Saturday 1 July 2023

Pacific Audio Fest 2023: Part I - Ballrooms, marketplaces, and the larger rooms... Thoughts on vinyl / LP at "hi-fi" demos.

At the time of publication, it will have been a week since the Pacific Audio Fest 2023 (June 23-25). Compared to last year, they held it about a month earlier. As usual, I took a number of photos at the show and figured it would be fun to do some reporting on what was seen and heard, offering impressions from my notes and memories of the time in Seattle.

To start, let me remind everyone that while audio shows are fun, they are definitely not the best places to listen for sound quality. This is better done at a local dealer showroom you might be familiar with or best in the comfort of home. Typically at shows, we're treated with unfamiliar music. Even if the song is familiar, they might be playing from a streaming remaster or off an unfamiliar LP. Room acoustics vary widely, and attendees are typically shifting in and out, chatting during the visit while you're trying to appreciate the music.

Nonetheless, there is something to be said about the importance of that first impression for attendees of what we hear. In an age where much of our purchasing habits come from online sources and web-based transactions, being in the presence of these devices, and the impressions they leave us with, are powerful in directing whether we're likely going to explore the brand or specific device. As such, if companies are going to attend audio shows, it is very important that they do it right.

As with PAF2022, the show this year was held at the SeaTac Airport Doubletree. It's an older hotel, but easy enough to access, has plenty of parking, and isn't too expensive for visitors staying the night.

If you've been to other shows, you'll know that there are typically marketplace areas, headphone "zones" are typical these days, then there are the larger ballrooms for headliner attraction systems, and then individual rooms sponsored either by manufacturers or gear dealers in various "wings" of the hotel and floors. Since one almost always starts on the main floor where registration happens, let's go through the show starting there.

Time for some eye candy. ;-)

The Main Floor Ballrooms:

No need to beat around the bush with this one. The Børresen M6 speaker with accompanying Aavik gear, all part of Audio Group Denmark, was a joy to listen to for this high-fidelity-loving audiophile. Unapologetically solid state. No analogue source. The epitome of hi-tech audiophilia in the 21st Century.

The M6 speakers are priced at US$550k/pair. In total, with the electronics, we're looking at a system with an asking price of US$1.5M.

Ribbon tweeter. 2x bass/midrange. 4x bass drivers in each speaker. Note the slotted vent system from the back.

Bits and pieces form the M6 speaker - multilayer cone driver with titanium skin, heavy 3D printed zirconium basket, apparently lots of silver in the bass/mid drivers, and ribbon tweeter to cover >2.5kHz.

"Life On Mars?" by Norwegian singer AURORA, David Bowie cover, is interesting.

Nice large-text LED displays.

Sitting in one corner of the room was also this - the Børresen X3 speaker system (US$11,000/pair) - ribbon tweeter, 1x bass/mid, 2x 4.5" bass, with the Axxess Forté 3 streaming integrated amp (100Wpc into 8Ω, Pascal UMAC Class D modules internally):

Sadly, I never got to hear this one given the attention on the M6 each time I was in the room! A friend did hear it and said in many ways they preferred the more intimate presentation.

All I can say is that sitting front-and-center in front of the M6 system while listening to Tina Turner's "Private Dancer" was one of the most intimate, moving musical experiences I've ever had with pop music. Very nice wide soundstage, pristine clarity, ample bass without boom.

Down the hall, we have this system from TriangleART:

This is why I like going to audio shows once awhile! Notice the massive contrast as we experience another very expensive system featuring the TriangleART METIS speaker. The large walnut horns covers 200-1600Hz. There's a RAAL ribbon tweeter for frequencies >1.6kHz. And the large 15" ported bass driver down below. Asking price - US$60k/pair.

The contrast between this system and the Børresen is even more extreme with the turntables being demo'ed and tubes used throughout this system. Amplifiers are the M-100 Tube $25k monoblocks boasting only "2db" of negative feedback with claimed "120 watts into 4 or 8 ohms", supposedly "0.1% @ 120 watts into 8 ohms". Hmmm, I'd love to see the measurements.

That Ultimate SE turntable in the middle has an asking price of US$130k. Notice how unbalanced this price is compared to much more important pieces of the audio system like the speakers.

As discussed many times previously, I don't consider vinyl playback "high fidelity" in the 21st Century whatsoever. Yes, it can be pleasant. But it's quite obvious that resolution in this room was suboptimal. I can see why some audiophiles will find a more-retro system like this right up their alley and I can respect that. But personally, I found this system sounding unbalanced, with a colored, accentuated mid-range that appealed to sentimentality rather than love of fidelity. I really could not get into the Enoch Light LP they were playing during the visit.

Around the corner, we have the Von Schweikert Ultra 7 speakers ($180k/pair) with VAC Master 300 iQ Musicbloc (300W into 4Ω, US$84k/pair) amps:

I guess in many ways this is a hybrid between the above two systems. Looks like quite a bit of attention was paid to using those expensive white Master-Built Ultra cables. Both LP and digital playback available. I made a note that "Exactly Like You" off Soular Energy by Ray Brown Trio playing at the time of my visit was about as good as I've ever heard LP playback so that's good.

