DaveC's RMAF 2016 Best In Show: Austin Acoustic

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DaveC113

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DaveC's RMAF 2016 Best In Show: Austin Acoustic
« on: 10 Oct 2016, 11:53 pm »
There were a lot of excellent systems at RMAF 2016. These days many major speaker manufacturers are producing great products, and they seem to be converging to very similar space... and it's a nice space with vanishingly low distortion and great resolution... yet in many ways it still falls short of being able to reproduce live acoustic instruments and vocals. Often recordings are cited as the culprit, but we can't listen to a recording without a system, and we have no perfect system so the only way we can really judge is in a relative sense. What if you hear a system that can make recordings sound more real than ever before? What if a simple redbook CD player surpasses every other source you've ever heard? You'd have to adjust your views that the recording and the format is as much of a limiting factor as previously thought, and maybe it's our playback systems that are really lacking. Well, I've experienced a system that has forced me to think about these things because just a simple CD player was able to create a musical experience above and beyond anything I've experienced before, including state of the art analog.

The system I'm talking about, and the highlight of RMAF 2016 was, for me, Austin Acoustic... http://www.austinacoustic.net/home-12.html

In every aspect of sound reproduction this system is head and shoulders better than anything I've experienced before. Except soundstage, but it was still pretty good despite the room acoustics, and imaging was spot on and amazing. I am pretty sure, given a better room, that soundstaging would also be extraordinary. Dynamics were incredible, better than any other horn system I've heard, and they leave typical speakers in the dust in this area. Miles Davis' horn was THERE. Loud passages blared like he was right THERE. It was borderline painful, just like in real life. I've never experienced this before, no other speaker or system I've heard is capable of this. WOW! Clarity and resolution was also off the charts and at world class levels. Vocals were palpable, with eyes closed you could swear you can reach out and touch the singer.

This system is simply at another level vs everyone else at RMAF... nobody else was even close. This system redefined for me what stereo playback is truly capable of... there's a lot more in a recording than we give credit for and stereo really is capable of reproducing live events at a level that is much closer to live than I thought possible.

The only issue for most people will be price. The drivers are custom made for Austin, and likely made for them by Goto or Ale, whose drivers can exceed $50k/pair. The system was completely active with a DHT SET amp for each driver. DIY would be FAR out of range for most economically, never mind how much a complete Austin system is going to run you. But it's great that systems like this exist to show what's possible, and maybe there is hope that one day we can get drivers like these for a bit less than a nice car.










poseidonsvoice

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Re: DaveC's RMAF 2016 Best In Show: Austin Acoustic
« Reply #1 on: 11 Oct 2016, 12:44 am »
Nice post Dave. Brian (brj), was over the top enthusiastic about this room as well. I unfortunately spent very little time in this room on Saturday as I didn't  even remotely hear/experience what you two heard. I had to leave early on Sunday morning or else I would've joined you guys. There is always another show though. The system certainly had some serious investment particularly with the Accuphase active XO and multiple SET tube amps all with Tango transformers. I believe the speakers alone were $348k and the total system price was north of $600k.

If they are at AXPONA, I'll certainly give them a second chance.

Best,
Anand.

DaveC113

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Re: DaveC's RMAF 2016 Best In Show: Austin Acoustic
« Reply #2 on: 11 Oct 2016, 01:31 am »
Yeah... unless you listen to music you know well it's hard to tell for sure. One of the best things about the Austin setup was the way they ran the room, they were always willing to play whatever people brought in at whatever volume they wanted it played at. And he didn't put up with much talking in the room so it was rare to have conversation distracting from the music. Also, no attitude at all, it seemed he'd treat reviewers exactly the same as anyone else. If they are at AXPONA bring your demo tracks and let me know what you think! ;)

Folsom

Re: DaveC's RMAF 2016 Best In Show: Austin Acoustic
« Reply #3 on: 11 Oct 2016, 01:52 am »
Anand, if I'm at Axpona let's go to the room together, maybe several.

This system was posted in another forum, with a bad review.

