Capital Audiofest 2012 Show Report
Coverage By Scot Hull of Part Time
got our problems. Some of us have issues with health, money, family, work.
Some of us just "have issues". And, if you're reading this, it's probably
accurate to say that there is someone in your life who fears, perhaps greatly,
for your mental well-being. Ahhhh, isn't it great to be an audiophile? Europe
seems about to eat its own tail economically. Here in the United States of
America, the political finger pointing is reach new artistic heights almost
daily, which is helpful because the U.S.A.'s economy seems to have set up camp
out there "on the ropes" and is showing no real inclination to do anything
other than mock us.
It is almost enough to make a body, tired and
beaten-down by The Man, retreat to his warm man-cave, tasty beverage in hand,
and put on some soothing tunes of past days and greater glory. Not that
audiophiles really need any particular excuse to do this even in the best of
circumstances, but it is really handy to have excuses ready to hand, now isn't
it? Right on.
This is where the 2012 Capital Audiofest finds
me. Fraught with worry, anxiety, guilt and shame. Okay, no, not really, but
reading the papers, I feel like I ought to be counting my lucky stars. So, I
am. And I am, lucky that is. I'm lucky, because a few years ago, inadvertent
organizer Gary Gill got left holding the bag. The Capital Audiofest started
off as an idea "a bunch of us had", Gary says, "while hanging out at Ijaz Khan's
place after CES." Ijaz used to host an epic after-CES party, something of a
Who's Who in audio's high end, and it was here, at a party of 80+ audiophiles
and audio manufacturers, when somebody commented that Washington DC hadn't had
an audio show since the 1980's. "Everybody said let's do it!'" but Gary,
apparently, forgot to forget about it all after that weekend in Vegas.
Cardinal rule violation! And as a direct result, the First Annual Capital
Audiofest happened three years ago.
That first show was held at the historic
Glenview Mansion in Rockville, MD. Sprawling grounds and a 19th
century building made for a scenic, if not a particularly capacious, place to
house an audio show. With 14 showrooms that first year, Gary and team saw
about 500 visitors from around the Greater DC area. I was one of them it
was my first audio show.
I remember trying to explain it to my wife, who's
most decidedly not an audiophile and still thinks I'm completely out of my
tree when I start getting all starry-eyed talking about amplifiers. Yes,
honey, I'm going to hang out and listen to a bunch of stereos. No, really! No,
I'm not taking the checkbook. Yes, there will be other people there. Lots and
lots of them, actually. Yes, I'm sure that they're all nuts too, uh huh, yes.
Sure, I can stop and pick up some milk on the way home. Bye!
That was the easy conversation. The ones that
attempted to justify why the second and then third day's attendance was
necessary... well, let's just say that the following weekend, I had kid-duty
all to myself.
That first show, even with its modest approach,
was overwhelming to me. I remember vividly because it was only two years
ago and despite what my wife says, I have an excellent
memory wandering the old building, poking my nose in here and
there, and then doing it again, and then finally
sitting still, sweating my balls off, listening to some spectacular music on
some outrageously, eye-wateringly, expensive gear that's when the show-bug
bit my ass clean off.
I had a marvelous
time. Long before 2011, it was clear that the lovely old Glenview wasn't going
to support the kind of growth Gary was looking for. He'd gotten some great
feedback from the prior year and his show generated a lot of buzz DC was
back on the audio show map. So, he went big and picked up the entire venue
and dropped it on the Crowne Plaza Hotel, a mere five miles away. Then, in a
very "Field of Dreams" moment, he doubled the number of rooms, and
subsequently, also doubled the traffic through the show.
The Crowne Plaza is an modest three-story
affair just off Route 270 on the north end of Rockville, with lots of a suite
of large suites and a hundreds of modestly sized rooms that, when converted to
demo rooms, are, actually, big enough to really get a flavor for what's going
on sonically. There's a big atrium area with room for vendors to set up
kiosks, a bar, and a space for live music this is important, says Gary, "so
that we can keep a reference as we go from room to room. You know, so we
remember what real instruments actually sound like."
