Sunday 31 July 2022

Pacific Audio Fest 2022 (PAF 2022) - Day 2

The elevators heading up to the 13th & 14th floors of the PAF, and a view from elevator. Glorious hot 25-30°C weekend. IMO, we who live in the N.W. / Western Canada should never complain of the few days we get every year of the heat! So long as we don't hit closer to 40°C like last year's "heat dome"...

In total, I spent 2 days at Pacific Audio Fest 2022. The pictures and comments here will cover some of what I saw and general impressions for those rooms. See the Day 1 post as well.

Let's get going!

Parasound, KEF, Dr. Feickert:

First stop is in one of the larger "Cascade" rooms. As you can see we have some KEF Blade speakers (presumably the newer Meta model) powered by Parasound JC 1+ monoblock amplifiers. Most of the music was played on the Dr. Feickert Woodpecker turntable; alas I did not take note of which cartridge was being used. It sounded pretty good overall.

When I walked in, a Santana MoFi release of Abraxas was playing. Good soundstage and frequency extension. Usual limitations of vinyl evident.

There's also the Chord Hugo DAC underneath which unfortunately wasn't put to good use when I was there.

I spotted on passive display at the back of the room:

Interesting Parasound P8 prototype - 2.2-channel preamp plus DAC (2 XLR subwoofer outs). Looks to be an upgrade for the P6 coming out in 2023.

It so happened that while I was here, Michael Fremer, Malachi Liu, and Andrew Jones came by. I'll see if I can put up a video...

Overall a really good sounding set-up even if it was vinyl playback. ;-)

Audio Federation - Acapella Apollon horns ($180k), Audio Note DAC 5 Signature ($120k):

The Apollon horns look impressive although how this might fit into your sound room will obviously be nuanced. Tweeter is one of their TW1 plasma ion units; you can see the light inside in fact:

And a closer look at the gear rack. Acapella Integrated amplifier ($135k) and Audio One ($8k) music server and DAC with 2TB SSD up top:

I appreciate what they're trying to achieve here, but to be honest I was not impressed by the sound. Too midrange-centric without adequate bass and especially the highs seem somehow muted. As you might know, I have no love for Audio Note DACs like this which is based on old R-2R chips, NOS, with -3dB dip into Nyquist (eg. 22.05kHz with 16/44.1) which in a system like this, probably dulls it even further.

Pink Floyd's "Time" (Dark Side...) was missing the "sparkle" unfortunately. Having said this, the dynamics and transient speed was excellent. It's a reminder though that nothing else can make up for frequency-related issues in a sound system. A shame IMO considering the asking price for all these components!

High End by OZ, United Home Audio room:

Color me impressed! This is reel-to-reel done right with very impressive sound. Smooth, highly dynamic, lush, yet detailed when the need arises. The Who's "Baba O'Riley" (from Who's Last (Live)) and Rolling Stones "Moonlight Mile" (Sticky Fingers) were on during my visit.

Of course, one cannot also underestimate the sound coming out of the Børresen 05 Supreme Edition, 7-driver speakers (MSRP $214,500 per pair) [thanks for the correction OZ]. Beautiful finish on this as well.

Convergent Audio Technology room:

We see the Convergent Audio Technology preamp and amp powering the Magico S5 Mk II. They were playing some Patricia Barber as well as streaming Terence Blanchard's Let's Get Lost (2001, DR15). Jim Anderson and Ulrike Schwarz who did the engineering for Patricia Barber's recent album Clique were in the room to chat about audio from the digital production side. Excellent, knowledgeable folks! I also attended their session moderated by Michael Fremer earlier which I'll talk about more later...

BTW, Anderson worked on Let's Get Lost and told me it's as good as it gets for DSD production. I'll need to check the album out. It sounded very good as a 16/44.1 stream already!

ACA, Melody, Zidoo:

Overall a sonically satisfying room. Anette Askvik's "Liberty" sounded great through the Seraphim speakers and the Melody tube amp.

What caught my attention more was the black streamer box bottom right... It's the Zidoo NEO α and has an MSRP of $3k. It looks like quite a flexible unit with 5" OLED screen, streams through USB, HDMI 2.0a 4K video playback, as well as separate audio HDMI 1.4 output, supports HDMI-DSD (and multichannel as well). They talk about precision clocks which can help with HDMI output, ES9038PRO DAC analogue out.

In many ways, this reminds me of my Oppo UDP-205 but without the actual disc player while maintaining the 4K video and high quality audio conversion pieces. I didn't get a look at the back of this player and wondered whether there's multichannel analogue output; specs seem to show stereo analogue out only.

Audiophiles, IMO, keep an eye on devices like this especially if you have an audio-visual multichannel set-up (like I do). While it cannot play 4K UHD-BluRays, it will open the door to 4K/HDR video streaming through your home network while also putting emphasis on high-quality audio including HDMI-audio output and hopefully a flexible link to the future of multichannel hi-fi audio. HDMI-DSD64 5.1 is supported for those multichannel SACD rips.

