Capital Audio Fest Notes

I didn’t see a show thread yet so figured I’d start one.  Not sure if this is the right place but, if it’s not, feel free to move it…or combine if I missed another one. 

I was there all day Friday and a few hours on Saturday.  You could easily get around in a day. The layout was simple and fairly logical.  Rooms were rarely seatless (every seat filled). Most patrons and dealers/manufacturers were in a good mood. I visited multiple rooms more than twice just to go back and compare and be sure I heard assorted music as occasionally you’ll walk in and someone just put on some female vocal/oboe/finger cymbal track that I despise. These were my favorite rooms. Feel free to ask about anything at the show except turntables as I know nothing about them and didn’t see what was on display. Most rooms did have them but played them only occasionally. I assume they want people to be able to play tracks they want to hear and the variety Qobuz offers is best for that. For reference my current system is Ayre KX-R preamp, Ayre AX-5 as an amp or integrated, Ayre V-5xe, Lumin U1 Mini, MHDT Balanced Pagoda, Teac NT-505, Bricasti M3 (borrowed from our resident DAC expert @verdantaudio) and Salk Encore speakers with the Audio Technology midrange from the 9.5. 

Black Ice Audio

F100 Monoblocks using KT170 tubes

Fusion F360 preamp

11 year old Vienna speakers

Some small rear speakers for soundstage tweaking using the F360

This room sounded great. I know they were using the rears to pull the soundstage a little forward and make it fuller and it worked great.  I loved the sound of this room. They used the same front speakers at the Tampa show before COVID and I thought they were great there. You knew you were listening to tubes but there was nothing slow, soft or boomy about it. Jerrod, the CEO, is always enjoyable to talk to.


Gryphon Diablo 300

QLN Prestige Five

I love these speakers. Something just sounds right about them.  Not too detailed but not rolled off. They only make 3 models and the standmount was in my favorite room (see below). Dynamic, huge soundstage, great imaging. Probably spent more time in here than any other room as it was near the entrance and fairly decent size so there was plenty of room most of the time. The CommandAV people were super nice (I believe his name was George) allowing people to put on whatever they wanted.

Bache Audio

Bache Speakers

AB Audio (stands for Alexus/Bache, bad idea for trying to Google) Class D integrated

This room just made music.  So enjoyable to listen to with no exaggeration of any frequencies. I heard the floorstanding Urban-002 and the standmount Sonata-EX. I couldn’t believe when I sat down on Saturday (3rd visit I believe) and saw the Sonata’s were playing. I don’t think I’ve heard a speaker sound this good for the price.  The amp/speaker combo was like $4500 on show special. They will be super easy to setup and can be 6 inches from the wall or way out according to Greg, the owner. I may get a pair just because. They’re that inline with my tastes. I would bet sound of the amps may not matter as much with these as other speakers (just a guess). Harbeths are similar in that amps don’t matter quite as much.  It’s all going to sound good it’s just a matter of what flavor you’re looking for.

Amped America

Amped AMP2400 I think. But they only list 2 on their website.

AQ (Acoustique Quality) Passion25

I’ve never head of either of these brands.  They had Unison (think Unico) stuff around but it was never on when I was in there. Not sure there was any one thing that stood out. They just sounded how I like. Maybe a little tubey, maybe a little solid statey. Great imaging, soundstage, texture. The electronics were less than $5k while the speakers I think were about that or less. This room was a great value room that I could easily live with. I will say the racing stripe on the speakers are not my taste but my 19 year old son thought they looked really cool (sporty is the word I would use).


AGD Audion or Grande Vivace

Ocean Way Eureka (I think) Speakers

I loved this room in Tampa and I loved it here.  There something about the sound that grabs me.  It’s not like any of the other rooms. You want to listen to see how good everything sounds. It may sound so good and different that I spend more time listening to how good it sounds rather than actually listening to the music. Just a thought but maybe that’s why I’ve been afraid to pull the trigger to try them. 


