Acoustic Sounds
By: Ken Redmond

March 29th, 2024


Hi-Fi Shows

Southwest Audio Fest 2024—Dallas Cheerleading Coverage

A Show to Remember

The organizers of the Southwest Audio Fest in Dallas must have felt like Hannibal Smith, who used to say, "I love it when a plan comes together." Gary Gill and Lou Hinkley took a chance by selecting as the show venue the upscale Hilton Anatole and it definitely paid off. Upon entering the lobby, I quickly sensed I was in for a memorable show experience. The hotel's sheer size and impressive facilities could rival a Las Vegas resort. In addition to the SWAF, two other conventions were ongoing, and the facility easily accommodated all three.

Overall, the exhibit rooms had better acoustic properties than most hotel rooms, providing some of the best overall show sound I have heard in a long time. Unfortunately, two days of threatening weather impacted the local turnout. People in Dallas take tornado threats seriously. However, the exhibitors I spoke with were pleased with the showgoers' enthusiasm and focus.

Gary Koh of Genesis Advanced Technologies expressed his delight with the showgoers' turnout and "quality", "This year's Southwest Audio Festival was one of the best show experiences I've had in recent years. There were lots of real music lovers and not just audiophile tire kickers. The average age of the participants was younger, and the egos were smaller." Another exhibitor told me, "It was the best show he has done in 30 years!"

WallyToolsJ.R. Boisclair

About the main floor traffic and the overall show J.R. Boisclair of WAM Engineering/Wally Tools told me, "Though the foot traffic was low, the quality of the attendees was very high. People came to make decisions and purchases, and they did so in a wonderful venue with generally very good-sounding rooms. I'll be back next year." Other main-floor vendors I spoke with were also delighted with the steady flow and their sales. 

From my reviewer's perspective, the event ranked among the best audio shows I have attended in a long time. The atmosphere was positive and accommodating, and the opportunity to interact with exhibitors and showgoers was valuable. In terms of listening etiquette, it was excellent. Room occupants were respectful and acknowledged that others were there to listen. If the "money seat" was unavailable when you entered the room, it typically opened up within 5 minutes.

The show was not spread out over a large area like other large shows, making moving around easy on my tired legs. The eight elevators were always available… no waiting!

Which audio rooms made my "short list?"

I watched the Oscars a few weeks ago and was surprised by the numerous categories that received awards. I thought it would be fun to create some show categories for deserving recipients.

So, let's get at it.

Here are my "Audio Oscars" for the SWAF 2024

MBL 120Best Small Room Setup and Sound

This was my first experience with the  MBL120 set up in a small hotel room. Typically, MBL exhibits the 101E MkII in large rooms, as it did this year at the Florida Audio Expo, or sometimes they will showcase the MBL101E MKII or even the MBL 101 X-Treme MKII in a large room and the smaller MBL 126 in an adjacent smaller room. For this show, Jeremy Bryan, president and CEO of MBL North America and speaker setup guru, working with Luis Miranda of 3mA Audio in Houston, placed the MBL 120 ($26,500/pr) speakers in one of the typical-sized hotel rooms. The front end was the MBL N15 Monoblock amplifiers ($20,800/ch) and the MBL C41 Network Player ($11,100). Jeremy made excellent use of absorption, diffusion, and some room damping of the windows. The sound in the room was remarkable, with the speakers coupling with the room to produce exceptional bass power and definition. The wide-open MBL sound was relaxing and easy to listen to, even when played at what many would consider exceptionally loud levels. The speakers exhibited minimal strain or compression and offered a broad, deep, coherent sound field. Jeremy tells me the MBL 120 is the "sweet spot" in the MBL line, and after hearing them in what would be considered a "normal" size room that a typical buyer would have, I would have to agree. The sound came together in this room, and it felt like I was in a considerably larger room when I sat in the money seat—well done, Jeremy.

Best New Product Introduction

Gary Koh, designer and head of Genesis Advanced Technologies, took over Genesis from Arnie Nudell in 2002. Following in the footsteps of the IRS V in the 1970s and Arnie's Genesis 1 in the 1990s, Gary has continued to advance the state-of-the-art in loudspeaker design.

