WASHINGTON DC (PTA) — Capital Audiofest 2019 had quite a few challenges to meet this year. Seemingly overnight the show doubled in size. Exhibitor count was nearly ninety rooms by the start of the show. Attendee traffic would include that of the Capital Audiofest, but now also the demands of a full-scale Vinyl Record Show. With so many new challenges one had to ask themselves, could Gary Gill, Chris Yuin, and the rest of the Capital Audiofest team rise to the occasion?
The short answer? Yes.
The long answer, lies in the organization of the show. Capital Audiofest 2019 was the best it’s ever been, and no better time than 2019 to do things extra-right. Foot traffic was easily managed by the increased presence of signage through-out the hotel. Exhibit spaces were carefully placed so as not to have previous show attendees at a loss due to the expansion. All-in-all everything just made sense, and it was apparent that Gary, Chris, and the team really had a well thought out plan and executed it as perfectly as humanly possible. Could the show have used more volunteers? Likely. But that’s my solitary gripe.
Now, on with the show wrap-up and the best-of-show honors.
The Social Events
I would be remiss not to include the best of social aspects of Capital Audiofest as it is known for having the best party atmosphere of the audio show circuit. With so many restaurants within walking distance, or a $6 Uber ride — so much of the excitement that surrounds the show is found in its after-hours.
The aim of the ongoing Under Forty Dinner is to welcome those attending audio shows who feel they accurately represent the Under-Forty-Crowd (be that literally or spiritually), and gather them together with other like minded audiophiles and industry people. The idea being. that having us together in one place, for one evening, we can let our youth shine, along with the sharing of our generation’s thoughts on the hobby, the industry, and the future of hi-fi.So often it’s one lonely voice of youth in an exhibit room, on a panel, or in a thread discussion online — solely representing an entire generation or two. Organizing around one big table, we can possibly identify what we want this hobby/industry to be going forward for its survival.
At Capital Audiofest 2019 it was much the same. The restaurant did it’s best to accomodate a group close to thirty people. Which included many familiar faces, along with some new ones. Particularly in the special guest category our newest writer at Part-Time Audiophile, Nan Pincus who comes to us from North Carolina (my home state) and is eager to hit the ground running. Her background is extensive and includes everything from being the classical music curator for WCPE The Classical Station, to being a ham radio operator, to being a seasoned wood worker. Nan is an interesting character and a lot of fun to be around. Having her upbeat spirit and experience on the Part-Time Audiophile team is a true blessing.
Most of the things I love about attending an audio show seldom have anything to do with audio. As for Capital Audiofest 2019, it has proven itself to be one of the most exhilarating and welcoming audio shows in America. This year especially, CAF 2019 pulled in a record crowd of exhibitors and attendees from around the globe.
From what seemed like sunrise to sunset, and those dark hours in between, this festival of sound was equal parts “High-End Audio Show” and “Dinner Club.” Invigorating the mind and inspiring the soul, it is definitely the people who make up the American audio show circuit that keep me returning for more.
Here go’-eth the highlights of the show from my journalistic perspective. Yes, there were some rooms that I enjoyed immensely during the Capital Audiofest 2019 weekend that Marc Phillip‘s covered in his show-reports and wrap-up. So for that reason, I’ll stick to the products and exhibits that I covered in print during the show.
Van·quish (/ˈvaNGkwiSH/) verb: to defeat thoroughly. That simple definition pretty much sums up the daily activities happening at VPI Industries these days. With VPI’s continued success at the entry-level with the Cliffwood ($1000 USD) and also in the arena of Direct-Drive turntables with the HW-40 40th Anniversary Direct Drive Turntable ($15,000 USD) that was launched at CAF just last year — it was only natural to predict VPI Industries would be tackling the “Ultra-High-End” market like a crazed NFL linebacker turned loose on a Pop Warner youth team.
The new state-of-the-art Vanquish Magnetic Direct Drive Turntable is an uber-refined version of the Bespoke (Limited) model — created by VPI founder Harry Weisfeld — known as The Vanquish.
As I aimlessly wandered Capital Audiofest 2019, I was lucky enough to stumble into the Montgomery room where I truly “found myself” while chatting with Now Listen Here owners Aaron and Jessica Sherrick. Now Listen Here is a Lancaster, Pennsylvania audio dealer which opened five years ago, and was taken over by the Sherricks in May of 2019.
What the Sherrick’s were showing proudly was the new Rogue Sphinx Integrated V3 ($1,595 USD), which it is of note that the one on active display in the showroom was the very first unit off the production line. During the show weekend, Mark O’Brien (founder of of Rogue Audio) was demonstrating the new Sphinx Integrated V3 with a small-ish — small by Legacy terms at least — pair of Legacy Studio HD (starting at $1,795 pr USD) monitors. New for the Rogue Sphinx V3 Integrated is an improved line stage, all-new Mosfet output on the headphone stage, and completely redesigned phono-stage. Now with adjustable input loading for use with Moving Coil cartridges as well as the Moving Magnet seen in previous iterations. Output at the speakers taps is still 100-wpc and overall the chassis, knobs, and inputs look the same.
