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Capital Audiofest (CAF) 2021 Show Report

Capital Audiofest 2021 Show Report
Back from the brink – with passion!
CAF 2021 Show Report By Greg Weaver

 

 

The Audio Company, Valve Amplification Company, And Von Schweikert Audio
Potomac Room
I'm sure it will come as no surprise that the show's centerpiece, the touchstone of all that was natural, authentic, and truthful sounding, comes once again at the hands of the masters, Keith Sequeira, CEO, Gordon Waters, and Jim Kumpe, partners of The Audio Company of Marietta, GA, Kevin Hayes, founder and president of the Valve Amplification Company, Damon Von Schweikert, CEO, and Leif Swanson, Chief Designer, at Von Schweikert Audio.

 

The flagship VSA ULTRA 11s, with the ULTRA 55s speakers.

 

This year, Maestro Hayes introduced us to his latest amplifier with the first-ever showing of VACs Master 300iQ Musicbloc power amplifiers, with a final price yet to be announced. He had treated the last Capital Audiofest attendees, back in 2019, to a similar world debut of the Statement 452iQ Musicbloc stereo/mono power amplifiers ($75,000/each).

 

The commanding new VSA Master 300iQ Musicbloc amplifier.

 

Kevin freely admits that the new Master 300iQ Musicbloc builds upon the revelations and lessons learned creating the astonishing Statement 452iQ. While it utilizes a similar audio circuit topology, exceptionally high-quality parts, and features hand-wired internal layout and pathways, at its rated output of 160 Wpc in stereo, or just over 300 Wpc when mono'ed, as they were configured here, its output is just a dB and a half lower than its amazing big brother, the Statement 452iQ. A fully balanced design from input to output, it features direct-coupled input and driver stages, using triodes operating in full Class A, and the output utilizes Kevin's preferred Gold Lion KT88s.

 

The latest addition to the VSA ULTRA line up, the ULTRA 7 in Electric Storm Blue with a VAC Statement 452iQ Musicbloc.

 

Before I get into the rest of the active system in the room, I want to share a little about some of the other static systems that were on display, just behind the glass walls near the entrance to the Potomac room. First, the newest VSA ULTRA member, the ULTRA 7 (projected at ~$150,000/pr.), in Electric Storm Blue, was displayed with one of the Statement 452iQ Musicbloc amps ($75,000 each) just inside the left entryway. To the right, they featured a pair of VSA Endeavor E5 Mk II speakers ($45,000/pr.) in black, flanking a set of Endeavor E3 Mk IIs ($9,000/pr.) in a classy looking natural walnut finish, standing to either side of another VAC Statement 452iQ Musicbloc. Gorgeous gear all!

 

A pair of Endeavor E5 Mk IIs in black, a pair of Endeavor E3 Mk II in natural walnut, and another VAC Statement 452iQ Musicbloc.

 

The active system in the room featured their now somewhat typical mix of world-class machines, and no, I can't believe that I just referred to this mix of exceptional gear as typical – but they exhibit this staggering lineup of amazing products nearly every show! The analog front end was Canada's KRONOS Pro Limited Edition Turntable ($51,000), it's custom SCPS-1 Super Capacitor Power Supply ($15,000), with their Black Beauty Tonearm ($10,000) – coincidentally, my current reference turntable system - fitted with Japan's Air Tight flagship Opus 1 Moving Coil Phono Cartridge ($16,000).

 

The KRONOS Pro Turntable, it's custom SCPS-1 Super Capacitor Power Supply, their Black Beauty Tonearm, and the Airtight Opus 1 phono cartridge.

 

The digital front end used the exceptionally musical sounding Japanese Esoteric P1 Grandioso CD Transport ($38,000), a pair of the Esoteric D1 Grandioso Monoblock DACs ($38,000/pr.), with the Aurender W20SE Music Server ($25,000), and Esoteric N-01XD Streamer, Renderer, DAC ($20,000).

 

All Valve Amplification Company's Statement electronics, and the KRONOS analog and Esoteric digital front ends.

 

Electronics used included the VAC Statement Phono Preamplifier ($80,000), the VAC Statement Linestage ($80,000), both of which are two-box components, utilizing external power supplies, and two pairs of the VAC Master 300iQ Musicbloc Amplifiers (price TBA) mono'ed to bi-amplify the statement Von Schweikert ULTRA 11 Loudspeakers ($325,000/pr.). Saturday morning also gave everyone a chance to hear the new ULTRA 55s ($100,000/pr.), nestled just inside the 11s, while a pair of Von Schweikert Shockwave 12 Subwoofers ($15,000 each) were deployed critically to manage active room correction.