His current flagship speaker is the Genesis Prime.

Genesis PrimeGenesis Prime

Gary has been working on a new line of speakers for several years, hoping to offer his Genesis sound at a lower price point and in a more room-friendly package. Enter the new Series 7 Foxtrot loudspeaker, showcased at this show and priced at $13,800 per pair.

Genesis Foxtrot 7Genesis Foxtrot 7Genesis Series 7 Foxtrot

If you think this is just another "me too" floor-standing loudspeaker, you would be way off the mark.

It took Gary almost 35 minutes to review the technical features in this "simple" box. Some highlights include using the same ring tweeter he has used in all his speakers (including the Prime), a new 5 ½" titanium midrange, and twin 8" isobaric-loaded woofers in a sealed cabinet. There is also a rear-firing tweeter and a room acoustics compensating ±5dB dB tweeter adjustment. Constructed from bamboo plywood called Plyboo (gotta love that name ), arranged at right angles, and internally dampened, the cabinet design reduces sound influencing resonances. The speaker's base is a suspension system designed to minimize the sonic impact of various floor surface materials. We even spent almost 5 minutes discussing the screw design for the base!!

The technology goes on and on, and the dividend is the sound. I listened to several album tracks, and the overall seamlessness of the crossover and driver coherency hid the fact that this is a multi-driver design. The music had a very lifelike "flow" to it, and it was hard for me to keep my foot from tapping. The sound was "out of the box" with excellent depth and height. The Series 7 Foxtrot is a significant new entry that I predict will successfully compete in a very crowded price range and above. I will be reviewing this speaker in the Summer. 

Spatial Audio Lab Q3New Product Intro Runner up

The new Spatial Audio Lab Q3 speaker, priced at $11,995 /pr, is shown here with Spatial Audio Labs' new Revelation series tube electronics, designed with the assistance of Don Sachs and Lynn Olson.

The speaker uses twin 15" woofers designed explicitly for open baffle use. The sealed Q150 tweeter/midrange configuration is wave-guided, time-aligned, and directivity-matched to respond acoustically as if it were a single drive unit.

The Revelation Series Raven preampThe Revelation Series Raven preamp uses input and output transformers and a tube complement of (x2)6SN7, (x2)VR150, and (x2)6AX4 and is priced at $5495.

The Revelation Blackbird 300B monoblocks are priced at $9,995 each and use a mixture of 6SN7, KT88, 300B and VR105 tubes.

The combination of the speaker and electronics produced excellent sound, and several people commented to me that it was the room to hear.

Best Sound from Unfamiliar Brands ( to me )

Bella Sound

Numerous brands offer excellent sound but are not widely advertised and fly "under the radar." Some brands, like the next two, were unfamiliar to me.

After visiting a few unremarkable rooms, I stumbled on the Bella Sound/ighAnalysis Audio room. Upon entering, I had an "AHHH" moment. I immediately knew that I was in the presence of exceptional sound.

Bella Sound is the brainchild of Mike Vice, who has a background in physics and electrical engineering at UC Berkeley and Stanford, decades of experience beyond that, and over 40 patents. Bella Sounds currently offers amplifiers, power conditioners, and power cords, with plans to expand their offerings.

Analysis Audio

They chose to exhibit their electronics using Analysis Audio's full-range magneto-static speakers from Greece, and the pairing proved a great choice. Easily one of the best-sounding rooms at the show, the combination had a transparency and emotional expression that was almost addictive. I returned to the room several times, and each time, I had to force myself to get up and move on to the next room. I cannot give a higher compliment. I may not have been familiar with these two brands, but what I heard tells me they can compete with the better-known players. This is what I love about an audio show like this. Discovering new and underreported brands that deserve our attention. I plan to look into both of these product lines in the future. 

My Most Memorable Musical Moment

Semrad Field Coil LoudspeakersSemrad Field Coil Loudspeakers ($54,000/pr)

It was only two songs … but they are now seared into my memory.

