Saturday 8 July 2023

Pacific Audio Fest 2023: Part II - Hotel wing audio rooms. A few words on sound quality, and emotional connectedness.


Let's continue exploring Pacific Audio Fest 2023 beyond the main ballroom and larger rooms from last time. As you're probably aware, audio shows take place in hotels with companies renting out rooms to show off their gear. At PAF2023, we have 4 hotel "wings" to explore located on the first, second, and thirteenth floors.

Mercifully, PAF2023 isn't a big show which allowed me to enter each room and have a listen over the leisurely 3 days (Friday to Sunday) that I was in Seattle. Let's go for a stroll and see what each room had to offer. While I don't think I missed any of the rooms, I'll only highlight the ones that seemed most interesting...

Floor 1, Wing 2:

For some reason, over the years, I've missed Audio Note at these shows. So I made sure this year to head for the AN room for a listen near the start.

They've got the blue-tinged AN-E/LX Hemp speakers (1" tweeter, 8" hemp woofer, 94dB efficiency, US$10k) playing some classic jazz - Oliver Nelson's "Stolen Moments" from The Blues and the Abstract Truth. They also had the CDT TWO/II transport ($9k) and DAC2.1X Signature (US$6.7k, old 18-bit AD1865N chip, filterless, tubed). Amplifier is the Meishu Phono Tonmeister Silver Integrated (US$19.3k, 8W into 4/8Ω, 300B power tube SET design).

Despite the audible LP imperfections, the sound was enjoyable. Appropriate sweetness for this genre of music. Notice the speakers are placed quite close to the rear wall to get some bass reinforcement.

They had some Ray Brown Trio "Exactly Like You" on the CD player as well which sounded pretty good. Nice imaging and wide soundstage. Yeah, this is the "classic" euphonophile sound which I think many will like. Less "clinical" and resolute/"hi-fi", more "warm" and romantic I suppose.

I would have liked to experience what more modern recordings sounded like. Since there's no streaming component in the room, there was no way to request tracks other than what CD and LPs they had.

Golden Ear:

GoldenEar T66 ($6.9k/pair gloss black, $7.2k/pair "Santa Barbara red") speakers which have a 500W powered sub integrated into the towers with DSP tuning. These speakers are targeted to be released this fall/winter. The audio chain goes from Innuos computer/streamer → Chord Hugo → Prima Luna integrated amplifier. Given the integrated powered subwoofer, these speakers do not need too much power to drive the 2x4.5" mid/bass drivers, and folded ribbon AMT tweeters rated at 91dB/W/m at 4Ω. The subwoofer component consists of 2 x 5"x9" oblong driver units with 2  x 8"x12" passive radiators.

Here's a peek at the Chord Hugo DAC:

Demo music at the time of my visit was James Cotton's "Down at Your Buryin'". I liked the sound of these speakers. Good full-frequency range sound and the bass sounded well defined. Compact design and looks like a good price for what they're offering.

Monitor Audio / Parasound (Olson's HiFi):

Some Yello "Kiss In Blue" was playing through those Monitor Audio Platinum 300 Gen 3 speakers ($18k/pair). Beautiful glossy wood finish. Innous Zenith ($5.4k) player. I think that's the Parasound JC5 amp (400Wpc into 8Ω, stereo). Very nice sound, there was a piano demo track playing as well which I missed the title of showing off the excellent clarity and transients on those attacks.

KEF / Cambridge:

"Thanks To You" was playing by Boz Scaggs through the little KEF R3 Meta (blue, $2.2k). Amplifier is the Cambridge Edge A (~US$6k). Pretty good all-around sound with impressive bass. These little speakers with Uni-Q concentric drivers and 6.5" aluminum bass drivers would not be able to hit the lowest notes with authority, but at the listening level and distance in the room, the R3 Meta was able to provide satisfying room-filling bass which could have come from one of the larger speakers - I had to double check and get close to listen for where the sound was from.


One of the simplest rooms in the whole show. The Cabasse Realto speakers. Basically it was just those speakers at the front, wired with a power connector and playing wireless thru WiFi.

