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Capital Audiofest 2016: KEF and VPI scorch the earth

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In what can only be described an act of outright belligerence, KEF and VPI teamed up at this year’s Capital Audiofest and decided to stop being nice about it. Or fair. In fact, as one show-goer described their joint room at the far fringes of the show, “Holy s***balls, I think I just soiled myself”.

This was, apparently, a rather disconcertingly common theme. Maitre ‘D of Trouser Destruction, KEF’s Johan Coorg, would casually saunter up to the front of the room, give a mild chat about the VPI-KEF partnership, maybe throw a detail or two out to the yammering crowd about the glorious pillars of liquid metal flanking him, and at some point, drop the needle. At which point, everyone in the front row would promptly s*** their britches.

It became something of an issue, to be honest. When it became obvious that a simple sani-wipe wasn’t going to be sufficient to clean the mess between spontaneous vacuations, the ever-clever Mat Weisfeld took to papering the seats. Of course, this only made for a rapidly growing toxic and somewhat flammable hazard, as the piles of the not-so-gently used material could only be stuffed into corners for just so long before someone was liable to complain. Plastic laid carefully across the carpet was to prove the best solution, though if truth be told, Mr Coorg proved to be a little too free with the firehose and, sadly, some second-row attendees were also blasted into a frothy mess. Ah, well. Aside from the three regrettable casualties (and in all fairness, they had been warned about the chest-crushing bass response), I’m sure the rest of the crowd found it completely worth it. Especially the visiting Lannisters, who were no doubt charmed when Mr Frey Coorg queued up some Sigur Rós.

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And crowd there was. Lannisters aside, this was by far the most trafficked room at this year’s CAF — and the giant KEF Muon Mk2 had quite a lot to do with that. The Muon, in case it wasn’t blisteringly obvious, is a loudspeaker. And by ‘loudspeaker’, I mean, “Giant Canon of Audio Awesomeness”. Excuse me, I think I need another set of underwear.

The Muon is the flagship loudspeaker for KEF, but I suspect that the $225k/pair sticker-price probably already gave that away. The Mk2 is very substantial overhaul over the out-going design, and includes all manner of nifty tweaks and tune-ups to take it into the rare-air feeding the State-Of-The-Art. Using a sealed enclosure, the new Muon can reportedly deliver a “flat” response of 20Hz-20kHz. Given that the speaker leverages nine drivers per side, I don’t think anyone will be surprised when I say that the sound of this speaker is … startling. There are two rear-firing woofers, four front-firing woofers, a mid-bass driver, and dead-center is their ultra-special UniQ concentric.

award-sighting-smAltogether, the sound field is completely seamless and coherent, top-to-bottom. Images were clear and precise, with specific placements (where relevant) being easy to pick out in the soundstage. While the speakers were set apart for “stadium-sized sound”, the images themselves weren’t exactly exaggerated — not like what a panel will do. Everything simply scaled up, and presented with sense of effortlessness that I cannot explain without comparisons. Live comparisons. Really, this is impossible. The sound simply flowed out of the front of the room (speakers, what speakers?), and over the crowd like a wave, or a rail-gun (depending), and nothing else at this show came close. Skadoosh.

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So. While the Muon speakers were altogether disarming (and entirely suitable for any color of wedding), they weren’t the most surprising thing in the room.

No, that fell to the new Titan from VPI.

The thing that’s most annoying about this turntable, aside from its $48k projected price (a new high water mark for VPI, and sadly beyond my reach), is the fact that I was just at the factory in May and there wasn’t even a whisper about this thing. UN-BE-LEE-VA-BULL.

So, yes, anyway — Harry Weisfeld has created a monster.

