The enthusiast's audio webzine

Lone Star Audio Fest 2010

This was my first year at LSAF – the Lone Star Audio Festival – held each year in Dallas, Texas. My speaker-building buddy John Busch had been regaling me with LSAF stories for years, and at last I got to go. And I had a great time! But I might rename it LBAF for “Laid Back Audio Fest.”

What was fun for me was the double nature of the laid-back show and lots of DIY. Most of the big shows like RMAF, CES, The SHOW, Montreal, etc., are super busy and tend not to have much DIY or kit content. LSAF is not like that. Big enough to be interesting, but not so big as to be crazy. If you want to sit down, drink a beer and really listen, you can. In fact, you’ll usually be invited to.

Just to let you know where I’m coming from, I’m an avid DIYer, builder, and moderator at diyAudio.com. So of course I saw the show from that angle. And there was plenty to see. Wayne Parham of Pi Speakers is a cornerstone of the show and he sells speaker kits. Danny Richie of GR Research is also a big attraction and he sells speaker kits. Hawthorne Audio is well-known for their open baffle kits and were very popular. Not to mention the wild and crazy bunch of guys from EMIA. Lots of hand-wired, bread-board stuff with the prettiest tubes you’ll ever see. And sweet sounds too. Not only that, but there were contest winners from the junior division with homemade speakers.

Room 215. Me and the Altecs

Room 215. My Altec open baffles and the lovely Grant Fidelity A-534B amp (photo - Melissa Parham)I’ll start with my room (natch). I was in corner room 215 with a rig that had been at LSAF 2008. The speakers were open baffle 3-way. The high-mid consisted of a pair of lovely old Altec 605A coax drivers. These date from the mid ’60s and were extremely popular as studio monitors in the mid-20th century. Many thousands of recordings were mixed and mastered on Altec 605s. They were running with a passive crossover and powered by 300B SET tubes. The bottom end was filled in with a pair of Eminence 18″ woofers (no longer in production). These were actively crossed over and driven by a Class-D amp.

Grant Fidelity of Calgary were kind enough to lend me one of their beautiful 300B SET integrated amps for the show. A shiny, heavy beast that really made the Altec coaxes sing. Very smooth and open sounding, real depth. I really like the musicality and openness of the A-534B, it’s pretty much a perfect match for the Altecs. The 18″ subs were driven by a Virtue ONE amp. It had all the power needed for the subs and did a great job. I played mostly DVD-A format from a Yamaha universal player through my prototype transformer DAC. The only real criticism I had of this system is that the lower midrange could have been cleaner. It’s hard to do with a 15″ midrange. More crossover work needed!

Room 230. Pi Speakers

Room 230. Wayne Parham says 'Bring 'em on!'The first other system I got to hear was Wayne Parham’s “three Pi” speakers. They are the size of large bookshelf speakers but sound much bigger. A simple 2-way with a 12″ woofer and 1″ horn. The woofer in these was an Acoustic Elegance TD12S and the horn driver a B&C DE250. Wayne gets good strong bass out of these and a smooth midrange. You can hear that Wayne has done a lot of intelligent crossover work on the three Pi. Nice looking finish and grills on them, too. He was driving them with an Audio Note Kit2 KT88 tube amplifier via a Cary Audio preamp. They seemed to do a fine job all working together. Somehow Wayne had avoided the room bass hump that we were all dealing with. This was not Wayne’s first rodeo, and it showed.

Room 224. AudioKinesis

Room 224. Duke LeJeune ready for action!Duke LeJeune was pleasing the crowds in here. He had a new speaker that I’d not heard before, the “Rhythm Prism.” This is a tall, thin 2-way with a 1″ horn driver and 12″ woofer. The baffle face is angled 45 degrees so that the drivers are not facing directly at you. Not your normal box. I did not care for the look of the speaker grills, but they didn’t hurt the sound. I’ve followed Dukes work for several years across many audio shows and always liked it. Recently he seemed to have taken a turn toward the overly polite speaker, much like my Altec coax rig. While it’s a good direction to go, you can always go too far. The Rhythm Prism is not like that. Although it has the signature AudioKinesis smoothness and resolution, it seems much clearer and more present than what I’d recently heard from Duke. Great bass dynamics too. Never harsh or brash, not forward, just “there.” Clean and articulate.

Duke and Wayne showed us why the 12″+horn combo is such a classic. Dating all the way back to James Lansing’s Iconic, it’s a killer combo. Efficient, dynamic, and realistic sounding. These modern takes on a 1930’s classic make you think long and hard about why you need anything else. Making them sound this good, though, is no easy task.

Room 207. Emia

Room 207. Emia, the wild and crazy guys of tubes and horns (photo - Melissa Parham)Jeffery Jackson and Dave Slagle are the wild and crazy guys of tubes and horns. Jeffery has often been compared to Cat Stevens, and Dave might be Wayne Parham’s evil twin. (Just teasing) They are a lot of fun and the stuff they build is retro madness at its best. Seriously into old tubes and top-notch drivers, there is a lot of amazing bread-board work to be seen. You like the glow of real tubes? This is the place. Lots of old Western Electric gear, paper-in-oil caps, Dave’s transformers. Dave and Jeffery don’t do it the easy way, but there is method in this madness.

