VSAC2008

My dad and I recently joined the Oregon Triode Society, which is dedicated to vacuum tube audio and is, in general, quite a bit of fun. Lots of nerdy discussions that focus on music, it’s a blast. We joined just in time to get spun up for VSAC 2008, which is apparently the long awaited return of the “Vacuum State of the Art Convention” which, as far as I can tell, was last run in 2003.

The show, however, was not so much five years in the making as it was fly by night. There was no schedule posted on their website for the seminars. I had not planned on attending any of them, but there was a day of show ticket upgrade to be able to attend the seminars that was never mentioned. My dad made the decision for me and we upgraded. Onward to knowledge!

The first seminar was supposed to be a discussion of new versus old stock tubes and the various benefits that each offers. It was, instead, a meandering “those were the days” reminiscence from some apparently very important guy in the field, where he detailed the business failings of people he didn’t like in the industry, and occasionally declared new tubes from outside the United States to be “good” or “terrible”. I wasn’t able to sort through it. My dad called it quits on this one, we were obviously not going to take home anything from this, so we headed out to the craftsman display room.

There were ten items in this room. Two cabinets of vintage tubes brought by an OTS Member, who also brought his solid state volume control, and his Marantz 10B tuner. I took pictures, but in all, it was pretty weak. There were a handful of amps, maybe five, there were two hand-built FM tuners, and that’s about it. The craftsman listening room was similarly pathetic, with a reference system provided by a local hi-fi shop, and Alfred Duppke (another OTS member)’s beautiful open-baffle speakers, but that’s all I saw.

Time for another seminar! This time it was one on listening room design. This one, at least, had a couple takeaway points. Notably that not all corners are bad, but that coffee tables usually are. Largely, however, the discussion centered on the various successes of the presenters commercial business, which was tuning listening rooms.

Now we head to the vendor suites. The second floor was OK, just a couple of larger conference rooms full of neat things, DIY volume knobs was pretty much the coolest one, but there were several vendors with great sounding speakers, a couple of interesting projects (the TAPE project was one), and also some snake oil salesmen, which are of course a de-facto standard for any audiophile event.

The third floor was… less OK.. It was a scattering of rooms through the floor, with only a map to show you where to go. The rooms were very small, the sounds were not quite as good, and there is something creepy about standing in a motel bathroom to listen to a stereo.

Time for another seminar! We headed down for the last seminar of the day, Creating a Digital Music Server, which was the one I was most excited about. I’m a huge proponent of digital music storage, and I was curious what everyone was doing for their frontend. We sat down and were immediately immersed in… I don’t even know. A meandering tale of a professional music component review writer, and his strange audience-seated counterpart. They routinely asked for the opinion of the crowd on a subject and then weighed in heavily to agree with whoever spoke up (uncompressed audio is better, etc). The discussion rapidly wandered away from a seminar to a shoot-the-shit free for all ranging from is the RIAA a bad thing to does digitally encoded music sound better from a rotating disk or from solid state storage (the consensus was that it sounded more ‘open’ when played from solid state storage. I wish I were making this up.) Then, of course, we moved on to the main course. Some random dude attacking young people because they don’t like music enough.

Yep, this guy singles out the youngest guy in the room, a 15 year old kid, and asks him how many albums he owns. The kid answered that he didn’t own any, that he only had stuff on his iPod. The guy then asked how many concerts he had been to, and the kind responded that he hadn’t been to any. The guy then proceeds to lay down the line that because kids don’t have albums with liner notes, they don’t gain an appreciation for the music, and because they don’t have that, they’re not passionate about music enough to lie to their parents and sneak out to go to concerts. When someone pointed out that concerts were no longer as cheap as they used to be, he somehow laid that at the kids doorstep too. I took him to task for being dismissive about other people, but it was already too late. I tried to hate him to death, along with the guy who explained that rotating disks could never rotate completely accurately, and therefore music played off them would never be as good (he did not have a reason for why rotation-based CD’s or LP’s were still better than playing off a hard drive, but I’m sure it would have something to do with the airiness or opennossitude of the sound). But they were too powerful for my magics.

The show was a disaster. Each “seminar” was worse than the one before, ranging the entire field from shallowly hidden sales pitch to idiot free for all, and while there were plenty of nice sounding speakers on display, there were a dozen $40 “tuning dots” or “specially tuned knobs” for sale for each thing of merit. Blugh.

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