6moons industryfeatures: Lloyd Walker of Walker Audio


On a recent pleasant early autumn day, I hopped into the Buick and headed south on a two hour jaunt to chez Walker in Audubon, Pennsylvania. The intent was to meet and talk with Lloyd about his audio business and product line. While that certainly happened -- along with auditioning his current system -- I happily discovered an adept and driven man who is quite passionate about sound and music. The afternoon evolved into a session brimming over with good fun in a highly informative and captivating way. Since much of what transpired happened in a stream-of-consciousness discussion, I shall try to capture things in that relatively casual style for this report.

The Walker Audio philosophy is nicely explained on their website but, as with most things, direct contact almost always brings more to the table. That was the case in this visit. For starters, Lloyd is a real gentleman, extending a cordial, courteous and warm welcome. He operates from his home and, in addition to his listening room, has a number of dedicated spaces for his business. By the way, Walker Audio is a team effort. In addition to Lloyd, there are his business partners Fred Law and Felicia Walker, Lloyd's wife. Fred is a co-researcher and co-designer who assists in the building of units. Felicia manages many of the behind-the-scenes business matters, including the design/maintenance of the website, product manuals and related literature.

As with all good audio experiences, after the initial hellos and such, I was shown the sound system and given the component rundown. This is a complex looking installation and set up quite logically and carefully. Lloyd loves to use the phrase "it's all in the details". Implementation of that credo was more than apparent to me. I should note that I also respect being attentive to details - as long as one does so in proper context. And that was without question at Walker Audio headquarters.

Here are a few quick observations. The centerpiece of Lloyd's system is the mighty Proscenium Gold Signature Turntable/Linear Tracking Arm combo that he designed, builds and modestly improves upon with care, love and over time. Most but not all of the other electronics and support products too stem from Lloyd's creative, inventive and fertile mind. On initial viewing, his system has the appeal of visual beauty, clean lines, expensive construction and seriousness of intent. This strikes me as the way someone accustomed to industrial design respects and honors excellent engineering principles. If you don't know it already, Lloyd has worn many professional hats over time and is well grounded as a controls engineer. He has a lot of experience with all forms of large-scale industrial applications clear on up to nuclear power plant systems. There is no doubt that he is an effective problem solver and a practical person to boot.

Lloyd, the man

Lloyd recalled his keen interest in things mechanical as a young boy. He recounted a charming story of how excited he became when one of his boyhood pals found a way to connect a lawn mower motor to a bicycle and turned into a speedster of sorts. He admits that he got jealous of that accomplishment and set out to make a better version. This he did. He continued to explore machines, gizmos and other mechanical devices as a self-taught person. Ultimately, he did undertake formal study at college where he became involved in electronics and all that goes with the territory. His keenness at seeing science and technology merge into meaningful things motivated him and eventually he mastered the discipline known as controls engineering. Power plants, including the aforementioned nuclear installations, became Lloyd's new turf. There were other jobs and activities along the way, but one specific "diversion", if I may be so blunt, focused on music, HiFi and sound reproduction. Putting together early audio systems was both fun and challenging since Lloyd always found a way to take things apart and put them back together in a better way. Turntables, starting with the humble AR unit and going onward through the Mapleknoll and beyond, held a particular fascination. Luckily for us, his respect for the scientific method, his listening skills, carefully honed engineering competence, and a passion for excellence motivated him to tackle big challenges. The current Walker product line reflects his answers to those. He has shown mastery, and better yet, is not willing to stop searching for ever finer performance.

The Systems Approach

Listening to Lloyd's current setup, it became obvious that every minute detail matters. The quality of AC power, the wires and cables, the support platforms, each component itself, resonance control measures, the care of room placement -all these things contribute to the success of the delivered listening experience. Some of us know this from our own experiments and can attest to the surprising benefits that accrue with logical, carefully chosen tweaks. Lloyd is meticulous about this and works at confirming the validity of any resultant change.

