The Sixth Annual Capital Audiofest was, according to my formal and scientifically rigorous polling, the best to date. Everyone I spoke with marveled at the sound that the intrepid were wringing out of their rooms here at the Hilton. To my mind, there were more great rooms here (as opposed to merely “good”) than there were average or bad. That’s a scary balance — and absolutely wonderful for those that chose to show here.
Of the shortcomings, I have few complaints. I did miss the headphone extravaganza from last year — apparently, CanJam had also chosen that weekend for their first trip to London. Whatever. That said, the local chapter did stage a meet and spilled over a dozen or so tables in the great big market area.
In the Ballroom
In that general area, I found some rather remarkable stuff. I found Aaron Hoffman of Kanso Audio Furniture, showing off what I think may well be the best-made audio furniture you can currently buy. Hoffman’s racks are way more than what meets the eye — I need to dig in here in a future exploration. Demos from Robyatt and DSA were both featuring “big racks” from Kanso — no doubt why those rooms were also sonically excellent.
I also found a small demo from New Jersey’s Care Audio, bringing Kanso and personal audio together.
I found local company Urban Hi-Fi taking on — and updating — David Berning’s OTL designs and bringing back the microZOTL, a headphone amplifier ($1100) that’s been out of production since 2009. It features no feedback in a Class A triode design; the linear power supply is now off-box. Also worth noting is the healthy 1-watt of output; in addition to the headphone jack, there are some speaker terminals in case you want to run some higher-sensitivity speakers. The sound, with a pair of Audeze LCD headphones, was startling — and I mean that in the best way. Given the size and relative compactness (and lack of weight — no transformers!), I think this may well be a killer personal audio box. I hope to get one to review!
Dave Ratcliff was showing off his Ultrasonic Record Cleaning machines. I’d heard from a few too many “industry sources” to dismiss their claims about the improvements of an ultrasonic cleaner over a good ol’ fashioned scrubber. I’ve been diving into vinyl quite a bit lately, and I’ve become appalling aware of exactly how grungy my LPs have gotten — so I bought one, and the “matching” Dryer Cube. More reports will be forthcoming on that front.
Perhaps the biggest draw — that is, the draw with the most universal appeal — were the music vendors. I found Todd Garfinkel of the astonishingly-great audiophile label MA-Recordings hawking some new material. If you haven’t heard of MA-Recordings, rectify that gap immediately.
Bob’s Devices was also present and in full force — Bob makes SUT for your moving-coil cartridges. Run directly into the MM inputs on your typical phono stage, I’ve been nothing but amazed at the overall improvements.
The Wider Net
Sadly, I didn’t get to spend as much time as I’d like everywhere, but I did want to call attention to a few of the rooms that got some short-shrift.
First up, Audioism. Audioism is a new brand/effort that features a rather innovative tube-powered (based on David Berning’s ZOTL amplifiers) line array. The speakers, here supplemented by a quartet of REL subwoofers for total bass attack, will retail for about $40k (and include ZOTL amplifiers to drive them, if I recall correctly). Fronted here by a Manhattan DAC from Mytek, the sound was really good and surprisingly (for a quartet of subs) coherent. This demo clearly wins for best chair, too (see the top photo, above — you just don’t see an Eames at audio shows).
The team at Fyssion was clearly having a lot of fun, so it was almost a drag to stop someone and have them attempt to explain the mayhem. There were speakers pretty much everywhere in the room, and as I understood it, the goal of the mult-directionally-firing speaker arrays was to improve the in-room response and drastically improve the sweet-spot. Makes sense. The audio chair, tucked in the back, was apparently their launching point, but it is the high-quality finish of the littlest-to-largest floor-and-desktop speakers that represent their current thinking. What I heard? Wall o’ sound. Pretty impressive for what looked to be little floor-standers.
The upshot of the Resolution Acoustics demo wasn’t much of a surprise to anyone, but the layout was innovative and extremely well-executed. You walk into a room with a truly lovely pair of speakers (in this case, Sonus Faber) driven by a quality amplifier (in this case, Pass Laboratories), and listen for a bit. Then, as you’re about to leave, they invite you into the side room.
In that side room is the exact same setup. Same speakers. Same amplifiers. In fact, same cables — all run from a common preamplifier and source. The difference? This room is acoustically treated. If you haven’t explored acoustic treatment for your spaces, especially your smaller spaces, do not pass Go, go check some out. Pronto. It’s a must-do.
Resolution will, of course, assist you. They make an entire suite of diffusors and absorbers and will customize to your needs.
The oddly-lit demo from Sound Insight was completely dominated by a giant set of loudspeakers, the monster BG Radia FS 880 ($35k/pair), but they weren’t the story. The story? The SI-300 Open Baffle Servo-Driven subwoofers ($7,900/pair). Open baffle subs are said to be the only thing fast enough to keep up with panels, and also have the ability to load the room without over-loading it. The supporting cast of characters here is pretty long, but included Esoteric, Coincident and Pass Labs. Triode Wire Labs provided all of the power and signal cabling.
GT Audio, Paradox Pulse and HAL
Another tall panel room came courtesy of Greg Takesh and his GT Audio Works GTA2.5 ($9k/pair). Greg’s been tweaking this design for years now, and each time, I come away more impressed. Shown here to excellent effect with some nifty looking Class A/B amps from Paradox Pulse ($6k each), and a server from Hollis Audio Labs. Triode Wire Labs provided the power and signal cables.
Vintage audio is not really my thing or my beat, but I’m always curious what curios the Deja Vu team come up with for these shows. There seems to be a requirement that everything be at least 50 years old (preferably 100), and while I know many of you may shake your head at that, I’m not being dismissive. Generally speaking, the sound quality of this gear is shockingly good and Vu is the only restorer I know going to such lengths to procure and rehab some of yesterday’s greats. I missed out this year as the gear was off-line when I came through.
Next up, Best in Show.