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Capital Audiofest (CAF) 2015 Show Report
Capital Audiofest (CAF) 2015 Show Report Part 2
CAF 2015 Coverage By Kemper Holt


Border Patrol, Triode Wire Labs, And Living Voice
Local manufacturer Border Patrol, had a very quiet room, I mean a black background from which small details sprung forth revealing musical info missed by other systems. Gary Dews, designer for BP should be nick named power supply Czar. Gary's amps and preamps have giant outboard power units relaying his opinion on just how important a p/s is to the sonics of a design. For 2015 CAF Gary dispensed with a preamp and ran a MacMini into a Border Patrol USB NOS DAC $1,250 with tube rectified power supply as used here, add $750. Speaking of power supplies, the BP S20 amp from $13,750, (the silver knob on the amp is a volume control), has two mono power supply units to let this 18 watt parallel single-ended 300B based amp sound much bigger than the ratings suggest, and I don't think any other 300B amp has the frequency extension at both ends of the spectrum as the S20 does. We all gush over the SET mids, but this amp is wide band and has good bass slam and clear highs. A pair of Living Voice Avatar OBX-RW speakers $11,850 were connected with Triode Wire Labs American Speaker Cables Bi-Wire version $1,099/pr, with TWL Spirit ICs $349/pr and a TWL Silver Statement power cord $1,199, and a few Digital American cords $499 ($699 for HP version) were used throughout the system. The system had a very interesting ability to draw you in to the music, nothing jumping out, but instruments and voices sounding just right. Surprising to me was the drum kit impact, and the slew of small details flowing easily into the room. Only the soundstage seemed a bit small, but the room contributed to that aspect. Everything else was superb, violin and guitar tones were spot on, voices tightly focused and clear, sax sounded raw and powerfully dynamic, and Michael Hedges' "Rickover's Dream" had the immediacy and explosiveness to be exciting and live. Another room using TWL cables that was neutral balanced, low noise floor, and just a wee bit sweet on top, in a marketplace that can be wildly priced, Pete's cables are a real value.



Gershman Acoustics, Lamm, And Nordost
As I got off the elevator on the 4th floor, I saw a 6 foot tall poster for a speaker, turning the corner and into the room I went expecting some big cabinets. Well despite the big sound in the room, the speakers were petite, at least for floor standers. Eli and Ofra Gershman were wonderful hosts, and offered to play, digital only, anything anybody wanted to hear. I could hardly get over the sound coming from these small, unassuming speakers. Coated in "Ferrari Red", the Gershman Acoustics Grande Avant Garde Loudspeakers $ 12,950/pr are small enough to fit in any room, yet roar when needed. LAMM Industries supplied a LL2.1 preamp $6,490, and a pair of M1.2 mono amps $27,190/pr. The striking wide and flat speaker cables shown in my second picture, and all the rest of the cables were from the Valhalla 2 collection by Nordost. I asked about the big footers the preamp and CD player were sitting on and got a surprising answer, the equipment was floating. The Levitation Vibration Control (LVC) footers $359 to $389 per set of four, use the repelling force of magnets to float the equipment on them to eliminate vibrations, and judging from what I heard they were effective. Eli put my demo disc in the Oracle and I enjoyed every second of the next 15 minutes, Michael Hedges was exciting, the KODO drums rattled the room with surprising deep bass power and the other percussionists on the track appeared deep into the soundstage with plenty of treble details, and voices were clear and nicely focused with plenty of body. Enjoy the Music.com's Rick Jensen just reviewed these speakers and I have to agree with him, I really had fun listening to music in this room.



Audio Note UK
This room took a risk and had a gifted cellist, Vincent Belanger, playing live, and sometimes accompanied by himself on CD. Vincent's cello is a family heirloom 200 years old, and it sounded fantastic. Sitting six feet from the cello was a real treat, all the colors, tone, and dynamics from the solo cello were delicious, I reveled in the music, it just flowed. I was floored by the power of the bass frequencies when Vincent bowed the low notes, the vibrations were tactile. Gary Gill was next to me for one of the many performances, and when Vincent finished "Partitae Mundi", we both stood up and applauded, just a beautiful program. It's not fair to make a direct comparison to a live instrument, but the Audio Note system did a very credible job of keeping up with Vincent. A pair of Audio Note AN-E speakers $9,600/pr featured silver wire voice coils and internal wiring. An AN3 Phono Preamp $11,000, fed a Jinro Shochu amp $31,000, making for a very natural sounding system.



The Voice That Is, Tidal, Aurender, And Stillpoints
Doug White's
clients should consider themselves very content, if you are lucky enough to have a The Voice That Is system, and then count your blessings. Doug's rooms are always sensational, beautifully decorated with plants and great gear. In this primarily Tidal room, Doug was displaying the upgraded Tidal Contriva G2 speakers $65,990, with a finish you could fall into it was so deep. An Aurender N10 Reference Music Server $7,995 fed a Tidal Preos D Stereo Preamp/DAC $32,190, and a pair of Tidal Impulse Monoblock amps $64,990/pr drove the Contriva G2s. Purist Audio Luminist Revision Dominus Speaker Cables $15,000/pr, LR 25th Anniversary XLR ICs $9,970/pr, and LRD AC Power cords $2,870/prconnected all the gear. Silver Circle Audio provided a Tchaik 6 Power Conditioner Isolation Transformer $9,995, and everything was sitting on a StillPoints ESS GRID Rack with StillPoints Ultra Isolators, and the room had StillPoints Aperture Room Treatments $699/panel. I listened to plenty of music in this room, basking in top notch sonics. From the extremely quiet noise floor, small details popped out, percussion from Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" came from deep in the soundstage yet seemed clear as a "bell". The power of the full orchestra was easily rendered, and dynamics handled with aplomb. The system expressed detail in a perfect way, not edgy or forward, but with ease and gave the listener a relaxed sense to just listen and have fun. This room could have been the top of the lot, had it not been next door to even bigger Tidals.