At US$4000/pair, this is a remarkably capable package with 10/100Mbps ethernet, WiFi (802.11a/b/g/n/ac), Bluetooth 4.2, TosLink S/PDIF, analogue RCA, USB, and HDMI eARC inputs.

There's a mic input back there for calibration.

We see a touchscreen with rotating volume ring up top for music control and display of what it's being sent. The screen control has a proximity sensor as well. I see that it has app support for Qobuz, Deezer, Tidal, Spotify, Napster, and Google. Presumably Roon capable as well. Specs say up to 32/768 input presumably through USB although I could have sworn the rep said up to 384kHz. Despite large numbers like these, internally the data is processed at 24/96 which is a more than good enough hi-res target for its DSP correction and DAC conversion.

Speakers are coaxial front treble + mid, and the small 6.7" rear woofer carried quite a bit of punch! I was surprised by the amount of bass in the room and the clarity of mids and treble "focus" of the soundstage. A subwoofer for movies with deep sub-bass probably is still recommended for those of you interested in subterranean notes but IMO not mandatory for musical pleasure. Fink's "Trouble's What You're In (Live)" was playing at the time of my visit.

I see this product as a peek at the future of hi-fi stereo sound reproduction. In many ways, these modern digital marvels are at the other end of the spectrum from the clearly old-tech Audio Note room described above. It's a much smaller self-contained "system", much less expensive, all digital (save for RCA input), uses modern DSP know-how to improve sound quality catered to the room its placed in, and there's no need for all those components to make beautiful sound that IMO exceeded the sentimentality-centric philosophy of the AN. This is what technological progress looks and sounds like.

Floor 1, Wing 7:

Just Audio rooms:

The boys at vintage online seller Just Audio had a couple of rooms with some interesting gear that's a neat mashup of old, new, and retro-new:

This first room has the MoFi SourcePoint 10 ($4k/pair with stands) powered by the very cool refurbished 110Wpc Sansui 9090 stereo receiver circa 1975. Source is the HiFi Rose RS520 ($3.7k, ESS ES9038Pro DAC, ethernet, WiFi AC) with its nice large color touchscreen which is able to play video as well. The HiFi Rose RS250 was sitting on the right and wasn't in use at the time.

The SourcePoint 10 is indeed a rather large box. They were playing some Dominique Fils-Aimé "Birds". Nice tonality of the bass, low background noise level, well focused vocals. The electropop track "Overwhelmed" by Royal & The Serpent nicely surrounds the listener with its complex layering of samples. Just goes to show that a stereo receiver from the 1970's can still compete with modern amplifiers. And begs the question: have amplifiers improved that much in sound quality over the last 4 decades?

[If one believes that analogue signal amplification is basically mature technology with the science understood and objectively quantifiable for decades, it's no surprise that qualitative improvements have been gradual, right?]

Here's Just Audio's other room:

We have the retro-new Mission 770 ($5k/pair, 8" woofer) speakers and the smaller Mission 700 ($2k/pair, 6.5" woofer) above. Audiolab 9000A integrated amp (~$3k, ES9038PRO DAC, Class AB, 100Wpc into 8Ω, 160W into 4Ω) in use at the time. I cannot complain about the sound of London Grammar's "Hey Now" through this system. Nice soundstage and spaciousness of the synths. Good bass, probably not as deep as the SourcePoint system but hard to compare without listening to the same track on both systems.

Vintage Marantz 2230B 30Wpc receiver from 1974-77 also on display but not playing at the time.

Notice that there was also the Cambridge CXN streamer, and Yamaha R-N2000A receiver turned on but not used at the visit.

Those are the new Baby Grand Reference Gold 3 speakers ($150k/pair). 200lbs each, open baffle ribbon tweeters with mid drivers advertised as using Alnico magnets. Sensitivity said to be 91dB and impedance rated at 8Ω. 

These are large speakers (standing 67" tall) and I think they overwhelmed the moderate sized room. They were playing "Silver" by Ahmad Jamal off Saturday Morning at the time. Nice music although I found myself having difficulty selecting a seating position that I thought made the music sound focused. I suspect the room just wasn't doing justice to the potential sound quality of the speakers and new VAC Essence 80 monoblocks ($9k each).

