CAF 2014: Did BorderPatrol just smuggle a headphone amplifier into town?


Capital Audiofest is currently underway, and I just snuck off for a quick update here. Yes, there’s going to be way more coming, but in the meantime, a teaser of a teaser.

Brian Hunter and I snuck into Gary Dews’ BorderPatrol setup yesterday morning, first thing. Gary’s a British ex-pat that’s been making crazy-good tube amplifiers for the last 20+ years. I first met Gary at the first CAF 5 years back, when he was showing his amps with Living Voice loudspeakers — that room nearly caused me to go postal, as I’d just spent something like $20k on gear that his gear clearly bettered and I was bitter. Ah well. Anyway, I’ve had some experience with his gear since, but today, he had something new. Something very new.

A BorderPatrol headphone amplifier.

I think this is a pretty natural move for Gary, and one that I’ve been babbling about since hitting CanJam last year — serious hi-fi guys are looking around at the head-fi space and saying, “What if we did it like this, instead?” I think this is gonna be a crazy convergence.

Anyway, Gary had a couple of prototypes he knocked together and Brian and I got a chance to fiddle about with them. Gary was running them off a new tube-rectified NOS DAC that he’d crafted in another bamboo enclosure, and the result was pretty sweet. 1 watt was crushing those LCD-X headphones! As a bonus round, he brought out his Frankenstein DAC. Bass was crazy-big. He’s estimating a price of about $2,000 to $2,500 or so, but that’s a guess at this point. All I can say is I’m pretty psyched. Might have to bring in one of these when Gary’s ready to let one them out of his sight.

I’ll have more details sooner or later, but no need to wait — check it out, below.
















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Scot started all this back in 2009. He is currently the Publisher here at PTA, the Publisher at The Occasional Magazine, and the Executive Producer at The Occasional Podcast. There are way too many words about him over on the Contributors page.


  1. I also think this is completely misleading and I agree with Scot. Cables make a difference but they are not as important as amplifiers or source components and they can’t turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse.

    It’s possible to use a wide variety of cables with the OBX-RW and get great results. The bottom line is it is a great speaker. You need to pay some attention to cables, but Kondo KSL Silver is not obligatory to hear the inner magic of the OBX-RW nor is it a magic wand that will transform any modest loudspeaker into a paragon. It is actually a very characterful cable that you will either like, or dislike, depending on your taste and depending on your system. Mr. Scott is a big fan of all things Kondo so not surprisingly he likes it. Also, I don’t remember any reviewer other than Srajan saying it was obligatory either.

    I deliberately use modest cabling at shows to demonstrate that it is possible to make great sounds without ultra-expensive cables. The last time I saw a price for KSL-Silver it was over $1100/mono-meter. If you bi-wired your speakers and needed 3 meter runs each side, that’s 12 meters or $13200. That’s more than the speaker itself, and does not include the short X-over to speaker jumpers. I really don’t think Mr.Scott is recommending you need to spend more on the cable than his speaker in order to hear it properly.

    • Yes, the cost of bi-wiring with those cables is ridiculous and isn’t going to happen in my world which is why I’ve been inquiring all over the place for a synergetic alternative. I think the point that is missing in this discussion is that the speaker was voiced with Gakuo amps and Audio Note silver. Edward Barkers Six Moons article about visiting the Definitive showroom is full of stuff like this;

      “So he fires the system up…… I have glimpses of my socks plastered to the back wall, of the skies opening but mostly I find I’ve got sucked into the music and I’m just listening to a concert. Occasionally I try to surface to get a slight handle on the actual sound. My notes read like someone in that emotional state known as complete shock (so at least that’s accurate, dammit!). But the sound was something else. The vibrancy was out of this world. The amount and colour of harmonics was completely beyond anything I’ve ever experienced before. The scale was huge, the holographic quality outside anything I’d be capable of imagining was actually possible. Plus there was a richness and saturation of timbre that was, I’m sure, better than real. And I remember thinking “what’s going on?” Part of me thought, “Who the hell cares. This is incredible.”