Record Row:

So you're looking for collectable posters and "vinyls"? :-)

Seems like a good selection of boxes of the stuff. Music Direct as you can see had many boxes of products. I saw quite a few folks walking out with piles of LPs so I think there was a good amount of business being done especially on Saturday.

The Marketplace and Head Zone:

Just down the hall we have a larger room with various smaller vendors.

To the left of the picture above, we have some vinyl cleaner folks. The Kirmuss people dressed in lab coats.

There's a niche market for reel-to-reel products these days. A local Washington company called RX Reels make these carbon fiber reels. At the next table down, we see the Iconoclast (luxury line of Belden, discussed here) cables people. I remember they were here last year. And on that far wall, we have the "Head Zone" with various headphone companies.

Stax SR-L500 MK2 ($830).

Chunky iBasso desktop player. Stax SRX-9000 ($6200). I was listening to Macy Gray's "I Try" off Stripped and made a note of the vocal clarity, ability of the headphones to separate the voice from bass, keyboard, and percussion.

A selection of Stax electrostatic headphones to try out.

Campfire Audio brought their line of IEM's with the Solaris "Stellar Horizon" (US$2700, 1 dynamic + 3 balanced armature drivers) and Trifecta "Astral Plane" (US$3400, 3 dynamic drivers) being their highest end products currently.

I thought the Solaris sounded more balanced for my taste. The Trifecta packed a noticeable bass "punch" which is enjoyable as well but sounded a little overbearing for example on Beck's "The Golden Age". The Trifecta's see-thru casing is very pretty!

Astell & Kern KANN player is one heck of a chunky, heavy DAP! Notice the cool Campfire trading cards they were handing out. Good marketing idea!

The Lautsänger folks are an enigma to me. The marketing material consists of stuff about cymatics and pretty pictures and videos. There's an implication that they're modding headphones like that Meze 99 (US$309) you see on the table with some kind of component that makes it sound "better" based on the study in cymatics. The resultant modded Meze product being the Lautsänger Explorer that now has an asking price of €2,200. I had a listen and the headphones sounded good but there was no un-modded Meze 99 to compare with using the same music.

If anyone has cracked open one of these Lautsänger headphones, I'd be curious what modifications they made...

There's the ETA Headphones table showing off some open / semi-closed / closed versions based on their transducer. They had some prototypes to try out as well which were interesting. The open-backed ETA O² (US$599) sounded the best to me with nice clarity and reproduction of nuances. Notice that they're using the Sony headband which is quite comfortable.

Then there's the Audeze table:

Audeze LCD-X ($1200). I believe their most popular model.

Had to post a picture of this beautiful Nagra stack!

Audeze LCD-5 flagship. Pretty light and comfortable.

Beautiful Audeze CRBN ($4500) electrostatic. LTA Z10e ($7k) used to drive.

To be honest it was basically impossible to evaluate sound quality with these open headphones in that Marketplace setting with people chatting and walking around. Sounded pleasant enough!

Cascade & Evergreen Rooms

Next, let's walk up some stairs and check out the moderately large-sized Cascade & Evergreen area, basically conference rooms with audio gear.

First up we have the Gershman Acoustics room from Thornhill, Ontario, Canada:

Speakers are the 30th anniversary Grand Avant Garde. They were playing William Joseph's "Leningrad" off Beyond. And then afterwards Diana Krall's "The Look Of Love" (only time I heard Ms. Krall at the show) off the streamer. Amplifier the Pass INT-250.

The sound quality was alright. Mids and highs clear, well defined. But unfortunately the bass had audible distortions which could have been the high volume they were playing the system at to fill this room.

Next door we have the Klaudio room:

As you can see, we have a pair of Wilson Audio Alexia speakers powered by some Pass monoblocks. This is a vinyl playback company showing off their Klaudio Magnezar turntable ($80k, launch in October 2023), with tangential tonearm ($15k):

It's a direct drive motor, magnetically levitated platter, and we can see the liquid used to further "stabilize" and presumably dampen the platter, total weight about 120lbs:

There's also that laser thing which I presume is used in leveling? Anyhow, despite all this technology and stuff, it sounded like typical LP playback to me. I really don't think the limiting factor with vinyl is necessarily the turntable or even the tonearm themselves, but rather the imperfections of the LP disc cannot be "enhanced" regardless of how perfect the platter is isolated, or how accurately it spins, or even the precision of that tonearm.

I didn't actually catch what music they were playing in the room at the time; all I remember was that the noise floor was high and there were the usual crackles and pops.

Jaguar Audio Design room, a Seattle-based store:

They're showing some Avantgarde Duo SD / Gen 3 series horns ($48.5k) as you can see above (the Uno SD speakers were on passive display). Powered by some Phasemation gear and T+A SD 3100 HV DAC/streamer player ($36.4k). They had some Brian Bromberg "The Saga of Harrison Crabfeathers" (from Wood) playing, and then pumped it up with "Smokin Out The Window" by Bruno Mars & Anderson .Paak.

Nice dynamics and overall I liked the sound. Good resolution. I made sure to sit a couple rows back because the front-and-center seat was a bit too close.

Next we have Angel City Audio from California:

Those are ACA Seraphim Prime speakers ($25k/pair). We have the Melody AN211Mk2 tube amp (16Wpc into 8Ω, $8700), various EverSolo digital front end as well.