Hmmm... Not sure what this Redmond, Washington, company is about but this is their website. Some unusual stuff here like the small wire cable elevators ("cable cradles") [we've discussed cable elevators before]. The main system looked like this:

Tekton Moab speakers apparently modded by Millercarbon with their crossovers. Those 15 small dome "arrays" in Tekton speakers always remind me of bug-like compound eyes. :-)

Some Atma-Sphere GaNFET Class D amps (~$5.5k a pair). Notice the round wooden "treatment" device placed to the side and top of those amplifiers. Not sure if these are them, but I know there were some Heartsound branded "HoloStage field control" products through the room.

Funky "Nova" power cable! I guess this is supposed to make the sound better also. Dunno man, sounded fine playing Michael Ruff's "Lover's Mask" (one of those Sheffield Lab recordings from the early '90s), but no evidence that the tweaks made much difference beyond what otherwise looks like good turntable, amps, and capable speakers.

Floor 2, Wing 2:

Hard to take good pictures in this room due to the darkness and backlighting. Like the Cabasse display above, basically all that was in the room were a pair of Dutch & Dutch 8c speakers ($15k), a few bits of network hardware and their MacBook computer as music source. This is another example of the nascent "networked active speakers" concept with the ability to apply DSP. (These speakers have been around for awhile already - see the Mitchco review from 2018.)

These are 3-way speakers; front aluminum/magnesium tweeter and aluminum midrange (covers 100Hz to 1.25kHz), rear 2x8" woofers for +/-0.5dB down to 35Hz, their proprietary tweeter waveguide improves directivity >100Hz. Triple Class D amps in each unit. Roon endpoint.

Wonderful sounding. So good, I stayed around to listen to Freya Ridings "Lost Without You", Leo Kottke & Mike Gordon's "Sweet Emotion", Nils Lofgren's "Bass & Drum Intro", and Billie Eilish's "ilomilo". Very clean, clear sound. Beautifully smooth decays.

These are significantly more expensive that the smaller Cabasse, but again, they're a taste of the direction of future hi-fi products. Of interest, internally, the digital data is processed down to 44.1/48kHz; who said we needed high samplerate for good sound?! ;-) Having said this, given that technology has progressed since 2018, and processing is easy these days at lower cost, even if not absolutely needed, in the world of perfectionist hi-res audio, bumping up to 96kHz internally would I think be appropriate.

Looks like these guys distribute connectors and parts. I guess there's a market for this among consumers if the company is bothering with getting a room in a consumer-oriented audio show (as opposed to industry trade shows).

They had an adjoining room with a fancy Kuzma turntable, tonearm, and cartridge that sounded alright  - good enough for LP playback. :-)

Some very nice looking hand-crafted speakers from Orange County, California.

These are called "The [M] Stack" ($11k, I assume per pair) speakers which consists of the top "Le Chiffre [M]" ($4.5k) bookshelf unit and the bottom "The Pale King [M]" 2 x 5.5" bass extension module ($5.5k). Powered by VTL monoblocks. Very nice, pleasant midrange tonality, wide soundstage playing Greg Porter's "Hey Laura". My only concern was what sounded like some high-frequency roll-off. Would be curious about the frequency response on these speakers.

Cardas Flashback Lounge:

Let's face it guys, many of us are older and there's a comfortable coolness to be in the midst of retro things from our earlier years. Hence, the "flashback lounge":

Retro-new JBL L100 speakers with Quadrex "burnt orange" foam grille.

Modern remake of Atari 2600.

Remember the stiff feel of the old Atari joystick with single red trigger button?

Cool! An actual running Apple //e, dual 5.25" floppy drives, and the old The Oregon Trail (1985) game on the CRT monitor. It has been more than 25 years since I've touched a running Apple ][.

Floor 13:

Finally, let's go further upstairs. There's some interesting stuff here!