McGary SA1e

Salk no-name speakers with dual Purifi Woofers

Jim Salk made these speakers before the show but hasn’t named them.  He’s taking orders as far as I know. I have the Encores which are big speakers. These are much smaller but dig deep with tight, tight bass. I would buy these if I didn’t have the Encores. About the same price.  I’ve never heard McGary amps before.  I may actually buy one now. Two of my favorite rooms were playing them. Great combo of stereotypical (no pun intended) tube and solid state sound. Any music will be listenable but not plush or euphonic. Supposedly they put out 35 watts and they were driving 87 dB (I think) speakers easily.

Favorite room:

Dr Vinyl

McGary SA1e

Bakert Labs Rhythm 1.3 preamp

QLN Prestige One

This room was, to no surprise, an all vinyl room.  Jose (Dr Vinyl) is incredibly friendly and excited about audio. The QLN’s were incredible, especially for their size, and price for that matter. The disappeared, didn’t lean in one direction tone-wise and had bass that didn’t need a sub. I asked to play some rock after hear way too little at the show.  He threw on an original pressing of Led Zeppelin II, “Whole Lotta Love”. We had left a room the previous day due to how bad this track sounded on another system (can’t remember which). In this room, it sounded exactly like you’d want Zeppelin to sound, Rock, blues, ragged and raw. I could have brought the whole system home on the spot, except the crazy looking and, I assume, expensive turntable and live happily ever after. It’s not that I didn’t like the turntable it’s probably just way, way more than I would currently spend on vinyl. 

There were plenty of other good ones. Honorable mention to Volti and TAD. I spent some time talking to Mark O’Brien from Rogue. He’s a really friendly and approachable guy. They have a new Stereo 100 Dark (Stereo 100 with better parts) out. It sounded great paired with B&W’s new 504 speakers. Anyone looking for a powerful tube amp under $5k should take a look.

Oh, the Von Schweikert über expensive room was outstanding but a little above my credit card limits. The Ultra 11 (I think) are huge but can sound delicate and small or orchestral huge depending on the music.  Really impressive what they can do. Cost no object I don’t think I’ve heard better. 

I’ll update if I realize I’ve forgotten something. Feel free to fill in models or anything else if I got something wrong. I look forward to the next show.

Ag insider logo xs@2xbhvf
Hi @bhvf

See or hear anything worthwhile new or different there in the integrated amp department for someone looking downsize? All in 1 streaming +phono?
See or hear anything worthwhile new or different there in the integrated amp department for someone looking downsize? All in 1 streaming +phono?
I didn't see anything specific but from the amount of preamps with streaming and DACs I saw I would imagine we'll see some good all-in-ones. Class D is really getting good so fitting all that in one box is much easier now. Phono I'm not familiar with so I don't know if there are implementation problems in an all-in-one. I hope that helps a little. 
Thanks for the write-up. 
Some small rear speakers for soundstage tweaking
It bring tear of satisfaction to my eye that we have technology to link festival to my home. Did you lay ear on horn speaker by Pennsylvania company fleetwood? They have Oswald monitor there that place too? I think might buy this for my car polish bay in garage.
It bring tear of satisfaction to my eye that we have technology to link festival to my home. Did you lay ear on horn speaker by Pennsylvania company fleetwood? They have Oswald monitor there that place too? I think might buy this for my car polish bay in garage.
They were in the Dr Vinyl room but never setup when I was in there. I live very near his factory (it's in the old Fleetwood Metal Body facility and my local dealer carries them. Many people absolutely love them but I'm not one. They're just not my taste in either looks or sound. Too easy going sounding if that makes sense. If I was looking to fill space like a garage I would seriously look at the Bache speakers. Wide band, easy to setup, sounds good from anywhere, not expensive so you may not care as much if they get dirty, handmade in Brooklyn. You could go to Brooklyn and listen to both Fleetwood and Bache in their own spaces.
Thank you sir I very much appreciate you input and consider your observation appreciated.
@bhvf nice report. Correction QLN has 5 models of speakers. 3 floor standers and 2 stand mounts. I have the Prestige 3s and they are awesome. 
I was there yesterday personally I fled the Dr Vinyl room almost immediately due to the crushingly loud volume!