"Sensitive Kind" by John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers playing as well as the piano cover of "Praise You" by Hannah Grace.

Sounded good, although I didn't hear anything that jumped out at me as remarkable nor objectionable.

Those are Analysis Audio ribbon planar speakers powered by Bella Sound Hanalei monoblock amplifiers and they have their power conditioner on display as well.

The boxes look gorgeous. The monoblocks are capable of 700W into 4Ω and 350W into 8Ω, >500 damping factor. I liked the overall sound although those Analysis Audio speakers were not able to dig into the bass as much as I had liked. Elgar's "Nursery Suite: VI. The Merry Doll" by the Royal Philharmonic, Yehudi Menuhin & Yoohong Lee playing.

As you can see, we have a "wall of sound" Genesis Prime system on display.

It's a line-source dipole design with ribbon tweeters and midrange. Each woofer tower consists of 12 x 12" cones (6 front, 6 back). Speaker system itself weighs 2000lbs!

Unlike the size of those speakers, Genesis uses small Class D amps.

I only saw reel-to-reel and vinyl playback.

Well, the size of this thing is impressive. Clearly if one were to have this system, it would have to be placed in a massive room. Sound-wise, you have to sit pretty far back to get a sense of proper "integration".

I only heard female vocals, some jazz pieces, and classical in the room. A shame I think to not demo with digital and listen to some deep bass electronic tracks on a system like this! Having said this, I returned on Sunday afternoon and listened to demos with Gary Koh (CEO and designer of Genesis) which I'll talk about in a later post.

Jeff Joseph is a really nice guy and he was showing off his Pearl Graphene speakers ($45k). Beautiful units which I have seen and heard before. They were paired with some Doshi Audio Evolution monoblock amps ($42k/pair, 160Wpc into 4Ω). 

The modded Technics reel-to-reel is fed into a Doshi Evolution Tape Preamp (around $18k). Demo tracks being played included some Beatles and "S.K.J." from Milt Jackson & Wes Montgomery.

Sounded pleasant, smooth, maybe the best tape sound I've heard. I mentioned in my 2019 RMAF show coverage of the Joseph Audio speakers the importance of the source material used to demo. While it's cool to hear some rare R2R playback, in reality, I'm just not interested in ever playing with analogue tape. It's too bad I didn't get a chance to listen to digital on this system - I suspect it would sound impressive.

Focal / Naim:

The larger Focal Sopra N°2 speakers were playing at the time. T.Rex's "Cosmic Dancer" was playing at the time. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood for some classic rock at the time but I really wasn't impressed by the sound here. In the last 5 years, I've heard Focal speakers a few times and overall haven't been impressed. Not sure why.

Stack of the Naim "New Classic Range" components.

In the back, they had some Focal headphones with Naim players set-up for listening. Alas, with the main speakers playing at the front of the room, it was very difficult evaluating the sound of the headphones.

The last room in this section of the show is the Ideon Audio room.

I didn't really stay long in the room. The speakers are GamuT ZODIACs (~$160k/pair) powered by some JMF HQS 7001 monoblocks ($77k/pair). There was some discussion/disagreement with Greg Weaver ("The Audio Analyst") in the room; not sure what that was about.

Heard some blues piece (forgot to jot down what tune). Sounded good with nice bass extension.


I figure I'll end off Part I of this PAF2023 presentation by discussing a strong impression I had while walking down these halls.

After all these years of attending audio shows and listening to LP playback, I remain unimpressed by the use of vinyl as a demo source for $100k+ audio systems with pretensions that LP is able to show off "high fidelity" sound.

Walking between rooms and listening to various megabuck turntable set-ups have convinced me that regardless of the cost of the hardware, vinyl inherently sounds compromised. While there are clearly diminishing returns with any hi-fi gear, for the most part, I can at least appreciate that a $100k system (especially better speakers) sounds better than say a $10k system with characteristics like better bass extension, sense of scale, dynamics, and better resolution given a good hi-res digital source. I have not been able to put my finger on anything obviously sounding better when I listen to very expensive turntable systems. All the flaws of LP playback are still there: limited low bass extension, high background noise level, overly smoothed details, and imperfections inherent in the physical vinyl medium (stuff we've talked about over the years).

What's the point of shelling out MSRPs of $50k+ on turntable playback if it has basically zero ability to improve on these key audible limitations (compared to say a reasonable, modern, yet still not cheap $2.6k Technics SL-1210Mk2)?

I get it that vinyl LPs are collectable, the cleaning ritual can be enjoyable for some, and watching the LP spin can be hypnotic. I also get it that playing an LP often forces the listener to focus on the whole side of an album rather than be tempted to jump between tracks when streaming (seriously folks, if this is a problem for you, learn to develop some discipline!). But for certain audiophiles to insist that "LPs just sound better", more "natural", or more "real" than digital as a generalization without any details as if this is somehow a true statement? That's not what I hear at all!

From the perspective of the manufacturers, they are obviously making money to satisfy the demand for collectable LPs, fancy turntables, cartridges, phono preamps, record cleaners, accessories, etc. For audiophiles, it's only natural that the companies would also want to promote the idea that "high end" vinyl playback sounds awesome to the point of perpetuating IMO the myth that "analogue is better".

