CAF12: Daedalus, Purity Audio, Bob Carver

First, a confession. My wife is a reality TV aficionado. She loves her some reality TV. She was all over Survivor when it first aired — and every season thereafter. She was all over Housewives, and most of the various derivatives. There are too many examples in between to list, much less keep track of. Mostly, she relegates this fetish of hers to the treadmill, sparing me. Sort of. But occasionally, I’ll wander up out of the basement from a long day listening to music and I’ll find her there, sneaking in a half-hour fix of other humans being deplorable to each other.

The latest, History Channel’s Mountain Men, was … actually kind of awesome. See? She’s sneaky, that woman. Sneaky!

I bring this up, because Lou Hinkley of Daedalus Audio is the guy they modeled this show after.

Lou is a Renaissance Man. Sure, he’s a world-class loudspeaker designer and a freaking wizard when it comes to woodworking and cabinet making. He’s also a professional musician, a guitarist to be precise, and has his own album currently available from CDBaby. He’s a force of nature. Ever seen that steely glare and not had the immediate and nearly overwhelming urge to wet yourself? That’s the force of his will.

If that doesn’t make you squirm in your own inadequacy, don’t worry, there’s more. At Newport, I overheard Dan Wright of Modwright whispering to another manufacturer:

  • Lou can do 500 pushups. On one hand. On his knuckles. While holding a pair of Ulysses speakers in the other hand.
  • Lou currently holds the U.S. record in shot-put and has been coaching the U.S. Olympic team for the last 20 years.
  • Lou has run in every Iditarod since he was 3 years old. And yes, I’m pretty sure he meant “run”.
  • All the wood that Lou uses in his speakers, instruments and racks, Lou harvested by hand, and hauled directly to his shop. Across the state. On foot.
  • Once, Lou kicked Chuck Norris’ ass. Just because.
  • Lou is fluent is 73 languages. Bet you didn’t know there were 73 languages, did you? Well, turns out there are quite a few.
  • I have no doubts, whatsoever, that this man could pop my head off with one hand. Squeeze … and POP!

Okay, I might have made up that bit about the languages.

The status of these claims is unclear. But what Lou Hinkley is is a designer. I’m actually pretty sure of that. If you’ve been around audio’s high-end for any length of time, or hit any of the RMAF shows in the last decade, you’ve heard of Daedalus Audio, seen the magnificent cabinet work and heard the sounds what his speakers can do.

His designs, known for fantastic tonality, have some of the nicest cabinets being made today. The joinery and level of finish will surprise you — I found myself fondling them almost involuntarily. Until I caught Lou glaring at me. I stopped before his eye lasers warmed up and burned my hands down to stumps. I recommend bringing a decoy with you, next time you hear his speakers. Have them fall over a couch or something. Should give you time enough to run your hands along the surfaces. Mmm mmm, good!

Lou was running his own room at CAF, which is good to see, and he seemed quite happy with the setup. I would have been! Okay, so, actually, I was happy with it.

His new Athena loudspeakers, which I first heard at Newport, are $9,950 a pair. Lou says that

The Athena is an elegant one piece version of the DA-RMa, sharing the same crossover (AP only) and drivers with a 2″ thick maple slab integrated into the bottom of the cabinet. The added volume and taller cabinet configuration provides added bass extension and helps the system act almost like a sealed enclosure. This gives a very balanced and detailed reproduction.

The Athena also has a very tube friendly aspect — it’s 96dB with a 7ohms impedance. Lou says that the important thing is that it is really flat (+/- 1 ohm above 100Hz). Bass extension is also flat from the mid-30Hz region up, with a gentle roll off and “usable output” to 25Hz, and extends up through the band to 25kHz.

Lou uses his own speaker cables ($1,500/8′ pair), but the rest of the cable loom came from the Silver Series from WyWires, including the new “Version 3” balanced and single-ended interconnects, a USB cable, S/PDIF Cable and the Juice II power cords.

Bob Carver’s $12,900 Black Beauty 305 monoblocks provided KT-120 fueled power.

Electronics came courtesy of AMR, including an AMR DP-777 DAC and a CD-777 CD player/transport. They are available for $4,995 each.

Lou had a very fancy suit for his Purity Audio Design Statement preamp. This preamplifier, a two-chassis lux model with a separate PSU and arguably some of the slickest work being done in volume controls today, usually lists for $15k in its standard black acrylic case. This version, however, sported a two-tone all-wood cabinet with the same attention to detail that Lou gives to his speakers, and with all the same touches. Check out the dovetail joins! This casework is pretty awesome — and makes marking up the case, something that acrylic is notorious for, something of a non-issue. You can get your dual-chassis Purity preamps upgraded from Purity for $1,500.

The Statement is the all-copper version of the Silver Statement I found upstairs in the TIDAL Audio room. Hit that link for a longer discussion of the Purity pre and why I want one in a bad way.

I thought the sound here was really ballsy, and the music I played came through with gusto and verve but also a surprising amount of delicacy and detail. With it’s sensitivity, the Athenas played all manner of loud and I could hear no strain at all — the sound was clear and clean, with robust bass and good extension. In general, the sound was a bit less romantic than the Living Voice/Border Patrol combo and, maybe, more rock and roll. Of course, that could just be the music talking, but this system just sounded dynamic as all hell. 96dB sensitivity with 300+ watts on tap with get that for you.What I wasn’t expecting was the resolution of detail. I pulled my Chris Jones CD out, queued up “Roadhouses & Automobiles” and heard crickets chirping all over the sound stage. Yeah, I had zero complaints in this room. Great looks, great sound, what’s not to like?

I was gonna tell Lou what an awesome setup he had going, but I couldn’t find him. It wasn’t until that afternoon that I ran into Capital Audiofest’s orgainizer, Gary Gill, who was spinning some wild yarn about some mountain man rappelling down an elevator shaft to get some kid’s teddy bear. Crazy. I mean, you can’t make this stuff up.

Well, you could, but where’s the fun in that?

I called Lou after the show, just to tell him how much progress I’m making hurling small objects about my back yard. Lou asked me if I could do it while doing one-fist knuckle push-ups. I complained about a bad connection, and changed the subject to “what’s new”. Lucky for me, there’s quite a bit.

First up is the Argos. Argos is going to slot between the Athena and the Ulysses, tipping the scales at $13k a pair. The design is similar to the Athena, but with a taller cabinet. From the cabinet, it looks like the design adds a second mid-range driver and a second bass driver. Add a pair of BOW subwoofers and you’ll have yourself a beautiful, stunning system. And by ‘stunning’, I mean “causing or capable of causing … loss of consciousness.” It’s gonna be sweet!

Also coming is something a bit more on the down-low, but Lou said I could talk about it here. Shh. You’re gonna have to lean into the monitor for this one. Closer! Shh!

I’m told (by Lou) that Lou will have something very special at RMAF this year, in addition to a pair of the Argos (with BOW subs!) and Ulysses, which he’ll be showing with Modwright.

In a separate room, maybe-possibly shared with Audio Power Labs and Purity Audio Design, Lou will be debuting his magnum opus, the Orpheus. Pricing is supposed to be approaching $40k, but will be his no-holds-barred take on loudspeakers. Taller than the Ulysses, the Orpheus will carry a similar drive array and will add a pair of rear-firing super-tweeters. With better/deeper bass, crazy-good imaging and classic Daedalus focus on tonality, the Orpheus will also carry the aesthetic dramatically forward, leveraging some very special woods usually reserved for Gibson guitars.

Remember to bring your decoy. See you there!