On the first day of the second year of the Pacific Audio Fest in Seattle, this vibe was decidedly mellow–not in a bad way, but as a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of AXPONA and Munich. I was looking forward to attending PAF after a very busy year of high-end audio shows, and because it marks the end of the 2023 show season. I won’t attend an another audio show until November, when I head to the Capital Audiofest outside of Washington DC. This all means that the Friday highlights of PAF 2023 include hanging out with industry friends and listening to relatively familiar audio systems in a relaxed environment.
Words and Photos by Marc Phillips
Well, sort of familiar. At the top of my list of Things to To Do at PAF 2023 was listening to the Børresen M6 speakers. At AXPONA 2023 I heard the Børresen M3s, a larger floorstanding version of the $100,000/pair M1 two-way monitors that occupied my thoughts throughout 2022 and led me to travel to Denmark to learn how they managed to create a stand-mounted monitor with a 5″ woofer the could sound like other speakers in its price class, which are much, much larger. The M3 was so awesome–I wrote that they took me further down the road to audio perfection than I’ve ever been before–that I awarded them the Best Sound at AXPONA. That speaker was definitely more than the one of the Friday highlights of AXPONA–it was a speaker that influenced the rest of my year.
In Munich, I was introduced to the Børresen M6 speakers, an even larger speaker, but it was only a static display–the M6 wasn’t quite ready for its debut. But at PAF 2023, the $550,000/pair Børresen M6 were playing music in a HUGE way. In comparison to the M3s, the M6s walked up to the rear wall of the exhibit room and kicked it over like it was a backdrop in a movie. This was the first room I visited at PAF–it’s not a mystery because I made a beeline for the room as soon as the show began–but to call the Børresen M6s a Friday highlight of the show is a massive understatement.
I did mention that my Friday highlights of PAF 2023 are full of familiar faces, with the exception of this stunning room that included Songer Audio (not Sonner) field coil speakers and a 2-watt per channel 2A3 amplifier from a company named Whammerdyne Heavy Industries.
It’s been a while since I’ve spent time with a low-powered SET amp/high-efficiency speaker, and the Songer/Whammerdyne made me sit down and atone for that lapse. I sank into my chair and listened to demo track after demo track, and the music was smooth and warm and yet detailed. I started thinking that I need to revisit these kinds of systems more often–they’re good for the soul.
The next Friday highlight of PAF is an electrostatic panel speaker for people who don’t like electrostatic panel speakers. Notable Audio Products, the US importers of the lovely J. Sikora turntables from Poland, introduced a new panel speaker from that country–Popori Acoustics. I run kind of hot and cold on electrostatic speakers–they often make me feel that I’m standing on the edge of an abyss since everything is so BIG, but these remarkable panels had such a refined and musical quality that they sucked me right in.
Here’s a familiar face for my Friday highlights of the Pacific Audio Fest. Another big story this year is the Acora Acoustics VRC-1 flagship speakers, which are currently the reigning Chocolate Chip Trip champions. These massive granite speakers were placed in a much smaller room this time, and still sounded just as impressive as they have throughout 2023. This is a speaker that simply takes the room out of the equation like no other speaker I’ve heard.
It’s unexpected that a Friday highlight of PAF was a small tube amplifier from a company that is known for its BIG tube amplifiers. VAC introduced its new Essence series, consisting of a small pair of monoblocks pushing 85wpc and a matching preamplifier that shares the same half-sized chassis width.
What was so special about the VAC Essence amplification? While these amps were placed in a static display in the Von Schweikert toom, they were being used by NOLA to power the same Baby Grand Reference Gold 3s that I auditioned a few months ago in Baltimore with Dr. Vinyl.
The NOLA/VAC system was superb, with a rich and deep soundstage that made these huge $150K pair of speakers performed the famous disappearing act that’s usually reserved for small monitors. I asked Kevin Hayes of VAC if I could queue up for a review, and I think it’s ON.
My final Friday highlight from the show was another encounter with JMF amplification of France. I’ve heard JMF at nearly every show–and at Dr. Vinyl’s–and this time they were matched to the new Ideon Audio line of DACs and streamers and a stunning pair of GamuT Zodiac speakers. This room was exceptional–because of the fantastic playlist that had me furiously scribbling down the names of performers I’ve never heard before, and because of the amazing synergy between JMF and almost anything else you desire.
First thing Saturday, I’ll be attending a news conference attached to this room, so I’m sure that will be mentioned in my Saturday highlights tomorrow.