Lone Star Audio Fest 2019 - Positive Feedback (2024)

At times Lone Star Audio Fest seems like "Old Reliable."While other Hi-Fi shows struggle to survive or move upmarket pricing startups and enthusiasts out LSAF remains steady and accessible for both attendees and exhibitors. This year in year out consistency all the more impressive given the event is 100% the work of volunteers. In previous LSAF show reports for Positive Feedback I have detailed the ethos and history of the Dallas Texas, USA based event. The short summary of that Lone Star Audio Fest ethos is music and Hi-Fi lovers coming together for a weekend of fun, and some business on the side. As a very people oriented event after some artsy equipment shot teasers this report begins with the people of LSAF and then details the sound and gear. It was great to find the sound quality and interesting products featured at LSAF 2019 setting new high water marks for the event. Even better to gather again with old friends and new to celebrate our passions for music and Hi-Fi.

Supra Hi-Fi

JWM Acoustics

Wayne Parham, Founder of LSAF and owner chief designer of Pi Speakers

Kelly Parham, as we say in Texas Wayne's better half.

Steven Solazzo, LSAF Executive Director and owner Stereo Clarity.

Joshua Miles, JWM Acoustics

Norman Tracy, ACG; Dave & Gabrella Thomson, Raven Audio

Michael Lundy, Uilleam Audio

Gunawan 'Gunny' Surya, Sonner Audio

Todd Binnix & Scott Warren, Supra Hi-Fi

Derek Skipworth, Audio Thesis

Calvin Johnson

Rick Craig, Selah Audio; Barry Solof, & Norman Tracy

Dave Thomson, Raven Audio & Greg Roberts, VoltiAudio

Before reporting on exhibit rooms and demo systems a little journalistic housekeeping. At LSAF your author is acting as both a journalist covering the show for PF and as an exhibitor. Such hybrids typically exhibit the worst characteristics of each constitute half. With that in mind I do my best to be evenhanded and fair in the following reporting. This is greatly aided by the high overall quality of the Hi-Fi being demonstrated, no one presented a lemon I would feel compelled to warn readers away from. Rather it's a pleasure to present each exhibitors' systems' unique characteristics for readers to learn how they fit into your desires. Photos in this report by Kelly Parham and Norman Tracy. I do not consider Hi-Fi shows as competitive sport, no 'best sound' awards and the rooms are presented unranked in hotel room number order.

Lewisville conference room GR Research

One look at the GR Research NT-Xtreme speakers with Servo Sub 5 subwoofers and audiophile newcomer or veteran the reaction will be 'this is Serious Hi-Fi.'As if four towers of plainer tweeters, midranges, woofers, and servo woofers is not enough Danny Richie had the conference room filled with acoustic treatments until he had created the perfect music grotto. Both the NT-Xtreme and NX-Otica (the latter displayed on the second floor) use Danny Richie's asymmetric shaped baffle designs on the open baffle upper frequency arrays. In the photo above note how the curtains show through the cutaway on the left speaker while the inner side seen on the right channel is solid. This asymmetry of the baffle extension panels that fold back from the front baffles allows the back wave to be shaped and dispersion into the room controlled. A more advanced implementation compared to the simple rectangular baffles often used in di-pole speakers.

Richie's GR Research is known both as a supplier of components and designs to the DIY Hi-Fi maker community and as an engineering gun for hire to the industry. Those credentials along with the acoustic horsepower on display meant I entered his demo with high expectations, but not without questions. Will the lone plainer tweeter keep up with all those cones? Is the NT-Xtreme all slam and bang and no finesse? With so much radiating area available it was certain the reproduction would be very good or very bad with little chance of a middling result.

Three songs into the demo all was answered as a singer's beauty and emotion brought little tears onto my eyelashes. Yes when called on the transient response hit like a lightening crack. Resorting to hackneyed yet appropriate adjectives bass was prodigious, deep, and as tight as the drumheads being reproduced. The tweeters output level easily kept up with the arrays of midrange and bass drivers seamlessly melding into a coherent unified musical whole. The designed for dipole moving coil midrange and bass drivers speed matched the plainer tweeters'. Perhaps if we had a recording of an Apollo Saturn 5 rocket liftoff we could have tested the NT-Xtreme's dynamic range, on music it just loafed along. The effortless dynamics of the NT-Xtreme open up the music. I believe it was this opening up of the dynamics on a micro scale along with essentially perfect tonal balance that yielded the visceral emotional reaction I experienced during the demo. The power of the effect was such that it hit me as Danny and a customer were sitting two rows behind me talking while closing a servo subwoofer sale. Usually side talking during a demo distracts from the magic we are attempting to create. The NT-Xtreme and Richie's setup overwhelmed such distractions with consummate ease.

Dodd Audio preamplifier and digital sources.

Main TDA7297 based amp in foreground, servo sub amp behind.