I entered the Semrad Audio room and heard music from "Chet Baker Sings" playing through their field coil driver-based loudspeaker. I sat down, and they played "I've Never Been in Love Before" and "My Ideal," which paralyzed me. I felt like I could not get up even if I wanted to, as if I was under some spell. Only when the second song ended did I feel like I had been "released" to get up from my seat.

Both songs feature Chet singing in the first half and playing trumpet in the second half. The depth, decay, and immediacy of the music and the exquisite tone from these speakers created a moment for me that we are all searching for. Granted, this may have been the perfect selection of music to showcase this speaker, and I look forward to hearing various types of music on it, but for now, I will treasure hearing those two songs on this speaker.



Best Sound In a Difficult Room 

I found the Swedish-made Stenheim Alumine 5SE speakers powered by Canadian-based Infigo Audio electronics in the Stemmons Ballroom. This large ballroom has a vast dome in the middle of the ceiling.

This difficult room feature made setting up the speakers quite a task for Walter Schofield of Nexus Audio Technologies, distributor of Stenheim, Infigo Audio, and Alta Audio Speakers.

The first day I visited, the room was being quite stubborn, exhibiting a significant room mode in the upper bass. It was an exhibitor's nightmare. I spoke with Walter, who understood what he was up against, and he planned to continue to work on the setup that evening. I returned the next day, and the room issues were substantially tamed, allowing the system to "show its stuff." The sweetness and purity of the Infigo Audio electronics, in combination with the dynamic expression of the Stenheim speakers, would not be denied.

Stenheim Alumine 5SE

The presentation had effortless sound, and the resolution of micro dynamic expression was some of the best of the show. The Infigo Audio electronics are beautifully constructed and offer Class A design while producing very little heat using hundreds (not a typo) of output devices. They sound fast, grain-free, and have excellent resolution without fatigue. Infigo Audio will be a company to keep an eye on with more products forthcoming.

Yes, it was a tough room to work with, but Walter deserves kudos for his tireless efforts, which by Sunday resulted in excellent sound.

Best Sounding Room on any Music

Acora Acoustics VCR

Much like the Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL, Acora Acoustics has dominated the Audio Show scene for the past three years. This show was no exception. Once again, the Acora VRC in stunning Sunset Fire granite immediately grabbed my attention and that of many other showgoers and reviewers in the Carpenter Ballroom. The system sounded fantastic, with a front end consisting of the VAC Statement Series preamp, Statement phono stage, and Statement 450iQ monoblock amplifiers. Sources included a VPI turntable with a Hana Umami Red cartridge. An Aurender server and Lampizator DAC handled digital signal. Cardas Clear and Clear Beyond cables connected the entire system. Owner/Designer Valerio Cora and Director of Sales and Marketing Isaac Markowitz had the system dialed in. I would have gladly paid if they had been charging to sit in the money seat.

Greg Weaver DJ'd an after-hours listening session, playing some of his favorite vinyl and sharing some of the stories behind the album's production and performers. It was a very entertaining evening, and the sound was exceptional no matter what genre of music was played.

Acora SRC-2

In an adjacent room, Acora Acoustics also displayed its SRC-2 speakers ($49,000), and VAC displayed the latest additions to its line, The Essence Series. The new VAC Essence 80 iQ Monoblocs are $9,900 each, and the VAC Essence Line Stage is $9,000. The Essence Line Stage didn't arrive until Saturday, so the system picture I took on Friday shows the Signature Preamp they used in its place that day.

Kevin informed me that he has been wanting to introduce the Essence line to the market for a long time. However, he faced challenges in achieving the desired sound in a half-chassis size, making it a formidable and lengthy design task.

VAC's Kevin Hayes VAC designer and president Kevin Hayes holding the new Essence Line Stage

VAC Essence 80 Monoblock Amplifiers

 Some Honorable Mentions (and comments)

Von Schweikert Audio Ultra 55s

The Von Schweikert Audio Ultra 55s in Porshe Oslo Blue ( $120,000/pr), powered by JMF Audio electronics and a music server from Ideon Audio, were rocking the room.