Come on friends, especially those of you with good, honest, true Golden Ears. Open up your ears, forget what others say, have a good listen when you're at the next hi-fi show and ask the person demo'ing the $100k system to switch between their top-end turntable and ideally the same track on a good DAC/streamer.

Yes, vinyl playback can sound very good. I still collect them when I see something interesting. I occasionally will take one out of the jacket to listen. A nice turntable with all its bling and luxury might bring a certain status to the look of a sound system, but is it really a worthy format to show off the capabilities of the best "high fidelity" sound systems of the 21st Century?! I think not.

In 2023, LPs and turntables have become common items that everyone talks about and they're no longer that special for our niche audiophile hobby. I've already seen many young music lovers find themselves disappointed and comment that LPs do not sound as amazing as some audiophiles make them out to be and have gone back to streaming. Don't tell me that you have to clean them to some level of perfection or need a $50k turntable+tonearm+phono cartridge+preamp to sound glorious - because at audio shows they certainly do not sound glorious on these major systems!

If there is to be momentum to move forward, I think focusing on high-fidelity sound quality is an important goal in audio shows. IMO, unless all a company is selling are turntables, every demo room should at least have a CD player if not a streaming DAC these days for when the company really needs to show off their best sound from components like quality amps and loudspeakers.

The vinyl "revival" is getting really old at this point. Maybe it's finally time for a CD revival or something like that. :-)

All the best, audiophile friends. Happy Canada Day and Fourth of July. Until next time, hope you're enjoying the music!


  1. "After all these years of attending audio shows and listening to LP playback, I remain unimpressed by the use of vinyl as a demo source for $100k+ audio systems with pretensions that LP is able to show off "high fidelity" sound."

    I could not agree more! Finally someone who dares to speak the truth.
    I was, but last before Corona on various audio shows here in Germany. You mentioned $100k+ systems. Well, that was my experience too. Incredibly expensive and so over-designed that they look ridiculous, like some kind of steam punk, especially when tube amps are added.
    Well, any halfway decent system with a good streamer and a good hi-res DAC sounds so much better! The most extreme experience for me was coming out of a $200k+ demo and walking down the aisles looking at Kii Audio. The Kii THREE with digital source pulverised every other system sonically.
    I was still frustrated because even "only" $25k was out of my budget. That's when the Kii folks gave me the uber-tip: "Buy a good DAC and a very good pair of headphones, and you'll easily are around $2,500 for a compareable setup. Later I decided on an RME ADI-2 DAC fs and a pair of Focal Clear headphones. They beat every turntable, amp and speaker combo on the planet by a mile! Not that my equipment couldn't do the same, but not so incredibly hard.

    1. Greetings Ralph,
      Yup, I feel you man... Cheers to the Kii folks for the good tip ;-). Indeed, a good DAC/headphone amp/headphones from a resolution point of view will quite easily perform beyond any vinyl set-up.

      Playing vinyl on a good sound system is akin to sports car fans going ga-ga over a beautiful aerodynamic high-tech chassis, top-of-the-line transmission, the best tires, but the engine still comes from this awesome 1985 Yugo :-)

      Despite IMO how painfully obvious it is that these vinyl/analogue systems sound compromised, we won't hear this from the audiophile magazines or most forums I think. It's one of those "cultural", "received wisdoms" handed to us in this audiophile hobby; especially loud with the "high end" market. Just shut-up and accept that LPs are not the chopped up pieces of sound like digital is :-). [Of course, this is not true.]

  2. Hi!
    Enjoyed your review of the audio show. I have only been to a few in Sweden and my experience aligns pretty much with yours. A great social event but hardly the optimal venue for serious critical listening. Returning home several years ago from a show in Malmö I almost immediately sat down to listen to my humble system. With my impressions of the event fresh, I wanted to hear how disappointing my setup would sound in comparison. To my delight I thought it sounded fantastic. Easily on par with some of the exotic stuff I had enjoyed at the show. This was of course due to home comfort, familiarity with the sound and of course no constant background noise. I knew that the equipment I had listened to at the show was far better than anything at home and anyone of those items would have been very welcome in my house. Which is why audio gear should always if possible be auditioned at home.
    Turntables and vinyl. The enormity and depth of that rabbit hole if one were to be swayed. Here is a passage that google provided when I did a quick search. “Why does vinyl sound so good?”
    The sound of vinyl records arises because the grooves on the record allow for an open, resonant quality. Conversely, digital formats by their nature compress sound, disallowing the open space that allows the warmth, richness, and depth to arise.
    With vinyl, you get an analog sound that reverberates and creates a warm sound you can't find in any other medium. The music and vocals arer closer to the way artists sound live, with a lossless format that isn't overly compressed.

    But when I type, “Do Cd’s sound better then vinyl?”
    Sure, you might prefer the warm analog sound, specifically its crackling and other imperfections, as well as the visceral experience of actually dropping the needle on a spinning record, but CDs are simply the best sounding physical audio format that most people can get their hands on.
    It annoys me that vinyl enthusiasts can’t or won’t listen to simple logic. The medium is ancient and filled with imperfections that only expensive solutions can almost address. The needles angle in relation to the grooves and the changed velocity from the rim of the record to its center are but a few of the factors that must be accounted for. The plethora and cost of equipment needed for optimal playback should alone discourage many who want to dip their toes in the hobby.
    Sorry for rambling and I hope I haven’t offended anyone with my little rant. In the end, regardless of how one chooses to enjoy the music, if it gives pleasure then the format is moot.