Some rooms/gear I liked:

Treehaus Audio room was quite good first of all staggeringly good industrial design speakers and electronics both, as a bonus they played cool music. I found the system extremely transparent, it imaged nicely and if you could sit far back enough the bass really integrated well with the full range driver. I could see some finding the super tweeter a tad bright but it didn't bother me would love to hear that system in a larger room.

The VPI/T+A/JBL Everest system was to me the best of the show those are amazing speakers.

Volti/Border Patrol both with the Rivals and later with the Razz which are a tremendous value.

I really liked the Fyne Audio F1 I would have loved to see that speaker driven by tubes but still really enjoyed it.

I also liked the LTA/Daedalus room on the 5th floor with the smaller Daedalus speakers.
I was there yesterday personally I fled the Dr Vinyl room almost immediately due to the crushingly loud volume!
I was in there by myself most times so I could tell them to turn it down.  I hate when rooms turned the music up so loud you can't even tell what it really sounds like. I wanted to hear the Fyne's but it was a mess when I went in there. No organization and the music sounded flat. I assume it was just the wrong time to stop in. They also had on the really expensive ones and I was hoping for the $10-12k ones. The last time I went in the Volti room the volume was way too loud but it still sounded good. Greg, the Volti owner, was not thrilled with how loud whoever was in charge was playing it.
Top 3 for me.

1) Anne Bisson singing live with the Acora acoustics system providing the background instruments. I ended up buying 2 signed LPs. Front row seat 6 feet away from her.

2) For me the Joseph Audio pearl room with the $150k EMM electronics. They were able to pressurize the room, music had punch scale and wrapped around the listener spots. Fantastic, Jospeh audio room always sound right.

3) Of course the $1M Schweikert, VAC room always sounds good, but for the money it better does.

Biggest disappointment was the room with Thrax electronics and the new Borresen   silver supreme. They had a United home Audio R2R deck aswell.

When I walked in and sat down I felt wow. Spectacular punch, soundstage and impact und 3min later my ears were bleading from the highs. Something was off, but the speakers have potential.

I think this thread perfectly encapsulates the subjective and personal nature of audio preferences. Some of the rooms that others named as top I did not care for at all, while the best sounding room to me has not been mentioned yet. I will caveat that I didn’t have time to visit every single room but did go to most of them.

--Best of Show--

My best of show by a LONG shot was the Kharma Exquisite Midi with Conrad Johnson Art 300 monos and GAT S2 Pre. This room had it all, power, dynamics, grace, refinement, nth degree of detail, naturalness, liquidity, cohesive and huge soundstage, and no matter what music was playing, you NEVER heard the speakers, it was just the performance in the front of the room. The craziest thing is they had trouble with their Aurender server so the source was just a 15 yr CambridgeAudio 740C CD player with dual Wolfson onboard DAC direct analogue out to the pre. This room was a surprise all the way through, never heard Kharma speakers, never thought CJ gear and Kimber cables could sound like this. I would take this room over the $1M von schweikert + VAC room. It is now my new reference point and absolutely mind boggling. Met a few industry insiders and they agreed as well.

--Good rooms--

The Von Schweikert obviously has fantastic sound, crystal clarity with beautiful imaging and scale. The clean sound provided so much insight into the music, not just information, but intention as well. My only criticism was that both through the Esoteric N01-XD dac and through the turntable, it lacked a bit of tonal body, not sure if it was the room or which part of the system causing that.

The Gobel room with the Wadax reference dac and server, CH precision L1 pre and the Parasound JC1+, this was a great sounding room, but can’t help but think it could have been in top contention had they used better amps.