I can attest to how small adjustments made big differences with two simple examples. This is an analog-only system and after Lloyd played a few minutes of the Reiner/Chicago Scherazade LP, he altered the arm damping adjustment by a tiny amount. That made a clear improvement in dimensionality, tonal balance and overall clarity. This was actually a little hard to believe at first. At another point, we listened to a Cannonball Adderly reissue disc and after one track, he proposed to reclean the LP with the Disc Doctor's latest formula. Using his trusty VPI vacuum machine and the DD kit, we were back to listening quickly and it was as if a component swap had occurred. Again, small change, big improvement.

I was truly impressed by two things. First, that this new cleaning formula could affect not only record surface noise, but also make the sax sound more open, fuller, richer and more 'there'. Soundstaging improved and the entire sense of musicians playing together was enjoyably heightened. The second thing, however, was how well this system revealed the modest alterations. It was a meaningful lesson that I could not have predicted. A treat, indeed. By the way, to Lloyd as a believer in the empirical method, this was merely part of being logical and systems-oriented.

I was pleased to hear Lloyd address an important issue that is not always as much in the minds of audiophiles as it should be - namely, matching the speaker system to the room. I think many of us know audio friends who have monumentally large speakers in small rooms, and vice versa. Since many compromises and complications arise from trying to get everything to gel when this mismatch happens, Lloyd focused a good bit of our discussion on the 'bandaids' some people use as alleged fix-ups. Yes, the art of electronic equalizing has evolved, as have complex room correction devices. All of this becomes a more obvious issue for those of us who realize that the listening space is one of the biggest variables in any playback system. Lloyd spoke emphatically against such electronic interventions as solutions to room/acoustics problems. In fact, he dislikes these types of circuitry add-on and avoids them in his system. Rather, he promotes careful component matching, simple, moderate room treatments along with listening to a wide range of music before considering the finished package as complete.

He related the story of how one of his audio acquaintances spent much time, effort and money to get Joni Mitchell's Blue album to sound great -and it ultimately did. The problem? Almost everything else sounded wrong! A hard but good lesson.

Some Specifics

As we discussed, his devotion to air-bearing drives, linear tracking arms, air pump designs/qualities and a lot more Physics and engineering than there is time or space for here, Lloyd had a few thoughts to share about audiophilia, audio stores, matching components, cryogenic treatments and about a dozen more interesting ideas. I will try to capture some, but not all, of that concisely now.

The Proscenium Gold Signature turntable/arm system is one marvelous audio component. With the appropriate enhancements such as the Precision Motor Controller, Valid Point Resonance Controllers, Velocitor Power Line Enhancer and support platforms, the price tag for record playing resides in the $30K+ range. I cannot do justice to this stunning turntable system myself but there are reviews listed on the Walker Audio website and you can read glowing commentary from well-known, highly regarded, seasoned writers. The cartridge in use was the Magic Diamond Blue moving coil and, of course, Lloyd's own sophisticated phono stage and line stage were part of the electronic chain. The Viva Aurora T tube monoblock amps from Italy are large, heavy, impressive looking and known to work well with demanding speakers. As directly heated single-ended triodes, they appear to have the SET magic, with none of the limitations.

Lloyd does provide his own modified version of the amps by equipping them with his Valid Points feet bolted to each chassis and cryogenically treated, matched tubes. He feels this takes them nicely beyond the basic units. The amps sell for $25K/pair as standard pieces. With Walker Audio's enhancements, they are available at $27K/pair. By the way, your sound room will warm up a fair amount with these babies running, and the tube glow might almost stand in for a fireplace view, too!

Srajan has already reviewed some Walker Audio products and the Velocitor Power Line Enhancer is among those. Lloyd is a bit reserved about its internal details but the proof of the pudding seems obvious to all who use it. Do remember that with his training in electronics and controls engineering, he knows what it takes to make the wall juice better than the usual fare. He has several stories about sorting out issues like these at various industrial sites, and I have every reason to believe that he possesses a comprehensive, accurate and clear understanding of the subject matter. Read the 6moons review of the Velocitor and you will see more about other details that might have you ordering one for your own system. Yes, the maple encasement and platform do make a difference!

