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Capital Audiofest 2012 High-End Audio Show Report
Capital Audiofest 2012 Show Report
Coverage By Scot Hull of Part Time Audiophile

 

VPI & Surreal
Mat Weisfeld of VPI pulled me into the spacious Albright room that VPI was sharing with DSA, David Berning, Luminous Audio Technology, and Surreal Sound Audio. Mat was enthusiastic -- "Everything in here is made in the USA!" Harry Weisfeld was demoing three different setups with VPI a $10,000 Classic 4, sporting two VPI tonearms, one with a Lyra Kleos cartridge and another with a Soundsmith and totally different sounds. Harry grabbed a Charlie Byrd album from Crystal Clear Records in order to show off the Surreal Sound Audio "Fifth Row" loudspeaker. Pricing on the Made in VA speaker starts at $19,900 for the basic Baltic birch finish, which designer Ralph Hellmer assured me is just gorgeous. The model shown, with a lustrous piano black finish, is heftier $27,500.

As Harry was setting up, I circled the speaker, which is devilishly hard to photograph I almost wish Ralph had brought the birch so I could show you what's going on in there! Ralph, like a good designer, started slow but quickly accelerated into fourteen-syllable words, so I had him start over. If I have this correct, the full range Tang Band W8-1772 driver handles most everything. But as we all know, it is below 100 Hz where the big-money comes into speaker design, and Ralph was all over that with his "highly-modified transmission-line" speaker design. The semi-cardioid response he's able to get from his dipole-bass arrangement is really unusual, and he uses six 10" drivers, hung vertically and opposed, to do it. This is a 95dB/W/m speaker, good down to 25 Hz using the powered bass drivers, and Harry happily dialed it up so that we could hear it at levels realistic "to what a drum kit actually sounds like". Which is freakin' loud, in case you were wondering. But talk about your punch-in-the-gut bass. Wow. WOW. Holy-cow!

Almost as impressive as the "Fifth Row" speakers was the little $1300 VPI Traveler, the third VPI configuration in the room. This little table is suspiciously good, and while the increased detail, bass and separation of the bigger and much more expensive Classic 4 were all audible, I found myself sneaking glances all around the room to see if anyone else realized just how little you give up by moving down the VPI chain. Shown in a festive red, white or blue plinth, this turntable is a helluva deal. Word of advice? Grab one now before Team VPI wises up. No, seriously. Pick up the phone, pronto.

 

Polk Audio
You know what's awesome? Polk Audio. They showed their top of the line LSiM 707 floor standing speakers, offered at an almost absurdly affordable (compared to the rest of the show) $4000 per pair. I enjoyed the hell out of the Herbie Hancock & Annie Lennox collaboration I heard and the sound presented as very robust and muscular. The guys in the room were having a ball, cranking out a lot of "real music" when they thought no one was looking. The fact that they were here at all says something. It's not like the audiophile market is a real growth segment for Polk, given their successful mid-market strategy. Yet, here they were for the third year in a row. When I expressed my amazement and outright disbelief at this, I was told quite frankly that Polk loves to do events like this. Their employees are all enthusiasts, hell, their motto is "For the Love of Music". So, perhaps it's inevitable that the Baltimore-based giant is here, and plans to be here in the future, supporting their home community. Personally, this thrills me; I wish more Big Audio companies felt as strongly about pushing the envelope of sound. Good on, ya, Polk!

 

Soundfield Audio
When you find a pair of speakers that have integrated 18" subwoofers, it kinda begs to be abused. So, I did. I found AJ of Soundfield Audio demoing his now-shipping 1812 Overture speakers ($7500 a pair), with their big, angled-back, coincident drivers and accompanying subs, and promptly asked him to play a couple of torture tracks for me, on the off chance we could generate a seismic event. I can happily report that we over achieved in a most satisfying way by creating a momentary singularity those Higgs boson jokers can suck it. So, aside from my unkindness to the entire hotel, whose structural integrity is now entirely suspect, the Soundfield experience is right on track for blowing out your expectations for what's up and coming in audio's high-end.

