DC visit to Swerd and Philharmonic Audio

Eppie

Eppie

Audioholic Samurai
On Oct.24/22 I had arranged to visit Swerd and Dennis while in DC for a concert at the Fillmore Silver Spring. Meant to post this sooner but got swamped with work on my return and this was written over several days. More of a tale than a review, so grab a coffee or your favorite beverage.

I drove from London, Ontario, to DC on Oct.23 which is about a 9 hour drive via Buffalo. I took the scenic route via 219 south which goes through the rolling hills of western New York and Pennsylvania. The trees were still full of colour so it was a beautiful and relatively relaxing drive (until the 270 leading into DC).
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Made it in about 10 hours with breaks along the way. Stayed at the Double Tree Hilton on Georgia Ave, just 3 blocks from the Fillmore. Got one of the newly renovated rooms on the top floor which was nice. Relaxed in the bar with dinner and a bourbon before getting some well-earned rest.
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Arranged to meet at Swerd’s house first in the afternoon, so I drove to Rock Creek Park in the morning and had a very nice 2 hour hike. There are paved paths at the north end used by a lot of local seniors, but if you park at the end of Meadowbrook there are nature trails that follow the creek for miles. I only made it halfway across after an hour or more. Nice to have such a large natural area within the big city.
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Met Swerd and his wife around 1:30 in a lovely neighbourhood outside of DC. Really gracious hosts and it was a genuine pleasure to meet them in person. Swerd has a pair of Salk Varacity towers with RAAL ribbon tweeters and Seas woofers in a transmission line cabinet (stock photo).

Very impressive speakers. We spent a good couple of hours or more just talking shop and playing various tracks from all sorts of different genres. This was my first time hearing Salk speakers and the RAAL tweeters and I could definitely see myself owning a pair of these. Bass was deep and full and Swerd even played a 30Hz tone to show how nice the low end extension was without a subwoofer. It was the vocals though that really shined. From the 50’s doo-wop to Paul Simon & Shabalala, Crowded House and K.D. Lang, it all sounded lovely. Backing vocal tracks where very clear, which is where some speakers fall behind. The Salks have a really nice and even dispersion as well, so the sweet spot was very wide. You could move about the room and the instruments stayed in their place and the vocals would stay centered and the tone would remain constant. I would place these in the end-game speaker category.

We then traveled to Philharmonic Audio, ie. Dennis’ house, which was not too far away, where we were warmly greeted by Dennis and his two dogs. After introductions and some chitchat, I was first treated to the downstairs theatre room where Dennis has a pair of Phil 3 speakers. The Phil 3 is an unconventional design as can be seen in this member review. The design is function over form, which is a hard sell in the consumer market, but what an amazing speaker.
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Dennis cued up a symphonic piece on Youtube, “Variations on a College Song” by Jerry Bilik, while I sat on the couch only to have Big Ben, the golden retriever, jump up on the couch next to me and promptly lay his head on my lap. I was not going anywhere for a while. :)
I don’t think I have ever experienced such an expansive sound stage before. There was a real sense of the depth and breadth of a full symphony orchestra. It was such a pleasure to listen to that I wish we had the time to try a whole raft of different genres, but alas we had plans for dinner and my main point of interest was the BMRs. I can see why Ryanosaur and TheWarrior like the Phil 3’s so much, though. It’s a really impressive speaker as well.

We then returned upstairs to audition the BMR monitors and towers. Dennis has a very handy remote switch box which also does level matching and is great for comparing speakers. There were also some prototype speakers lined up next to the BMRs. Interesting to see some of the concepts at play. I would have enjoyed a quick tour of the workshop as well but wasn’t about to intrude at our first meeting. I know the mess in my workshop is not something I would want to show off. :D

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Dennis is a classically trained musician so much of the demo consisted of classical music. Like the Phil 3, the BMRs handle symphonic music very well. Different room layout and seating distance so the presentation did differ from the theatre room. Like the Salks, the BMRs have a very wide sweet spot. I could move around the room and the tone remained very consistent. I knew Dennis liked classical so I brought along a CD that I was familiar with: Beethoven Symphonie No.3 “Eroica” by the Met Orchestra with James Levine conducting. This is a direct to digital recording by Deutsche Grammophon. I was really impressed by what the BMR Monitors could muster for their size. They definitely hit above their price point.
Beethoven Symphonie No.3 “Eroica” by the Met Orchestra with James Levine conducting.jpg

Dennis also played some low frequency tones and it was fun to hear how low the towers would go with no subwoofer while the monitors would be silent at the same frequency. While the tonality of the two designs is similar, there is definitely a difference between the monitor and tower, owing to the TMW vs MTMW design. I found the difference slight with a full orchestra but it was apparent on vocals, so it was mostly in the mid-band. I brought Temple of Low Men by Crowded House which has some very nice vocal tracks and brush work on the drums. Both the monitors and towers sounded very pleasing. I could not describe the difference though, only that there was a difference in the vocals. The similarities were enough that I would be happy with either the towers or the monitors, though I would pair the monitors with a subwoofer to get the very deep bass that they lack. I can understand now why there are so many fans of these speakers.
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We then drove to a local Belgian restaurant for a wonderful dinner and some more conversation. I would be remiss in not thanking Swerd’s wife for putting up with all of the geek speak as she had accompanied us for the trip. We dropped Dennis off on the way back to Swerd’s house and I felt very privileged to have had the opportunity to meet him in person and hear his speakers first hand.
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Before heading back to the hotel there was one last bit of business to look after. I have been interested in purchasing a BMR kit for some time now, and Swerd happened to have a complete kit with flat pack cabs that a friend of his decided not to use. Shipping to Canada would have been expensive, so the opportunity to bring back a kit was very enticing. We reviewed the contents and the extensive amount of documentation that Swerd had gathered, so it seemed a no-brainer to get the kit and not have to have one shipped out later. I have some other projects to complete first but I’ll likely start a build thread when I get around to it.
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The next day was the Band-Maid concert at the Fillmore Silver Spring. Great way to finish off the trip. I had no other plans for the day so waited in line for 5 hours with like minded fans. Nice group of guys at the front of the Fast Pass line and we whiled away the hours talking about the Japanese rock scene and past concerts. VIPs got first entry but I managed to get within 20 feet of the stage. The mix was decent and the performance was one of the best I have ever experienced. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but for fans of Japanese hard rock Band-Maid is one of the best live acts out there. They are scheduled to play at Tokyo Garden Theatre, which seats 8,000, so it was a real treat to get to see them up close in a 1,200 person music hall like the Fillmore.
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No issues on the drive home and I am looking forward to getting the BMR kit together and comparing them to my Paradigm Studio 20's. Thanks again to Swerd and Dennis for the hospitality! It's always a pleasure to meet forum members in person.
 