Once again, I’m in the role of converting the convinced. I feel like it’s my calling in life sometimes, and once more it’s with Dave McNair, who previously had to eat his “open-baffle bass isn’t for me” words the day before. This time it’s not passive, it’s active and servo controlled. Oh boy! We’re greeted at the door by Greg Takesh of GT Audio Works. It’s Greg’s unique planar/ribbon loudspeakers and open-baffle servo controlled sub-woofers that we are here to experience. They are built completely by hand, in-house, and at his production facilities in Stockholm, New Jersey.
The planars are as large as you would imagine them to be in photos, and feature a full-range crossover-less planar that is mechanically harnessed into its operating frequencies. The outer (and slimmer) ribbon tweeter is electronically crossed in to complement and extend the planar. Overall sensitivity for the ribbon/planar portion is rated at 93db at 4-ohms with a frequency response covering 40hz-35khz, and doing so without blinking an eye. The open-baffle sub-woofers operate from 15hz-65hz and include a user adjustable electronic crossover built into the provided amplifier. The open baffle subs are designed to blend seamlessly with the dipole planars. They are configurable for 2 -6 12″ sub-modules per channel. Allowing consistent results in rooms from small to large.
It’s our last day of the show, and I’m thrilled to have a few friends along for the Capital Audiofest adventure. One of them in particular is Mastering Engineer Dave McNair. He’s on the prowl, wandering the show, looking for an experience that embodies state-of-the-art. I reach out to him via text message and say, “Meet me at The Gryphon room.”
The room was hosted by 20/20 Evolution Systems and On A Higher Note with brands Kuzma, Antipodes, Truitt Physics, Torus Power, Artesania Audio, and Gryphon Audio showing large. In the roll of master-of-ceremonies Gryphon Audio was in control and showing off their supremely angular top-loading Ethos CD player / DAC ($39,000 USD). The Ethos is an entirely new platform, which houses a top-loading drive system, and DAC with digital inputs that include USB, AES/EBU, SP/DIF, it plays CD without up-sampling, but also includes CD up-sampling up to 32-bit PCM, or Double-DSD. In each of those up-sampling settings feature user select-able roll-off filters used for custom tailoring of the sound. Using a pair of floor-standing Pantheon three-way passive loudspeakers in the system, each with two 8-inch woofers, two 5-inch mid-bass drivers, and a single (but large) Mundorf AMT (Air Motion Transformer) for the high frequencies. Running the affair, a Mephisto Stereo amplifier was pushing out 180-watts per channel in Class-A at 8-ohms. Unique for this amplifier is that it’s stable down to one-quarter-ohm, outputting up to 8,000-watts peak power. In the flight case, the amplifier unit weighs 310-lbs. Digital from Antipodes, and analog tape from a Revox PR99 with SonoruS modification. The modifications done by SonoruS are specific to the playback board, record board, and the power supply.
After a few phone calls with LKV Research mastermind Bill Hutchens over the summer, I felt imperative that I meet the man face-to-face, and give his LKV Research electronics a guided listening. Mind you this isn’t the first time I’ve heard LKV Research electronics while touring the audio show circuit, but the first time meeting Bill and discussing the new Veros PWR+. In the front of the electronics from LKV Research, two familiar faceplates. The Veros One phono-stage, and Line One Preamplifier. From there, it was the new Veros PWR+ power amplifier that was gathering all the attention.
The Veros PWR+ power amplifier features LKV Research designed input stages, voltage gain, driver stages, and power supplies. All of the LKV Research circuits run in Class-A, while the output stage of the Veros PWR+ uses Bruno Putzey’s new Purifi (1ET400A) Class-D amplifier modules. The special thing about the Purifi amplifier modules is the way Bruno Putzey has arranged the feedback to normalize at a near constant level across all audible frequencies. Specs for the Veros PWR+ are quite impressive with power output ratings up to 460-wpc into 4-Ohms, dual-mono signal circuitry, and LKV’s AZF short signal path gain circuit that has been optimized for the new Purifi module. From Sonner Audio, it was the Legato Unum stand-mount loudspeakers on display. The Legato Unums are a sleek looking two-way design that features a 5.5-inch treated paper cone mid-bass driver, mated with a 1-inch ring radiator tweeter, mounted on a sloped time-aligned front baffle. Around back, a tuned port and single pair of binding posts. Sonner Audio included their matching wood stands to round out the ensemble. The stands are optional, but are highly recommended.