    1. "It annoys me that vinyl enthusiasts can’t or won’t listen to simple logic."

      Possibly you are getting something wrong about the attitude of many who enjoy vinyl.

      I can't think of an audiophile I know, who enjoys vinyl, who isn't aware of vinyl's imperfections.

      Putting aside what people get out of the physical aspects of the media and looking to the sound: Even those of us who recognize it's imperfections find that vinyl *can* sometimes sound "better" than digital (and often comparable). "Better" in terms of subjective perception of sound "quality."
      And that will depend on what any individual focuses on, and cares about in sound reproduction. Personally I seek a sense of "density and texture" to the sound of stereo playback. The stereo illusion is fairly gossamar and I appreciate anything that brings a greater sense of solidity to the sound. I find vinyl often does just that. No doubt because of it's distortions/imperfections rather than in spite of them. But, often, when I compare a digital vs vinyl version of an album, I might hear an advantage to the digital in ultimate fine resolution/accuracy, but also hear an advantage to the vinyl in a sense of presence - drum snares, acoustic guitars, voices, often just seem more solid and pop out of the mix more. So I often reach for the vinyl version.

      I'm far from unaware of how good digital sounds - I work in post production sound, hi-res files, and my digital front end is a Benchmark DAC2L, feed lossless ripped CDs and Tidal streaming. I enjoy digital and vinyl and switch between them all the time. But, aside from the sometimes higher noise floor of vinyl (which is usually only noticeable between tracks, not when the music is actually playing), I find the general sound quality differences to often be negligible. I have spectacular sounding LPs and bad sounding LPS, and spectacular sounding digital files and poor sounding digital files. I find the recording variability more salient than the medium.


    2. Good discussion Mike and Vaal,
      I think this also highlights the importance of making sure we discuss specific details of the recordings we're talking about. I've certainly heard certain vinyl releases sound better than CD... For example, Bowie's song on the Cat People soundtrack was way better on the vinyl than an early CD I have. This is IMO just a reflection of the crappy CD mastering of that specific record; not an issue with the digital technology.

      I can imagine some zealous vinyl advocates bringing up examples like that and complain about how poor digital is when IMO there are multiple other examples where a CD would destroy the LP version (like IMO almost every classical recording!).

      Good to be balanced... Giving credit to where it's deserved (like the engineers who extracted all they could with some vinyl releases), and recognizing the limits of certain technologies. For context, let's not forget that the 1st widely commercially available 33.3rpm "microgroove" mono LPs came out in 1948. 10 years later, this was upgraded with stereophonic playback by 1958 to consumers.

      Other than tape technologies, I don't think there's another A/V media format that's older and still in use (printing press images, photographic film I guess).

      As if there's no obvious improvement in potential quality or fidelity to the original recorded sound beyond the LP grooves is preposterous! Analogue advocates who seem to think this is the case are nuts. ;-)

    3. Hi Vaal, I ended one of my comments with ,"In the end, regardless of how one chooses to enjoy the music, if it gives pleasure then the format is moot." I believe wholeheartedly that the enjoyment of music should not be dependent upon how one chooses to listen to the music. I don't consider myself to be an audiophile but in my earlier years when I started out in this hobby I was certainly an "audiophool". I was obsessed with the reproduction of music to the extent that I no longer listened to the music but to the equipment. Alan Parsons : "Audiophiles don't use their equipment to listen to your music. Audiophiles use your music to listen to their equipment." That was where I was at. Of course I still demand a certain level of fidelity with my setup to appreciate the music. We see similar debates regarding tube amplification vs the rest. As with vinyl the argument in favour of tubes is exactly the same. Warmth, depth and texture as you also stated. It really is "To each his own" Enjoy the music!

  3. Hi Arch,

    I never could understand the vinyl revival being based on sound quality…I remember around 1985 buying my first CD of piano music (that was my main diet at the time) and marveling at the purity of sound, the absence of background noise, and of the dreaded wow that would mess with beatings that are part of normal piano tuning.

    A record I would love at the time was Anthony Di Bonaventura playing Scarlatti sonatas. Vinyls were thin at the time and wow was almost unavoidable since they warped easily even in normal use.

    Here is an example on YouTube, where the wow is still very audible even after much digital cleaning (an earlier version I heard online before is not available anymore. It was a straight copy with a lot of pops and background noise and even worse wow.) :

    As a comparison, this was my first CD :

    I never looked back, packed my one or two boxes of vinyl records along with my AR turntable and Shure cartridge and gave them to somebody who wanted them.

