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AKFest 2010

Nick Goode reports on the AudioKarma audio festival, held in the Detroit area on May 1st and 2nd. Additional comments by Rich Graebel.

Nick’s report

I had the pleasure of attending AKFest 2010 on both Saturday and Sunday. David Goldstein, aka Grumpy on the AudioKarma.org forums, and his family organize and run AKFest. I attend AKFest each year and always look forward to it. This year AKFest was held at the Sheraton Novi. I felt that this hotel was a really nice venue but kind of missed the open environment of the hotel from last year. AKFest features listening rooms from manufacturers, retailers, and AudioKarma member listening rooms. There is something for everyone at this show. Where else are you going to be able to listen to vintage horns and DIY tube amplifiers in one room, and then state-of-the-art amps, digital sources, and other equipment from Audio Research to Wadia?

I am going to give this disclaimer now that I am not a professional reviewer or photographer. I am not going to give details about every room, because it would take too long and some rooms I would not have much to say about. This is based on my opinion and we all know that we all hear differently and have different preferences. No offense is intended to the rooms left out or that I did not enjoy. It is nothing personal and show conditions are very challenging to achieve good quality sound. I do however like sharing my experience and hearing feedback from others that attended the show. I met up with AudioCircle member Pardales and we hit many of the rooms together. It was a blast. Here goes…

Salk Signature Sound and Audio by Van Alstine

AKFest 2010 - Salk Signature Sound and Audio by Van Alstine roomThis room is one that I always look forward to because it always seems to just get better and better. Jim Salk and Frank Van Alstine are two very unique individuals that make an audio equipment match made in heaven. I feel lucky to be able to listen to their fine equipment each year at AKFest.

The Salk Sound and AVA room was one of the largest hotel rooms at the AKFest. It was large enough to have two separate systems each with their own large seating area.

AKFest 2010 - Ultimate 70 Vacuum Tube Amplifier by Audio by van AlstineThe first time I visited the Salk/AVA room on Saturday I had the opportunity to hear the Salk Songtowers and the Audio by Van Alstine Ulimate 70 tube amplifier paired with AVA preamp and dac. The sound of this combination had some of the best synergy I heard at the show. The music was flowing in an effortless manner and sounded natural and dynamic. It was one of the best sounds and certainly one of the best values with both products having real-world pricing.

I am familiar with the Salk Songtower so I knew they sounded excellent before hearing them at the show. The AVA Ultimate 70 tube amp is amazing. If you are in the market for a new tube amp anywhere near the price of the AVA Ultimate 70, run, don’t walk, to the phone or computer to order one from Frank.

Close-up of Salk SoundScape midrange and tweeter modulePictured at the right is the Salk SoundScape loudspeaker (in the other system) in stunning cocobolo. My favorite combination this year at AKFest 2010 was the Salk SoundScape loudspeakers with Audio by Van Alstine Ultra electronics.

The SoundScape are the best of both worlds for me. These fine speakers combine an open baffle midrange with the RAAL ribbon and perfectly tuned woofer/passive radiator combo. Air, detail, imaging, finesse, authority, etc. In a word, amazing. How would they sound in my room?

This photo may help answer the many questions that people have about the transition between the upper and lower sections of the Salk SoundScape speaker.

Jim Salk with the SoundScape 10 loudspeaker

Jim Salk with the SoundScape 10 loudspeaker

Parker Audio

Parker Audio high-efficiency loudspeakers roomThe surprise of the show for me was the Parker Audio room. I had heard of them online but knew nothing about the sound of their speakers. I really enjoyed what I heard in their room – I asked a bunch of questions and made several trips back to their room throughout the show.

The system consisted mostly of tube equipment. They were using a handmade 7-watt 300B tube amplifier to power both of their speakers.

Parker Audio Excalibur 10-inch woofer and AMT tweeterThe larger speaker, called Excalibur, uses a 10″ driver paired with the AMT tweeter and retails for $3,500. This is the model that I spent the most time listening to. I heard a great variety of music including some recordings that I brought with me on Sunday. This was one of the most musical, non-fatiguing, open, incredibly natural sounding systems I have heard in a long time. I personally thought it was one of the best sounds at all of AKFest. I did take the time to hear hard rock as well as girl-with-a-guitar type tunes and everything in between. I think I was in their room for close to two hours total on Sunday.

The smaller monitor, called the Troll, uses a 5 inch driver paired with a custom ribbon tweeter and retails for $600. This was a complete surprise when I heard it at the end of the show on Sunday afternoon. They use one sub that has an 8″ driver for augmenting the lowest frequencies. I would have guessed I was listening to an expensive and much larger speaker design. They were also extremely musical and revealing. It was amazing to me that they can sell these speakers for $600. I have never heard any speakers close to that price sound the way they did on Sunday afternoon. They get my budget speaker award. I would certainly recommend them to someone looking for monitors under $1,000. The two gentleman from Parker Audio were some of the nicest I met at the show. I hope they come back to AKFest in future years.

