Capital Audiofest 2019 Overview—Part One
If you did not take part in this “best ever” CAF you missed a great show. Everything and I mean everything, except the Hotel’s cafe menu, was just grand. More rooms than ever. The show has grown to the point one can not spend quality time in every room in the short three days. It forces you to pick and choose equipment that you really want to experience. The other thing is for me, there were more rooms that sounded musical than ever before. Much less than the usual upfront, bright sound that some consider the “Modern way”. There was a good balance between digital and analog sources, both sounding good to these old and crusty ears of mine. The Marketplace was full of new and used vinyl, and accessories for your perusal.
There is a big “BUT” coming……
But what stood out above everything else (for me) was the live music that Gary Gill provided for the lucky few that took advantage of the three presentations.
Now for the listening rooms. There will be no attempt to cover it all. Not even close. So this will be the highlights of the highlights.
I found most of the rooms sounded very good. The usual standouts were there. Doug White’s, The Voice That Is, in the Wilson Room, always puts on a room that has it all, yes expensive stuff but this is one room that is always very musical.
Lou Hinkley, of Daedalus Audio, had a grand display in the Randolph Room. Lots of big sound and music, that I could have spent hours listening too if I did not have a job to do. But his room up on the 5th floor was a sleeper. On my short list for best in show. The Muse Studio speaker with BorderPatrol electronics, and Triode Wire Lab interconnects, power, and speaker wires, the music was sublime.
When I was walking down the back hall and saw the Jeff Fox (Command Performance AV) was in one of the Plaza ballrooms, I thought to myself that this is going to be a disappointment. Not for the equipment but because of the room. These cavernous rooms are just impossible to make sound good.
Jeff was showing John Devor’s beautiful Orangutan Reference , these are the ultimate Devor speaker. They were driven by the new Luxman MQ-300 power amp. Somehow Jeff and John after what was explained with me many hours and different geometries were able to get a most involving sound.
I heard the big Kef Muon’s last year in the VPI Jefferson room. I was not impressed. But this year the Mark ll in the Adams room was a completely new story. I heard music, not Hi-Fi. Was it the new mods to the speaker. Was it the room or was it the new Krell Amps. Surprise, surprise. There were Krell amps in other rooms and they sounded good too. Krell is making musical amps!!!
What’s great about these exhibitions is you get to see and hear equipment you would never experience anywhere. One such product in room 523 is the MC Audiotech Forty-10 from just outside of Philly. This is a full range two-way system with an unusual cloth covered curve array consisting of 100 in house designed drivers covering 100Hz to 20kHz sitting on a bass unit which they call a folded cube. I believe it is two 18 woofers firing in to a chamber that is ported out the back. Each woofers back wave is ported out its respected grill on the front. This design provides a very efficient way to plumb the depths to 20 Hz. Efficiency is stated as 93-96 db at 1 meter. The sound was very full of life. I liked it.
Also up on the 5th floor was the Salk/McGary room. Jim Salk of Salk Sound has brought his beautiful speakers to almost every CAF. He was at the first CAF in 2010 where I met Jim and heard his speakers for the first time. I was taken aback first by the exquisite craftsmanship of his woodworking. I am a bit of a woodworker myself and I know how difficult it is to finish a product to the level that Jim does. Then there is the sound. Salk has always presented a wide, deep and musical image. For the past two years Jim has been exhibiting with Mike McGary’s amps. Mike has been hand building these amps in Virginia. Mike was showing his new SA-2 KT88 P-P 80 watts/channel. These are classic push-pull amps with some innovative takes on biasing and powering the output tubes. Whatever Mike does the results is most musical with detail and speed to keep young ears happy.
I have met David Janzen or Janzen Electrostatic Loudspeakers many times at previous audio shows and once at a special presentation to the DC Hi-Fi Group of his speaker. I have recently gotten involved with electrostatics in rebuilding a few pair of Quad ESL (57’s). I like them so much I kept a set for myself. There is something about the speed and transparency that just draws me into the music. It’s just more interesting. David was showing his latest version of the Valentina Active. This an active speaker with dual 500w Hypex NCore amps biamping the woofers and electrostatic panels.There are both digital and analog inputs.