Perhaps a direct result of Weisfeld Senior’s retirement (har har har), there’s been a bit of a Renaissance over in Cliffwood, NJ. The latest to fall off of Harry’s workbench is a little bit Frankenstein and a little bit Einstein. The Titan is a rim-drive turntable. Sort of. There is a flywheel rim-drive attached to the platter, yes. But that platter is the platter that holds the magnets — and it’s the magnets that drive the top platter, where you actually play your records. That is, it’s a rim-drive turntable where the record interface has no connection to the rim-driver. That is, it’s a silent rim-drive turntable. No rumble. None. The whole system “floats” on an air suspension (a few pumps a week and you’re good) — those feet hide a small valve that regulates the air pressure. Shown here with a pair of 12″ tonearms — one of which Harry just chuckles about, but wouldn’t discuss. More coming there, soon.

CAF16-KEF-VPI-4424Speed control is also new. In collaboration with their other in-house wizard, Mike Bettinger, VPI is offering an upgrade to their venerable SDS controller, called the ADS (Analog Drive System). ADS systems will fall at three price points: $500, $1,000, and $1,500, depending on spec. This is, to all reports, a shockingly big deal — the ADS is killer.

Also new — the Prime Signature ($6,000). Due to a premature photo publication from a certain Vinyl Evangelist who shall remain nameless (cough, Michael Fremer, cough), the Prime is now out in the wild. Advantages over the “regular” Prime include a new motor housing, upgraded feet, upgraded finish, a more robust plinth, and an updated tonearm featuring Nordost wiring. Expect that in time for the year-end holidays.

Also new — the Cliffwood Series. These two products include a standalone headphone amplifier and phono stage, and both will be priced below $1,000. The tech isn’t new, nor is the offering — these are pulled directly from the not-quite-new VPI Player turntable (formerly known as “Nomad”; prices start at $800 for the ‘table, without the electronics).

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The rack of electronics at the front of the room was … eclectic. There was a preamplifier from McIntosh labs, and a suite of phono preamps, including offerings from DSA, ModWright and Luminous Audio (the Arion, which we reviewed here, was the one in use during our visits). The amps, a pair of massive monoblocks from Odyssey Audio, more than handily rounded out the set. All cabling was from Nordost‘s Reference Series. My understanding is that this gear all came out of Harry’s personal stash of gear.

All in all, a most thrilling system. I really hope you heard it, because I fear we’ll never see it’s like again. Which, considering the catastrophic mess the showing made of the intended audience, might not be such a bad thing. Though, I did have a quick chat with Mr Coorg — who may well have been a tad smug at the sound he was getting out of this room (at least until I mentioned Brexit) — but it appears that perhaps we’ll see those towers of liquid metal again here in the US.

Maybe.

Wink wink, nudge nudge. Say no more.

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13 Comments on Capital Audiofest 2016: KEF and VPI scorch the earth

  1. Bob Kashinski // July 31, 2016 at 5:28 PM //

    I don’t believe anyone said the VPI tables don’t work (at $48K you should expect as least some level of performance). I’m glad you brought up the 3D arm. VPI wasn’t the first, I believe the Caliburn Copperhead and Cobra arms used 3D technology before VPI latched onto it, so it is not unique. It is an excellent example though of what I am talking about: [insert blather and libelous nonsense here].

    This article was so over the top in favor of VPI, that I have to conclude it was a paid advertisement. If you are going to review products, why don’t you at least analyze and test them, maybe even some (gasp!) measurements. Your writing style is also extremely vulgar; we could’ve done without the scat talk.

    • Bob,

      I’m going to let (most of) this comment through, but be aware that we generally don’t support bashing. Particularly when those bashes are not only unverified and unsubstantiated, but also ignorantly play well past the line of libel. Just thought I’d mention that.

      So, two thoughts. One, you’re welcome to take up the novelty of 3D printing with Caliburn, if you like, but a quick Google search isn’t turning up anything. Just sayin’. Two, there is a difference between “show report” and “review” that you’re also welcome to explore. Oh, and three (this is the freebie), I truly do appreciate the thought that we are financially solvent enough to afford “test equipment”, however you choose to identify that category (though I suspect that there will be several moving goalposts with this one). Our stated — and explicitly stated, just to be clear — stance is that we don’t do that. You want measurements, you’re welcome to do ’em yourself. And probably should.