ryanosaur

ryanosaur

Audioholic Overlord
@Eppie
Very cool! Welcome to the club!!!
I had been wondering what was going on with @Swerd ’s BMR kit, so thanks for clearing that up. ;)
 
Swerd

Swerd

Audioholic Warlord
Met Swerd and his wife around 1:30 in a lovely neighbourhood outside of DC. Really gracious hosts and it was a genuine pleasure to meet them in person. Swerd has a pair of Salk Varacity towers with RAAL ribbon tweeters and Seas woofers in a transmission line cabinet (stock photo).
Eppie – Thanks for those nice memories and the photos. Your visit happened when our fall weather was just about perfect. You were such good company that it was very easy to be gracious when you visited. We both enjoyed your company.

After hearing your Beethoven's 3rd CD, I had to have my own copy too. It's really a good performance and an excellent recording.

Thanks for admiring my Salk speakers. They have natural (unstained) cherry veneer, shown below. I love them, but they aren't quite as nice looking as those in that stock photo.
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Swerd

Swerd

Audioholic Warlord
@Eppie
Very cool! Welcome to the club!!!
I had been wondering what was going on with @Swerd ’s BMR kit, so thanks for clearing that up. ;)
I bought that BMR kit in the spring of 2020, early in the pandemic. I guess I wanted to have a worthwhile project during all that isolation. I had surgery later in the summer, and I hadn't anticipated just how distracting that was. By the time I was feeling decent again, I had lost my urge to build something. So, I was very glad to find someone like Eppie to take them off my hands. He seems skilled and motivated to do a nice job at building them. One of the reasons for his visit in late October was to hear them at Dennis's. It didn't take long before he was convinced that he likes the BMRs.
 
afterlife2

afterlife2

Audioholic Warlord
Good day, Eppie! Hurry up and put that kit together! Nice read. Looking forward to the finish as well, so hurry. :p ☕
 
Eppie

Eppie

Audioholic Samurai
Eppie – Thanks for those nice memories and the photos. Your visit happened when our fall weather was just about perfect. You were such good company that it was very easy to be gracious when you visited. We both enjoyed your company.

After hearing your Beethoven's 3rd CD, I had to have my own copy too. It's really a good performance and an excellent recording.

Thanks for admiring my Salk speakers. They have natural (unstained) cherry veneer, shown below. I love them, but they aren't quite as nice looking as those in that stock photo.
View attachment 58906
Thanks for the kind words. It was a wonderful visit. FWIW, I prefer that cherry finish to the stock photo that I posted. ;) Haven't decided yet how I want to finish the BMR cabs. Likely a wood veneer and the colour will depend on where they are going. As much as I like the Paradigm Studio 20 they need a wider sweet spot for home theatre, at least in my setting any way. The BMRs may end up being a better fit for that room.
 
Mikado463

Mikado463

Audioholic Ninja
Nice write up Eppie, glad you have wonderful visit with Swerd and safe trip not to mention coming home with 'goodies' !
 
D

D Murphy

Audioholic
Thanks for the great post Eppie. I certainly enjoyed our time together. That post must have been a lot of work to put together. I just wanted to say a few words about the performance by the University of Michigan orchestra that you were kind enough to post. That, of course, is a set of very clever variations on the U of M fight song, Hail to the Victors. The piece was written at the request of Leonard Bernstein for an encore piece, who brought the mighty NY Philharmonic to Hill Auditorium on the U of M campus in 1968. The main purpose of the concert, which I attended while finishing my PhD at Ann Arbor, was to premier the last piece that Aaron Copland wrote. It was a very modern atonal composition entitled "SoundScape." Copland was in the audience, and we gave him a very courteous reception even though I don't think anyone liked it, and it's never been performed since. As an encore, Bernstein played the fight song variations, which are written in the style of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Debussy, and Stravinsky. The audience went wild, much to the chagrin of Copland, who expressed his extreme displeasure to Bernstein at a reception following the concert. The U of M orchestra performance is the only one since the 1968 debut. Hill auditorium has great acoustics, and some of that comes across on the YouTube recording.
 
Swerd

Swerd

Audioholic Warlord
Speaking of "Hail to the Victors", I heard the U of Michigan Marching Band play that several times this evening, as Michigan defeated Purdue in the Big 10 championship game.
 
Mikado463

Mikado463

Audioholic Ninja
Speaking of "Hail to the Victors", I heard the U of Michigan Marching Band play that several times this evening, as Michigan defeated Purdue in the Big 10 championship game.
Loved it when the two bands together, played the National Anthem, albeit at what I thought was a somewhat faster tempo ?
 

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