The Capital Audiofest 2022 Fab
Welcome to the reveal of my Fab Five, the five most accomplished, most musically engaging systems that I encountered at this year's Capital Audiofest 2022. Have you ever wondered criteria I use to make these selections?
Well, it comes down to a symbiosis of many attributes. I listen for faithful replication of instrumental tonality, is it presented with vibrance, color, and texture? I listen for the level of authentic dynamism that a system can recreate, how well can it convey subtle nuance and shading in the most tranquil of passages, and by contrast, how faithfully is it able to portray realistic scale and dimension on the most energetic. Then too, there is the importance of resolution and the resultant transparency that it affords.
You need to be able to hear a performance as clearly and articulately as you would if you were in the room where it was recorded, without any frequency spotlighting, glare, etch, or opacity. And most crucially, I assess how closely a system can create the illusion that I am in the presence of live musicians playing their instruments in a real space. No small challenge when you think about it.
I should point out that the first two rooms to appear on this year's list, number five and four, have to be recognized for the added significance of their achievement, as they both were accomplished in the smaller, more common three hundred fifteen guest rooms at the Twinbrook Hilton, all typically somewhere about three-hundred sixty to four-hundred forty odd square feet (something like thirteen feet by twenty-two feet or slightly larger).
And while it is true that the larger meeting or much larger event spaces can be more forgiving and sonically accommodating, that is not always the case. But such successful performance, particularly when achieved in these more realistically sized spaces, tends to suggest that they may be tremendously successful when set up in a space that most music-loving audiophiles would actually have available in their own homes.
Here we go...
Best Of CAF 2022 Number Five
First, I want to say that I was thrilled to see this separate room set up to highlight the more affordable, more accessible speakers in the VSA lineup. In past shows, it was not uncommon to take some time on Sunday to drop an Endeavor product into play, positioned slightly inside the more commanding ULTRA speakers, using the same extremely expensive system used to drive the ULTRA speakers, in the primary exhibit in the Potomac Room. Such demonstrations floored listeners.
In fact, several years ago during one of the first such demonstrations, as two younger men were leaving the room, I heard one say to the other, "If the big ones sound that good, I wonder what the little ones sound like." As they clearly had no idea that they were listening to the smaller Endeavors, I interrupted to say, "Umm, those were the smaller ones." The look on their faces after my pronouncement was priceless!
So giving these superb loudspeakers the focus and attention they deserved, with no towering über-expensive speaker looming near at hand, allowed them to shine and show just how damn good they really are. In fact, my colleague and friend Maurice Jeffries recently published his take on the Von Schweikert ESE, the same model, but with a more exotic automotive paint finish, published HERE. So, if what I'm about to share about these overachieving speakers isn't persuasive enough, check out his review as well.
The DAC in this system was the new flagship LampizatOr Horizon, which has seduced me with every past listen. And I received word just last week that a Horizon, in a beautiful red finish, almost matching my VSA ULTRA 9s, has left Poland and is on its way to my music room for its first US review. I can't wait.
Damon Von Schweikert was manning the system when I got to the room, and knowing my fondness for Supertramp, he queued up "Rudy," from Crime of the Century. I was immediately taken by how well they depicted the openness and the sense of space from that track, and then I took note of the authenticity of the vocal decay, how clearly it was resolved and how nicely it lingered as it trailed.
Next up, we did a few tracks from another of my favorites, Roger Waters 1992 magnum opus album Amused to Death. When the Genii speaks up on "Three Wishes," it was as hair- and goosebump-raising an experience as it is at home on my big rig. That voice has power and very deep extension, as it surrounds you... to the left, to the right, even behind you. Superb. And then too, it had no issue representing that creamy, lush tone of Jeff Beck's Guitar, or the cymbal's bronzy flavor, with shimmer and trails that were deliciously represented.
Next up, "Mercy Street" from Peter Gabriel's 1986 monster release, So. All I could say was WOW! This system could capture both the delicacy and the understated power of that cut. It was so remarkably well represented, with staging and imaging recreation more than just well done, it was spooky real.
Bass on "Hey Now" from London Grammar's If You Wait was both unbelievably deep and extended, as well as depicted with superb pitch definition. And vocals were liquid, rich in tone, and rife with microdynamic expression. What a great presentation. I am so glad that listeners finally got to hear just how freaking excellent these speakers are on their own....