The combination of the Borresen X6 speakers ($22,000/pr) and the Axxess Forte 3 Streaming amplifier ($11,000) produced impressive sound. This "simple" system, consisting of only two components, easily competes with multi-component systems I have heard at higher price points.

It could offer an excellent solution for a minimalist, high-performance system.

German Physiks

Great news!! German Physiks is back with a new US distributor, Locrian Audio. They showed the Unicorn Loudspeaker ($26,000/pr) and four new Accuphase products.

The C-47 preamp ($12,575), AC-6 MC Cartridge ($6,975) DP-770 SACD player( $26,575), and the A-80 Class-A stereo amplifier($26,575). Check out the Locrian Audio website for the complete German Physiks lineup.

Avantgarde Duo GT

Vibrant Hi-Fi showed the Avantgarde Duo GT ($57,000/pr) with a piano gloss cabinet ( add $4,900) powered by Phasemation MA-1500 mono amps ($32,800) and the CM-2200 hybrid passive attenuator ( $27,500). The sound was striking, but in the end, its full potential was limited by the room size.

LTA Aero DACLinear Tube Audio Aero DAC

Linear Tube Audio showed their long-awaited new Aero DAC ($3600.) It is a pure R2R Ladder DAC: No oversampling and no digital filters. It features a Class-A ZOTL Output Stage. I am anxiously awaiting my review sample. This is going to be interesting!


Over the past fifteen years, whenever I listen to any model of a Rosso Fiorentino speaker, I find myself compelled to sit down, switch off my reviewer's mindset, and simply revel in the music. Whether it was in the Audio Thesis room or the impressive AGD room, both the Volterra Series 2 ($17,500/pr) and the larger Siena Series 2 speakers ($40,000/pr) sounded exceptional. The appeal wasn't flashy or showy, but rather, it was deeply musical. I definitely want to spend more time exploring this product line. You can check them out on the Audio Thesis website.

Bonus Saturday Off-Site Visit

Magico M9

Rhapsody in Music 

I was fortunate to be invited by Jason Messina, aka The Audiophile Junkie, to join him for a morning off-site visit to Rhapsody Audio, an ultra-high-end appointment-only audio store run by Chris Hesse, to experience one of the few pairs of the $750,000 Magico M9 speakers on display in the US.

Listening to the Magico M9s was an extraordinary experience. Even as we played something familiar as Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing", I felt as if I were hearing the song for the first time. It was quite the treat.

We also listened to the impressive sound of AlsyVox Audio’s Botticelli full-range ribbon speakers made in Spain. I was captivated by a Nora Jones selection we played on them.

The speakers exhibited exceptional dimensionality and layering with a macro-dynamic expression that belies their planar ribbon design—another stellar listening moment. 

Thank you, Chris and Jason! 

Jason has some excellent coverage of the visit to Rhapsody Audio posted on his Audiophile Junkie YouTube channel.

Last-minute update:

Going forward, Chris Hesse's audio location will be called Euphoria Hi-fi. His new website will be available soon at If you get to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, be sure to check him out.

Wrap Up

This event showcased many other impressive rooms and new components. This is not intended to be comprehensive event coverage but rather a summary of the rooms that gave me a strong impression.

In the end, the show was a big success. Everyone I talked with had a great time, enjoyed the environment, and was already looking forward to a bigger and better show next year. I know I am.

Lou and Gary should be proud of their new baby. It will return to the Hilton Anatole in 2025, and two additional floors have already been added. I will surely be there, and I predict going forward the Southwest Audio Fest will become a significant player as one of the top US Audio shows.



  • 2024-03-30 12:32:59 AM

    Zaphod wrote:

    Sounds like it was an awesome show, wish I was there!

    I would love to have that VAC/Acora system!!!

  • 2024-03-30 03:28:48 AM

    Anton wrote:

    So happy to read about what a great show this was!

    Lou is the bomb.