The weather tightened up a bit for the second day of Capital Audiofest 2023 in Rockville, MD. My commute over to the Hilton wasn’t marred by any water falling from above, but rather graced by a few scant rays of unfiltered sunshine shooting down from outer space. A few colleagues even decided to make the 1.5-mile distance their morning exercise. With a ton of distance to cover over the course of the day, I opted for some public transit, but the rest of the day was filled with a surprisingly high percentage of solid hi-fi sounds and plenty of new gear to get excited about.
One of my first stops was Bricasti Design in room 828 to see the new M19 SACD Transport ($10k). A movie soundtrack playing straight from Redbook CD was spinning as I entered the room, and the impact and depth of the music was striking. The huge dynamics and vivid texture was undoubtedly helped along by Bricasti’s M28 Special Mono’s and a pair of Tidal Audio speakers also included in the rig. It does feel as if CD is seeing a bit of a resurgence in the past few years, with several reputable hi-fi companies coming out with some serious high-end interpretations of the fading media format. As I asked opinions throughout the weekend, responses were very polarizing – much to my surprise. As with many things in audio land, it is all about implementation. I have heard ESS SABRE silicone sing and scream. I’ve seen tubestages breathe life into music and fall into a sloppy mess. The good news here is that the Bricasti M19 felt tight, natural, and refined. An almost “gotcha” moment for the room’s exhibitor for any skeptics of small, silver spinning discs. Room 828 was well done, and a great first stop for the day.
Next up we had the BorderPatrol room paired with Triode Wire Labs, Living Voice, and Innous. Another sexy combination, this room stood out for its amazing tonal structure and rich vocal recreation. While the low-end was tight (especially considering the unpredictable nature of showrooms) and highs were also very “right”, the mids in this room were lovingly recreated in the most palatable fashion possible. Wow.
With a small break in the foot traffic for the unusually busy room, I forced Gary Dews of BorderPatrol to play my slightly embarrassing reference track from Taylor Swift’s Folklore album. “Cardigan” is one of the less-busy songs from the less-busy album, and the system consisting of the S20EXD amplifier with Western Electric 300B tubes captured the slowed-down pop vibe just right (starting at $21.5k). In addition to the classic 300B tubes in the main amp, the BorderPatrol DAC SE-i R2R DAC (starting at $1,650) also included a tube stage as well.
The sum-total — and especially that lovely veneer on the new R80 Living Voice speakers [which is an all-new design from the British company, and was showing here at CAF as their US-debut — there are tons of details available: click here — ed] — made for a solid presentation, sonically and visually.
A slightly bigger room just off of the main thoroughfare at Capital Audiofest 2023 contained the wares from VA-based retailer and installer Command Performance AV. Housing the new Gryphon Diablo 333 Integrated Amplifier ($25k), I had to wonder if the name was intentionally half of 666 given the Diablo branding. The sound this system produced was half to nothing and really puts up a strong defense for hard dome tweeters (28mm diamond-coated beryllium in this case) with the Magico S3 2023 speakers backing the Berkeley Audio Design DAC and Aurender N30SA server. This system stood out for its big sound and authoritative control of the room. I also have a soft spot for exhibitors who take advantage of a corner setup. It isn’t always possible with a majority of the standard listening rooms, but the “Democracy” Room was able to pull it off with flying colors and substantial seating to boot and still had standing-room-only occupancy most of the times I came by. One of the sample tracks I heard at my demonstration was a “low and gravelly” male vocal song that takes up a small percentage of “go-to” options for less adventurous exhibitors (alongside SRV’s “Tin Pan Alley”), but still managed to leave me with the following in my room notes: “great resolution without too much fatigue – amazing high-end sound”.
You can check out our room-to-room video coverage from Capital Audiofest 2023 in easily digestible, 1-minute segments in our Facebook Reels feed.
If you want to hear more from Gary Dews of Border Patrol on the 300B tube, you can listen to our Occasional Podcast for a ton of great insights and education in the embed below or on iTunes.