    1. Hi. The one argument that vinyl lovers implore is the notion that the sound from records is warmer, fuller etc. They've been conned into believing that 180 g pressings are superior due to the weight and thickness and happily pay the extra for these " limited copies" expecting audio bliss. In most cases unless you are playing them vertically this has no benefit. Sadly there are many "experts" who will try to convince the curious that vinyl is simply superior. But as I wrote earlier in my reply to Arch, if it gives them pleasure, sure, rock on. There is bliss in ignorance! // Cheers Mike

    2. I wonder if the « warmer and fuller » sound is sometimes due to implementations of the RIAA equalization hidden in amplifier phono section. This non linear curve specifies up to 20 dB boost at the lowest frequency and a bit of overemphasis in the mid bass could sound « warmer »…

      But yes, to each his/her own! :-)

    3. Nice example Gilles!

      I would not be surprised if some listeners will mistaken the excess distortion on the piano recording as actual "detail" or some nebulous description like "sounds more organic", while the CD version is just too "sterile", and maybe missing all that extra good stuff. :-)

      Indeed, it's quite possible the RIAA EQ curve has a strong effect on expressed preferences. As far as I can tell, there has been no published listening test on this. But wouldn't it be amazing to bring some "vinyl-better-than-CD" audiophiles into a listening room and test out the subjective effect of variations on the RIAA EQ with these listeners in blind listening?

      I bet we'd be able to show idiosyncrasies for each person based on EQ settings. And we could even throw in the volume-equalized CD/hi-res version in there and see if listeners hear a difference and their voted preferences.

  4. That sounds more than likely. Also, and this is measurable; the dynamic range of vinyl is about 55-65 dB with the outer rings reaching about 70dB whilst new and fresh. Compare those numbers to a CD which start at around 96dB and above. 24 bit digital tracks reaching 144dB. Those numbers alone should suffice to convince. Human beings can percieve up to 140dB of dynamic range. We can't hear a leaf rustling in the wind at the same time as the sound of thunder but we have the ability to hear the differences. Both frequency and amplitude.

    1. Hey Mike,
      Whatchadoin' throwing out numbers? Don't you know it's all about the "feeling" and "emotional engagement"? :-) Tech details be damned!!!

  5. Hey Arch,

    Great review as always! Did any of the rooms use DRC? While it can be done with vinyl inputs, it does not sound like it. My buddy Gary from Audiophilezone
    had me create DRC filters for the show and certainly caught one reviewers ear: ATC and AGD Sing in Audiophile Zone's Room

    I am surprised DRC is not more prevalent at these shows where one is trying for the best sound possible. Especially in rooms which were never designed with audio in mind.

    Vinyl – what is old is new again. A very long time ago in a studio far far away, I recorded and mixed a band where this was going to be their first vinyl record. Spent a great deal of the time in the mix to make it sound dynamic and punchy. I would cut a rough mix to cassette so the band can listen at home and provide feedback for the next day. Even on cassette, still sounded dynamic and punchy, obviously not like coming off the 2” multitrack tape, but still pretty good. Once everyone was happy, we sent off to the mastering facility to get an acetate preview to listen to. Once we got the prototype back, we gave it a listen and it was a disappointing experience for both the band and me. Dynamic range was severely limited, the sound lost most of its punch. The difference between listening to the 2” (or even the 30 IPS 2 track master) compared to the vinyl was night and day. At first, we thought it was a mistake as we sent it back to be redone, but alas…

    I was a vinyl junkie at the time. Denon direct drive TT, with Ortofon MC cart, SME III oil damped tonearm, using test records to fiddle with the VTA, hours of fun! While still at the studio we had got our hands on Peter Gabriel’s Security and played it across the big Urei time align control room monitors. Needless to say, we were simply blown away at the massive dynamic range and how quiet “quiet” was. That was end of buying vinyl for me… in 1982. Sure, I have boxes of them in storage, but…

    From a sound quality perspective, it blows my mind that there still is vinyl, let alone a burgeoning industry. Wow.

    Keep up the great writings!


    1. Greetings Mitch, hope you're having a great Canada Day long weekend!

      I'll mention some DSP next time, I know it was used by Dutch & Dutch as well as Cabasse in their systems. But otherwise, no, not that I saw in these main systems nor anyone coming out to declare that they are using it. A shame as usual given that we are in the 2020's! I didn't see ATC or AGD unfortunately.

      Yup, what's old is new again these days. Thanks for sharing the studio work experience! Among the vinyl advocates we also have all kinds of testimony from folks like Bernie Grundman. IMO, there are products to sell and hype to perpetuate; it's a business...

  6. Archimgago,

    I've enjoyed part 1 of your report. Thanks!

    I currently use Joseph Audio Perspective 2 speakers and the spatial qualities, resolution, smoothness and accuracy of instrumental timbre, punchy yet controlled bass etc continue to blow my mind (even as a long time audiophile who has owned many speakers). I've had experienced audiophiles acquire a look of shock after some demos. They are real "Holodeck" devices that seem to transport me to the world of the recording.

    And that leads me to your point about how shows can be important "first impression" points. I totally agree. And it's amazing how many audiophiles seem to think shows are "useless" for telling you anything about the sound of the gear. Totally not my experience. For instance, it was hearing incredible "just my type of sound" demo from Joseph Audio Pearl speakers at an audio show that led me to search out a local dealer and demo the line. They exhibited exactly the qualities I heard at the show, which is why I ended up with the Joseph Perspective speakers.