All gear sat on Joe Lavrencik's staggeringly effective Critical Mass Systems Maxxum Racks ($6,150 per space x 12 spaces), with each VAC Master 300iQ Musicbloc resting on a Critical Mass Systems Maxxum Amp Stand ($6,250 each), and system cabling was exclusively from the MasterBuilt Ultra series.

I've written about this system, in its various incarnations, and over some seven or eight different shows now, in at least four different venues in the US and Germany, so I'm not going to go too deep into its performance; you can see that detailed in any number of my earlier show reports, ranging from AXPONA 2018, Capital Audiofest 2018, to HIGH END Munich 2019. Without question, and with nothing coming even close to this system's staggeringly exceptional performance, my award for "Best of Show" for Capital Audiofest 2021 go to this room.

 

The equally impressive rear of the ULTRA 11s, and the row of four of the VAC Master 300iQ Musicblocs.

 

I will share that the VAC Master 300iQ Musicblocs impressed me as having a somewhat more relaxed nature, overall, when compared to the spell-binding Statement 452iQ Musicblocs introduced here in 2019. And no, this is not code suggesting that they are somehow muted in regard to resolution or detail, but just that they seem to be more about body and texture than their larger sibling. No matter this slight difference, this room was still the personification of effortless scaling, authentic tonality (even at extreme left and right seating locations or while walking around), accurate staging and imaging, resolution, and transparency to the source.

As to the ridiculously lofty standards of natural, authentic musical bliss this system consistently renders for showgoers lucky enough to experience it when- and wherever it is displayed, we as the music-loving public owe an unpayable debt of gratitude to these exhibitors. If you understood both the enormous expense, and the sheer Herculean level of effort required to prepare, ship, unload, unpack, set up, dial in, and refine a system of such magnitude, to be listened to for just a few days, then the effort to break it all down, repack, and reship it, I'm convinced you'd be in even deeper awe of the experience that they provide with this mega-system.

In terms of creating the illusion of living, breathing musicians in a real space, having that inexplicable ability to allow the complete suspension of disbelief, one that permits the listener to completely forget that what they are hearing is nothing more than a recreation, a brilliantly executed deception, a recreated sonic event, this system would appear to have no equal. It leaves all who take the time to listen completely unaware that the time and space of the events unfolding before us are merely auditory illusions generated by a complex reconstruction engine, a conglomeration of electro-mechanical devices. It effortlessly and routinely emotionally engages listeners with the message of the music under its consideration.

This is the only truly world-class system I am aware of that is routinely set up at venues all over the US, and occasionally in other countries. To be afforded the opportunity to hear such a system not only teaches us what can be expected from a state-of-the-art music system today, but it allows us to understand why these manufacturers and dealers do what they do – it's about the MUSIC! If you've experienced it, you understand. If you haven't, go out of your way to do so...

There were so many other exceptional rooms, some of which I will try to highlight on my channel in the coming weeks, that I truly wish I had time to recount them all. But this report singles out those most deserving of recognition in my estimation.

 

A view of the LP, head gear, and assessor vendors on the Atrium floor.

 

Parting Thoughts
It was such a welcomed experience to have the opportunity to finally reconnect with so many of my audio colleagues and friends - after nearly two years of nothing other than seeing them in video chats. I spent SO MUCH time just catching up with people that I wouldn't have minded this event lasting another three days! It was so much fun!

 

Qobuz was in the house, with Dan Mackta, US Managing director, and one of my favorite audiobuds, Dave Solomon, VP, Business Division/Hi Res Music Evangelist.

 

To say that the 2021 Capital Audiofest was successful would be more than just a gross understatement, it would be doing Gary Gill and our stalwart community of music-loving audiophiles, manufacturers, and dealers, a great disservice.

We had been so desperately awaiting this opportunity to come together, to reconvene and commune, to acknowledge our passion for, and love of, the music, and to be able to celebrate those needs - with other like-minded music lovers - after some two years of abstinence. It is my hope that everyone can appreciate and understand how grateful we should be to a show runner like Gary Gill, someone who had the temerity and will to move forward and take this decisive, deliberate first step to return us to some semblance of normalcy after so long a sabbatical.

I know I'm raising a glass of my favorite 18-year-old Highland single malt to his dedication to our industry tonight. I hope you understand and are as grateful as I am for his efforts and willingness to get us back on track with our long-held, but inconveniently interrupted, traditions. Long live audio shows!

 

Till next time, Enjoy the Music!

 

 

---> Back to Capital Audiofest 2021 show homepage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

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