During the audition I was blissfully unaware of the costs involved. From the imposing array of towers one thinks it will be well into five figures. Here the leverage of the owners sweat equity and reduced shipping costs of flat packs comes to bear. GR Research sells NT-Xtreme speakers as a complete kit including CNC cut flat pack for $2995. They were accompanied by stereo GR Research Servo Sub Kit 5 one per side at $1089 each. Six 12" servo powered woofers plus NT-Xtreme covering the other nine octaves with a sensitivity of 94 dB and even 8 ohm impedance load. This system begs to be partnered with triode power amps. Danny went with something equally exotic if lacking the glow and heat of the fire bottles. Power amps for NT-Xtreme are 'chip amps' based on the TDA7297 integrated circuit that Danny built with wire, connectors, and lovely little veneered boxes all worth many multiples of the integrated circuit's cost. Pre-amplification via Dodd Audio battery power preamps, custom built by the late and keenly missed Gary Dodd. I expect given his close friendship with and support of Gary Dodd that Danny's sample of this collectible piece has some mods and upgrades. The source was a db Audio Labs modified Mac Mini running Audirvana. The DAC was a prototype that was passed around and tweaked by three different people including Gary Dodd. Finally in a very exotic twist the pre-amp, power amps, the Mac and the DAC are all powered off the AC grid running on big deep cycle 12V batteries. In summary a system tweaked to the extreme that pays back all the efforts expended with musical dividends.

Steven Solazzo Stereo Clarity

Immediately apparent upon entering Steven Solazzo's Stereo Clarity room his speakers were both a new design and executed with a step-up in the details including the new laser etched logo and wood finishing that seemed to glow as only expertly finished real wood veneer can. This LSAF 2019 debut is the Stereo Clarity Athena 4 tower speakers. Solazzo's designs are firmly in the 21st century that trait continued by the Athena 4's narrow tower architecture packed with high tech drivers including ceramic cone midranges, ribbon tweeter and powered built-in subwoofer. Specifics include dual 4" SB Acoustics ceramic cone mids, Fountek horn loaded ribbon tweeter, and side mounted CSS SDX10 subwoofers. The sub is powered by Bash 500 watt plate amp and accepts high level (amplified) signal and passes it on to the passive upper section. Athena 4's are specified as 91dB efficient and with flat bandwidth from 20-20k. Steven notes a key feature is having the adjustments on the subwoofer amp that let the owner tailor the bass response to meet the needs of the room and listener preferences. Stereo Clarity is offering the towers at a base price of $4k as a "Lone Star Audio Fest Introductory special." Exotic wood finishes are available upon request at quoted surcharge.

Stereo Clarity Athena 4

Solazzo's speaker designs are a fun mix of refinement plus the ability to play loudly and punch hard. The Athena 4 expands on these traits in a smaller tower made possible by the built-in powered sub and high-tech ceramic and ribbon drivers covering the remainder of the bandwidth. Stereo Clarity OneSource media server once again did an exemplary job acting as streamer + DAC + power amplifiers adding for 2019 Tidal lossless streaming. As attendees requested their favorites any and all genres were reproduced effortlessly and with (repeating the adjective that keep coming to mind) refinement.

Norman Tracy Audio Crafters Guild

Your author's company Audio Crafters Guild presented a system showcasing the evolution of ACG's newest products the 700 NTJ-FET ASP preamplifier and NT10 OCD speaker.

The 700 NTJ-FET Analog Signal Processor (ASP) preamplifier uses NuTube 6P1+J-FET amplification. The NuTube 6P1 direct heated triode is the only audio triode designed in the 21st century and combined with low noise J-FETs brings triode lushness to transparency in a tonally rich addictive combination.

NuTube 6P1 dual triode on ACG mount

New for 2019 the second-generation circuit features improved NuTube 6P1 mounting system, lower noise J-FETs, state-of-the-art 100 kHz bandwidth low noise regulators, and 800 mW output stage capable of driving both power amps and headphones with delicacy and authority. The NTJ-FET preamplifier drove ACG's 1000 series mono blocks power amplifiers equipped with optional energy banks.

700 NTJ-FET Analog Signal Processor

Source component was Windows 10 laptop PC running JRiver media player feeding via USB the Soekris Engineering ApS discrete R2R Digital to Analog Converter.

Soekris Engineering ApS R2R DAC

Speakers featured another second-generation design, actually a rather obsessive upgrade the NT10 OCD speaker.

NT10 OCD

Another year of living with the NT10's expressive paper cone + silk surround woofer, simple transparent crossover, and hybrid dome/ring radiator tweeter led to a simple question. Just how far can this design go if the enclosure and crossover quality are maximized? OCD in this context is an acronym for Obsessive Carbon Design. NT10 OCD added to the NT10 a carbon fiber + maple tone wood braced enclosure and external crossover featuring Mundorf capacitors, foil inductors, and bi-wired direct ground construction.

NT10 OCD with external crossover

Feedback from LSAF attendees was very positive, yes it was Positive Feedback. Attendees' praise confirmed the work, time, expense, and a little blood (carbon fiber is razor sharp during fabrication!) that went into creating 700 NTJ-FET ASP preamplifier and NT10 OCD speaker was well invested.

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Lone Star Audio Fest 2019 - Positive Feedback (2024)

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