It's a subjective hobby. At Axpona this year people were woo'd by the Tidal system, but it straight up sounded gimmicky compared to what the live version and mastering people heard/made. It wasn't honest, at all, but that doesn't mean it sounded bad. Honestly I'm not sure why people want say an orchestra to sound overly sweet and wet since in real life they're pretty dry.

roscoe65

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Re: DaveC's RMAF 2016 Best In Show: Austin Acoustic
« Reply #4 on: 11 Oct 2016, 01:54 am »
Thanks for the write up Dave.  The system pricing certainly seems over the top.  I understand that a custom, well-tuned system using top line parts will cost a lot, but I also think much of the magic you heard could be obtained at far lower prices.  There are a number of hobbyists who have put together comparable systems, albeit mostly custom/DIY.  I can remember a number of them from the day of Sound Practices.

From my perspective, we are seeing:

1.  Tube Preamp (line stage in this case)
2.  Active Crossover (Accuphase F25 in this case)
3.  SET Amplification (205/45/300B)
4.  Multiway, high efficiency speakers.

A number of us have experience with SE amps, both triode and pentode.  Some of us also have dealt with high efficiency horn systems as well.  The major difference is the relatively rare use of active crossovers for each driver.  I would argue that the DIY among us could produce a satisfying system that may not approach the AA show system but may give 85%.  Such a system may look like this:

1.  Tube preamp (Inspire LP27a)
2.  Active Crossover (Pass B4)
3.  SEP Amplification (Inspire 6V6 SE and KT77 PSE)
4.  Speakers (Altec 414-C in bass reflex and Altec 802D on 32A horn)

Total cost for this system, including cabling and tube upgrades but not including source:  about $9-10,000.  Not dirt-cheap but not $600k either.  If I could use a tube crossover (say, a Marchand) it may be better, but I am not convinced.  This system will give very good bass, but not great bass.  It will also miss the very top (>17khz) frequencies, but will work extremely well in a small to medium sized room.


DaveC113

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Re: DaveC's RMAF 2016 Best In Show: Austin Acoustic
« Reply #5 on: 11 Oct 2016, 02:48 am »
Thanks for the write up Dave.  The system pricing certainly seems over the top.  I understand that a custom, well-tuned system using top line parts will cost a lot, but I also think much of the magic you heard could be obtained at far lower prices.  There are a number of hobbyists who have put together comparable systems, albeit mostly custom/DIY.  I can remember a number of them from the day of Sound Practices.

From my perspective, we are seeing:

1.  Tube Preamp (line stage in this case)
2.  Active Crossover (Accuphase F25 in this case)
3.  SET Amplification (205/45/300B)
4.  Multiway, high efficiency speakers.

A number of us have experience with SE amps, both triode and pentode.  Some of us also have dealt with high efficiency horn systems as well.  The major difference is the relatively rare use of active crossovers for each driver.  I would argue that the DIY among us could produce a satisfying system that may not approach the AA show system but may give 85%.  Such a system may look like this:

1.  Tube preamp (Inspire LP27a)
2.  Active Crossover (Pass B4)
3.  SEP Amplification (Inspire 6V6 SE and KT77 PSE)
4.  Speakers (Altec 414-C in bass reflex and Altec 802D on 32A horn)

Total cost for this system, including cabling and tube upgrades but not including source:  about $9-10,000.  Not dirt-cheap but not $600k either.  If I could use a tube crossover (say, a Marchand) it may be better, but I am not convinced.  This system will give very good bass, but not great bass.  It will also miss the very top (>17khz) frequencies, but will work extremely well in a small to medium sized room.

I'd agree the amps could be recreated easily, but won't be cheap... Tango transformers are as $$ as it gets and they make a huge difference. You could use James or something and get kinda close though... for a lot less cash.

