Pacific Audio Fest 2023 Show Report
First, my apologies for this report's tardiness. Within days of returning home to the Midwest, I came down with some kind of flu or cold (not you-know-what 19) that had me out of commission for some ten days. Once I was on the mend, I got right back to work. Here is my take on my experience in Seattle... pardon the delay.
And So It Begins
After checking in, saying hello to all the friends and colleagues I ran into in the halls, getting settled into my room, and washing up after the trip, I joined in the welcoming meet and greet on the fourteenth floor at Maxi's. Good food, free drinks, and great conversation set the tone for what would turn out to be an amazing show!
In The Wings
2106 – Dadealus, LTA, And Small Green
The digital source here was the Small Green Computer Sonic Transporter i5 (Gen 3) Music Server ($1,095+), featuring the Sonore Optical Rendu Lite ($1,895), which includes everything you need to set up an optically-isolated Roon endpoint, including its own linear power supply, fiber Ethernet converter, fiber Ethernet cable, and SFP module. The DAC was Linear Tube Audio's brand-new pre-production prototype R2R + ZOLT ($TBA.).
The Linear Tube Audio MicroZOTL Preamplifier Level 2 ($5,750) handed off to their Ultralinear+ Power Amplifier Monoblocks ($6,800/each), which drove Show Director Lou Hinkley's Daedalus Audio Argos v.3 Loudspeakers ($15,850+ / pair).
All cabling was from Alex Sventitsky's WyWires, including the Platinum Series USB Cable ($699), Platinum Series Interconnects, RCA and XLR ($1,799/pair), the Oaedalus / WyWires Speaker Cables ($1,999/pair), Platinum Series Power Cords ($999), and used a WyWires / Daedalus Power Broker ($2,495).
This room not only won me over with its enticing degree of ease and engagement, but also with its stirring sense of vibrant dynamic scaling and nuance. The attack rendered on piano strings as they were hammered into play (keep in mind, the piano is a percussion instrument) was remarkably well portrayed, and cymbal tonality, rise, and decay were ridiculously authentic. The system served up an inviting, closer perspective, one which was much more like being at an event than listening to a recording. What a remarkable job for this price point. Well done, all.
2115 – Vanatoo
The smaller Transparent Zero Plus ($449.99/pr.) is just seven and a half inches tall, four and three-quarters inches wide, and seven and three-quarters inches deep, and weighs just four and a half pounds each. They are a two-way, bi-amplified speaker using a four-inch aluminum cone woofer with an underhung coil and shoring ring, combined with a four-inch long-throw passive radiator, and a one-inch soft dome tweeter. With four class D forty-eight-watt amplifiers per channel, they accept Bluetooth, with AAC and aptX-HD for wireless connectivity, or use USB or optical TosLink for up to 96kHz/24-bit. They use an auto-sense circuit to know when a signal is present, and they have a selectable subwoofer output, crossed over at 80 or 110 Hz.
The larger Transparent Encore Plus ($649.99/pr.) is ten inches tall, six-and-a-half inches wide, and eight inches deep. They have a five-and-a-quarter-inch aluminum cone woofer with a one-and-a-quarter-inch XBL magnetic motor, a five-and-a-quarter-inch long-throw passive radiator, and a one-inch dome tweeter. With Class D amplification of 100 Watts for the woofer and twenty for the tweeter, they have all the same connectivity as the Transparent Zero Plus, and add a Coaxial digital input, up to 48kHz/24-bit, and also have the auto-sense circuitry and sub out capability.
Brief samples of the same music were played, first on the Zero, then on the Encore, with no subs for this demo, using the optical input from a laptop running JRiver Media Center. I not only found their tonal balance to be very good, but they both offered a surprisingly honest sense of scaling, especially given their size. Not surprisingly, the Encore was the more accomplished of the two, but the Zero really made an impression. If you are in the market for such self-powered devices for your desk, bedroom, study, or any such installation, be sure to give them your attention. I think you'll agree that they offer an embarrassment of riches for their asking price.
2118 – Audionote
Digital playback was managed by their COT TWO/II CD Transport with the modified Pro2LF CD mechanism, and silver wired digital output transformer ($9,050), and the DAC2.1X Signature with copper coil capacitors and a valve rectified power supply ($6,660).
Amplification was handled by their Meishu Phono Tonmeister Silver Integrated Amplifier, an 8-Watt, 300 B-based SET with custom transformers ($19,300), which drove the AN-E/LX Hemp speakers, using a one-inch tweeter and an eight-inch hemp woofer, with copper voice coils, and a rating of 94dB/W/m efficiency ($9,930). Speaker cables were their AN-SPe Bi-Wire Stereo Speaker Cable set, made of 99.99% pure silver, 19-strand true Litz ($3,200 per meter per stereo pair).
All power cables were their AN-ISIS Mains Cables, 150-strand copper versions of the highest level SOOTTO ("SO Over The Top!" - It has 120 strands of pure silver in each conductor, split between 3 different wire gauges) cable ($437 per meter, including termination), and interconnects included both AN-V Interconnects, 99.99% pure silver, 19 strand true Litz interconnects ($1,171 per meter, including "P" type RCA termination) or the AN-Vx Interconnects, also 99,99% pure silver, but 31 strand true Litz interconnects ($2,050 per meter, including "P" type RCA termination).
This room offered lovely tonality and body. Though there was no earth-shaking bass, the system portrayed a nice sense of weight, with good dynamic scaling and a nice essence of pace. Where the left to right spread of instruments through the soundstage was quite good, as I would find in many rooms here, it portrayed a very shallow stage depth.
Now if you aren't familiar with the challenges typically presented in such hotel rooms, especially with the limited time one has setting up for a show, you should know that, more often than not, trade-offs between tonal balance, center focus, stage depth, and imaging are very common. I will add that Steely Dan's "Home at Last" was represented in a very resolute manner, with remarkably good transparency. While the Audio Note "experience" has never really spoken to me, this room was highly musical and engaging.