    Likewise, I have been led by show impressions to many happy purchases. Off the top of my head:

    I'd always liked Thiel speakers "back in the day" but found them a touch try and constricted sounding. But then at a CES I heard big Thiel CS6 speakers driven by VAC tube amps and it was game changing for me. It had the Thiel characteristics that I loved, but added a smoothness and "organic" quality I'd never heard from Thiel before. That led me to try to replicate it at home, which I did with Thiel CS6 speakers and Conrad Johnson tube monoblocks. It was absolute Nirvana!
    (And I still use Thiels 'n tubes: Thiel 2.7s with my CJ amps).

    It was first having my mind blown by MBL Radialstrahler (omni) speakers at a show that later led me to owning their stand mounted version. Again...hugely enjoyable, and for just the same reasons I enjoyed them at the show.

    Upon finding Hales Transcendence 8 speakers among the best most timbrally realistic presentations at a CES, I heard more affordable models from a local dealer and ended up with the T5 version, and to this day I use Hales Transcendence speakers for my L/C/R channels in the home theater. Couldn't be happier with them.

    Likewise, many show impressions held very well for many speakers that I later heard under different conditions, e.g. at showrooms or an audiophile's home.

    It's true that a good speaker can sound worse in show conditions, but if they sound good it probably says something about that speaker.

  7. One last thing about vinyl and demos, Arch...

    I've agreed with you before that, even though I like vinyl, I prefer to hear audio demos of unfamiliar equipment using a digital source. There is too much variability and ways to color the sound with a vinyl front end.

    So, like you, I tend to be appreciative at shows when I see a digital source in the set up.

    However, one possible bit of daylight between us is your general assessment of vinyl sources at shows etc. I've noticed it's more common among the "not on the vinyl bandwagon" folks...and more specifically the engineering-minded audiophiles like yourself (and Amir at ASR etc) to constantly remark with disappointment about the vinyl sound, and "too bad they weren't using digital, which would have sounded better."

    As I've said, with a good turntable I find LPs can sound just about as wonderful as anything I have on digital. I find the recording quality variations between tracks/albums to be more of a factor than if it's vinyl or digital. And yet so often you seem to talk about hearing "obvious" increases in sound quality whenever digital is used.

    I don't doubt this has ever been the case. But I also wonder if perhaps some level of reverse bias could be going on sometimes, like if you see it's vinyl, or hear some pops/ticks etc you default to "Ugh, vinyl, lower sound quality" and then when digital is played "oh, listen to how much better that sounds...lower tighter bass...better highs...etc."

    I just don't find such obvious differences as routinely as you seem to hear them, which has me wondering about this. (And, again, of course we bring our subjective taste and criteria to evaluating sound. Someone may be so allergic to any vinyl artifacts it ruins the experience as far as the rest of the sound, where for me that wouldn't be the case).

    1. Hi Vaal,
      Thanks for the thoughtful discussion on this!

      Yeah, like yourself I certainly think there's great value in having these audio shows. Obviously nothing is perfect, but they do provide a point of reference for audiophiles and an opportunity for manufacturers and distributors to show off the latest and greatest. To be in the presence of this opportunity to experience the variety of sounds and be able to identify the products one could be interested in is definitely educational!

      Regarding LP and digital, I don't think there's necessarily a large amount of daylight between us... As per my example in the comment above about the Bowie song, it really does come down to specific recordings and masterings for me. I'm certainly pleased when I hear an LP that is superior to digital.

      These days, while between a good digital file or LP playback, my preference is typically for the digital, I can see the value of the LP sound quality and how some might prefer that more.

      For me, I'm quite sensitive to higher noise level, pops and crackles. I get very disappointed when I buy a new LP and notice mild off-centering or subtle warping, and other material defects (like little visible scuffs on the vinyl) especially given the price these days. I admire those who can tolerate this with a $50k+ sound system, admittedly I'm too OCD for these kinds of qualitative annoyances. ;-)

      There was not one example at PAF 2023, listening to vinyl playback, did I not hear these distortions intrude into my listening experience and throw me off from trying to imagine listening to the orchestra or the feeling of being in an intimate jazz club. When I think about being an audiophile, especially if willing to spend money on "high end" gear, I'd like to think that these sound systems represent some level of "perfectionist" quality reproduction.

      I personally find it very difficult to reconcile that desire for qualitative perfection when I listen to LPs on turntables regardless of the cost over the years...

  8. Understood Arch!

    That's why I always say it often comes down to personal sensitivities on this stuff.
    I don't like record noise at all. Whenever I see all those news stories about how people love vinyl "because of the nostalgic crackles and pops" I just cringe. Not me! I want as little noise as possible.

    However, I like vinyl enough to accept the inevitable noise artifacts (at least some level) and so I can listen through the occasional pops and ticks.

    I was listening to some of my favorite orchestral-based soundtracks on digital and they could be stunning in the sense of "seeing through a hall to an orchestra" effect. By the same token, last night I was listening to some soundtracks on Vinyl
    and they too produced the same impression for me. One record (not a soundtrack) London Symphony Orchestra* – English Tone Pictures, blew my mind. The clarity of the strings, the brilliance and blat of the horns, the sense of the hall, texture of the bows on strings etc, reminded me so much of the real thing (I was a long time concert-goer). Was there some background level hiss during the quietest parts, and probably some ticks or pops along the way? Likely, but I don't remember because my mind was so focused on what was right about the sound, not what was wrong. Whereas you may have been immediately put off by some artifact or another. And so it goes...