However, I don't think any other compression driver will come close to Austin's. I've heard a lot of horn systems, including ones using Altec and TAD drivers... none are in the same league as this system. And the system they showed was horn based >800Hz, they have another more expensive speaker with a 3rd horn from ~300 Hz, which is probably quite a bit better. I'd guess the drivers in those speakers are $50-75k retail. And the difference is hard to put in terms of percentages as it's just not the same sound, it's like comparing apples to oranges in a way... now matter what you do to your apple it'll never be an orange. If you really want an orange they cost as much as a luxury car(s), but for enthusiasts with the means, why not? It's much better.

Also, I'd agree on bass... the best solutions like bass horns aren't practical for most people though. Subs could possibly be added but I'm not sure it's needed for most domestic situations and typical SPLs.

iluzun

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Re: DaveC's RMAF 2016 Best In Show: Austin Acoustic
« Reply #6 on: 11 Oct 2016, 04:31 am »
Beautiful photos, and good call!  I wandered in Sunday afternoon, and as stated, the fellas were very friendly and accomidating.  Even though there was a table full of the usual 'mush', the fella asked if I had anything I'd like to hear.  Nice...  Nobody else was in the room so I got to hear two tracks from two newly released cd's.  Bob Weirs Blue Mountain and Madeleine Peyrouxs Secular Hymns, I'd listened to each @ home on an EL-34 system during the last week.  I liked the 'vibe' of the Weir cd enough to go buy the vinyl.  When played in the Austin room the 'production value meets active SET resolution' caused some 'disassociation' for me, as my mind attempted to resolve the presentation of an unfamiliar tube/crossover setup w/Weirs otherworldly high country production.  Honestly I was a bit confused as to what I was hearing & only then asked about the various tubes, ect....  GM-70s et al...  SETs have a way of surprising me like that, crushing my aural memory and reshaping the audio landscape.  The first two tracks of Secular Hymns 'blew the fog out' so to say as the stripped down acoustics of the English country churches was reproduced with startling realism.  The cd and music r phenomenal and it easily bested anything else I had heard over the weekend.  Simply superb, pure seduction, resolution and embodiment. I would suspect it capable of reproducing exquisite recordings sublimely, and showing production 'value' for what it is.  A 'way kool' if unaffordable rig one would be introduced to, a world apart...

J-Pak

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Re: DaveC's RMAF 2016 Best In Show: Austin Acoustic
« Reply #7 on: 14 Oct 2016, 06:55 pm »
Drivers are by ALE and they need a lot of crossover work to correct.

I can understand how something like this is very impressive in the short term, no way would I be able to live with them as the primary set of speakers for day in day out listening. I played a recording I made of my friend's mother (former violionist Cleveland Orchestra) and it was very far from sounding like real life. Most acquaintances I know in Japan that start on the ALE/GOTO journey and try and tame it over decades eventually give up.

OzarkTom

Re: DaveC's RMAF 2016 Best In Show: Austin Acoustic
« Reply #8 on: 15 Oct 2016, 08:36 am »
Stereophile said this about Jim Vaughn's new 20K plasma speakers.

Quote
"
I thought Vaughn's Plasma Signature loudspeakers ($20,000/pair) with their new bamboo cabinets, revised plasma tweeter, and eight Fostex midrange drivers combined to create a most scintillating—better than electrostatics—magic realism. Sourced and powered by Gordon Rankin's spectacular electronics, this system was easily the best sound of the show—maybe the best sound of ANY show—ever!
Read more at http://www.stereophile.com/content/rmaf-2016-assessment#yx6O6AuyGSzc4Yho.99

DaveC113

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Re: DaveC's RMAF 2016 Best In Show: Austin Acoustic
« Reply #9 on: 15 Oct 2016, 02:33 pm »
Drivers are by ALE and they need a lot of crossover work to correct.

I can understand how something like this is very impressive in the short term, no way would I be able to live with them as the primary set of speakers for day in day out listening. I played a recording I made of my friend's mother (former violionist Cleveland Orchestra) and it was very far from sounding like real life. Most acquaintances I know in Japan that start on the ALE/GOTO journey and try and tame it over decades eventually give up.

I heard the most realistic trumpets I've ever heard by a long shot, and some things it did better than any typical cone 'n' dome speaker.