Oh yeah, as you can see in the pictures above, there are "visualizations" like high refresh rate VU meter, and a spectrogram setting for the OLED screen. Never underestimate the coolness and subjective impact of stuff like this in the sound room especially when you have visitors who are not just interested in sound quality! ;-)

Merrill Audio, Genesis Loudspeakers room:

Massive Genesis Prime line-source dipole speakers. There are 2 of those woofer units in the back, each with 6 12" drivers. No idea how much this costs, so I suspect it's one of those "if you have to ask, you can't afford it kind of deals". ;-)

The front tweeter/mid panels are powered by Merrill Element 116 MX monoblocks. Each capable of 600W into 4Ω. These are Class D, GaN units.

Hooked up to a plethora of analogue sources. The "Bohemian Rhapsody" album playing was excellent and very dynamic.

Given the height, notice how far the audience was seated! Unfortunately there was a pillar in the room just to the right of that picture above. I think this system should have sounded much better and was let down by the room (hazard of listening in audio shows at hotels). To me, the room reverb time was too much and added a somewhat distracting "cavernous" quality to the sound.

I would have loved to hear what high quality digital acoustic and electronic music sounded like through these monsters, putting those 500W x 2 bass units to good use! Maybe throw up some hard rock or metal on a system like this to test it out...

Göbel, CH Precision, Wadax:

Staying with the "extreme" money theme, here are the massive Göbel Divin Noblesse speakers, powered by CH Precision 10 Series preamp (not shown) and amp.

Wadax digital computer/streamer and DAC. Notice the DAC is being fed an optical signal. The two boxes beside the DAC are power supplies - one for each DAC channel!

Yeah, the system sounded pretty good in that room. Bernstein's "Prologue" to West Side Story (from recent 2021 OST), and the Game Of Thrones theme song were used to show off the sound. Clearly this system is able to push lots of air. Good transient response, lots of nuances in the sound. Of course, I would highly suggest that this is a function of the (pre)amp and speakers than the very expensive digital source.

BTW, I know these speakers can rock - make sure to throw up some AC/DC or Metallica if you find an opportunity. ;-)

Doshi, Joseph Audio room:

I heard a similar system at RMAF 2019. Yup, great sound from these PEARL Graphenes with dual Doshi Evolution monoblocks.

Jimmy Scott was singing "Nothing Compares 2 U" in that room that afternoon.

Focal, Naim:

Those are Focal Utopia Maestro III speakers.

Massive Naim Statement preamp and amp. 

Naim Solstice turntable. They were playing some Rolling Stones "Brown Sugar" and "Wild Horses" off Sticky Fingers. It was alright. Alas, again I think the room was not doing justice to the gear and simply too much reverb/reflections. Yet again, please make sure to do more switching to digital.

Haniwa Audio:

These are the single-driver Haniwa speakers. The unit in the middle is their amp/DSP unit to flatten the frequency response. There's both a smaller and larger speaker model available (listened to the larger one).

They were playing Pink Floyd "Time". Generally the sound was pretty good with such small speakers that would fit in rooms and homes with limited space. Notice that they have a couple of small Sony speakers on the ground to enhance the bass. I noticed an increase in distortion when the volume was turned up or during loud dynamic passages so I think it's important to match room size and how loud you play your music. I was told from the rep that you can dial in whatever sub you use for the crossover point in the DSP.

Voxativ, Pass Labs:

Speakers are the Voxativ Trio15 Classic. Open baffle design.

Nice looking rack of gear including Pass INT-25 integrated amp and Denafrips Terminator Plus DAC. Overall a good sounding system with plenty of bass on "Babylon Sisters" (Steely Dan, Gaucho) and on Ben Harper's "Fight For Your Mind". Clean sound, nice dynamics, realistic vocals. That bass was pushed even further on James Blake's "Limit to Your Love" (from his self titled album).

Apologies for the wicked back-lighting in the picture! This company hails from Texas and the room featured their Acapulco speakers, a modern interpretation of the Altec Santana from the '60s.

Specs say 8Ω, 97dB SPL/W/m. I see they were driving the speakers with this Jadis tube amp:

Along with the gustatory pleasures of some very nice tequila when I visited, the sound was definitely a pleasurable "classic" signature which was full-bodied and visceral. Punchy dynamics which I think would make many rock and classic jazz lovers happy. They were playing some Greg Brown "Kokomo" (The Evening Call) and Willie Nelson. For more info, you can also check out Great Plains Audio and their AlNiCo 415-8 Biflex main driver which produces the main sound supplemented with Fostex supertweeter for higher frequencies.


Lots of advertising for accessories in this room and I didn't see a component list or price list of the boxes on the audio rack. The turntable I believe is a Kuzma Stabi R and they were playing some '80s music when I was there (Billy Idol's "Eyes Without a Face" from Rebel Yell).

