Capital Audiofest, save thyself!

This is a message to the brand exhibitors at Capital Audiofest. I've got an idea for next year: Don't bring any of YOUR boring music to the show and advertise the event as an all-audience choice show. That's right, WE bring our music and you play whatever it is, whether you like it or want it or not. Yes, you want to show off your equipment in a controlled environment, but I would venture to say the music I brought with me on CD does it better than the somnolent elevator or atrium with a waterfall music you all kill us with. We - or I - want to hear audiophile grade sources, of course, but also modern music that people not living in the high-end audio bubble - a place called the real world - listen to. We also need some damn life at the show. Not a single room in the hotel had sound coming out of it I was rushing to for the MUSIC. A show like this MUST include that facet, not just great equipment. Hell, even just play some Joni Mitchell (always flawlessly recorded). Something, anything. WAKE UP!

Every one of the rooms I visited were manned by equipment designers or sharp and mostly reasonably friendly salespeople who hadn't a single clue about how to bring out the best of their systems to normal people. Nothing had a beat, few were playing music with horns or voices, none of it - zero - had anything to do with what sells today - just terrible ambient, rudimentary garbage with a variety of percussive sounds. I would have settled for some old Blue Note jazz. I ran screaming from the hotel at the end of three hours there and my friend and I vowed to never return.

That said, we still heard some superb equipment. I took no notes, so can't remember everything, but here are a few quick-take impressions . . . The great Jeff Joseph manned the room showing off his sumptuous top-of-the-line Pearl floor-standing speakers (about $39,000 or so), but the room with his Pulsar2 Graphene mini monitors was far more effective and appealing. At around $10,000 they are indisputably ranking among the very best speakers in the world. Vivid, popping, wonderful soundstage, startling bass, tonal excellence. They have no drawbacks whatsoever, period, and they set the standard we measured by in every other room.
Good guy Bill Hutchins, the chief designer at LKV, has two winners in his effort to bring more affordable equipment to market. We loved his LKV PWR-3 power amp (I think $3,350) and the new Veros VNL phono pre. I'm pretty sure this was coupled with the Pulsars. Top shelf all around. Bravo. LKV was new to me, and I'm mostly a tube guy, but this was wholly impressive.

The all-Audio Note room was expensive and an absolute standout. I believe they were running their AN-E speakers, the 8w P3 Tonmeister amp, and I believe their TT-3 or coming TT-3 Half Reference turntable with cart. The whole system had good flesh to it, despite how boring the music was, with an appealing human-scale and dimension. I like when it sounds life sized. We got to play our own music (Christine and the Queens' "People, I've Been Sad" on the Audio Note CD player (I think it was the 5.1x) and I would have opened the wallet and taken that player home in a heartbeat if I hadn't purchased a Bryston BCD-3 a couple years ago. Another round of bravos. If my somewhat needy speakers could play nice with an 8w tube amp and whatever the pre-amp was, I wouldn't hesitate to break the bank and go Audio Note.

The Amped America room did nothing for us. Lifeless, flat, compressed sound.

On Sunday, the large Democracy Room at the hotel was in the hands of Command Performance AV and they were showing off a massive Gryphon power amp. I can't remember the speakers but if you like huge, all-enveloping sound, far beyond scale, get in touch with them about this system. They knew how to fill a big room. Bad music, enjoyable experience.

Tried twice to get into the little Border Patrol room, set up horizontally, but it was packed and we didn't want to stand in the corner by the door to try to hear.
Couldn't find Conrad Johnson, which was hugely disappointing because they were high on my list.

Enjoyed a Pear Audio turntable in Room 307.

Merrill Audio's Element 116 monoblocks (I'm pretty sure that was the model) and the Genesis Maestro (pretty sure that was the model!) speakers, a design I hadn't seen before and worth looking up, produced exquisite sound and I wished there was less talking in the room and less bad music and a little more volume showing off something worth listening to. I would have sat there happily for an hour. VPI had it's 80-some-pound 40th Anniversary Classic Direct turntable on display in there but not hooked up and it was a beast to behold. Would have loved to have heard it.
I didn't see it advertised on the Capital Audiofest website, but one room was showing a Kronos turntable (can't remember which one) and lord the music coming out of that thing was beautiful. I can't see owning a table that looks so bling, but rich people in the market should not ignore this company.

McGary Audio - maker of a very striking KT88 tube-based SA2 amplifier was back again this year with Salk speakers. McGary himself declined to allow a switch flip from ultralinear to triode on his very versatile amp because it would change the volume level, as if that wasn't adjustable. Don't bring in a system you can't adjust the volume on. When your amp is before the public, find a way to flip a switch to triode if asked. We're there to hear the amp, not just half of it. I liked the McGary-Salk match better the last time I heard it, so it must have been the room, setup or (yawn) music. Still, really good-sounding equipment by both, although I'm still not thrilled from an aesthetic standpoint with the SA2's unbalanced RCA interconnects being on the front panel. He's got a sound reason, as the designer, but I'd sacrifice whatever little incremental betterment that is to have them in the back. One of the most beautiful amps on the market (a shade under $8,000), and I'd love to fiddle with it - and its user-adjustable global negative feedback knob - when no one is saying no to me. This amp remains coveted.

Finally, VAC took over the massive Atrium room again with a system that probably cost about $450,000. Teamed with Von Schweikert speakers. It was better-sounding than the last time I remember it, and that's saying something, but I didn't hear any music playing I'd want to play at home (the theme of this post). I asked if I could play a CD and the gentleman in charge said I could - after he played a few things he wanted to hear - so I rolled out. There were maybe three or four other people in there. This is the second Capital Audiofest I've attended at which VAC has displayed its beautiful Sigma 170i integrated with KT88s - probably the most affordable amp in its lineup yet still plenty expensive - but not had it plugged in. I'd love to hear this thing (and others in the lineup) some day, not just the company's most untouchable components.

The music vendors in the lobby were not getting much action on Sunday and had a bevy of audiophile discs and vinyl records for sale. I didn't snap up a thing but was tempted. I would have LOVED to have heard a "Still Crazy After All These Years" MoFi one-step ultradisc, but at $200 I decided to take the money up the road for some cheap and delicious Northern Chinese dim sum at the venerable A&J on Rockville Pike. If you like authentic Chinese food, that stretch of road is a wonderland of options.

Unfortunately you did not make it into our room the Roosevelt room featuring GT audio works loudspeakers. We played every genre of music and I mean every genre including rap hip-hop rock reggae.
p.s. - the LKV Veros VNL phono pre was Class A gain circuitry, no opamps. Excellent.