There are over 1,000,000 brands exhibiting here at Capital Audiofest … okay, okay, — I don’t know how many brands exactly, but it does seem like a lot this year. Which makes 2018’s event feel every bit like the “premier show of North America’s eastern coast”, that we often claim it to be. Fear not, as the rag-tag band of misfits from Part-Time Audiophile are here to be your surrogate audio show guide.
Here are some surefire rooms to get you started off on the right foot.
VPI Industries, KRELL, Wilson Audio, Nordost – Room #Jefferson (Main Floor)
Have you ever been spoiled by a direct-drive turntable? Prepare for torque, speed, and noise free operation. The new HW-40 is the my new favorite turntable. Zooming up to full-speed in what seems like less than a second, the platter spins away, myself trying to slow it with the friction of my fingers; the HW-40 laughs at my attempt. The Wilson Alexa’s resolve all promises made by the VPI and KRELL system. Is it weird to say that many of us in the room at launching of the show were surprised at how good this room sounded? Of course the names and histories of the players involved are of no surprise for creating high expectations, but in absolute truth, the room exceeded them.
DeVore Fidelity, Doshi, J. Sikora – Room #534
I should have expected this. Never heard the pairing before Friday, but all previous experiences I’ve had with Doshi and DeVore separately could have clued me in to this, but assumption isn’t a part of my lifestyle, or journalistic responsibilities. The Devore Gibbon Super Nine’s embody a unique level of efficiency and speed. Sound and power of the highest translation factor was forged in the belly of the Doshi stereo amplifier. At only 50-wpc in this configuration of impedance, the high sensitivity of the DeVore towers produced one of the most effortless and high bandwidth presentations at the show. Not pictured was a turntable by J, Sikora that which its beauty cannot be explained in words. Also on hand, a classic reel-to-reel transport and Doshi’s own famous tape-stage. You are invited.
McGary Audio, SALK, Exogal, AntiCables – Room #512
“Blindsided”, is a word in my reporting notes. I know the Salk sound, but new to me is the SONG 3 BEAT loudspeaker. A Satori beryllium tweeter (BE) and an Audio Technology (AT) 4″ mid-range top the speaker. A 7.5″ woofer handles bass down to 33Hz, and the overall package is 88db sensitivity. Jim Salk says they are easy to drive. Mike McGary (founder of McGary Audio) proved that point and then some with 30-wpc of power from his SA-1 Vacuum Tube Stereo Amplifier. New old stock G.E. 6BQ7A, 6SN7GTB, and Russian KT77 Gold Lion’s, and customizable chassis’s — the SA-1 looks and sounds the part.
The Voice That Is!, VIMBERG, Tidal Audio – Room #Wilson (Main Floor)
Okay, for some time now I’ve been drooling over TIDAL loudspeakers. So much so, that maybe I’ve also been wishing for the day to come when a lottery ticket, or an out-of-court injury settlement can enable me to financially make that leap. Well… I wish no more. Welcome VIMBERG, from the makers of TIDAL loudspeakers. Distill the best in material sourcing and engineering wisedom; then draw upon a few decades of pedigree and craftsmanship — what you are left with is the VIMBERG loudspeakers. Possibly one of the greatest bargains in ultra-hi-fi.
The Audio Company, VAC, Von Schweikert, Esoteric – Room #Potomac (Atrium Floor)
All parties involved are known for bringing their A-game to every exhibit. Showing the ultra-high-end system that debuted here at CAF exactly one year ago, things now sound better than ever, as the year long tour has benefited from experience. Along with the new VAC Statement 450i iQ Integrated Amplifier (on static display) living up to its every foreshadowed promise recently at RMAF. The main system here at CAF represents what I feel is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Do make your way over.
Fidelis AV, Rogers High Fidelity, Harbeth, AccuSound Cables – Room #323 (Main Floor)
This could have ended badly for Harbeth being… you know… Harbeth. But with Ultra-linear mode engaged, and proper British content, we went from “Meh” to possibly one of the best rooms at the show. Diving deep into recordings from 1960’s and ’70’s London, we found that anything recorded within forty miles of the Harbeth Factory during a two (or more) decade period in history, was great enough on the Harbeth speakers to create a lustfully iconic sound. For some of us who haven’t always understood the cult of Harbeth, now — we can’t stop listening. The Fidelis AV room had few fellow press members and myself locked-in for almost THREE HOURS — this is unheard of. By force of exhaustion and journalistic responsibility, we peeled away from our seats like cheap Velcro® and reserved ourselves to the bar in pathos. I can’t wait to go back. Please, take me back.
Sound Insight, GT Audio Works, Pass Labs, Triode Wire Labs – Room #Frederick (Atrium Floor)
To be fair and transparent about this, the GT Audio Works GT3R planar ribbon speakers do not — (I repeat) DO NOT — need sub-woofers. Yet the exhibitors decided that the GT3R’s would best deployed at CAF with the additions of a few Sound Insight’s SI600 self-powered open-baffle sub-woofers. The sub-woofer configuration was six 12″ servo-driven subs per side. It was absolute madness all the way down to 16Hz. Do we need this? Was it fantastically hilarious and serious at the same time? Definitely to both.
ModWright, Fritz Speakers, Fern & Roby, Zu Audio – Room #312 (Main Floor)
I know Fritz speakers are naturally an easy load for almost all amplifiers, but when Dan Wright of ModWright Instruments told me that he was running a pair of Fritz loudspeakers with an 8-wpc 300B Tube Headphone Amplifier, I was aghast. When we further inquired with Mr. John “Fritz” Heiler (founder of Fritz Speakers) about his Carrera 7BE speaker being exhibited with such meek amplification, he invited us for a listen, and after doing so — we’re believers. You won’t find a more impressive system exhibiting with bookshelves at the show.
PlanterSpeakers by Intelligent Audio Products – Room #Hallway (Main Floor)
You will be charmed, you will be seduced. The PlanterSpeakers from Intelligent Audio Products are not a gimmick, nor are they to be underestimated. From planters (obviously) to side tables, and now table lamps (made for Sonus and surrounds), one of the most enjoyable and emotionally engaging exhibits I’ve gathered from the first day of the show, was in this hallway of the main floor. Do not just walk on by.