Infigo Audio:

Nice looking Stenheim Alumine Three speakers (93dB sensitivity, 3-way, 8" woofers, 5.25" midrange, $33k) with pleasant red highlights.

Infigo, a brand from up here in British Columbia, were also at PAF2022. Interesting electronics including the Method 7 (new DAC? didn't catch the details and not listed in their pamphlet), Method 6 dual-mono stereo amplifier ($20k, 100Wpc into 8Ω, supposedly atypical Class A with better efficiency and lower heat production), and Method 4 DAC ($35k).

The system sounded excellent, highly dynamic playing the O-Zone Percussion Group's "Jazz Variants". Note though that this track sounds impressive thanks to excellent audio production with almost any reasonable full-range sound system; much less one at this kind of price!


Dan Wright was there showing off the new KWA 99 monoblocks ($7.5k/pair I think) - high Class A bias Class A/B design, 100Wpc into 8Ω.  

They also had the LS 99 preamp, PH 9.0XT phono stage, the "Analog Bridge" (~US$2900 + another $1000 for XLR balanced) which I think is something that injects "euphonic" distortion into RCA/XLR inputs. The silver squarish-front box beside the tube Analog Bridge mid-rack is a Weiss DAC204 ($2.9k). Turntable is the AMG Giro MKII ($8.5k) with 9W2 tonearm ($3.8k).

Music was the Vienna Octet playing Mozart's "Kegelstatt Clarinet Trio in E Flat Major, K.498". A pretty old recording from the late '60s I think. Sounded alright through the good Revel F228Be speakers (~US$11k/pair).

As you can see, there are female audiophiles! Also, at this year's show, I saw a number of families with kids, spoke to some folks in their late 20's and early 30's. Good to see some diversity beyond middle-aged-plus males showing up.

They call this a "modular" open baffle speaker where drivers, baffle type, crossovers can be mixed and matched. Looks like it's the $8k+ Trio15 with Coax10 center driver model they had on display (you could also choose to outfit with horn or full-range middle driver). VPI Scout turntable, LTA Z40 integrated amp is also US$8k+.

Sounded pretty good playing stuff through the Denafrips DAC. Listened to "From Gagarin's Point of View" by Esbjörn Svensson Trio.

LTA (Linear Tube Audio), Daedalus Audio:

Interesting room. We have some Daedalus Audio Apollo 11 v.3 speakers ($27.5k+/pair). 10" woofer, 6.5" midrange, dual 1" dome tweeters.

Midrange I was told are Fostex drivers. Sensitivity said to be quite a high 96dB/2.8V/m.

LTA MicroZOTL Level 2 preamp ($5.8k) is the component in the top rack. Interesting that the DAC used is a pre-production prototype R2R + tube output stage design shown in the image above. Also, the amps are pre-production ~100Wpc monoblocks (the 2 large gray unmarked boxes on the rack) of unknown MSRP.

Playing "Boogie Street (Live)" off Live In London by Leonard Cohen & Sharon Robinson. I made a note that the separation of male and female vocals sounded very good. This set-up with the same speakers sounded much better than what I remembered last year.

Wells Audio, TAD speakers:

This room features some very nice sounding TAD Evolution One speakers. 

Wells Audio makes the Cipher Level II DAC ($13k).

Dual Innamorata II Level II monoblocks ($15k+ each, 150W into 8Ω).

We've got some John Campbell "Down In The Hole" playing. Excellent bass, clear growlin' vocals. Impressive. ;-)

Pleasant red Popori WR2.23 XL 2-way electrostatic speakers with ribbon tweeter ($40k/pair, 91dB sensitivity, minimum impedance at 2.5Ω, 73" height, 82lbs each) from Hungary. I didn't get to hear the grey-colored larger WR1.23 w ($75.5k/pair) hiding in the back.

Doshi Audio EVO stereo tube amplifier ($22k) powering the speakers - typically 65Wpc into 4Ω, but apparently modified with 3Ω tap for the electrostatic speakers.

