The last couple of months have been a blur. Just days after I joined the team at Part-Time Audiophile and The Occasional, I was off to Denver to cover the 2018 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. Then, just a few weeks later, I was driving down to Rockville, Maryland to cover the 2018 Capital Audiofest. Then I’d been home about a week before I headed out to San Diego to cover the debut of the Dan D’Agostino Relentless monoblock amplifiers and YG Acoustics Sonja XV speakers at Alma Audio. This week I’m headed to Alexandria, Virginia to visit the new pressing plant for Furnace Records.
The Pursuit of Perfection
What have I learned in that period of time? If anything, it’s that there are a multitude of high-end audio manufacturers who are pushing the envelope when it comes to performance. I’ve heard so many “big” systems lately, and not once did I walk away thinking that something was overpriced. Sure, the MSRPs on this gear get a little crazy sometimes, but the pursuit of perfection is never easy nor cheap. Nowhere was this more obvious than at the 2018 Capital Audiofest.
I heard at least a half-dozen systems in Rockville that blew my mind and made my jaw drop, all those cliches we’re no longer allowed to use in reviews. All discussions of the state of the art, however, must begin with Von Schweikert Audio and VAC — I’ve been attending high-end audio shows since 1992, and I have never witnessed a more audacious and impressive demonstration of a stereo system.
Someone had figured out that we were listening to about $1.4 million worth of gear, and that’s a pretty mind-boggling figure–but as I mentioned in my coverage of the room, I don’t think that’s the point. The point is that we don’t have to aspire to this type of performance in our listening rooms and despair when we fall short–we can attend a trade show and experience this excellence for the price of an admission ticket.
But Wait! There’s More!
“Best Sound at Show” doesn’t seem to be enough of an accolade for VSA and VAC and what they were able to accomplish at the show. But it surprised me that so many other rooms convinced me that I was hearing something special, something that wasn’t possible just a few years ago.
At the 2018 RMAF, my two favorite rooms were the Devore Fidelity room and the Joseph Audio/Doshi Audio room. At CAF, the partnerships were juggled a bit–Joseph Audio did not exhibit–and this time I fell in love with the combination of Doshi Audio and Devore. Instead of John DeVore’s impressive new flagship, the Orangutan References, we were treated to a something from the middle of the line–the Gibbon Super 9s (only $9900/pair). I used a pair of the original Gibbon 9s in my system more than a decade ago and I loved them so much I wanted to keep them for as long as I could. The Super 9s are in a whole different category when it comes to projecting size and space, all in a smaller enclosure.
One system continues to haunt me–because it did so much for a relatively low price. The Spatial Audio/Linear Tube Audio emerged as “my kind of system,” meaning I would seriously consider these $3000/pair open baffle speakers, along with LTA’s $4450 10wpc integrated, if I was still an audio civilian and had a relatively limited budget. The clarity and beauty of this speaker/amp combo was extraordinary, especially in the way it captured the humanity in voice.
Retro Love and Old Friends
When I arrived at CAF, there was one product I really wanted to hear based on looks alone–the Fern & Roby Raven loudspeakers ($7500/pair). These single-driver speakers have an incredibly retro looks–those legs look like they were snatched off a mint pair of Quad ESL-57s. Paired with that magical LTA integrated and wired with Black Cat Cables, the Ravens failed to impress me the first few times I visited, mostly because it seemed like they were always playing old scratchy records on the Fern & Roby The Montrose turntable. Then they slapped on a recent favorite of mine, Elwan from Tiniwaren, and this system opened up beautifully. I’d love to spend a little more time with the Ravens and find out what they can really do. The looks make me feel all tingly inside.
I almost didn’t revisit David Cope in the Old Forge Studio room because I had covered it at RMAF, but I’m glad I stuck my nose into the room on the last day of the show. David had mixed up some new gear with the components from the first show, but the speakers were radically different–he used the Acapella La Campanella 2 loudspeakers ($26,000/pair). I would have never considered horn speakers with my own PureAudio amplification, not for any real reason, but I was surprised by the overall beauty of the system. The Acapellas were brought by Neli Davis of Audio Federation–I’ve known about her and her husband Mike for years, but we’ve never met. We chatted like old friends and I’m going to see if I can get a pair of the Acapellas to try out with my PureAudio gear.
It seems like I never get a chance to talk about VPI, which is weird since Mat Weisfeld and I have known each other for years. Every time I walked by the VPI rooms, Mat kept demanding I come into his room, but I always hesitated because Eric was covering VPI. Still, I wanted to spend a little time with the brand new HW-40 direct-drive turntable ($15,000), and I must say it sounds spectacular. It makes me want to redact every foul word I’ve uttered about direct-drive turntables over the last 20 years.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that BACCH-SP demonstration, which was brought to my attention by Gary Koh of Genesis Advanced Technologies. I’m still trying to wrap my head around what happened in that room. In my show report I didn’t mention the BACCH-SPs cost on purpose–at $54,000, it’s the kind of product that’s usually met with a wave of skepticism from the audio community. After experiencing the demo, however, I knew it was going to be crazy-expensive because it accomplishes so much. If you experience the demo, you will not roll your eyes about the price.
I haven’t attended the Capital Audiofest before–I just recently returned to living on the East Coast after a nearly twenty-year absence, and it wasn’t always practical for me to go when I lived out west, especially after doing RMAF. I’m glad I did–it’s still a small show but it is growing, and the atmosphere is friendly, relaxed and close-knit. High-end audio shows on the East Coast have been an iffy proposal lately, so it’s nice to see this show gaining momentum and taking the lead.
Next stop, Florida in February!