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Positive Feedback ISSUE 2
august/september 2002


The 2001 VSAC Show: DSD, SETs... Blue Lights and Super Colliders... an Alternative Show Report!
by Rick Gardner, aka "Dr. Sardonicus"



No, I am not going to talk much about the content of VSAC 2001, simply because I think there are much more interesting things to share with you than who was in what room, playing what sort of audiophile drek at too high a volume. Others can write about that, if they want to.

My VSAC experience centers on something far more valuable, if more difficult to describe... human community.

This experience actually begins for me a couple of days before the show. David Robinson asked if I would be so kind as to pick up Positive Feedback’s Senior Technical Editor, Mike Pappas, at the airport and entertain him for most of a day. I was only too glad to oblige. Mike is a great guy, and was reportedly bringing a set of optical direct-to-2-track DSD masters he had made in his radio station recording studio. He would have the Genex machine and Ed Meitner’s converter. Oh joy!

The first step was to get Mike fed... a little Pho at Portland’s best Vietnamese restaurant, and then we were off to my little bungalow in the woods (yeah, well, yes I have moved and completely changed my life—more on that when it is appropriate).

Mike is a straight-up guy and a talented recording engineer. I was very excited to hear the masters in my home system. Mike needed to index the recordings for the VSAC show demo. He was bringing the equipment cold, with no real idea of even what system he would use for playback. I assured him that any reasonable person would jump through their ass to have DSD masters to use to demo their equipment.

Within a few minutes, we had the Genex and his custom 2-channel Meitner equipment hooked up to my system. The first thing we listened to was trumpeter Ron Miles. Imagine really capturing a trumpet, miked at about 20 inches, right there in your listening room. I am sure we had peaks nearing 120 dB. It was joy to really get to hear my system without any source limitation.

For nearly four hours we listened, talked, drank wine and generally had a sublime human experience. Most importantly for me, Mike and I cemented our friendship around this common love we share.

Later that same day, I toted Mike and his equipment over to David Robinson’s. David was understandably eager to hear the masters. I bid adieu and headed home.

Early the next morning, Lila Ritsema, David, Mike and I headed out in two vehicles towards Seattle. Lila is a smart woman; she chose to put all the men in one vehicle and drive the other one herself! I had brought some gently "enhanced" coffee for the trip and a series of compilation tapes for our enjoyment.

For over three hours, we talked, joked and listened to music... and just generally had a wonderful time.

Our little caravan rolled up to the Silverdale Hotel in Silverdale, Washington by mid-morning. The place was virtually awash in name-tagged dweebs and audio nerds of every description, each of whom was smiling and apparently completely happy. The weather was lovely.

As we were checking in, I ran up against a dour and frowny man, with a distinct Austrian accent. It turns out this was the famous Ed Meitner. We were introduced and shook hands, briefly. I thought to myself... "jerk!" Mike and Ed had a brief exchange, where it was learned that Ed had brought along his newest generation DSD converters, which he promptly offered for use with Mike’s DSD masters.

We all wandered into have some sort of refreshments with Ed (me somewhat reluctantly). I sat amazed as this somewhat surly Canadian morphed into John Cleese. Ed Meitner is not only one of the premier digital designers in the world today, he is a warm, funny and completely enjoyable human being. Just goes to show you everything you need to know about first impressions, I guess.

After lunch we repaired to Ed’s tricked out Mercedes Benz and went in search of thrills and audio tape. We got lost, we got found. We did guy talk... we went round corners grand vitae. All in all, a most harmonious and lovely afternoon.

Wandering around the halls revealed a complete geek festival... (I mean that in the most affectionate way.) Grinning audiophiles were everywhere, and there was an obvious spirit of conviviality. No frowns, no sneers... no snide asides... hardly recognizable as an audiophile group!

My primary interest the first day was in the Wavestream/Cardas room. Mike Pappas was going to put his Genex machine and the new generation Meitner 8-channel DSD converter in front of Scott Frankland’s new re-designed Wavestream V-8 monoblocks, with Cardas wiring and a high efficiency pair of Von Schweikert DB100 (the model number referring to the efficiency rating). This promised to be a serious audio event, especially in that most of the attendees had never heard DSD, let alone from a master.

Well, Scott fires up his new amps and the entire western seaboard goes black (well, actually it was only three or four rooms). Breakers are re-set and the amps are fired up again, with identical results. Gee!

Strange, but you can’t effectively power three audio demo rooms off a single 15 amp circuit. Go figure.

Mike applied filthy lucre to the problem, George Cardas performed wiring magic and about an hour later, voila! . . . DSD masters. I can’t say I was particularly enamored of the VS speakers, but other than that, the room rocked! It was fascinating to see the effect DSD had on the show attendees, expressions like those actors from Spielberg’s Close Encounters when they saw the mother ship!

I divided my time that day between seeing every demo room in the place, and recruiting listeners for the DSD demo, like those kids from Puppetmaster.

As one might expect from the venue title, what we have here is mostly SE and PP tube amplification and high efficiency speakers. I particularly enjoyed seeing the DIY room and I even heard a horn speaker I liked! (It was by Brooks Audio, if you’re curious.) This was a first for me.

However, more enjoyable were all the friendly people, who appeared to be relaxed and having a great time. The show is small enough to allow for easy access to all the rooms, ease of movement, and plenty of chat time.

The evening of the second night a large group of us mannish types went out to dinner. The food was forgettable, but the conversation was not. We men are tribal, and geeks are no exception... we all do the "trump" story game. You know what it is... if one guy had a three hundred horsepower car, the next one had four hundred. Well... we hit the point where Mike Pappas put his new ten thousand-watt radio transmitter amplifier installation on the table, and I figured we had a winner.

At this point, I casually inquired from a very affable gentleman sitting across from me as to his occupation. He mildly replied that he was the maintenance manager for an atomic supercollider! A shocked silence descended over the group. No one spoke for a second until the former winner, Mike Pappas said, "Well, I don’t know about the rest of you guys, but my dick just got a lot shorter!" One of those perfect moments that only males could understand!

Did the experience at VSAC fundamentally change my reservations about SE and horns? Sorry... no. However, it was even more clear to me that it doesn’t matter. We all pursue our audio interests with differing goals and sensibilities. What impressed me was the fellowship. We need not agree about everything to be friends, and traveling companions.

Vive la difference!