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Jon ver Halen of Lowther America showed two Lowther driver-based speakers, the Alerion and an unnamed open baffle design. This was the smoothest I had ever heard Lowthers sound, probably due in part to an insane floor-sprawling Eimac tube amplifier loaned by Jeffrey Jackson of Experience Music.

A new and handsome integrated, fully balanced non-negative feedback KT88 tube amplifier, the Grant Fidelity RITA-88, was on display by Grant Fidelity in the Creative Sound/Grant Fidelity/Occam Audio room.

Eficion was making some nice music at the show with their two-way Ficion F200, partnered with BAT tube electronics. Over the years, I have found that rooms using BAT electronics are often some of the better sounding rooms.

Dan Wright's Modwright Transporter and preamp (coupled with an Exodus digital amp), were being demonstrated to outstanding effect on what must be some of the best value, high quality loudspeakers on the market, the Exodus Audio Kepler. This speaker is a stand-mounted two-way monitor available for $1,000 finished, or separately as enclosures, drivers and crossovers for $651. Bargain hunters take note!

Another room that I would consider to be in the top tier at the show was the deHavilland/Sonist/Cable Research room, featuring Randy Bankert's Sonist Concerto 3, high-efficiency, two-way floor standing speakers powered by Kara Chaffee's newest amplifier, the deHavilland Model 50A. The 50A is an updated version of the rare vintage Fisher 50A amplifier, which I have had the pleasure of hearing in a friend's system years ago. As a vintage audio lover, it's great to see a designer with respect for the audio engineers of the past.

Paul Birkeland, who showed the Cold War 6C33 tube amps already previewed here, is obviously someone wise to the savings that can be realized by designing amplifiers around unusual and inexpensive power tubes such as ham radio transmitting tubes. Here's another one of creations.

One room that I have wanted to visit since I heard about their speakers' debut at RMAF several years ago was the Serious Stereo. Both principals Dennis and Brian Fraker were on hand. However, they were not completely satisfied with the acoustics for their room and felt that their sound was somewhat compromised. I asked Dennis why the Great Plains Audio Altec 604-8H-II coaxial driver was considered superior to the vintage Alnico magnet Altec classics, most notably the highly sought-after early models 604 and 604B. Dennis calmly explained that the ferrite V magnet of the 604-8H-II was much more powerful for its size, thus allowing the woofer and tweeter voice coils to be placed more closely together on axis. This provides more of a point-source wave launch. The second aspect of the 604-8H-II that he felt was superior was the use of the Mantaray tweeter horn, which avoids the sonic problems inherent in multicell horns. While I'll give him the latter point, I'm still skeptical about the benefits over the sonic qualities of Alnico magnets. As an owner of a pair of Altec 604B coaxials, some day I would like to hear these drivers compared in the same cabinets. I'm sure Bill Hanuschak of Great Plains Audio has made these comparisons but I would like to hear them for myself. After all, there are many other design aspects that are probably different, too, such as voice coil wire, cone material etc.

David Cope and Brian Smith shared one of the larger rooms for showing both Audio Note finished and kit products respectively. David had a Level 3 system on display in what turned out to be, for me, the best sound of the show. Early visitors to this room including myself were disappointed by the sound. On the last day of the show however (Sunday afternoon), I entered the room again along with Charlie and Rich and their tapes and the sound was glorious. David explained that the parallel 300B amp they were using was brand new on the first day of the show and needed break-in. They played it continuously during the show and by this last day, it was coming on song. The Audio Note room had the most natural sound and fully developed harmonics that always amazes me when considering the seemingly simple two-way speakers Audio Note champions. It was not just the tapes that won me over, either. David played several LPs for me including Miles Davis' Sketches of Spain and Alisson Krauss record and a couple of blues records. I commented that the sound quality, particularly with the Alisson Krauss record, closely approached that of the tape..

The Craftsman's Room was sorely under-stocked. A gorgeous, stainless steel chassis C3M / 211 SET amp by Ed Bellicci amp was a treat to see as were Grego Sanguinetti's amps from his article in an old Sound Practices. I also spoke briefly with Ted Mulcahey, who was showing his first effort at a pair of SET 300B amps. Very nice work, Ted! Charlie King showed his restoration and stereo modification of a cute and very small tube FM tuner as well as his remote-controlled 12B4 line stage and a battery-powered, pencil tube phono stage. I have heard the phono stage in my system and it was quite good. The line stage is yet to make it to Connecticut - on his next visit here, it will.

I think that a lot of DIY builders who would have shown their creations in the Craftsman's Room had elected to pair up with exhibitors, hoping to become small entrepreneurs. Nothing wrong with that!

Memorial Day morning was the closing of the show, with a delicious breakfast and awarding of sponsor-donated gifts. Let's hope that the Kilfoils can do this again although there was considerable chatter over breakfast that this had been a financial loss for them. To get the straight story on this, I spoke to Carolyn Kilfoil after the show. She said that there was never any intention of making money on the show. They did it for the enjoyment of all. In retrospect, she said that next time they would probably try to get a sponsor. I also asked her about the timing of the show on Memorial Day weekend. I felt this may have had a lot to do with the relatively weak attendance since many people probably wanted to be at home with their families. She did not disagree with this point but added that a lot of the people that had planned on attending were unable to get flights on the holiday weekend. So, next time they would not choose a holiday weekend. Carolyn said that it was very difficult to reserve the Hilton convention center space and that Memorial Day weekend was the only time available for a year in advance.

I cut out a bit early from the awards ceremony as I was anxious to see some of the sights of the Pacific Northwest. A group of us headed to Portland for a fabulous lunch at Clyde Common. Portland is reportedly a foodie's paradise and the number and variety of restaurant selections seemed to bear this out. A quick dash to the wine country just before tasting closed at David Hill Winery left us with a warm fuzzy feeling, reflecting on what truly was a demonstration of some great purist DIY, small entrepreneur and enthusiast audio.