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Capital Audiofest (CAF) 2018 Show Report
Capital Audiofest 2018: Big Fun, Cool Vibe, Great Sound – Part One
CAF 2018 Show Report By Greg Weaver


Canadian retailer VK Music was showing an impressive and affordable 300B based system in room 560. The Sparkler Audio model S503 "spiral" CD player/Transport ($1,600) was handing off to the ridiculously affordable ELEKIT TU-8600 300B-based integrated ($1,185), driving the German AER "custom" (€5,500) single-driver loudspeakers, in a clear molded Acryglass open baffle-board, with the "subsys" subwoofer.



While I'm not much of a fan of single driver speakers, this modest system just did so very much right! It really lit up with incredibly delicate intonation of male vocals, strings, and brass, affording nice sparkle to piano. Even with its slight overall limitation at both extremes, this system managed to make music in this smallish room, with slightly limited staging and image cues.

The Audio Hunters/Vinyl Revivers, of Simpsonville, MD, had several rooms, but let's start with what they did in 558. Streaming to the Mytek Brooklyn DAC ($1,975), using an Accuphase E-270 integrated ($5,000), and driving the Sonner Audio Legato Unum ($4,750/$5,500 with stands as shown), and using all Straight Wire, this small room allowed for the development of a nice sense of space. It generated a deep accurate stage, with delicate inner detail on vocals and piano, and a very pleasing sense of instrumental bloom, if ever so slightly to the brighter side of neutral.



IMC Audio (Instrumental Musica Cordis) was showing completely new product, the Forty-10, in room 544. Sitting atop a Dipole woofer, with a flex point of 100 HZ, the crossover is powered for the woofers and passive for the 10 bending wave panels that make up the upper driver panel. Using a direct distribution model, with no dealer network, they expect to be shipping in January of 2019.

This was a highly unusual and rather unique sounding system. I'm sorry to say that the only detail I got about the rest of the system was the Pass Labs 30.8 you see on the floor between the Forty-10s. I never received the follow-up email with the rest of the gear.



But, overall, the system exhibited nicely delineated, fast, and articulate bass, was highly resolving, with nice detail and micro dynamic involvement. However, I noticed mids seemed just a bit pinched, with a slight "cupped hands" character, especially notable on female vocals.

Charney Audio showed their Companion Moderno speakers ($16,000), featuring the German-made AER-3 single driver in room 530. Using a custom-built DIY 300B amplifier and linestage (~ $8,000 for the pair), it was sourced by the Sparkler Audio model 503 CD player/Transport ($1,400) and used all Jena Labs cabling and conditioning ($4,000).



I'm typically not taken by single-driver systems, and while this one was still subject to the shortcomings that prevent me from really falling for such systems (limitations in extension and dynamic expressiveness), what this system conveyed in terms of its stunning immediacy, warm, vibrant tone and almost corporal texture, all while creating a reach-out-and-touch sense of body, was very alluring.

Vanatoo audio introduced their follow up to the Transparent One speaker in Room 545. Launching at the discounted price of just $499 right now, with a MSRP of $599 after launch, the Transparent One Encore really impressed me, especially when they added a terribly inexpensive subwoofer (roughly $100).

At just 10" x 6.5" x 8.185 (HxWxD), weighing in at 27 pounds, each Encore uses their patented 5.25" XBL woofer, coupled to a 5.25" long throw passive on the back baffle, and their 1" aluminum dome tweeter. The unit is bi-amplified, with its own 100-Watt amp for the woofer, and a 20-Watt amp for the tweeter, accepts USB, TosLink optical, S/PDIF coax, analog, and Bluetooth inputs, auto senses which input is active, includes volume, bass, and treble controls, a subwoofer output, also with auto-sense, and a three-year warranty. Just add your phone or some other source, and you are jammin'!



Coming six years after the original Transparent One, as a standalone product, the Encore offered excellent vocals performance, and very good extension for its price. Clearly the dynamics are a bit limited for the obvious reasons, but at 80dB of output, it was very impressive.

But, when they plugged in a $100 sub, things got real. Much more space, more dynamic content and headroom, vocals had more body... even if it is just a bit light on inner detail and at both extremes, at this price, and with this ambitious feature set, the Encore is a clear superstar.

When I walked by 537, Jerred Dunkerson, CEO of Black Ice Audio (formerly Jolida) had it goin' on! Sourced by their new Fusion DAC ($2499) or a Clearaudio 'table with a Benz Glider cartridge, which then handed off to their new Fusion F 15 Phono Stage ($1,499). Amplification came from their new Fusion F11 ($1,399), an EL84 based, 18.5 Wpc integrated. The F11 is a Jim Fosgate designed, fully-balanced, differential push-pull circuit, and includes a phono output on the front panel for your headphones. This was all driving a pair of Vienna Acoustic Beethoven Concert Grand speakers ($6,000).



What I heard was robust, dynamic, and full of life. Everything had honest tonality, with an uncanny ability to present individual voices cleanly and precisely. The system offered plenty of space, and good air and extension.

Jim Salk's products are a great example of products that seem to play well with others, and this showing in 512 was no exception. Sourced by the Salk StreamPlayer Gen III SE, with Roon and Tidal ($2,495) feeding the Exogal Comet DAC ($2,595), with its optional Linear power supply ($1,000). The McGary SA1 KT77-based tube amp ($3,985), drove the Salk Song3 BeAT ($4495/pr.) loudspeakers, featuring the Satori 1" beryllium tweeter, a 4" Audio Technology midrange, and a 7.5" woofer. All cables and interconnects were from AntiCables, including Level 3.1 Speaker Cables &$200 per pair), Level 3 Power Cords ($330 ea.), Level 6.2 RCA Interconnects ($495 per pair), and a Level 3.1 USB Cable ($190).



Listening to one of my favorite guitarists, Stevie Ray Vaughn playing "Tin Pan Alley," from Couldn't Stand The Weather, revealed ample detail, with fine micro shading, and delicious string tone. Vocals were excellent, capturing SRVs angst and that husky, smoky power in his voice, with frequency extension that was impressive, especially up top. And while what I'm about to mention is a common issue in these smaller hotel rooms, about the only thing to quibble over was the foreshortened stage, which still maintained good width and height.



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