As it was last year, the Capital Audiofest 2016 was held outside of downtown D.C. but in a nice peaceful area that is easy to get to: Right across the street from the Twinbrook Metro station, at the comfy Hilton Rockville Hotel, one stop before the Rockville station coming from downtown Washington DC.
With the stately looking logo of a tall Abraham Lincoln sitting with each hand stationed atop an enormous floor stander speaker, with a backdrop of the American flag, they meant business!
I arrived at about lunchtime on Friday with Audiophilia colleague Martin Appel via a 5-hour bus ride from New York City, followed by a 30 minute Metro ride from Union Station to Twinbrook.
Although the weather outside was oppressive and humid with heat in the 90s F, the hotel welcomed one with a friendly staff—-and strong air-conditioning. (Incidentally, starting 2017, the show will move to November to avoid the heat!).
The Lobby was on the 3rd Floor as was the Audiofest registration, while the show rooms were on both the 2nd and 3rd floors. The 2nd floor had about 11 hotel rooms for vendors, while the 3rd floor had 13 such rooms, and larger `meeting-sized’rooms named after USA Presidents that were used for some vendors, and even larger Plaza Ballrooms with tables set up for small vendors and `Canmania’.
Friendly and kind organizer Gary Gill greeted us at check-in to get press badges as did Paul Elliot, and we met the ever helpful Director of Sales Christina Yuin shortly after.
Friday, the show was open until 8 p.m. (unusual for a show); on Saturday it was open until 5PM. Sunday, until 4.
After a quick lunch in the hotel restaurant, it was time to see the show.
The hotel restaurant in the Lobby had some fine fare, and the prices were very reasonable. Appetizers as delicate as really fresh tuna sashimi (I had it twice) to down-to-earth hamburgers and much in between.
For drinks they had a nice selection of wines by the glass, and many local beers both on draft and in the bottle. Lunchtime also offered a set price ($15) all you can eat buffet that changed daily.
Before moving on, I will point out that the majority of rooms that I visited sounded mighty fine from the start; the rooms were better fitted for sound than many other hotel shows I have attended. The vendors looked relaxed and satisfied as a result. Usually, Fridays are spent watching the vendors fret over trying to modify their setups for better sound; but not here.
With all the publicity of a $12,000 system being given away for free via a lottery, we hit that room first: Room 210 represented by Alta Audio (Rhea speakers), Luminous Audio (cabling) and VPI (both Limited Edition Integrated Amp, and Scout Jr Turntable). What a great combo! The sound created by the almost perfect blending of components was magical. It had the quality and characteristics of a far more expensive system. Lucky art thou who wins this kit.
The VPI room. Here to be found were the sexiest looking and tallest speakers at the show (6.5 feet tall with a killer body) : the KEF Muon (2nd generation).
Playing (vinyl) was Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. The system amazed us with its power, details and finesse. Harry Weisfeld explained the intricate workings of the new Titan turntable, while Johan Coorg of KEF gave us an overview of the Muons. For those lucky owners of the Muon’s 1st generation? For $10,000, KEF will personally fly one of their experts to your home and upgrade them on the spot.
In the Jefferson Room could be found a huge pair of white horn speakers in prototype (price to be about $6000 per pair) developed by Gary Gill, using Voxativ drivers, and supported by a variety of very well priced and impressive Linear Tube Audio amplification such as the Micro ZOTL2.0 ($1100-$1695), ZOTL10 ($2600) and ZOTL40 ($5800). (ZOTL refers to `Zero-hysteresis Output-Transformer-Less architecture.) A dynamic sound was evident, and experimentation with appropriate integration of the horn drivers and the subwoofers is still in progress.
Steve Leung of VAS (Vinyl Audio Science) audio and VPI had partnered to make the VPI Limited Edition Integrated Amp. In Room 214, Lively and engaging Leung was showing off two new Cayin amps: The beautiful CS-55A integrated tube amp at $2400 (phono stage and headphone output included, 40Watts per channel), and the HA-1A- MK2 Tube Headphone Amp ($1200). The VPI Limited Edition Integrated was in use with Alta Audio Levantos floor standing speakers ($9000) yielding a very dynamic sound with deep extended bass.
Amiable Lucas Phillips of Daedalus Audio, showing off some new Daedalus isolation devices ($160 each, cheaper if you buy 6 or more) with Mac mini as music player, very cool looking and wonderful sounding all-tube class A ModWright TRYST headphone amp ($2995), Mr Speaker open Ether headphones ($1500).
I listened to Eric Clapton’s acoustic live version of `Layla’ from the album Unplugged—live sounding indeed. The isolation devices make a noticeable difference on just about any component as Phillips demonstrates—including the Mac mini. They are working on making isolation versions for speakers soon.
Back to Alta Audio: Together with Well Pleased AV. They were showing off their newest model, the tiny but feisty and wonderfully detailed sounding two-driver bookshelf `IOS’ ($3000 per pair. The peripheral equipment: Italian Aqua La Voce DAC ($2700), Antipodes DS music server ($2800), Clones 25iR integrated amp ($1200), Anticables for all cabling. Superb kit at such a price.