Listened to some "Six Blade Knife" by Dire Straits on the J. Sikora turntable ($47k) + KVmax 12" tonearm ($12k) + Lyra Atlas Lambda SL cartridge ($13k) + Doshi EVO phono stage ($20k) that IMO sounded good but not remarkable. I requested and they played Ghost Rider's "Make Us Stronger" using the Aurender A20 Server/DAC - yeah baby, now that's more like it! Detailed highs with excellent transients, very good amount and tightness of the bass, no need for subs unless you're watching movies.

Songer Audio, Whammerdyne Ultimate 2A3 Amplifier:

Songer Audio S2 open baffle dipole speakers on display. 93dB/W/m (impedance unknown) efficiency according to specs.

Interesting appearance of the Whammerdyne Ultimate Truth 2A3 amplifier (4.2Wrms only, presumably into 8Ω), priced at $13k before discontinued. Digital conversion using the Mola Mola Tambaqui DAC (~$13.4k).

Tracy Chapman was singing "Give Me One Reason" and The Fairfield Four's "These Bones" were playing during my visit. These are primarily vocal tracks so not too challenging in terms highlighting the extremes of the audible frequency range; the system did a great job with reproducing the details of the human voice nonetheless. Pleasant sound quality through the low-power amp.

Innuos, Acora Acoustics:

I visited the Innuos/Acora room twice, once on Friday with David Solomon (Qobuz) demo'ing some music after one of the seminars with Acora owner Valerio Cora present, and again on Sunday around the time Greg Weaver was filming something I presume which will go on his YouTube channel:

As you can see, the Canadian company Acora has taken the concept of the non-resonant enclosure to the extreme by building these out of granite. The model on display is their current flagship VRC-1, 450lbs each priced at $218k/pair. Specs suggest reasonably easy to drive 95dB/2.8V/m, 4Ω. Amplifiers are the Audio Research Reference 160M monoblocks (140W, with 16/8/4Ω taps).

No surprise that the Audio Research amps are being used here since Acora recently acquired the company.

Listened to South African band Freshlyground's "Father Please" streaming from the Innuos digital gear. I had not heard this song before so have no basis of comparison. Absolutely nothing to complain about soundwise. Those inert granite speakers sounded pristine.

Audio Ultra - CH Precision, Magico:

This is a small room with small Magico A1 ($9.5k/pair, 1.1" beryllium tweeter, 6.5" graphene coated midbass, 84dB sensitivity) speakers powered by the CH Precision A1.5 stereo power amp ($39k, 150Wpc into 8Ω). 

Not shown and to the right of the speakers is a full stack of CH Precision components including preamp and digital source. All this powered through a Stromtank.

I listened to some AURORA "Exhale Inhale" and Camané & Mário Laginha's "Amor É Fogo Que Arde Sem Se Ver" during the visit. The set-up worked really well in the smaller room. Excellent "microdynamic" details, great soundstage, good sense of spatial depth. I heard comments from some attendees that this was one of the best set-ups they heard at the show.

Spatial Audio Lab:

These are apparently prototype open baffle dipole speakers from Spatial Audio Lab; they look similar to their X4 models ($8-10k). There's a Lampizator Pacific DAC ($26k), Innuos ZENith Mk 3 ($5.5-8k depending on storage size) music server, and Don Sachs & Lynn Olson Design 300B monoblocks (~$19k/pair) used while I was there.

Sounded alright, didn't grab me as being particularly resolving when playing "Horsell Common and the Heat Ray" from Jeff Wayne & Richard Burton's The War Of The Worlds. Notice the remarkably high price of the Lampizator DAC compared to other components. IMO, it doesn't make sense to put so much money into a DAC nor distort digital conversion with the tubes when the amps and preamp can add "warmth" if one desires already. At some point, doesn't employing all these tubes (and likely the coloration that comes with it) simply add too much of the magic sauce to the sound!?


Over the years, in show coverage, people have asked me what I thought was the "best sound" of the show. To be honest, I find this very hard to answer simply because at the MSRP we're looking at with most of these systems, one would fully expect that most of them should have very pleasant qualities! Other than the whole vinyl/LP sonic limitation I mentioned last time, I actually was pleased with most of the rooms and can easily see myself enjoying the sound.

