Marc’s Capital Audiofest Wrap-Up | CAF 2019

Much of my Capital Audiofest wrap-up has already been telegraphed. I talked about my favorite rooms in The Occasional Podcast, and I’ve hinted as much in these show reports. You’ve probably already guessed that this year’s show was spectacular–just read some of the reports from other writers for other publications–Greg Weaver, I’m looking at you–and you’ll surmise that CAF has grown to the point where it is no longer one of the smaller regional shows but one of the main events on the high-end audio show circuit.

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, there were 82 rooms. Eric Franklin Shook and I covered every single one of them between us. My Capital Audiofest wrap-up needs to focus on the fact that so many rooms sounded great. Not just good, not just reasonable for a quick install in some strange hotel room–I can count at least 20 rooms that I thoroughly enjoyed for one reason or another. Rooms that sounded like homes. Rooms that sounded like dealer showrooms. That goes to show that many manufacturers, dealers and distributors have this all down to a science.

When it comes to awarding Best Sound at the show for my Capital Audiofest wrap-up, however, there were four specific rooms that easily qualify. Again, there’s a separate reason for why each room was my favorite. But we’ll come back around to that.

First, I want to mention just a couple more items at CAF 2019 that I found thrilling. First was Todd Garfinkle’s for his MA Recordings. Last year I bought an album from him, Sera una noche, which has become one of my reference LPs for evaluating equipment. This year Todd had a room with all of his release in multiple formats, along with a Concert Fidelity headphone rig that allowed you to listen to Todd’s files and choose which one you wanted to buy. I chose Peiju Lien’s Whisper, which is Chinese music played on the traditional pipa. I’ve been obsessing over Chinese audiophile LPs since earlier this year, when I covered Rhymoi Music.

Next, there were two rooms that Eric covered that I also loved and must include in my Capital Audiofest wrap-up. ACORA Acoustics, a Canadian company that makes exquisite speakers with granite enclosures, had a dynamite system with plenty of Audio Research gear. While I usually make it a point to listen to any room where Jeff Joseph and his speakers are holding court, I handed the baton to Eric. But those Joseph Audio Perspective Graphenes in the Tenacious Sound room were still making beautiful music, as usual.

So here we go. These are the four Best Rooms, or should I say Favorite Rooms, for my Capital Audiofest wrap-up, in order of scale:

Von Schweikert Audio, VAC, Esoteric, MasterBuilt, Kronos, Air-Tight, Critical Mass Systems presented by The Audio Company. This shouldn’t be a surprise, since VSA and VAC have taken exhibit rooms at high-end shows to a new level. They’ve won my awards many times in the past. But at the 2019 CAF they added a twist–they plunked the $20,000/pair Von Schweikert ESE speakers down in the place of the $320,000/pair Ultra 11s, and still impressed the hell out of the crowd. This is the system I would choose if money were no object, and I had a listening room the size of a small movie theater.

TIDAL Audio, Vertere Acoustics, Acoustical Systems, Innuos, Black Cat Cable, Critical Mass Systems, Ictra, presented by The Voice That Is! This was a nearly flawless system, set up by one of the best dealers in the industry–Doug White. There’s a perfection to the sound here, and not in the overly-analytical way that some audiophiles don’t like. There were equal measures of beauty and accuracy, a feeling like this is the best possible outcome on paper while it fills your heart with joy each time you listen. This is the system I would choose if I was wealthy, had a dedicated listening room that was still pretty large, perhaps a cozy study that you would find in a really nice mansion deep in the English countryside.

Vinnie Rossi, Qln, Innuos, Triode Wire Labs, presented by Well Pleased Audio Vida. That soundstage! That imaging! That deep bass coming from those petite little 2-way floorstanding speakers! The Well Pleased AV room has been casting its spell on attendees for the last three or four high-end audio shows, but CAF was the show where everyone said yeah yeah, Vinnie’s amps are stupendous, but what’s the story on those little Swedish speakers? They’re amazing! This is the system I would choose if I bought a slightly larger house with a dedicated listening room.

Fern & Roby, ModWright Instruments, Black Cat Cable. You’ll notice that the first three Best Sound winners contained qualifiers based on “what if?” situations. This system feels like the one I would buy right now, for the house I now live in. This isn’t a system you tuck away in a dedicated listening room, but a system you live with, every day. It’s a part of your life, a big part. It’s front and center. You have a deep, personal relationship with this system. You love it like a member of the family. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, read my review of the Fern & Roby Ravens.

I narrowed down my Best Sound of Show Awards to four choices, but it’s almost heartbreaking when I think of all the other rooms at CAF that sounded absolutely exquisite: Old Forge Audio, Audio Federation, Command Performance A/V, Odyssey Audio, Distinctive Stereo, VK Music, Soundsmith, Perfect8, ACORA Acoustics, LTA and Spatial Audio, McGary Audio and Salk

But that’s a good thing, I guess. In my last article for my original Vinyl Anachronist column at Perfect Sound Forever, I told both audiophiles and music lovers that it’s very important to attend these shows to find out how exciting this hobby can be. If you take away one thing from my Capital Audiofest Wrap-Up, let it be this: these shows are getting better and better. Better sound, better organization, and more fun than ever.