    Looking forward to part 2!

    1. Hey thanks for the tip on English Tone Pictures, Vaal!

      I'll have to check out the recording. These days, I find it just as important talking about excellent music recordings as whatever hardware we might be cogitating on. ;-)

    2. Arch,

      FWIW, this is the LP I have:

      A 1980 pressing of a 1967 recording. Unfortunately it doesn't look like it's available on CD for you to check out that particular album.

      However, in case it's of interest here are another couple of my favorite soundtracks that came out on CD, and I think you should be able to find streaming.

      This recording of Bernard Herrmann's score for Jason And The Argonauts is wonderful. Herrmann's music often relied on very vivid instrumentation and so often his orchestral work is recorded fairly close, which makes for some really "you are there" vibe. Wonderful gutteral oboes, deep horns, percussion, etc:

      Another fun one is the Conan The Barbarian soundtrack by composer Basil Poledouris. It is of course a muscular soundtrack which uses an expanded orchestra, extra horn sections etc, for more massive imposing power. I love the LP version I have but also listen to this CD version. Play the track Gift Of Fury and you'll be rewarded with a massive scale and power:

      Spotify (I use Tidal, but this link came up in a google search):

    3. Awesome! Will check these out. ;-)

  9. Obviously you need an audiophile grade pair of q tips. Your ears are faulty.

    1. Well, given I make my living using my ears - post production sound - I guess I should take heed from a comment-section rando and find another job ;-)

    2. Not sure who the comment directed to, SlowRdr might also be implying that I need Q-Tips for not being a vinyl lover... :-)

      Regardless, everyone can have their own opinions on these matters. Much better and more interesting to partake in more detailed discussion than drive-by snipes.

  10. I had an extensive vinyl setup and collection in the 80's. Spent hours and hours(money also) trying to improve things. Upon hearing a VTA demo at the local Audio club, I was astounded at the difference in sound quality between different height settings on one record alone. The demo guy who had measured all his vinyl collection and tested each for optimum VTA setting discovered every record was in fact a different thickness. At the conclusion I promptly sold all my vinyl and turntable setup. The thought of adjusting VTA for every record was too much!!!!!! The difference in sound was night and day. Robert

    1. Hey there Robert,
      Thanks for the anecdote and important reminder of all these physical variables we need to deal with for LP playback - like VTA. Enough variables to make obsessive-compulsives psychotic; and maybe that's what happens with some of the most delusional vinylphiles who think the format has "infinite resolution" and such nonsense.

      Which is why these days I simply ask people to have a good listen to vinyl and compare with a good digital set-up and source recording - preferably same speakers. If vinyl sounds great to him/her then that's fantastic! Just don't say that LPs are more "high fidelity" because this is factually impossible. I think most people will understand this fact...

  11. Great review of the show, Arch. I am amazed at the amount of vinyl being demoed - not to mention reel-to-reel! 100% agree with you on the disparity between what a turntable can (cannot) do and the ultra expensive gear being used to listen to records. Just out of curiosity, was there a lot of class D amplification on display?

    1. Hi wtnh,
      Yes, Class D is all over the place. You can see the Atma-Sphere Class D in Part II. The Aavik amps are based off Pascal Class D units, internally the GoldenEar bass modules likely Class D. Even the massive Genesis speakers driven by their Class D amp.

      Class D is the future of compact, potentially low-cost, energy-saving hi-fi. There is no going back. And modern Class D amplifiers sound great.

  12. Too bad about those Gershman Acoustics speakers. I heard them not too long ago at Toronto Audio Fest and they were one of the highlights for the show for me. But they played an unchallenging track that only featured a double-bass. Sounded incredible in the small room I was in but I couldn't tell how good it actually was. Seems like the Diana Krall track they played here showcased some of its flaws...

    1. Hey Fc,
      Yeah, don't know what the deal was with the Gershman speaker system and the distortion. As usual with these show reports, one never knows what issues there could be... For example, who knows if the source recording was of good quality to begin with, whether the streamer was set up properly (something as perhaps innocuous as incorrect ReplayGain settings could cause clipping), or if the preamp/amp gain structure was set correctly.

      A good example of the importance of making sure these things all done right to create that good impression for visitors.

  13. Good comments on vinyl I think. Now, take a look at this:

    So, this appears to be yet another remaster of Miles Davis' Milestones, that was originally released in 1958. The website claims that this remaster was sourced from the original master tapes and then states the provenance as 'Dolby SR to DSD256'. Dolby SR came out in 1986, so almost 30 years after Milestones was released. How can this be an original master tape?

    At best this is a copy of the original master tape, yet MoFi charges 60 Dollar for this nonsense. To me, this is similar to their earlier deception, except that now they're doing it in plain sight - still deception if you'd ask me....

    1. Oi... Good catch RA,
      LOL. $60. Well, I guess if the collector market finds this a deal at that price, so be it. ;-)

      Audiophiles who appreciate high fidelity sound quality really should dissociate themselves from the hype that has been infused into the vinyl/analogue marketing.

  14. Re; the Audio Group Denmark demo.

    $1.5 million for a system that's only *stereo*. What a joke.

  15. Focal speakers overrated? Yup, so true. Never was impressed by their sound at all.