If anything, it's much easier to identify the systems I didn't particularly like, or those that seemed audibly compromised as described in the text. Having said this, where I have some reservations (eg. the NOLA room, or the Genesis from last week), I'm willing to give it the benefit of the doubt and suggest that my subjective opinions were also colored by the hotel room conditions and the choice of music used. Audiophiles often like to express "good" sound quality as having the ability for the music to create an "emotional connection" with the listener.

Clearly, this positive affective valence isn't just a result of the playback hardware itself. "Emotional connection" for music lovers should primarily be the emergent effect of the artwork; the artist's skills, and the essential role of others like the recording engineer's handiwork! I would argue that music lovers and audiophiles should be able to connect emotionally with the music we appreciate whether it's through one's AM radio or a $500k sound system.

[Don't forget the audiophile Big Picture of Production, Reproduction and Perception, and the variables that determine each of these steps when we talk of overarching concepts like "emotional connection".]

As interesting as the hardware might be, I think in these show reports it's also fun to know what songs were used as demos. Not only can we listen to these ourselves at home, but publishing the variety of titles may also provide ideas for the guys who demo these systems, and maybe increase the repertoire of music played at shows to cover the diversity of tastes. While classical, traditional vocals, or acoustic jazz are still core genres to show off hi-fi sound systems with because these are the most "natural" sounding productions with good dynamic range, I think it's also important to listen to some electronica, pop, rock, and dance tracks to evaluate if a sound system is capable of handling the deep bass, aggressive attacks, DSP effects and dynamic compression of modern productions. Some of the best productions in these genres have intentionally accentuated, "hyper-realistic" sounds that are worth checking out to test the capabilities of a hi-fi system beyond say a typical female vocal track or jazz recording from Rudy Van Gelder. Let's also not forget that these other genres are way more popular than the usual "audiophile music"; playing these will get more music lovers and younger folks interested - we want to see emotional engagement using music people actually listen to!

A special shout out to Frans & Leah, and to Taylor & Say Jay for hanging out at the show! Great being able to "crosscheck" some of the listening impressions; the more pairs of ears the better especially given potential biases whether we favor box vs. open baffle speakers, dynamic vs. planar drivers, tube vs. solid state electronics, etc. Wonderful discussions not just about audio, but sharing about life and all the things that bring joy, hope, and maybe even a slice of transcendence into our worlds; best served over delicious ethnic meals. :-)

For those on Facebook wanting to chat about high quality audio, check out Frans' private group Hi-res Digital Audio Discovery (HRDAD) with currently ~11k members.

When visiting, you'll also see at these shows members of the audiophile media. You may have read their writings, seen pictures of them online or in videos. There were some West Coast people at PAF like Jason Victor Serinus (Stereophile), there's the picture above of Greg Weaver ("the audio analyst©"). I find it interesting reading what they write about the rooms and in what direction members of the press focus their attention when it comes to the hardware descriptions and impressions of sounds. I also ran into Amir Majidimehr (Audio Science Review, see his coverage) for a quick chat I think up on the 13th floor on Saturday.

I think that covers the rooms of PAF2023. Another audio show in the history books. Hope you're all enjoying some excellent music, perhaps in the heat of the summer season. I'll put up a Part III with some final impressions and loose ends next time.


  1. Hi Arch! Enjoying your coverage of the Pacific Audio Fest. As much as I would like to have some of the set-ups reviewed, I fear I would first have to move into more palatial surroundings to do them justice and give them room! I wonder about the practicality of owning speakers of such size and weight. I understand the thrill of visiting these fests. Where else could one listen to such an abundance of exotic and expensive hi-fi? Are these companies realistically in hope of sales or just displaying the unattainable to showcase the pinnacles of audio achievement. Would it not make more sense to also include products that have at least a more realistic potential for sales? I imagine that these fests are quite expensive for the companies. Transport, accomodation, insurances, fees etc etc. Anyway looking forward to part 3 and once again forgive my ramblings. //Mike

    1. Hey there Mike,
      Indeed great observations and questions. I agree, for most visitors (at least everyone I talked to), the price and size of some of these speakers (except of course the more down-to-earth ones like Dutch and Dutch, Cabasse, SourcePoint, etc...), we are definitely looking at some large units that really need to be housed in a fair sized dedicated room at minimum to achieve optimal results. In an age where for example around here in Vancouver standard house lots are being rezoned and cut up into smaller parcels, it's certainly going to be ridiculous to expect growth in affordability or desire for these boxes among upper-middle-income urban folks.

