Von Schweikert Audio, VAC, Esoteric, MasterBuilt, The Audio Company | CAF 2019

It was a year ago that I first walked into the huge exhibit room for Von Schweikert Audio and VAC, hosted by Atlanta dealer The Audio Company, and listened to a seven-figure hi-fi system that radically changed my expectations for high-end audio shows. Since then, I’ve covered Von Schweikert Audio and VAC extensively at numerous shows, and I usually wind up giving them the Best Sound at Show Award. In fact, I’m constantly weighing the need to give such awards in my show reports–if VSA is there, few will match the sheer size, ambition and execution. As I’ve said many times before, Damon Von Schweikert, Leif Swanson and Kevin Hayes have elevated the art of the high-end audio exhibit room.

Tenacious Sound
Capital Audiofest 2019 brought to you in part by Tenacious Sound.
Verdant Audio
Capital Audiofest 2019 brought to you in part by Verdant Audio!

This year, very little had changed in the Von Schweikert Audio and VAC room–all of the usual suspects were still there including Esoteric digital gear, a Kronos ‘table with Air-Tight Opus 1 cartridge, MasterBuilt cables. The Audio Company team ensured everything ran like clockwork. But VSA and VAC decided to up the game in two very important ways. First, Kevin Hayes of VAC introduced his new flagship amplifiers, the Statement 452 iQ ($75,000 each, and there were four of ’em). The 452 is a step up from the 450 iQs that were present last year–slightly more power, and slightly more insight into the recording. Just when I thought it was impossible to improve on last year’s system, they improved it.

The second amazing changed occurred on Saturday afternoon, when Leif Swanson texted me to come back to the room because he had made a “change.” He had swapped the Von Schweikert Audio Ultra 11s, which retail for over $300,000/pair, with the ESEs ($20,000/pair), which I’m currently reviewing. That’s right, I was listening to the same pair of speakers as I had at home, but still backed with that seven-figure system. The ESEs sounded magnificent, of course, and they weren’t challenged by the enormous room. The ESEs made such a big impression that evening that the demo pair sold right then and there. Leif said the ESEs prompted more compliments than the Ultra 11s, which surprised him. I suggested it was because the ESEs are within many people’s reach.

I had a fantastic time in the Von Schweikert and VAC room at CAF 2019. Not only did I hang out for Greg Weaver‘s annual playing of his favorite LPs, I got to “warm up the crowd” on Friday night for a couple of hours by playing some of mine. As I mention in the CAF wrap-up for The Occasional Podcast, I haven’t received applause since grade school. It was weird for this confirmed introvert, but I enjoyed it so much I want to do it next year as well. The most amazing part of the evening wasn’t hosting the room, however–it was hearing some of my favorite albums played on that incredible system. That’s what this crazy hobby is all about.