They were playing vinyl through the big “Eleven Horn.” Once they got it running right it was glorious. I’ve heard a lot of big horns, and these are the cleanest and clearest I’ve ever heard. I don’t know what driver they used or where the crossover points are, but it’s magic. The bass was also horn loaded, a BASSMAXX horn, I believe. Good, but not as good as the Eleven Horn. They seemed to be fighting “room boom” and bass peaks – we all were. For anyone who thinks that horns sound “forward” or “shouty” – you really owe yourself a listen to the Eleven Horns.

Room 201. GR Research, Dodd Audio, dB Labs

Room 201. GR Research V2 open bafflesNice combo going on here. GR was showing their Venuette (V2) open baffle speakers along with Gary Dodd’s tube amps. This seemed to be a good match-up. I was with the V2s in the Virtue room at RMAF 2009 and I think they were sounding better at LSAF. The P.Audio coaxial line is nice – I’ve heard the 8, 12 and 18-inch versions. Very clear, very dynamic. Getting the best out of them means a lot of hours spent on crossover design. Danny has these filled out on the bottom with powered dual 12″ drivers, also open baffle. A nice combo. Unfortunately I did not get downstairs to hear the V1, the bigger brother. They were well liked and a hit at the show.

Room 216. Hawthorne Audio

Room 216. Hawthorne Audio, with the 15-inch Silver Iris coax open baffle driver (photo - Melissa Parham)Next door to me were the other wild men of audio, Brad and Matt. It was always a party in that room! Hawthorne makes a well-known and well-liked kit or assembled open baffle speaker. For a small amount of cash and some elbow grease you can get into the fun world of open baffle speakers. The “Duet” is a speaker I’ve heard at several audio shows and get-togethers across the country. Here Brad was using the Augie bass driver to good effect – there were some real low notes. I feel that open baffle speakers really benefit from a powered low-frequency driver, and this was no exception. The 15″ Silver Iris coax running the mids and highs still needs some crossover work. The sound was almost the opposite of my 15″ coax, being too present and warm in the midrange, whereas mine was too recessed and wooly. I have not heard the S.I. 10″ coax, but would love to. The baffles were very pretty and rather discreet, with an almost all-over grill cloth.

Room 206. F.s.3

This was the most unusual room of the show. Car subs. But not your usual car sub stuff. Nothing to hear in this room but plenty to see. Jason makes his own drivers and has filed a number of patents on the suspensions. These are 7″ drivers with a 3″ long voice coil, a huge Xmax, and a very open basket design with a unique-looking motor. There were plenty of cut-aways to show how it all works. The guys on the TV show “Sliced” would have been proud. One very cool device was a custom woofer box that had adjustable box volume and port size. This allows the box to be tuned exactly to the customer’s car or room, and then a custom box is built. Very clever! F.s.3 is hoping to expand into the home audio market. I wish them great luck.

Room 206. Mysterious workings of new drivers Room 206. Super X-Max in action

Room 405. John Busch

Last but not least my good buddy John’s room. Not for sale, this was a personal project. These were real he-man speakers – dubbed the “Widow Makers” by Seth Krinsky of Virtue Audio. Open baffle, all passive crossover. 2×18 per side (yes two), a Seas 10″ midrange and a dome tweeter. Lots of active surface area. These giants looked like they would knock you down (and they could), but they were much more subtle than you’d think by looking at them. Very open, very real sounding. Never got into trouble no matter how loud they played. Great soundstage with real depth.

John builds his own designs including crossovers. He actually built these crossovers in the hotel room! Which tells you that he’s “cheating.” These speakers are tuned to the room. As well they should be, but not everyone can do that. The results were quite surprising. I did a few measurements at the end of the show and the curves are amazingly good. Flat where they should be, dips where they were wanted (2-3 kHz). And they would play as loud and clean as you could want all the way down to 25Hz. In a hotel room. Guys love speakers like these, but a number of the wives did too. Good for everything from “Little Girl with Guitar” music to crazy pipe organ stuff.

Room 405. Mardis, Busch and the big speakers Room 205. Grooving to the sounds of BIG speakers

Concluding remarks

That’s my view of LSAF 2010. I did visit more rooms than mentioned above and heard some very nice stuff. I just talked about the rooms that have the type of gear I like – DIY, horns, and tubes. They were not the only good systems at the show, just the ones that fit my style. There were a lot of comments about how good everything was this year and a general consensus that systems are getting better and better. I asked a number of visitors and exhibitors if they thought that the Internet was responsible for the rising quality. Most of them say yes, they believe it is. LSAF is a great place to hear this in action. Don’t miss it next year!

Readers' comments

    As a fellow show coverer I have to say, excellent job! I really appreciate the time you took to out this together for us to read. Be forewarned though, most shows start out small and gradually grow bigger and bigger each year. RMAF started out as a…. DIY festival! Now it’s the monster it is now for better and for worst. I love small shows for the same reasons you have outlined here, much more intimate and you can actually relax and just enjoy a good system that you find. Any way thank you for taking the time and outing together an excellent report.


  • I think it is important to note that the Tranquility DAC from db Audio Labs is a BIG reason why that GR Research room sounded so phenomenal.
    In regards to Duke’s room I dont think I have ever listened to a more ‘relaxing’ pair of speakers. The room was addictive and constantly full of people to the point of getting hot and humid.
    Next year I will spend more time in Wayne’s room. What I heard was superb but I want to listen with tracks I am already accustomed to and unfortunately I did not make it in there ’til my last few minutes at the fest. Beautiful woodwork and what I did hear makes me want to listen to more.

Leave a Comment