      I do wonder how many of the >$100k speakers are being sold yearly though. Maybe there's enough demand from the upper 5% high-income audiophiles and enough Middle Eastern royalties, Asian industry tycoons, High-Tech moguls to make good money on >$500k units... These shows and the reports from the press mainly as just the cost of doing business / advertising.

      Personally, as a hobbyist, I'm just happy to "go for the ride"; have a listen and observe the technological trends. Fun afterwards to turn on those tracks at home and imagine if I'm hearing anything at the show I think I'm missing. If I think I am, I'll certainly be exploring whatever new technology or idea in more detail.

    2. Arch,
      Your speculation on who might buy these very expensive speakers prompted me to do a little sleuthing on the Internet. I came across an interesting report on,at%20a%20CAGR%20of%205.2%25.
      You can download the entire 150-page report in pdf. It does not say who buys expensive speakers but does highlight a rather staggering number. “The hi-fi system market is expected to grow from USD 13.6 billion in 2020 to USD 17.5 billion by 2025, at a CAGR of 5.2%.” Apparently, it is the, “rise in demand for infotainment services, high spending on R&D, innovations in wireless audio technology and increasing adoption of portable devices. This product segment is expected to hold the largest share during the forecast period.”
      Several of the major players have all started integrating an all-in-one solution in several of their offerings. Dynaudio, Sonus Faber and B&W to name but a few. (I am rather tempted by the Sonus Faber Omnia.)
      Unobtrusive elegant designs that promise audio nirvana. No more a wall of clunky separates connected by python sized cables.
      As wireless technology improves with support for higher fidelity, the desire for bulky systems will perhaps diminish. The “true audio system” will then become a rarity. Thoughts?
      Cheers Mike

  2. "'Emotional connection" for music lovers should primarily be the emergent effect of the artwork; the artist's skills, and the essential role of others like the recording engineer's handiwork! I would argue that music lovers and audiophiles should be able to connect emotionally with the music we appreciate whether it's through one's AM radio or a $500k sound system.'
    I agree. My "main system" (if you judge by the amount of time spent listening) is the old Logitech Squeezebox Radio in my kitchen. I've been known to "conduct" Mahler symphonies in the kitchen listening to low-bit rate AAC streams from the internet. The orchestra is the size of a grapefruit, the lower registers of the orchestra are represented by a rumble of distortion, there's no "air" or "sparkle" in the high end, yet somehow the music and the emotional connection is still there. Sometimes, at least. I could turn off the radio, walk 10 feet to my main listening space, and put on a recording of the same music, but I don't!
    I'm not on the same page as you with respect to tube amplification. Many people, especially those who call themselves "objectivists", assume that tube technology is inherently "warm" and "colored". Long before transistors and ICs became available for use in audio equipment, engineers were designing vacuum tube circuits with low noise, wide bandwidth, and low distortion. It's true that the nature of the technology doesn't allow for measurements that match similar solid state circuits, but it's not clear to me that, when listening to music on loudspeakers, the difference between, for example, 0.5% THD on a good tube amp and 0.05% on a solid state amp is truly audible. Perhaps today tube amplifiers are deliberately designed with frequency response irregularities or extra distortion, but that wasn't my experience when I was shopping for amplifiers 30 years ago. (I haven't visited an audio dealer or been to an audio show [apart from AES events, which don't really count] for about 20 years, so possibly I'm out of the loop.)

    1. Wow EA, you need to go visit an audio dealer to just be in the presence of what it's like these days. :-)

      I hear ya man, and I wish more of the audiophile press can remind people that the concept of "emotional connection to music" is not at its core about the hardware we buy or the MSRP. Especially true IMO these days when an inexpensive pair of IEMs can deliver remarkable sound quality!

