VSAC 2008 For Everyone

After a four-year hiatus, the Vacuum State of the Art Conference and Show has been resurrected. Scheduled for next weekend, May 24–26, at the Hilton Hotel in Vancouver, Washington, just across the river from Portland, Oregon, VSAC owes its renewal to audio enthusiasts and software company owners Carolyn S. and Michael Kilfoil, who have taken over from founders Dan and Eileen Schmalle.

One of VSAC's foci is on do-it-yourself (DIY) builders and designers. With the exception of such well-known companies as Cardas, deHavilland, and Audio Note UK, many of the show's commercial exhibitors and vendors are involved with DIY and kit options. DIYers will recognize such established names as Front Panel Express, MagnaQuest, and transformer manufacturer Electra-Print. Other exhibitors are small companies not yet on everyone's radar.

The show's centerpiece is the Craftsman's Room. Its complimentary exhibit space, equipped with one or two "community systems" (the exact number had not been finalized by press time), will feature high-end gear that Stereophile readers will recognize. Attendees will be able to use the systems to demonstrate their own handcrafted gear, rotating DIY amps, preamps, and other components in and out during the show. New this year will be two People's Choice Best of Show Awards, one for commercial brands, the other for amateurs.

"We have always wanted to do a show that will draw everyone," said Michael Kilfoil, "but the truth is, if you make it DIY-oriented, you lose a lot of interest from some of the larger companies. They ask if it's DIY right away, because they consider the two sides mutually exclusive. The Rocky Mountain AudioFest has moved away from DIY because they couldn't have gotten a lot of participation from larger companies if they had mainly stuck with DIY.

"The truth is, anyone who's serious about hi-fi gets involved at some level or another with a DIY approach, whether it means swapping cables, tubes, or components. It's not necessarily about building your amp-it's about putting together your own system rather than just going out and buying something already assembled."

Extraordinary Seminars and Live Music: Special draws for every audiophile under the sun will be the VSAC seminars, with two series running simultaneously throughout each day. The "Consider the Source" series will include world-class acoustician Bob Hodas—who has worked with George Lucas, and at Abbey Road, A&M, and Fantasy—presenting "Everything You Need to Know About Listening Acoustics." To my mind, that seminar alone should be worth the price of admission (which includes a major dinner).

In another seminar, "How to Listen," Hodas will be joined by microphone specialist Klaus Heyne and mastering guru Paul Stubblebine. For "Tubes and Transformers," Oliver Archut, who owns the Telefunken design archive, will bring along a lot of old Telefunken documents to share. Stubblebine, Naylor, and Stubblebine associate Michael Romanowski will present "How Recordings Are Made." I'm also intrigued by Heyne and Archut's "Specs vs Sex Appeal" and Michael Koster's "The Dynamic Range of Music." Even the DIY track's "Discussion Forum on Digital Music Servers" should appeal to a broad audiophile audience. Kilfoil expects to have 14 seminars lined up by show time (when I wrote this, 11 were posted on the website, with presenter bios still to come), as well as exhibits on three floors of the hotel.

In an effort to attract people of diverse ages and interests, Kilfoil will begin and end each show day with live music, for a total of five concerts. Performers will include San Francisco-based singer Jacqui Naylor, Fingerstyle Guitar Contest and International Home of Legends Competition winner John Standefer, button accordionist Johnny B. Connolly, and gospel artist Tracy King. How's that for an eclectic lineup?

CD, vinyl, and tape recordings will also be available from such exhibitor-presenters as Paul Stubblebine, Dan Schmalle's Tape Project, and Jack Rock's Viewpoint Records. In addition to access to vendors of tubes and supplies, admission includes a Friday-night mixer, meals, a special Sunday dinner, and the Monday-morning awards ceremony and keynote speaker.

"Because the show hasn't happened for five years," says Kilfoil, "it's probably not on a lot of people's radar. But it's going to be very exciting. There's so much happening that no one will be able to attend everything. People are going to be surprised by how unique VSAC 2008 will be."