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Audio Karma's AKFEST 2009
By Kent Johnson

It turns out that Audio Karma's AKFest 2009, held in Livonia, Michigan, is a little farther from St. Louis than I had expected - about 630 miles or ten hours in the car. It also turns out that it was worth every minute of the trip.

This was my first trip to AKFest and I enjoyed it thoroughly. The show is big enough to justify traveling across the featureless American Mid-west to attend, yet small enough to actually get through in a single weekend. By late Sunday morning I had been to every room and found myself with enough time to go back and annoy a number of the exhibitors further. To their credit, everyone - exhibitors, AK members, and paying customers - were all gracious to a fault. It was a pleasure to be there from beginning to end.

I will probably use some variation of the term "impressive" a lot in the course of this report. The sound in most of the listening rooms was surprisingly good given the room limitations and ambient noise. While it is hard to discuss how good the sound was with any sort of absolute certainly, it is easy to relate how "impressed" I was by any given room. Bear with me on this as I am doing the best I can.

I also need to beg your indulgence regarding the photos. A lot of audio equipment is black, silver, or black and silver, none of which my digital camera seems inclined to reproduce well. With some equipment, I just could not get a good photo no matter what I tried.

Without wasting further time, let me tell you about the equipment that I found impressive, interesting, good sounding, comfortable, and even musical over the weekend of May 2 and 3, 2009.

Nola and Jolida shared two rooms at AKFest. In the higher-end room, Carl Marchisotto and his charming wife, Marilyn, welcomed listeners to hear the Nola Viper Reference II driven by Jolida's new 1000P 100WPC tube power amplifier ($2000). The Viper Reference II is an absolutely gorgeous speaker. It uses alnico magnets in the custom tweeter and midrange drivers; the woofer is sourced from SEAS. The external crossover boxes, featuring Mundorf silver/gold capacitors, are just as nicely finished as the speaker cabinets. The sound was very good. For its $15,000 price the VR II includes Nordost cables so that the buyer will get the same sound at home as he hears in the showroom.

The second Jolida/Nola room was another place that was constantly busy over the weekend. The Jolida Glass FX-10 remote-controlled integrated amp (10 WPC using a quad of EL-84s and costing $450) sounded very good driving a pair of Nola "Boxer" prototype speakers (expect them to cost around $1500). The two-way Boxers offer 96dB sensitivity and are very nicely finished. The sound was very good and what made this combination even more remarkable was that a prototype Jolida DAC was feeding the FX-10 amp. The DAC is projected to sell for just $99. That's right $99. The DAC will be just large enough to accommodate a pair of RCA output jacks. I was very impressed by piano music played through this system. It wasn't just good sound for the money, it was excellent sound period.