Talking about 2-driver speakers, there was a nice variety of them at the show. In the Gershman Acoustics/VAC room, the ever so gracious Kevin Hayes (VAC) and very charming Ofra Gershman were showing off the open and dynamic sounding Gershman Studio II speakers ($3000, $3600 with stands) with a frequency response of 25Hz-20Hz.
They were backed up with some heavy-hitting VAC equipment such as a VAC Signature 200 iQ amp (operating in stereo) ($14,000), Signature SE preamp with phono stage ($26,000), and VAC Nova cartridge ($1500) on a VPI Avenger. Yours truly enjoying the moment.
In the Audio Note Room (they too use 2-driver speakers), passionate cellist Vincent Belanger Played Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (solo cello only) with 3 separate `tracks’ playing simultaneously: 2 mono previously recorded (one for each speaker) and the 3rd one live. Superb life-like sound—-from the speakers too! Delightful.
Command Performance AV had the fine Monroe room, centered around the Focal Sopra N2 Speakers ($13,999), AMG Giro Turntable ($10,000, DS Audio Optical Cartridge and Phono Stage ($8,500), Surender N10 Music Server ($7,999) and Micromega N-One100 Integrated Amp/DAC/Phono/Streamer ($4000), all with a Stillpoints ESS Equipment Rack, 28-40-3 ($11,450), other Stillpoints peripherals, and various Anzus cabling. Gorgeous natural sounding acoustic Flamingo guitar music played, luring in a lively crowd.
Not surprisingly, Legacy too had a beautiful display in the large Montrose Room, with three different systems. I listened to System A: Legacy Aris ($20,735), Wavelet DAC/Preamp/Processor/Correction ($3450), Raven Audio Spirit 300B MK2 Mono Blocks ($26,995 per pair). Its large lifelike presence and dynamics attracted lots of attention.
At the bar during dinner I met a real character, Aaron Hoffman of Kanso Audio Furniture from Virginia, who was very passionate about wooden audio furniture and how it should be made. He believed in using constrained layered woods of one or more kinds versus only one (e.g., only maple or oak) for best resonance control. Between those multiple layers are a minimum of twolayers of an elastomeric material that converts mechanical energy(vibration) into heat; thereby dissipating.
This led me to the room where his racks were being used: Dynamic Sounds Associates (DSA) in the Adams Room. DSA were putting on an interesting and instructive demonstration of different mono cartridges playing truly exceptional classic mono LP recordings from the 1950s and 1960s. The sound was sweet and the differences in cartridges was both apparent and caused lots of questions from the general audience.
On hand were even Ortofon’s General Manager (Dee Hustinova) and Product Specialist (Louis Dorio) explaining how the cartridges produce their sound. I found these discussions very useful. Part of what they were pointing to is that if the recording is mono, then using an expensive stereo cartridge can add on (unnecessary and unpleasant) things that were not captured by the recording, as opposed to being true to the recording.
Equipment included a VPI Avenger `Magnetic Drive’ with three 12” 3D Printed Arms ($30,000), various Ortofon mono cartridges including the Cadenza Mono ($1,280) that they could swap on the spot for comparison due to having 3 arms on the turntable, DSA Phono II Preamp ($13,500), new DSA AMP I mono block amps ($25,000 per pair), Spendor SP-100R2 speakers ($11,995), Various odds and ends by Tweek Geek and Stillpoints, and cabling by Luminous Audio. The beautiful and solid cabinetry, of course, was by Kanso: Harmony-5-space asymmetrical ($10,804), and Heavy-Duty amp stands ($3,500 per pair).
GamuT linked up with Larsen HiFi in the Randolph Room yielding an unusually nice kit: Larsen 8 Speakers ($6,995). These odd-looking speakers must be placed smack against the wall to get a solid/substantial bass response, as low as 23 Hz. Gamut Di150 Limited Edition Dual-mono Integrated Amp ($12,990). Pear Audio Blue - Kid Howard/Cornet 2 ($4,995). Pear Audio Blue - External Power supply ($1,995). Pear Audio Blue - Classic Phono ($1,995). Ortofon St 80SE Moving Coil Transformer($1,679), Ortofon Cadenza Black($2,729). Gamut Reference bi-wire speaker cables, 3m ($6,190), GamuT Reference RCA interconnects 1m ($2,995), GamuT Reference power cables ($4,290).
GamuT’s Michael Vamos kindly played the live LP `When All Hell Freezes Over’ by The Eagles. The classic track, Hotel California, convinced me of the loudspeaker’s ability to produce bass with amazing solidity and punch—while against the wall, and the soundstage was large and 3-dimensional.
Music sales in the Ballroom.
United Home Audio (Roosevelt Room) was playing master tapes. I first thought I was hearing vinyl—-until I noted the stylus was not down on the neighbouring spinning turntable. Now that I have a preamplifier in my system, I must explore this further!
The Capital Audiofest 2016—not to big, not too small—was a pleasure to attend; it was my first time doing so.
It was a nice, comfortable, friendly and easy-going show. The hotel was spacious and endowed withrooms of all sizes that yielded better sound quality than usual.
In 2017, when the show will move to the cooler month of November, I am sure to go again. Audiophilia hopes to see you there.