Capital Audio Fest: Day 3

Room 615: I always learn something when I chat with Gary Dews and I always enjoy listening to music in the Border Patrol room. I met Gary in Hove, England back in 1994. Even then he was a fully formed individualist and working on some very sophisticated projects. He was then and remains committed to some of my favorite amp-design strategies: transformer coupling, tube rectification and choke-filtered power supplies.

The sound Gary was getting from the Border Patrol P21 push-pull 20W 300B amp ($12,750) driving the Living Voice Avatar loudspeakers ($11,850/pair) with Gary's own non-oversampling DAC ($9500) was lively, colorful, and unabashedly refined. When I got to Gary's room my head was spinning. Being a first-time show reporter had me revved up, forgetful and anxious. I felt like Mr. McGoo. The easy flow and gentle melodies in the Border Patrol room allowed me to breathe air, relax, and slip into a dreamy mood of peace and admiration. When I left I smiled and waved. (It really is nice to be back in audio.)

Persimmon Room 2: Surreal Sound and Lowther America shared a room with Live Sound Designs (which I wrote about earlier in this report). They each had their own setups at opposite ends of the room and therefore took turns playing music for guests. I am beyond glad I came back for an extended listen to the newest (and to my ears the best) incarnation of that cream paper beast they call Lowther.

My past associations with low-powered amps and high-efficiency loudspeakers have left me surrounded by hoards of pale-faced "Lowther Persons"—but I have managed to not let them bite me. I swear I have heard them all (open baffles, front/rear horn-loaded closed boxes, ported, sealed, aperiodic, and transmission lines) but no scheme has ever made me want to own a pair—maybe until now.

These new field-coil versions (The FC212s at $60,000/pair) sport six "sub" woofers per side (there is a 12-sub version for $80,000) and play music without drawing any attention to themselves. If I were blindfolded I would have never believed they were Lowthers. The few Lowther detractors I know always cite the obvious "cone cry" as the deal breaker but that stiff-white–paper coloration didn't bother me too much. (I have overlooked far greater faults in my beloved LS3/5As.) No, for me the killer problem was the way the Lowthers presented themselves in the room. They always seemed fast, detailed, and occasionally with the right recording they could sound almost richly colored—but there was never any "ease"—they had this kind of tight dry assertiveness that made me nervous and edgy.

These beautifully finished new versions had the total opposite effect. They played music with a sweet siren-like seductiveness. My brain never thought about the highs or wondered about the lows—I just sat back and listened to flutes and cellos. If you've never heard the word "Lowther" I recommend you start by reading Jason Victor Serinus's "Burning Amp Sizzles in San Francisco."

Like the venerable Quad 57s, the Lowthers are a continuing saga with improvements happening at regular intervals. This newest version was a team effort: Dave Slagle and Jeffrey Jackson (Intact Audio) designed the magnet for the Lowther Field Coil while Ralph Hellmer designed the speaker cabinet, cables, and crossover. The field-coil power supplies were by PS Audio.

Cedar Room: The United Home Audio room was big, dark, and loud. Twin pin spots illuminated the shiny MBL loudspeakers like alien spaceships against a backdrop of palms peeking through the shadows. Twin tape spools spun like car wheels atop the UHA Phase 11 open-reel recorder ($22,000). The sound was clear, spacious and direct and, (all joking and metaphors aside)—disembodied and otherworldly.

eugovector's picture

$60 Ikea Kallax (progeny of the Expedit) in the Border Patrol room. +100 for not playing along with audio furniture insanity.

Marcwas's picture


TreAdidas's picture

But in using such shelving what sacrifices were made in terms of the blackness of the background, tautness of the midrange and overall air?! hahaha. ;)

Pro-Audio-Tech's picture

I was in the room Friday night till after midnight and couldn't move from my seat. Beatles, Doors, Rush, never heard these groups like this before. The three dimensional sound field along with the dynamics were as Herb said "otherworldly"!
Best sound at a show by far and my sentiments were mirrored by everyone I spoke to about this room.