More seriously? This speaker had the most devastating bass at the show, bar none. Next year, AJ can safely upgrade to a huge suite and blow that out, too. Nice work on the "everything else" over the last time I'd heard them at AXPONA. The subs are now di-polar. The top cabinet still sports the very fancy 12" BMS coaxial driver, but now a 6.5" Dayton Audio neodymium full-range driver hangs off the rear of that top cabinet, wired in-phase, making that unit a bi-pole. Boxless sound with big-box punch. Winner, winner, chicken dinner!

  

 

Paolo Audio
Virginia-based Paolo Audio had some very pretty cabinetwork on display. The little $1990 per pair Klassika speaker had no parallel surfaces anywhere, which is nifty to look at and I'm sure it helps with cabinet resonance and internal reflections, but I'm sure it's a total PITA to make. The single Tang Band W8-1808 driver is good for 50 Hz to 20 kHz, 8 Ohms, 93dB/W/m sensitivity and was driven by a matching $4690 Klassika Amplifier, a 30wpc brass and hardwood beauty sporting a quartet of 6550 tubes and another quartet of 6SN7s. Pretty, well made, rich and immediate-sounding, and matched with the coolest remote control at the show a "buttonless remote". This thing works but holding it up and aiming the bass at the amp. In this position, the hand-filling wood surface is exactly what it looks like, a knob it is just not connected to anything. Sensors embedded into it detect relative position, so, rotate it 90 degrees one way and the volume goes up. The other way, and the volume goes down. And sitting on your table, well, it just sits on the table, but it sure looks pretty doing it.

  

 

Philharmonic Audio
Dennis Murphy, the gent who designed the Salk Sound Song Tower and HT2 loudspeakers, was on hand with his new venture, Philharmonic Audio. While I was cruising through, Paul was demo'ing the Philharmonic 3 ($3500) in his room, fronted by Van Alstine equipment. Featuring RAAL 10D ribbons, a BG Neo-Planar mid-range driver, and rounded out by an 8" ScanSpeak Revelator woofer, the Philharmonic 3 pushes a frequency response from 20 Hz to 30 kHz. I hadn't intended to stay so long in this room, in order to be fair to others at the show, but with that first few notes from John Williams' Star Wars (Main Theme), I was riveted to my seat. Big fan of orchestral music? Say hello to the Philharmonic. Philharmonic? Please take a bow. An outstanding debut!

 

Zu Audio
I swung by the Zu Audio room with my usual expectations. Make that "trepidations". I've said it before that, while I love what they do, I never have any idea what's going with these speakers because I have never, never, recognized a single bloody thing they've ever played at any audio show ever. EVER. I've heard... things... in the Zu Audio show rooms that can be loosely described as reggae, pop or perhaps even metal, but honestly, I gave up trying to keep track, and now I just go with it. I'm old, I guess, and that's okay. Of course, given that head ZuKeeper Sean Casey is actually my age, this display of, ah, music diversity, is still somewhat embarrassing, but I console myself with the knowledge that it must be his son Ian, whom I met at Newport, who's keeping Sean's record collection fresh and interesting. Yeah. Well, that's what I tell myself, so bite me.

Here at the Capital Audiofest, Sean brought the big Zu Definition Mk IV ($12,796 per pair). This thing is a marvel 101dB/W/m sensitivity, 8 Ohms, and clean extension all the way to 14 Hz, courtesy of its built-in subwoofers. To me, the new drivers have kicked up the sound quality a notch or ten, and on this new Definition, there is an effortless, powerful feeling that no amount of wordsmithing on my part is going to make you believe.

As always, there's the spread of LPs across the floor stuff I've never heard of before but... but... BUT! On the Zu-modified Technics SL1200 spun... RUSH. I nearly fell over. Sean was playing Moving Pictures. I know! The universe promptly warped and I fell headlong through a hole in time and space.

  

 

---> Click here for part 2 of the Capitol Audiofest 2012 show report.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

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