Of course it's impossible to tell what the result of long term listening would be.

Stereophile said this about Jim Vaughn's new 20K plasma speakers.


Nice review! I've liked Vaughns but had some issues with the sound being totally coherent... it seems I should have given them another shot! 

I do think Austin's setup was beyond what typical cone n dome speakers can accomplish though.

xero

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Re: DaveC's RMAF 2016 Best In Show: Austin Acoustic
« Reply #10 on: 2 Nov 2016, 08:38 pm »
I am happy to hear that other had the same experience as i did in this room. I came back 3-4 times. I was told that the 4 way system in Austin would blow this one away. I am planning to have a listen to that system in March when i make my annual trip to Austin.

I was struck by the realism that this combination provided and was thankful that i was able to play music that i knew. The second time that i went to listen i was sitting in pole position had a husband/wife or boyfriend/girlfriend to the left and right of me. I play a string quartet cover of Massive Attack's "Sly". Something that i knew well but something that was completely unfamiliar to my new friends sitting on either side. For little over 4 minutes we sat transfixed and motionless. at the conclusion he said that we felt as if he was going to cry, his girlfriend / wife left the room an emotional wreck. I knew that what we were listening to was special but to have it confirmed is such dramatic form only showed what reproduced sound can REALLY be like. She returned with red circles under her eyes to say that she had never heard reproduced sound like that. It happened to be the her first show and her first room.

This is truly a magical room and i encourage everyone to hear it. As i described it to my friend who was unable to attend .... he said that i experienced an emotional transference. This was in a room that was far from optimal!!!!!!!

Hugely rewarding


xero

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Re: DaveC's RMAF 2016 Best In Show: Austin Acoustic
« Reply #11 on: 2 Nov 2016, 08:41 pm »
i also heard the Vaughn speakers and liked them quite a bit even if the sound was overly rich and not able to convey the realism.
There are not many things like horns fully realized.


Odal3

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Re: DaveC's RMAF 2016 Best In Show: Austin Acoustic
« Reply #12 on: 2 Nov 2016, 11:53 pm »
I play a string quartet cover of Massive Attack's "Sly".

Please share the name of the string quartet. I would like to hear that version too

xero

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Re: DaveC's RMAF 2016 Best In Show: Austin Acoustic
« Reply #13 on: 3 Nov 2016, 06:12 am »
VSQ or Vitamin String Quartet
massive attack is here: http://www.vitaminstringquartet.com/massive-attack.html

also recommend Petter Gabriel string quartet by same group. currently available on ebay
http://www.ebay.com/itm/The-String-Quartet-Tribute-to-Peter-Gabriel-New-CD-/381534655950?hash=item58d53cd5ce:g:WQoAAOSwFqJWrbLg

enjoy
xero

Odal3

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Re: DaveC's RMAF 2016 Best In Show: Austin Acoustic
« Reply #14 on: 3 Nov 2016, 11:01 pm »
Thank you for the links! Much appreciated.

cymbop

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Re: DaveC's RMAF 2016 Best In Show: Austin Acoustic
« Reply #15 on: 5 Feb 2017, 02:36 pm »
The second time that i went to listen i was sitting in pole position had a husband/wife or boyfriend/girlfriend to the left and right of me. I play a string quartet cover of Massive Attack's "Sly". Something that i knew well but something that was completely unfamiliar to my new friends sitting on either side. For little over 4 minutes we sat transfixed and motionless. at the conclusion he said that we felt as if he was going to cry, his girlfriend / wife left the room an emotional wreck. I knew that what we were listening to was special but to have it confirmed is such dramatic form only showed what reproduced sound can REALLY be like. She returned with red circles under her eyes to say that she had never heard reproduced sound like that. It happened to be the her first show and her first room.

 :D :D :D

Xero, I shared this moment with you!  The husband and wife are my friends (I was the third wheel) and indeed it was their first show and introduction to hifi.  I am so glad to stumble upon this thread, because I could not recall the track you played that took us to such transcendence. 

Austin Audio was indeed my favorite room at the whole fest.