      “Brain gaskets blown at this point…… but the truth is, I’m not the same person. In a few hours, I’ve effing grown a beard and changed accent. Yes, everything’s changed. The whole damned world has puppy-flipped upside down. My old beloved priorities: kebabbed. I’m like the schooner suddenly realizing it’s on the wrong side of the world, or a tanker trying to turn on its dime. Okay, the good side is that now, at last, I’ve finally heard where I’d like to get to. Yes, it is a very high mountain to crawl up on hands and bleeding knees but at least it won’t be the old experience of stabbing ’round in the dark.”

      He’s not the only one who has come out of there similarly influenced.

      I’m actually on your side in this, I need for you to be dead right so that I can have a ghost of a chance of bringing this experience into my life. I have no way to follow this trail except through the stories of others and these stories say you don’t need hundred thousand dollar amps, but the cables matter. I’m hoping that I can find the true alternative to $20K in cables. Not the “good enough” version but the one that syncs up and allows the speaker to approach it’s potential. It was voiced with silver, chances are good that it will take silver to get there.

      For amps I am contemplating Lukasz GM70s, also wired with silver.

  2. Hi, Slightly off topic. What cables does Gary use for the OBX-RWs?
    I’m very interested in these speakers but have concerns about the cabling costs.
    It has been written more than once that the OBX-RW only shows it’s inner magic with Kondo silver wires.
    thanks, Mike

    • Gary uses some old no-longer-made copper ribbon cables that he’s had for 20+ years. I’ve used both mid-tier Nordost, WyWires and the more upscale TelWire on these, and trust me, you’re not going to be missing any “inner magic” if you choose to wander from the forum-sanctioned Kondo Silver. Personally, I typically prefer “good copper” over anything particularly exotic, and have not “missed out”.

      And at the risk of piling on, these speakers have given me more miserably uncomfortable nights than any other. I am unhappily convinced that I made a terrible decision back in 2010 when I chose to not cancel an order with a competitive line and I still squirm thinking about why I have yet to rectify that mistake. They’re not special. The Living Voice Avatar line is unique. I’m kinda glad I’m broke right now because I’m all hot and bothered just writing this out.

      • Thanks for the advice. I saw your photos with the Red Dawns. That the OBX-RWs want Kondo cables didn’t come from forum chatter but rather from the horses mouth: ” …a single run of high quality cable, such as Kondo KSL SPz (silver), will sound better (though regrettably, not cost less) than bi-wiring with SPc (copper). It is of course quite possible to gain highly satisfactory results with less expensive cables. And truly astonishing results with Kondo KSL.” -K.Scott. This has been repeated by reviewers for years. Srajan, who seemed to want to dislike these speakers due to cost vs appearance and expressed frustration at his inabilty to do so wrote: “For the Living Voice house sound Kondo electronics are merely optional. The bloody cables meanwhile are obligatory. Frog figs!.”

        There has to be something more affordable that approaches what people are finding there. From High Fidelity CT-1s which Jack Roberts told me eclipse any other cable in his experience except for higher up the HF line to Planus IIIs all the way to Grover Huffman’s highly lauded yet very affordable stuff. Something out there has to approach Kondo’s silver wire with the OBX-RW.

        It occurs to me it’s the same as everything else, what percentage of my concept and experience of the ultimate can I pay for. What is good enough? Good enough is a dirty word in my former profession, it implies compromise that should probably be massaged into a better outcome.

        Thanks again, I love your site.

      • With all due respect to the esteemed Mr Scott and my peers, I think this is completely misleading. The speakers will stand or fall, regardless of your wire. However — as with all things — the more care you take with system matching, the better. And yes, that includes the wire.

        You’ll do far more to damage or improve the sound of the speakers with your choice of amp than with any wire, ever. A point my esteemed peers will, I’m quite sure, heartily agree with.

        It’s important to keep mole hills to their proper size.

        And thanks for your kind words!

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