Pacific Audio fest and a tale of three pressings


Veteran Kiwi hi-fi creator Simon Brown took his Wand turntable to the fabulous Seattle-based Pacific Audio Fest hi-fi show. Here’s his take on the experience.

A show run by audio enthusiasts for enthusiasts, is my mental summary of attending Pacific Audio Fest 2023. This is a compliment, as a large chunk of hi-fi shows around the world are run as commercial ventures and that is expressed in that some are bit impersonal and grim, maybe because neither the exhibitors nor the attendees can afford the water let alone the beer.

In contrast, the vibe of this show was happy and relaxed with a number of small and startup companies, and free beer here and there. It may also be that there are a number of US makers who just sell in their home country, so it was fun coming from NZ and seeing stuff that was new to me.

I was lucky enough to be based in the Genesis Advanced Technologies room, where I was showing a new version of my Wand turntable and tonearm in an “entry” system worth $NZ40k+. Putting this into context, the big rig system at the other end of the room was significantly over $NZ 1 million. (The presence of my 14-inch tonearm in this system contributed negligible proportional cost!)

For the record, the entry system was new variants of my Wand turntable and arms with Goldenberg & Hyper Sonic  cartridges, full rack of Heed Thesis amplification and prototype Genesis G7 speakers. While the big system was VPI Avenger direct/Wand 14in/Hyper Sonic cartridge/Genesis electronics including the  12kW of amplification inside the Genesis Prime+ speakers (effectively IRS Mk10).

As I was on duty in the Genesis room I only stole bits of time to pop into other rooms in the show for a brief look and listen, so some slightly random comments to go with photos. As I typically only heard one track in each room, my comments have some bias depending on the random draw of what was playing at that moment:

+ Popori were a new to me brand of electrostatic loudspeakers from Hungary, and the modestly sized  model sounded pretty good. They are claiming 88dB efficiency with 96dB and big bandwidth from their WR1.23 model.

+ I have to admit to a liking for open backed loudspeakers and they seem to a growing trend. Spatial Audio Lab are a new brand. I rather liked both the look and sound of their Q6 model with LTA amplification. A popular amplifier choice was a clever, modern take on transformerless valve amps. They were again being used with another open baffle Pure Audio Project  (no relation to Pureaudio) and sounding good (if nearly impossible to photograph with my phone)

+ I had an immediate positive reaction to the sound in the Songer/Whammerdyne Room despite having heard neither before. This field coil loudspeaker and mad scientist valve amp made good music.

+ Black Ocean Audio cleverly used an ocean backdrop to grab your attention but these solid timber upgradeable speakers kept my attention by sounding sweet and coherent.

+ I’ve found before that I tend to like Joseph Audio speakers at shows and this was no exception when fed from a reel to reel and Doshi Audio valve amps.

+ There were several ballroom-scale systems. The Von Schwikert/VAC valve amp managed to impress and make music while a couple of other big-name systems left me cold, but then they both were playing a very “hi-fi” tiz’n’boom track to vast empty rooms.


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One of the amazing experiences of the show was talking to Bob Lichtenberg. He’s local, a really nice guy, who is profoundly deaf and yet was one of the most astute listeners to visit our room. He listens with his whole body and uses the sense of touch in his hands on an inflated balloon to aid this. He was clearly musically gifted as he had started to learn the piano at the age of 4 before his hearing had started to deteriorate at the age of 5. But it was only in mid-life that he had discovered using a balloon to listen and had then worked quite hard on retraining his brain to get better at it. He’d read widely about this and it uses the neuroplasticity, starting with the memory of hearing from when he was young, to rewire the brain to hear from a different set of inputs, but gets much the same result. He wasn’t kidding, as he made some very astute comments about the sound in the room, picking up that the less developed of the two prototype Genesis speakers had a slight emphasis in the upper bass which most people didn’t notice. (For more see this Stereophile interview on YouTube).

I was so lucky being in the Genesis room as owner Gary Koh is a passionate evangelist for music and hi-fi and loves to share his latest findings and experiments. So, there were quite a few “wow”  moments.

Having the big Genesis Prime speakers obviously helps with listening experiments, with the clarity of their ribbon midrange and tweeters and the effortless heft of 24x12in woofers. It made a very interesting comparison to have heard a big band, The Kings of Swing, perform live at the show and then hear the master-tape of the performance played back in the Genesis room the next day.  Also the reference lacquer LP of the same band from last year. On first impressions it was very, very like the real thing but if you started being critical, the speed and impact of transients was still notably short the actual band in performance. It was an amusing side note that I would have judged the real thing as “harsh in the treble”.

This and a couple of experiences of hearing the Analog Audio Design reel to reel in the room over the weekend made me grudgingly admit it’s better than vinyl (if you have the money and patience). As a medium it was quite noticeable at the show, with a good number of sellers of prerecorded tapes and fancy reels.

One of the ballroom sized spaces had a dozen LP sellers (but I knew I was already over the limit of cabin baggage weight with 4kg of it being LPs) and another being small vendors and a Headphone Zone.

The other Gary Koh “wow” moment came in the last hour of the show (before playing ‘Smoke On The Water’ at stadium levels, I’d previously had fun playing Fat Freddy’s Drop when he did a demo of three LPs in three different vinyl formulations made from the same master stamper and keeping everything else the same (same press, same settings, same operator, etc). I’d been sitting there thinking that this was a bit esoteric for me and I’d have to listen hard to hear a difference. No, as he worked up through good, better, best it was startlingly obvious, the piano developed a lot more body/harmonics (it was a top Steinway) and the decay just went on forever. I asked one of the other guys who has these three at home how obvious it is on a mortal system. He said it was still obvious but more as added warmth.

So, a fun show! I’m really writing this to encourage any of you travelling at the right time of year (Sept 2024) to think about detouring to attend. It was my first time in Seattle, and it’s a lovely city, worth more time to explore than I had. (Sadly, while they are proud of their coffee as the home of Starbucks, I didn’t strike a good one but the NZ-style of coffee is quite different). The same folks also run Capital Audiofest (Washington, November) and are to do one in Dallas in March next year, so they’re likely to have a similar feel. Check ’em out!

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