The Joseph Audio Pearl 20/20 with all Emm Labs electronics. Great sounding room, really transparent and dynamic, however the speakers were toed in too much to give the wow effect, a bit bright after awhile, if the speakers were toed out more like how JA speakers are usually set up, would have been even better. The little JA Pulsars with the Bel Canto integrated amp in a small room upstairs was also a good sounding room, but not at this reference level.

The Genesis Maestro speaker was a great sounding room when it was playing from the $150K Genesis Turntable System source. When they switched to digital through the Emm labs DA2, the sound got a bit hard and bright but only on certain recordings. The brightness from the JA Pearl 20/20 room might have something to do with the Emm Labs gear as well, not sure.

-- Pleasantly surprised --

Volti Razz with Border Patrol P21X amp and Border Patrol DAC - Never heard Volti speakers before, but these are dynamic, coherent, engaging and effortless. Maybe not the last word in detail, but you just kept on wanting to listen. I owned the Border Patrol DAC before and thought they were too colored, but in this system it works. I would take this room as a fun second system, but would still switch out to something more neutral.

Spatial Audio X4 driven by LTA integrated amp and Holo May KTE DAC - This system sounded fantastic, refined and balanced top end, pressurized the room with clean, tight yet impactful bass, the room was pretty packed so didn’t get to sit in the sweet spot to gauge soundstage, but pretty impressed

Daedalus (small one upstairs), Lampizator Baltic dac, LTA Pre and Amp - These are really coherent speakers, fast and clean sound built on balanced bass foundation, impact with no overhang, sparkle without brightness, great tonal density and dynamics on piano strokes which is a hard thing to do. Criticism is that in that room, the soundstage was stuck between the speakers, didn’t play big, but really good sounding overall

AGD pre and monos with Oceanway speakerr - Really clear sound with polish, refinement and a touch of sweetness, confirmed all the praise AGD has been getting on the forums for great value in high performance. It was in a small room with speakers almost up against the wall, hard to gauge the full potential of the electronics for soundstage depth, criticism is that the sound sometimes had a touch of brightness to them, but suspect it was the speakers.

-- Disappointements --

JBL Everest, T+A electronics, VPI Turntable - Some people at the show told me how amazing this room sounded, huge soundstage and very un-horn like sound, and I walked in there expecting that and was sorely disappointed. I sat in the middle of the first row of seats (out of 2 rows), should have been the sweet spot. The two giant horns were pretty close to the listening position and toed all the way in directly to each year. Over 2 songs (Black Crow - Steely Dan and Hungarian Rhapsodies classical piece), the sound was entirely localized to each speaker, sounded very forward and brash, could not make myself to stay for a 3rd song. It's possible that front row was too close to the speakers, and people standing behind the 2nd row were getting the magic.

Borressen 05 Silver with Thrax R2R DAC and Thrax Hybrid Monos - it sounded harsh and bright, couldn’t keep me engaged in the room, I kept on wanting to leave

Audionote UK NE - SPE -HE speakers, Meishu integrated amp, - sounds very pleasant, natural and open with certain type of music, I can see why certain types of audio file loves this gear. But to me, it lacks transparency, scale and dynamic impact, all of which I hold as very important. When you put on a song like Thriller, it just sounded small, uncertain and outmatched

Cube audio speakers, Pass labs electronics, Lampizator DAC, Silversmith speaker cables - might have been a difficult room as the system was setup almost right in the middle of the space, but it sounded boxed in, and the sound utterly confined to the speakers, sounded Granted this was on the first day, they might have dialed it in better later

All in all a great show, definitely raised my reference bar for certain things.