Bricasti, Tidal And The Voice That Is
If Batman had a man cave, he would have these speakers. Resplendent in Midnight Gloss Black, the 450 pound (each) Tidal Agoria speakers $109,990/pr, looked at home in this big room. Brian Zolner, President of Bricasti, got to be the ultimate DJ and played all genres of music. First I heard The Weekend's "Earned It" from the 50 Shades of Grey soundtrack, exhibiting dynamics I didn't know the song had, huge soundstage, wide and very deep, and the vocals mesmerizing. Then I heard how sensational DSD can sound as Brian played some pieces from Channel Classics' catalog, WOW! Staggering dynamic swings, tons of detail, beautiful string tone, and a true sense of transparency usually reserved for RTR tapes and huge electrostatics. Decoding these and other Hi-Res Audio files was a Gold plated Bricasti M1 DAC $15,000, and the "Goldfinger" edition had some mods under it's gleaming skin as well. Brian experimented with components and simplifying paths to get a surprising improvement to the already stellar M1, probably going to be a SE version. The two large mono amps, Bricasti M28s $30,000/pr, flanked the stand and were connected directly to the M1 DAC without any intermediary preamp as they were designed. Chris Jones' "No Sanctuary Here" from Roadhouses and Automobiles showcased his voice, tightly focused and real sounding, as well as the powerful bass the song is noted for. I found myself just hanging out in the room, relaxing to Brian's playlist, and just "Enjoying the Music". Great system!



Volti, Triode Wire Labs, And McIntosh Labs
Every time I see these horns, the exquisite craftsmanship and woodworking skills to make these blows me away, and then I wonder how great they'd look in my family room. Greg Roberts drove down from Benton, Maine bringing with him the Volti Audio Vittora System $25,000 for the three-piece set that includes the two main Vittora speakers and an Extended Low Frequency cabinet. McIntosh supplied a C22 Preamplifier $6,000 and a pair of MC75 Mono amps $7,500/pr. displayed on canted Volti stands. Triode Pete seems to be everywhere this show, especially in great sounding rooms. TWL cables were on the amps, Seven Plus P/C $499, Ten Plus $349 on the preamp, Digital American P/C $499 on the CD/SACD player, and TWL ICs and Speaker cables connected everything else. I have heard enough systems with TWL cables to appreciate their neutrality and lack of a sonic signature; they just get out of the way of the music and allow it to spring from a black low noise background. I had Greg play "New York City Serenade" from Bruce Springsteen's The Wild, The Innocent and The E Street Shuffle, and the piano intro was stunning in it's realism and not bettered in any room at the show. Details of the beginning of percussion instruments strikes was lightening quick, and the dynamics were very wide. My cut from Michael Hedges' "Rickover's Dream" was explosive and live sounding, great string detail and the sense of the wooden bodied guitar was evident. Saturday night Vinnie Rossi brought down his LIO integrated amp and hooked it up to the Vittoras, what a synergistic combination. The lower noise floor helped maximize the Vittora's strengths, especially revealing low level information clearly while other instruments are playing much louder.



If you had never heard of David Berning before coming to this show, you have now probably met and talked with him, and listened to his gear. A bicycle riding fanatic and "out of the box" electronics designer, David would have biked here if it were safer. The DC Do It Yourself room was different every time I walked in, three speakers were shown at various times, and a rotation of amps were in play. Friday I listened to a homemade 20 year old pair of electrostatics, direct driven without any transformers, (David is allergic), by a Berning one off OTL amp. Here we heard transparency rivaling any ESL, top to bottom coherency, and rich tone on guitar, sax, piano. They used a pair of subs to fill out the bottom, just enough to balance the Stats, did I mention the ESLs were homebrew? My friend from Excalibur Audio in the 1980s, Joe Roberts (of Sound Practices fame) brought a pair of Western Electric 755A drivers in 2 cubic foot enclosures that I heard on Saturday, not strong at the frequency extremes, but a natural sounding midrange that loved voices and jazz combos. Roscoe Primrose, who manned the room tirelessly, OK beer fueled, built the amp based on the 1940s Western Electric 124, push pull pentode tubes, about 15 watts, and inside a Phase Linear 400 chassis. The third speakers shown were Roscoe's own Open Baffles, using an 8" Tang Band full range driver atop an 18" Goldwood woofer. The amps used here were a pair of chip based monos based on the LM1875 silicone, about 25 watts each. This combination wasn't pretty, but they made good music, natural, relaxed, no boom or bass overhang and no box coloration (both OB traits), focused vocals, and very affordable to boot. In front of all these permutations was a PC running into a DIY DAC made by Tom Perazella, who also brought the subs. A Denon DP3000 motor was mated to a hard maple butcher block plinth and sported an SME 3012 tonearm and an Ortofon SPU Classic GM cartridge. The line stages were either a tube unit built by Dave Berning, or a passive unit with Intact Audio autoformer modules. The phono stages were built by Roscoe and Stuart Polansky. This room was fun and relaxed, and the conversations in the hall outside the room clogged traffic as David Berning, Roscoe, Tom, and Stuart fielded questions about the gear. It just proves that you don't have to spend tons of cash for good sound, maybe just inhale some solder fumes and burn a finger now and then, and have the pride that comes from building something yourself.


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