The Chapman T-7 speakers sounded good. 1" silk tweeter, 7" midrange, 10" woofer. 89dB SPL/W/m, 4Ω. You'll need reasonably powerful, clean amplification I think.

Bela Noté:

I think at every audio show I've been to, I've run into rather unusual or prototype audio rooms! For PAF, it's this one:

It's based on a Heil AMT tweeter which they plan to remanufacture (man, those are heavy drivers). They're planning to do some external crossover and consumer fine-tuning capacity. I think a full DSP system would be nice of course. I didn't catch the music they had going; some Gregorian chanting and light jazz playing as well. Bass was not bad.

At the end of the day, I decided to end off at a couple places where I started the day before - the HeadZone being one of them:

I really like the sound of these Focal Stellia ($3k) headphones with beryllium drivers (I've got a thing for beryllium tweeters and their clean trebles, which is why I've been running the Paradigm Reference Signature S8 here at home all these years as my mains). Very precise and resolving sound. For a closed headphone, the sense of space is really quite nice even if not to the same extent of "airiness" as open 'phones.

Finally, a shout out to a Canadian company in Calgary making very reasonably priced headphone amps - Tom Christiansen Audio:

The larger HPA-1 (US$900) has both single-ended and balanced inputs, capable of 1.5Wpc into challenging 20Ω loads, and even the smaller HPA-10 (on sale US$300) with single-ended input can do 1.4W into 20Ω. This is also the only other company at the show I saw with measurements on display (see yesterday for the other!). Great clean sound, robust solid boxes, excellent components, and I really love the feel of the Alps volume knobs.

The very last room I made sure to revisit was The Audio Company's Von Schweikert Ultra 7 room. I mentioned that they were using LP test material yesterday. Well, this afternoon they switched over to some digital playback and they had Michel Jonasz's "Le Temps Passé" from La fabuleuse histoire de Mister Swing on. The bass came alive in digital and I would not have thought that these speakers were capable of such low-end extension if they didn't use digital material. I really do hope companies make sure to at least do 50:50 vinyl and digital playback at audio shows; I know selling turntables and LPs is big business, but honestly, if we want to hear the best that a high-fidelity system can do, it's only when using good digital masterings. This has been my impression across shows over the years (and also in dealership showrooms). I know the vinyl audiophile special interest group can be vocal about what they believe/feel they hear. I'm happy to take the other side on this one and say that certainly in 2022, the audible limitations of vinyl are just too much to ignore in good sound systems - LPs are simply not high-fidelity (a statement of fact just as much as opinion I think), even though we can all enjoy them or some having a preference for that kind of sound.

Two days were enough for this year's inaugural show to make my way through the hallways and side wings of the audio show. I think I hit all the rooms over the last couple days without feeling rushed, so this and yesterday's article will have covered most of the set-ups. As this article goes out to the Internet, it's Sunday so I hope folks are enjoying the last day!

I think I'll write a 3rd article to hit on some thoughts/observations including what I found attending some of the seminars. I found the talks quite interesting regardless of agreeing or disagreeing with the speakers.

Chat later audio friends...


  1. --- "It's a reminder though that nothing else can make up for frequency-related issues in a sound system. "

    To be fair, though, that's a subjective call.

    Because depending on one's tastes and goals, it can be the reverse "nothing else can make up for a lack of dynamics in a sound system." So people who go for horn-based speakers tend to feel they provide the most "jump" and life-like dynamics presence. Someone with a KEF LS50 meta speaker may listen to those horn speakers and say "too bad the lack of frequency response neutrality ruins the sound" and the horn-lover will listen to that KEF LS50 and say "too bad it can't do anything like great dynamics - frequency response sure isn't everything."

    Naturally we'd all love to get it all, but given varying tastes, any system will be someone else's compromise.

    As for the Joseph Audio Pearl's: Yeah, Jeff Joseph is renowned for getting great sound routinely at shows. I don't know how he does it. It was hearing the Pearls at the Montreal Audio Show some years back that blew me away and got me interested in that brand. I sought out some auditions of Joseph speakers, was utterly taken with the sound, and have owned Joseph Audio Perspective speakers (next down from the Pearls) for a number of years. They are spectacular, IMO.

    Thanks for the show reports! I always enjoy your take.

    1. Thanks Vaal,
      Yeah, I get what you're saying with the potential of "dynamic jump" being important for some. I suspect that if we were to create concrete examples of the difference, I'd still suspect that within reason, frequency anomalies would still rank higher or be more noticeable...

      Yeah, the Jeff Joseph speaker have been quite impressive!

  2. LOL. I knew it!

    JVS was going to complain about the heat:

    This was why I specifically called it a "glorious ... weekend" above. Seriously folks, the AC wasn't bad in the hotel, and my room overnight was quite comfy for an older building.

    Everything's so dramatic, accentuated even with a "synthetic spirit animal". I can't even agree about the weather with this guy. ;-)