For 2012, Gary doubled down again. With over 40
demo rooms and what looked like a steady and even flow of foot traffic, Gary
punctuated this year's agenda with a ton of live music, "all weird!" he says
with a big grin. Every day ended with a raffle, with everything from cables to
DACs. Understandably, the draw for these end-of-day events was... robust.
After having run a gauntlet this year, with the
New York Audio Show and it is mad crush and wildly variable acoustics, and the
sheer speed needed at Newport just to see everything, Capital Audiofest is a
welcome relief. I was able to get to every room. I got to most of them more
than once. I heard great music. I heard spectacular systems and some of
those latter were hand built by the same kind of enthusiasts that have a
remarkable success when they go on to selling such things professionally. I
ate well, when I remembered to avoid the rush that did "bad things" to the
unsuspecting service crew. I didn't buy any LPs this year, though I did pick
up some CDs yes, apparently vendors still sell them! I saw old men
wandering the halls with canes and scooters. I saw little kids carrying teddy
bears. I saw a striking number of young to middle-aged women. I know! Women,
at an audio show! Tubes everywhere. A lot of smart questions asked by a
startlingly knowledgeable crowd. And something rare in the Washington area
these days a lot of happy, smiling faces.
So, without further ado, let's put some meat on
the table and dig in, shall we?
Black Cat Cable
First stop for me was a quick visit with Black Cat
Cable's Chris Sommovigo. I'd heard a rumor that Chris was carrying around a crate or two of his newest wire concoction, the Firefly. Firefly is the entry-level wire in the Black Cat lineup and shares quite a few of the design characteristics of the slightly more expensive Morpheus line. Made of tubes of pure copper woven around a rubber core, these new interconnects also have some very fancy new RCA connectors. These fluted-pin,
"sprung ground crown" RCAs are derived from his work on the Xhadow connectors he uses in his very expensive Stereolab cables, and, Chris says, will lower contact resistance and improve grounding.
They're also purple. Oh, and did I mention they are $99 a pair? When I asked him the inevitable,
"yeah, but how do they sound?" question, the response was: "No comment, grinning ear to
United Home Audio
United Home Audio
had two systems setup in the large, square room, but I only was able to hear
one on Friday, the $32k 116F MBL driven by $42,800/pair MBL 9007 mono
amplifiers and fronted by the $26,500 MBL 6010 preamp. The imaging was superb
and eerily 3-D, and totally immersive. If you haven't had the experience of a
good MBL demo, it's like taking a bath in sound. Crazy. And that wasn't even
the story here. The story was the UHA-Q Series Phase 9PB Open Reel Tape Deck.
This $14,500 deck is a dual-mono rig and the current top of the United Home
Audio line. Over the course of the weekend, think I listened to the entirety
of the Opus
3 Sampler Tape. This is some of the most liquid, effortless,
extraordinary sound I've ever heard at a show. Come to papa! Yours truly is
scheduling some serious time to go hang out with new best bud Greg. Uh huh.
High Water Sound
On to the new Euphrodites, or, more properly, the H๖rning
Hybrid Eufrodite Zigma Ultimate. These horn speakers have a sensitivity of
98dB/W/m and can play with some frightening dynamics. Jeff Catalano of High
Water Sound explained that the new Eufrodites are all new on the
inside. The horn layout was completely reconfigured, as was the crossover, and
done over with audiophile parts like some new Dueland capacitors. Externally,
there were a few clues the tweeter and mid-range driver are now much
closer together, bringing a better coherence to the sound, and the cabinets
are all now made entirely in Denmark and have a dramatically improved
level of fit and finish. Brand new speaker, same name, same $24,000 per pair
I listened to a lot of different music in this room Jeff
has a legendary LP collection but it was Percussion
by Sumire Yoshihara that knocked my teeth in. Long out of print, this
disc is really hard to find, which is a shame because the dynamic range on
this LP is incredible. Jeff, looking very much like the cat with the cream,
explained that a buddy of his had scored a $70 copy off of eBay and had been
crowing about it until Jeff got a copy from Amoeba for $15. Ahem! Anyway,
the first track has this drum strike about 45 seconds in that nearly caused me
to drop my camera. Freaky.
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