ASi Tek, Fritz Frequencies, and BSP Audio / GIK Acoustics

ASi Tek, Fritz Frequencies, and BSP Audio - GIK AcousticsI have to say this was one of the best sounding rooms at the show regardless of price. This was also my first chance to hear a system that utilized Kaplan Power cables. I believe the whole system was wired with Kaplan GS top-of-the-line cables. They must have done an amazing job because this entire system sounded very good. Nice work Paul!

ASi Tek (Doug) provided the source for the system which is the Oppo BDP 83 SE version with his statement modification including OTM (off the mains) custom battery power supply. This is an incredible source and I am pretty sure it will play any current audio and video disc you can find.

GIK Acoustics room treatments and Fritz Frequencies Carbon 7 monitor loudspeakerThe speakers are the Fritz Carbon 7 two-way monitors, which are very refined and offer incredible value. I do not know how Fritz coaxes that amount of dynamics out of such a small and beautiful package. No sub required!

Bryan Pape provided the impressive Korato amplifier and the Korato valve preamp with separate dedicated power supply. The Korato electronics offer the first 40 watts in class A. I am pretty sure Bryan mentioned that it was operating in class A the entire time and did not need to call on its 340 watts per channel with the efficient Carbon 7 monitors. Bryan also showed his GIK room treatments which seemed very effective and also looked great.

Classic Audio Reproductions and Atma-Sphere

Huge open sound from these extra-large horns from Classic Audio Reproduction. Atma-Sphere electronics were drool worthy. I went back to this room a couple of times and each time there was music playing that I was not familiar with. Very high quality sound from a complex speaker design. It was nice to see so many Michigan based companies represented at the show.
Classic Audio Reproductions horn loudspeaker AKFest 2010 - Atmasphere electronics

Additional comments from Rich

AKFest is an audio show held in the Detroit area every year. Around 37 audio manufacturers and members set up a stereo in empty hotel rooms and show off their particular system. Audio shows are a great opportunity to listen to gear you may have read about on the audio forums or to find boutique manufacturers you never had a chance to listen to before. One thing that sets AKFest apart from a standard audio show is the member rooms. That is how AKFest actually got started. A few guys got together at a hotel to listen to music. Member rooms are rooms where a member of AudioKarma.org sets his or her stereo up and all show attendees are welcome to step in and listen to some music. Member rooms are one of the most fun aspects of AKFest.

Soundstring, Modwright & Bamberg

The Soundstring, Modwright & Bamberg room at AKFest 2010A few rooms stood out for me and one was the Soundstring, Modwright & Bamberg room. No, this was not a law office, but was one of the better sounding rooms to me. The tube-modified Modwright Transporter fed a 36.5 tubed preamp which controlled the bridged monos so they could make the Bamberg Series 5 sing.

AudioKarma members room

A member's room at AKFest 2010, with vintage Pilot amps and JBL2445jAnother room that I enjoyed was the room by AudioKarma members Kegger and cosmos. With a coat of fresh lacquer given to them just the night before, the speakers were bi-amped with two vintage Pilot amps. The speakers used JBL 2445j’s compression drivers. Good vinyl too.

Bogdan Audio Creations

A member's room at AKFest 2010, with vintage Pilot amps and JBL2445jThis is the Bogdan Audio Creations Petra. This large speaker weighs in at 300 pounds and costs $17k. It is constructed with laminated MDF layers and certain inside chambers are filled with sand. It uses a RAAL tweeter and Eton mid range and Eton 11″ woofer. I heard it with a tube integrated and it sounded really good, although I thought it could have benefited from more watts.

Concluding remarks

Other pieces that I liked at the show: Salk Sound SoundScape 10’s powered by AVA electronics, Dynaudio C1’s driven by Octave, and AudioClassic’s big horns driven by Atma-Sphere monoblocks.

If you are as interested in your gear as you are your music, audio shows are a great place to have some fun. Definitely bring some of your favorite music and be prepared to get some new music recommendations.

Readers' comments

    Like I said in Michael’s coverage of LSAF I really appreciate the effort put forth by you to do some coverage for us. Those Parker audio speakers have caught my attention for sure. The price is actually not completely insane for such a nice looking package. Definitely will be on the kook out for any chance to hear those.

  • Jason,

    Thanks for the comment on the Parker Audio speakers. They certainly deserve consideration when looking for new speakers. Dave @ Parker is a really friendly and knowledgeable person also. They offer a great deal of performance in each of the speakers I heard in their room.

  • Cool report!

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