Linear Tube Audio amps and preamps were all over the show, and LTA supplied the micoZOTL preamplifier. You could really hear what this preamp doesn’t do to the music with the very accurate Valentina Active. David said it took much effort to get a balanced sound in the difficult hotel room. He settled on a placement along the long wall which put the listener in almost a near field placement which was fine for me. (A handful of vendors chose to exhibit this way and those rooms all sound very good) The sound sucked you into the music. It was rich, full, life like, and rewarding.
Our fellow member, Russ Katz of The Audio Hunters/The Vinyl Revivers, had no less than five rooms at the show. Stereophile writer Herb Reichert had many nice things to say about his rooms.
The winning room for me was the Sonners/Rogers Room 558. The Sonner Audio Allegro Unums are just amazing speakers that play throw and image far bigger that any room I have ever heard them in. I always have to look twice to make sure I am seeing/hearing what I am actually seeing/hearing. Just blows my mind. The amplification was from Rogers High Fidelity PA-2 phono stage and KWM 88 Corona integrated. Front end was either the Mytek Manhattan ll DAC or the Dr Feikert Volare TT
Volti Audio, BorderPatrol, and Triode Wire Labs have been exhibiting together for a number of years and each year at whatever show always get very high praise. This year they managed two rooms. Room 316 with Volti top of the line Vittora system is a fully 3 way horn loaded system including an ELF (Extended Low Frequency) cabinet. I do not think the ELF is needed in these bass heavy hotel rooms, but Greg let me know the low frequency push is fully adjustable. The music was so involving. One just wanted to sit and toe tap the day away. Volti’s tagline is “Just Have Fun” and that is just what his speakers make you want to do. The rest of the equation for this pure musical experience is the BorderPatrol electronics. This represents over 30 years of exploration into what makes a electronic circuit get out of the way of the music. Gary Dews will not make changes for change sake and just keeps producing musical amps, preamps and DAC’s. If there was ever a question whether one should go with either digital or analog front end the the answer is is found in this system. And speaking of this the system, a big part, is the cabling. The synergy one gets with a complete cabling from one company for the whole system is quite obvious. Pete Grzybowski of Triode Wire Labs takes great pride in hand constructing every one of the cables he sells. They are made some of the best wire stock every made. These are most likely the best sounding cables at any price, but sell for a very reasonable amount. These cables are the best value out there. The same can be said about the system in room 309. Just about the only differences were the Volti Audio Rival speaker. This speaker is about one third the cost of the Vittora but can rock out pure music like its big brother. Greg was also showing in static display the new special edition version with curved sides to improve internal resonances.
Dennis Clark of The Leesburg Listening Room had two rooms. I only spent time in 238 the Krell/Altra Audio room. Alta Audio loudspeakers is another high value product in my book. The Alex is in the middle of the line and in the sweet spot for bang for the buck. Here also was the surprisingly good sounding Krell electronics that included Krell Duo 300 XD power amp and the Illusion ll preamp. The analog front end was the VPI 40th Anniversary TT and Voyager phono preamp.
One of our DC Hi-Fi Group members, Amar from Aurorus Audio told me the headphones had been under serious development for about two years. There are two versions—a closed back called the Australis and the open back is called the Borealis. Amar had been reviewing headphones and giving feedback to local DIYers for several years before finally joining with Aurorus to help with tuning and development. The units use a 50mm 32ohm dynamic driver that Amar told me was identical to the driver used in the Kennerton Vali. Amar was using the LTA MZ2 headphone amp. The sound was glorious for the closedback version. There was too much ambient noise to be able to make a judgment on the open back, but since the same driver is being used I am sure they would sound as good. His web site will be up soon but here is a review from Den-fi. Also, Stereophile writer Herb Reichert enjoyed the headphones as well.
That is all for now. I have about ten more rooms I would like to highlight soon.