      We definitely should not overstate technical objective measurements like THD(+N). It's one thing in a review to measure and compare the results to determine relative engineered performance, and totally something else when it comes to choosing a device that works well, "fits" in our living spaces, projects the non-utilitarian image we desire to ourselves and perhaps others!

      Ultimately, once the engineered performance can be understood, it ends up being psychological doesn't it? Which gets us back to "emotional connection", but also the power of advertising, cultural mentality, and the use of purely subjective opinions among certain groups of audiophiles...

  3. Excellent photos Arch! Very nice quality. (As opposed to, say, the Enjoy The Music site which, astonishingly, after decades of show reports still seem to be photographing using a Potato, or flip-phone camera).

    BTW, Millercabon, I believe, is the same "millercarbon" from the audiogon forums - a classic opinionated Golden Ear heavily in to the School Of that room suggests.

    A trend that sticks out to me from shows (and high end audio stores) is the "keep the speakers off the floor" thing. Seems like everyone now raises the speakers on footers or platforms of one type or another. There used to be a lot more speakers in shows just sitting right on the floor. Whether this is something the speaker manufacturers have discovered to be generally beneficial to the sound, or just one more audio trend, I dunno.

    Though I have played with various materials and footers under my speakers, including springs, and they do seem to alter the sound (some of which can come just from altering the height of the speakers. But even when I have kept the height constant, coupling the speakers to my sprung wood flooring vs uncoupling does seem to produce a different result).

    1. Hey Vaal,
      I suspect you're right about the millercarbon postings on Audiogon... I have not visited there for year. Certainly a very tweaky vibe and "true faith" when I asked him about the value of those small HoloStage blocks. He said those Tektons were his personal speakers so maybe the fellow on Audiogon lists those as part of the personal rig.

      Yup, I think the speaker platforms have become a pretty common add-on these days. I haven't really played with them myself and have always assumed that if the cabinet is relatively inert, there's probably not much in the way of vibrations to transmit anyways to affect sound. That and I'm not particularly keen to lift and adjust my 100lb Paradigm Signature S8 speakers too much. :-)

      I can imagine adding platforms and springs could change the height of floor-standers and maybe that in itself will have a subtle change in sound; maybe even change in angulation of the speakers. If you have any tips I should look into, this could be fun to explore...

      About the photos, thanks... Nothing special, I used a Sony ZV-E10 camera (APS-C sensor) for this show with a little bit of judicious post-processing. I notice a lot of writers just using their smartphone which is convenient and great if you get a good shot, but I do like the latitude of extra aperture control and bit of editing especially with dark rooms when going in with a larger sensor camera.

  4. Archimago, thanks a lot for taking your time to write about your impressions, and especially for providing references to the music used for equipment demos! I'm basically going along your notes and trying each artist to see if they click with me. I love discovering well produced music that I haven't heard before!

    1. Greetings Mikhail,
      Have fun with the music and hope you're keeping well!

  5. Dutch & dutch 8c seems like a really good option. Cannot wait to listen them, probably my future speakers.

    1. Hi Milan,
      Yes, they sound fantastic and I quite like their appearance as well.

      I think for anyone who just wants a simple digital system that they can buy and just enjoy the music without obsessing over minutiae, a pair of D&D 8c will do the trick.

    2. I have sometimes mentioned stuff that I wouldn't have bought if I had seen measurements etc, but in this case it was actually the other way around - I was thinking about these speakers, and when Mitch gave them a top review I bought them.

      They are still the most expensive things I have ever bought except for my apartment, but I think they are worth it! Also no need for an amp, analog cables, or even a DAC, as I'm using them with a MiniDSP SHD Studio streamer/preamp which has a digital output directly into the speakers. The speakers do have built-in Roon support now but with the MiniDSP I get Dirac room correction as well. The only thing I'm missing a little is having another input on the speakers, as I'm still doing some manual cable swapping for movies/surround.