Ha it shows indeed I thought the Kharma/c-j room was terrible one of my least favorites.

i thought the Volti Razz were great especially considering they were by far one of the cheapest speakers at the show at $5900.
@divertiti My best of show by a LONG shot was the Kharma Exquisite Midi 

I was introduced to Kharma in April and was blown away as well.  The dealer had the DB9S which were very impressive so I can't imagine how great the midi sounded.  Thanks for the write up.  Great information.

@bhvf  Great insights on your time at the show.  Very informative and thanks for sharing.
Two rooms I somehow missed were Kharma and the JBL room that many have posted were best at the show. I have no idea how I missed them.  Maybe they were fiddling with equipment when I stopped by but I don't even remember seeing JBL's or Kharmas. Too bad.
Would have liked to have gone just to hear the new and more affordable AGD Class D amp there.  Maybe a few others.   Also the Fyne speakers.
@bhvf It's a little confusing as there was no JBL room those Everests were in the big VPI room.
@jond Was that next to the TAD/T+A room by House of Stereo? Joe from HoS had a lot of VPI stuff in his room too.
@bhvf Not sure all I know it was on the main floor, same as check in in one of the corners.
The VPI/JBL room was kind of hard to find, it was a corner room at the end of its own hallway, away from the cluster of rest of the rooms on floor 3. I only found it by asking people.
I liked the GTT audio room. Also enjoyed meeting Andrew Gillis of Small Green Computer. He makes very affordable Linux based servers and sells Sonare products like the Rendu line of renderers. His stuff was the digital source for GTT. He eschews the expensive marketing his competition use to get their products distributed and reviewed. IMHO, his stuff is a great value.

Lots of good sound at the show, with some standouts. The JBL/VPI room was kicked up a notch withe the DS light-based cartridge system. I really liked the big Arion Audio speakers Mike Kalellis was showing. And the sound from the Genisis speakers in the Distinctive Stereo room was great, although I would have dialed the servo woofers back a smidge. As always, Merrill Audio’s amps provided super clean sound to the Genisis speakers.

I think the Philharmonic Speaker guy is probably underpricing his $3700 towers, based on what I heard of the stand mounts. He took so many orders for the towers that he was sold out, and now is a victim of the evil supply chain. They look pricier than $3700, too.

And the Wells Audio tube system reproduced spot on transients, very lifelike.  And very expensive (for me).
There were a number of good rooms with Tidal speakers, Kharma speakers, Ohm speakers, Oceanway w/ AGD, but these are the ones that really moved me:

My favorite...

Arion Audio Apollo 12 (per side: 1x HVT tower + 3x sub+amp) w/ Audio Research doing everything else
This sound is totally me. I found out that VPI's Harry Weisfeld has owned them for about a year. I really look forward to hearing this again the next time he hosts for our club.

Runner ups...

Alta Audio Alec, Infigo Audio Method 4 => Method 3
These $9k speakers are the best implementation of transmission line I've ever heard, and the price is swingable, especially on the 2nd hand market. The Infigo electronics are absolutely amazing on paper and ear, but you won't find this brand on hifishark, so you'll probably own these electronics for life.

Joseph Audio, EMM Labs
I always enjoy the Joseph Pulsar but this is the first time I connected with the towers. This was the first time I heard them in such a large room and this was the first time I heard an all EMM labs electronics.

Honorable mentions...

MC Audiotech Forty-10
How cool did these look. Looks like something from the Quad era until you hear the bass. The top and bottom mated well together.

Black Ice
I've never heard Jolida gear, and Black Ice is their new name.
I also never heard the KT170 tube. It was physical like solid state and organic like tubes.  Normally if I saw these unassuming speakers (Vienna Acoustics Concert Grand in the front and Electrocompaniet surrounds in the back) I wouldn't have entered the room, but they were one step ahead of my bias by keeping the room really dark.

Puritan power conditioning
I was surprised to see this in a number of rooms. I just got my unit a couples weeks ago and I'm elated with it.

