfectionistic audio reproduction."

    I listen to more vinyl than digital. But then, I'm not seeking uncompromising perfectionism; I'm seeking whatever I enjoy.

    On the other hand, I'm with you on these demos. I'd much prefer to hear a digital source over vinyl. So many variables with a vinyl set up as the source. Would rather having something clean and neutral to evaluate a system.

  3. I was interested to read your comments on the Linkwitz LX521. I have the little brother of the LX521, the LXMini's along with subs. You may be aware, but if not, the Linkwitz designs can also be licensed for DIY speaker builders. There are kits and a reasonably active Linkwitz user community for those who are up for a project. The price/performance ratio then is unbeatable.

  4. Thanks for the write-up! Am about to enter speaker-shopping mode and feeling a bit at sea, so this sort of survey data is very helpful.

    As for all-audiophile-goo. Many years ago at a high-end show in Miami (I think put on by Stereophile?) I horrified the exhibitors by walking around with, and asking them to play, the Johnny-Winter/Muddy-Waters “Hard Again”, which I think perfectly replicates the real sound of hot electric blues played in a not-too-large club.

    Suggestion: I bet I'm not the only one of your readers who didn't know that this was happening, maybe post on the blog when you hear about it? [If you did and I missed it, sorry.]