Capital Audiofest 2016: KEF and VPI scorch the earth







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.

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.

Altogether, 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.

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.

Speed 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).

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.