Cables, speaker wires and power cords are a big thing at chez Walker. Lloyd's top-of-the-pile pick is the Omega Mikro line, which is designed by Ron Bauman and Pierre Sprey. These wires appear to deliver the goods better than the other high-priced spreads. According to Lloyd, they are mechanically delicate and demand special attention in placement and handling. In homes where contrary constraints exist and budgets are less generous, he also sells the Silent Source line of wires and cables, which are the best choice for several practical reasons as denoted on his website.

There are other smaller items worthy of comment but, for the sake of space, I will just mention a couple of them. Lloyd has updated passive devices called High Definition Links or HDLs. These very small pig-tailed wafer-like gizmos fit onto your speaker terminals and assist in making things sound better. On his website, he addresses this nicely; in our conversation, he was confident about their utility. He went as far as noting that some audio hotshots slip them into place surreptitiously and would never demo their systems without the HDLs. Go figure!

There is a lot of wood featured in this audio system - and I mean that in the best of all possible ways. This particular rock maple butcher-block stock has garnered much positive attention. It is used in equipment racks, turntable platforms and substrates for other components. Obviously, this design team spends a lot of time evaluating, sorting, refining and listening to much of what comprises audio system complements. While Lloyd did not have the opportunity to demonstrate the specific effect of these rock maple pieces, I think my next visit will allow that to occur. (Yes, I do intend to revisit Walker Audio, especially after these latest equipment additions have been in extended use; I also plan to carry along some of my fave LPs to get a more careful read on how they fare in this $125K system.)

Summing Up

Commenting in detail on the sound at this point is not judicious since the system is still going through most of the changes we know as part of the break-in period. The Viva amps had less than 30 hours on them -- and usually require 200+ -- and the Kharma speakers had been in use for only 10 hours at that point (Lloyd recently upgraded from his prior Merlins). This much is evident to me, however. The overall sound quality is communicative. The dimensionality and soundstaging are, shall we say, appropriate, i.e. large when the material calls for it, more intimate when the performance is likewise a small-scale event. Tonally, everything is in proper balance and accurate. There is no sense of compression, stress/strain or distortion, even at robust volume settings; the dynamics and transients are excellent. The frequency response at the extremes is fine, especially at the top end. The bottom octave has yet to fully develop - probably more a consideration of additional speaker maturation, but that is only a guess.

Generally, one great concern for me is that any system must deliver the music in a cohesive, intelligible and natural fashion. I am just plain tired of hearing fancy equipment that seems to do it all, but in actuality forces the sound at you with overly bright, etched edginess. This odd trend, which many listeners tolerate, is what I call false hyper-detail. I am happy to note that it is absent from Lloyd's system. The essential musical 'rightness' is realized here, and, with a few hundred more hours of play time, my guess is that his complete system will prove to be a real contender.

Clearly, Lloyd Walker has very good ears, excellent electronics awareness, keen insight into how Physics and technology interface, and a desire to push the boundaries. He and his business partners have raised the bar quite dramatically within the upper fringes of audio equipment. Yes, most of his gear is expensive; and yes, it is made by hand, with much fanatical attention to detail. After all, Lloyd's phrase of choice is "it's all in the details" and I agree wholeheartedly. His products are evolutionary, so no one is left in the wake of obsolescence. New developments are not frivolous - they do make a difference. You can read about many components from Walker Audio and Srajan's prior interview in our archive section, as well as in other publications. All of it reflects positive if not downright enthusiastic endorsement, with consistent agreement about what this man is doing.

I like the fact that Lloyd is committed to a philosophy of unified system building, even though a $125K "rack system" -- albeit one of rock maple -- may not be everyone's cup of tea. There are ways to enter his approach, however, which won't break the bank, such as using his HDLs, Valid Points or maple bases. I also respect the fact that Lloyd is a real-world, down-to-earth solid citizen. He has honesty, reliability and professional competence in his corner. More of the audiophile and music-loving community needs to know about him and his perspective on audio truth. Thanks, Lloyd, for this glimpse into Walker Audio and beautiful sound. See you again, soon.