BMR Philharmonitor
When the CCP party falls, I'm all over this speaker.
The BMR speakers were really nice. I thought it was funny that Dennis (Murphy, owner/designer of BMR) was using an old Onkyo CD player and some Class D Topping amp. He said he doesn’t have time to learn how streaming works so he uses CD’s still.
I’ll add my impressions, copied from a post I made on other forums:

My favorite rooms:

1) 20/20 Evolution, dealer in Maryland- Kharma MIDI and dB9-S speakers with CJ and Lampi DAC. The dB9-Ss were sublime! The room applauded after one piece was played!

2) Dr. Vinyl, also local dealer- QLN bookshelfs with McGary Audio components and Reed turntable. Those bookshelfs completely disappeared and sounded wonderful even in a crowded, small room. Interesting that I’m not generally a fan of tube amps but my top two CAF 2021 rooms were all tube setups.

3) Salk Audio-Both of his speakers sounded great. I didn’t get the model #s, as they ran of out of programs.

I can’t remember if I heard Kharma before, but wow!  I’m an electrostatic guy, so a box speaker has to be really exceptional to get my attention.  Consider my attention gotten!  
@asindc, The smaller Salk speakers use 2 of the new Purifi 6.5" drivers and a Be tweeter, nicknamed BePure. At about $6K/pr they have made competition in the under $10K/pr category much tighter. The BePure's had great deep bass extension and impact, big dynamics, focused vocals with the correct head size and height, and the soundstage began a few feet behind the plane of the speakers and went deep and wide from there, combined with McGary tube amps and an Exogal Comet DAC made for one of the best sounding rooms at CAF!

Nice to see the love for the BMR speakers - I heard them on Friday and thought they were just ok. Went back on Saturday and thought they were fantastic. May have broken in a bit, or my ears weren’t tired. If I hadn’t bought Salk Song3 BeATs last year I would totally have sprung for these. It was amazing the sound Dennis had coming out of simple electronics. I suspect the room would have had a lot more love if there were sexier electronics.

I heard the new Salk speakers Jim was demonstrating - quite good, although something didn’t sound quite right to my ears. I’d like to hear them in a bigger space.

@mapman Yes, the big ones. I like Fyne speakers.  I heard their smaller towers at the VPI house just before Covid hit.  Nicely voiced with only a slight trace of glare in the upper mids.  Nothing I would trade my Ohm's for, though.
@bondmanp I suspect that slight glare you heard was from the Chord gear driving them I think tubes would have made a nice difference to those speakers.

What stood out to me was the apparent increased focus on streaming among the exhibitors. There seemed to be far fewer rooms spinning vinyl than in previous years and more rooms with no TT at all.

@wynnytsky thank you for the compliment.  I'm working with Infigo Audio and I was part of their showroom. We got glowing reviews on our room and electronics this weekend. The method 3 amps and method 4 Dac are amazing. We got reviews by stereophile, part time audiophile and soon AV showrooms will release a video. The amp inventor Hans Loomin worked on this design for 10 years. All class A power that doesn't get too hot and sounds amazing. He also uses 8 9038 ess Sabre dac chips isolated  by their own miniature heat sinks to reduce any distortion with the chips get hot. 

@bhvf  Thanks for visited my room and you feedback. I hope  to see you in my showroom in Brooklyn, i have some speakers like my favorite flagship-002 model which  sound  good with low power 300B amp.I gonna bring this one to NY Audio show     

@bache I'd love to come to Brooklyn, Greg.  Is it the 002AB you are speaking of? What tube amp, if any, do you run them with normally?

@bhvf  Yes 002AB -is very effficient,tube amp freindly, working fine with Line magnetic , any 300 B.  In my show room  connected with Alexus 845 SE monoblocks, 

I drive my Bache Audio Tribeca's with Emotive Audio Vita monoblocks. These are extremely well designed tube amps using 6550 tubes for about 50 watts per side. I have also had nice results using Pass Labs amps. But, IME, these speakers sing beautifully with tubes.