      As for my scatalogical predilections and general fondness for fart jokes (which are always funny, I don’t care who you are), you’re welcome to fuck right off.

      Cheers!

  2. wkhanna // July 13, 2016 at 1:37 PM //

    Hey! i can see the Pittsburgh Audio Group reflected in one of Scot’s photos!

    As Scot states, big & grand were the adjectives of the KEF VPI collaboration.
    of significant grandness too, were Klaus’ Odyssey amps with enough clean headroom & flat tonal response to equal the offerings from KEF & VPI.

    in all honesty, our ears found a weak link somewhere in the chain.
    maybe the KEFs, maybe the MAC Pre (the MAC being our best guess). likely not the Triton.
    while voices were pure with exquisite focus, we notice some muddiness in lower mids, some wandering in images, & some lack of cohesiveness and detail at times that we were not willing to always blame on the recordings.
    while Harry did say they had tried multiple pre amps during Thursday’s set-up, he (they) settled on the MAC as giving the best performance and synergy.
    wish we could have compared this set-up with a few different pre amps.
    we speculate improvement was yet to be found in what was undeniably one of better systems one will ever hear in their lifetime.

    thanks for all you do for bringing honesty & integrity to the world of audio journalism, Scot!
    see you again next year at CAF 2017

    Billy (the practicing curmudgeon) & the rest of the Pittsburgh gang

  3. Looks like the turntable is a copy of the clear audio. Am I missing something ?

    • Bob Kashinski // July 26, 2016 at 9:18 AM //

      It looks a lot like the ClearAudio and also like the Kronos. VPI is very good at copying the LOOKS of other mfrs technology, but they do so without doing the actual engineering or design work to make the copy valid. [edited to remove libel]

      • Given that their ‘tables do work, the claim that they don’t seems obviously false and weirdly empty. Do turntables look alike? Sure. So do amps. So does music, for that matter, especially when you look at chord progressions. The point that only novel things are interesting or good seems silly. So what if VPI ‘tables “look like” others. BFD. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and to all reports, the eating at VPI is very tasty.

        Oh, and that 3-D printed tonearm thing? For the record, that was novel. Just sayin’.

      • To say a turntable looks like another one is pretty much the same with all cars look alike, all yachts and so on. Actually the Kronos was inspired by the 47 Labs Koma turntable though the looks and design progress sets the Sparta apart. Clearaudio looks like VPI? Do check how the Acoustic Solid and Transrotor tables look alike, almost like twins, both functionally and aesthetically.

        VPI was the first to manufacture a 3D printed tonearm and among the very few to offer an external rim drive, similar to an idler. Last time I checked they were also the only to offer a TT with headphone output. There you go, three features that no one else has. Enough for you?

  4. dave elliott // July 11, 2016 at 8:34 PM //

    Channel D, the GTA room, and the Linear Audio room with horn loaded speakers were my favorites to sit down and listen

  5. James Romeyn // July 11, 2016 at 7:28 PM //

    One wonders what might Scot’s review read like if/when he hears something he really enjoys? /sarc off

    Oh man, these images are to die for.

    If this magnet-drive TT is the world’s first production non-mechanical contact drive system, surely VPI deserves more than a mere annual award? But what would it be?

    Is it just me, or does anyone else have an irresistible urge to pace one’s hands adoringly around the waste line of that gorgeous hunk of speaker?

    Scot, I just wanted to confirm you count the coaxial Uni-Q as two drivers. If not, it looks like only eight total rather than the nine stated, but maybe my glasses are dirty…

    The average domestic room boosts bass response about 7 dB @ 20 Hz vs. 100 Hz. This seems well suited to large sealed speakers like Muon Mk2 and Magico. Sealed systems tend toward a higher bass cutoff and slower roll off rate than the more popular reflex loading. Theoretically, a speaker w/3 dB/octave roll off @ 100 Hz would be a perfect mirror image of the average room gain, netting close to flat response.

  6. I don’t care what they all say Scot you DO take interesting and amazing photos.

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