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Positive Feedback ISSUE 16
november/december 2004


Rocky Mountain Audio Fest: Photo Essay, Part 3
by David W. Robinson and Albert Porter

All show photographs by Porter and Robinson; image processing by Porter and Robinson.

After the trip to the Linn room, we had just enough time to squeeze in one more room before making a trip to Mike Pappas' DSD surround demo seminar on the main floor. Which one would it be?

While trying to decide, who should we run into…

…but my old audiobud, Stevie-o Rochlin, editor of Here's a photograph of him photographing us while we photograph him. Talk about journalistic narcissism!

Steve is a Ferrari lover (who owns a very fine 308, I might add), while I am a Porsche lover (928GT, to be specific). Every now and then we trade pix of our cars—as it should be. Fine audio and fine cars: an excellent combination!

Appropriately enough, the room we visited just before the DSD surround demonstration was the Vacuum State Electronics/Ikonoklast Loudspeaker Systems room. The first thing that caught my eye was the VSE-modified Sony DVP 9000ES SACD player, which I gave a rave to in Issue 15 (see The VSE Level 4 mods and XLR output take this SACD platform from "OK" to "Wow!!" in short order, moving the sound in the general direction of my reference standard, the EMM Labs CDSD transport and EMM Labs DAC6 at a noticeably lower price point. Well worth checking out; for more details prang

I am not familiar with the RTP4 preamp that the SACD player is resting on, so can't comment there.

I did get a moment to chat with Warren Gregoire, the West Coast agent for VSE modifications. Warren is an excellent audio artisan, and cares passionately about bringing the most out of SACD playback. I enjoyed talking with Warren, who is a very pleasant person. Those interested in learning more about the Vacuum State Electronics line of components and SACD upgrades can check out

It was time to sprint to an event that had been at the top of my priority list for the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest ever since Mike Pappas had told me that it would be happening: the KUVO/Avalon Acoustics/EMM Labs/Genex/Sennheiser demonstration of DSD surround sound. Mike and his associates had a handful of original DSD surround recordings that they had done (e.g., chorale, big band, solo organ, small string group) and would be sharing with the audience… count me in!

The demo was held in one of the larger seminar rooms on the main floor of the Marriott. In the photo above, you see the front speakers (left, center, right), all Avalon two-way monitors with ceramic mids. In the background, the object that looks like a cabinet is the Avalon subwoofer, a bloody impressive piece of work. Acoustical traps are on either side of the sub.

A closer look at the Avalon center channel monitor; it was powered by a dedicated Rowland amplifier, and cabled with Cardas.

"Mighty Mike" Pappas, lead engineer at KUVO FM Denver, and one of the best DSD audio engineers in the biz (in my humble opinion), digs in on his DSD presentation. He gave us an outline of the equipment used (Sennheiser mics, Genex 48 track recorder, EMM Labs A/Ds and D/As, Cardas cable), and described the setting of each of the recordings we heard as we went along. Mike's done a lot of work with Gus Skinas of Sony's DSD Project (and now head of their new DSD Recording Center in Boulder, CO) and Ed Meitner of EMM Labs in getting the best possible sound into his DSD work. He's also relied on George Cardas' special expertise in cables for professional audio engineering, and his long-standing friendship with Avalon Acoustics to provide DSD-ready ceramic monitors that can handle the wide bandwidth and dynamic range required by the format. It's a remarkable combination of talents, producing superlative results.

In other words, the DSD demos were bloody grand!

Two of Mike's KUVO associates also attended the DSD demonstration.

The group attending this session included PFO's John Zurek, Dave Clark (front row), and Bryan Gladstone (second row, on the right).

Ungawa! A rolling stack of brilliant DSD gear, as used by the KUVO group…

…including the Genex 9048 48-track DSD/PCM recorder…

…and a bodacious bounty of EMM Labs DAC8 8-track converters (x3 = 24 tracks). Magnifico!

I couldn't resist: the Mikemeister rests his case on the Avalon bigwoof. Is this subpar for Mike?! (Just kidding, Mike!)

Mike also showed his seminar groups the "dummyhead" microphone system that he uses to record the rear channels for his DSD recordings in a realistic way, preserving the natural soundfield of a concert hall. Interestingly, Mike says that he faces the dummyhead backwards, which seems to give a better result. Given what I heard in these recordings, I would have to agree…the sense of hall ambience was exceptional.

Mike Pappas with his beloved DSD "stack on wheels."

I was so impressed by Mike's pure DSD recordings that I visited his seminar not once, but twice. Each time, I was delighted by the exceptionally clear, transparent sound, the effortless dynamics, and the enveloping soundfield. This is what DSD, properly handled, delivers by the ton: Gizmo's audio ecstasy.

And there's no doubt in my mind that this was the proverbial "best sound and music of the show" for me, by a tolerably wide margin.

After finishing this seminar, I went next door directly to catch the other "must do" seminar of the RMAF: Steve Hoffman's discussion of "The Art of Mastering." And who better than Steve to talk about the subject! Steve is a good audio friend, and I've been a long-time fan of his triode-mastered approach to the audio arts. His humorous, insightful observations about what really goes on in audio vaults, engineering rooms, and with some celebrated "master tapes" were a real hoot. I wouldn't have missed this one for the world!

My only complaint was that an hour just isn't long enough—Steve, next time you have to talk for two hours, amigo!

Steve's seminar was very well attended, by the way. My good audiobud Alan Kafton and I sat towards the back, and enjoyed the discussion and questions…especially the "let me tell you about the Aqualung ‘master tapes'…" thread. If you weren't there, you really missed it, my friend.

After finishing these two seminars, I was getting pooped… and we had both dinner and a Patricia Barber live concert to do on Saturday night. Once again, it was time to sprint to one or two more rooms before the day ended.

As it turned out, we were able to make two more rooms that day. One was a traditional favorite of mine: deHavilland Audio. In this room they were showing with Spendor speakers, Pranawire (a Brutus Award winner in 2003), and Silent Running Audio.

The Spendors included the S5e "2.5 way" on the left, and the S8e 2 way on the right. Handsome work, though there was no music flowing while I was there, so I didn't get an impression of their sound.

The other room that I hit was one that had caught my eye earlier in the day: the Welborne Labs/Modwright/Horning Hybrid Loudspeaker space. Ron knows how to appeal to folks like me… just put out an open reel machine in good shape, and let the crowds gather! Superior sources (DSD/SACD, open reel, and fine turntables) make for superior sound. Wish I had had more time to sit down in this room.

I just had to have a closer look at this Studer… it was in beautiful condition!

The Welborne Labs DRD 300B (as in "Direct Reactance Drive") monoblock, a directly heated 300B SET amplifier that outputs 7 Watts, in tandem with a Horning Hybrid loudspeaker.

"Time's up!"

Groan! Time for dinner... Italian, tonight. (‘Twas terrific, too!)

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