Here's what I said in closing out my photo coverage on Audio "And last but far from least, the most mesmerizing musical presentation I encountered all weekend. Dennis 'The Tube Wrangler' hails from Livingston/Montana. I've heard his very special SETs before but mated to this new speaker now, I encountered amazing texture, dynamics, detail, delicacy and drama. The industrial quality build may not help in situations that require domestic diplomacy but the musical elegance simply must be heard to be appreciated. After hours, we listened to Chet Atkins and Mark Knopfler duel it out. Then we tried some Alison Krauss before moving on to some very rowdy Country (and Western!) fare. The name of the firm? Serious Stereo. When I first caught that name, I also caught my eyes rolling upward. But after two hours of listening, I had a big grin on my face. If I had room for a third system and my checkbook could have taken the hit (I'm thinking around $10k for an amp and a tad more for the speakers), I might have made a deal there and then."

So, while my synoptic impressions were clear, it offers a dearth of in-depth data for our readers. No reason to vex because as you will see, when energy converges, things have a way of working out - including being reminded that the cables in this room were compliments of Joe Cohen of Prana Wire who's had a hand in a number of excellent sounding exhibits over the years. Cable guys never get no satisfaction. So here's a cheers to Joe and his mighty prana.

ZZZAP: Alan Kafton of Audio Excellence AZ quickly responded to my comments: "Absolutely, Stephæn ... even with a few other rooms that kept me coming back, the Serious room was the most musically enjoyable for me as well. I've never heard Alison sound so "there". Even more so than in my own system. Dennis is doing something very special with his circuitry. His newest 2A3 monoblocks are in the $12K range and the speakers are collaboration with nice guy Jay Fisher (who also writes for the Robb Report). They utilize 1-inch thick marine-grade Baltic birch and a 15-inch driver... estimated pricing at $9500/pair. Dennis is planning a 12-inch driver version (with a scaled-down cabinet), which should come in at around $6500/pair or less. Amazing, amazing sound for less than 2 watts per side ... pure music."

ZZZNG! Speaking of Jay Fisher, what follows is his response to the listing. By the way, I had dinner with Jay (a truly nice and as we will see, humble guy), Terry 'Ten Fingers' Cain, and Clark (aka The Walla Walla Vinyl Slut) two days before I heard the Serious Stereo room. I've met Jay and his lovely bride before, but it was Terry who bumped into him first at the show and wisely invited him along for dinner. Over the course of our sumptuous three-hour meal -- at the superlative Cool River Café -- Jay never once mentioned having a hand in the design of this speaker.

"Yo Stephæn,
I am so stoked you liked the big Altec MLTL! The 604 series drivers have always intrigued me. As you probably know, a lot of music has been mixed in the studios on these babies. I was a bit nervous about how the speaker would sound at RMAF because Dennis and I finished the design a few weeks before RMAF and then we each pursued our own separate implementations. I understand that Dennis completed his pair shortly before the show. This provided minimal break-in, tweaking and setup opportunity ... just fire 'em up and see what happens. I'm happy that they sounded so good.

Although mine is not a commercial venture, I will be finishing a pair (strictly for my own use) by the end of this month and they will have what I believe to be a different flavor. The driver on mine will be mounted on the wide side of the cabinet and will hopefully give the mids even more presence and eliminate any possible baffle-step issues.

Also, the crossover on my unit will not be the stock Altec version but a custom job that Jeff Markwart, the brilliant Altec aficionado who co-designed the Exemplar Horn system with John Tucker, offered to design for me; that said, it will not be a commercially available product and will use the best parts available. I am pretty confident that they will sound glorious. I am veneering the cabs in African rosewood so they should look pretty sweet. I can't wait to hear 'em.

Your article/interview with Matt is the best. That kid is way ahead of the crowd. Awesome."


Then I check my email, again. ZZZOWEE! Now there's this from the Tube Wrangler himself:

"Hi Stephæn!
I really enjoyed your visit and I think you appreciate good audio.
We've been discussing how to build a lower cost smaller version of my new speaker system, allowing about a 5" reduction in cabinet width and corresponding reductions in other dimensions. This new speaker, although smaller than the show model, will still be very good compared to what's out there - at a reasonable price.

The amplifiers are simply total no-compromise. What I build for is all of the music - everything, period. This dictates all the design decisions. The price of them is ridiculously cheap compared to their build quality and musical performance and if we lower this cost, we get a performance drop... although it's still not as bad as with other amplifiers. The attenuator used is a ladder type. I have used series and shunt types and several transformer pots. The attenuator must not lose hardly any signal strength and most importantly, it cannot lose dynamics or bandwidth. About 100% of the others out there do. Yet, it is possible to make one outperform, say an interconnect wire of high quality.

The first one I built used Tribute transformer attenuator units and used a 10-amp/per contact Shallco pure silver, 45-position switch to select the inputs. Why 45 positions? Well, we needed only 3 positions so why use it? It's the world's best switch. A "hot-rod" mode was also provided, using only the attenuators and not the switch - for one source. All was wired with Siltech and Kimber silver to lessen losses. No common grounds were used. Instead, true interconnect cable integrity thru the unit was maintained; each circuit carried its own grounding system thru the unit and out. Shunt attenuators use a minimum of resistors in the signal path but they change signal load on the source. Bad! Series types use more resistors in the signal path as you turn them down. Very anti-transparent and anti-dynamic. The ladder type is efficient just like the transformer type, it uses only one resistor thru the signal path and it costs a fortune to build right - about $2200 for the unit I built. This is the best possible attenuator and allows such a passive unit to greatly outperform the best active preamps even in dynamics!

With lesser amplification systems, timing errors are not as apparent but in my testing, which used the JBL Paragon (as I have modified it), other amplifiers -- even the best that we could find -- could not even approach the needed reproduction of separate and distinct musical layers and convey the attitudes of the musical instruments and players involved. In order to get to this level, we must actually move air at each layer of musical information and be able to do these things all simultaneously, all correct in real time and in musical timbre. Once you have speakers, sources and wiring that can do this, you will need amplification that can track these layers in real time, with no delays or apprehensions. The system was actually presenting musical layers in time with the speakers' voice-coil requirements. These amplifiers are the heart and soul of the system.

So what you witnessed was a system taken to perfection - except for tuning into the room, which was done quickly and not anywhere near right. We estimated that we had about 60% of what the speaker is capable of in that situation. The correctness of the systems electronics is what allowed what you heard despite the room's acoustics. What this means to you in practical terms is that you can use equipment of this quality in any room and arrange it so you will enjoy it. Setup in that room took us a few minutes and that's all we did. We knew there was much more to be had from the room but knew we had other things to do as well - get ready for people.

I wanted to have better printed material on hand, a better website and better contact info. No time to do it. Despite all this, really good equipment can always get you through and that is what we were able to rely on. I thank you for your kind understanding and your excellent intelligent insights into audio equipment."

--- D ----

Aside for the de rigeur comment in the last sentence, I think Dennis closes the loop here nicely. And, frankly, the notion that the system was performing at merely 60% -- and the 'practical' implications thereof -- have certainly made me want to take a deeper look into those
amps and, of course, the driver, enclosure and implementation. If you, too, want to know more, contact Serious Stereo. Lastly, if you haven't figured it out by now, attendance at RMAF '06 is mandatory for any self-respecting oddiophool. If you're not sure why, yet, make it a point to immediately read the first paragraph of Paul Candy's RMAF coverage.