Capital AudioFest 2011

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John Atkinson Posted: Jul 09, 2011 1 comments
When I asked the price of the floorstanding Philharmonic 3 (front), which I had heard producing a big sound with extended low frequencies on a recording of Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man, driven by an AVA amplifier, I was expecting an answer of the usual "many thousands of dollars." Instead, I was told the speaker costs just $2800/pair!

That is a lot of speaker for the money. The 3 combines a Raal 10D ribbon tweeter crossing over at 2900Hz to a BG Neo 8 planar-magnetic driver in an open-back enclosure. The bottom enclosure, isolated from the upper with a 1/25" vibration-absorbing pad, handles frequencies below 650Hz and loads an 8" Scanspeak Revelator woofer with a transmission line. Less-expensive versions of the speaker, the Philharmonic 1 and 2, differ only in the drive-units used. Check out www.philharmonicaudio.com for the full technical story on these speakers.

John Atkinson Posted: Jul 09, 2011 1 comments
Some of Ken Swauger's open-reel recorder collection on display, from left to right: a ReVox PR99, a Stellavox portable, a ReVox A77, plus some tasty tape releases.
John Atkinson Posted: Jul 10, 2011 0 comments
The Audience room was featuring the Clairaudient 2+2s ($5000/pair) when I popped in for a listen. This speaker features four metal-cone units, two on the front two on the back, operated full-range, and reinforced by a passive bass radiator on one of the speaker's sides. Brian Damkroger enthused about the clarity conferred by the absence of a crossover when he reviewed the speaker in the July 2011 issue, but I was less keen on its balance, finding it very forward. Both aspects was readily apparent at Capital AudioFest, though I admit the room's acoustics were problematic. This is definitely a speaker that you must audition for yourself.
John Atkinson Posted: Jul 10, 2011 1 comments
The engineer in me just doesn't get the products from AudioNote UK. Unprepossessing, two-way speakers that cost a lot of money; non-oversampling digital products that cost a lot of money; single-ended triode amplifiers that cost even more. But the musician in me makes sure I always check out the AudioNote room at an audio Show—a fine time is guaranteed for all!

Such it was at AudioFest 2011. When I walked in, David Cope (left) was playing a CD of the Rachmaninov cello sonata on the AudioNote CD4.1X player ($10,500). Amplification was being provided by the AudioNote Jinro integrated amplifier that Art Dudley reviewed in April 2011 ($26,500). Speakers were the AudioNote Lexus Signatures, the fourth rung up the ladder on modification of what was once was the original Snell Model E ($16,250/pair; this speaker has external crossovers whereas the three less-expensive models don't). It was with a definite sense of loss that the Rachmaninov movement came to an end. Makes you think. Made me think. Something is going on but you don't know what it is. Do you, Mr. Atkinson?

John Atkinson Posted: Jul 09, 2011 0 comments
Driving a pair of Living Voice OBXRW speakers (from $11,000/pair depending on finish), this cute 20Wpc tube amp, from an American company run by an English ex-pat, produced a very appealing sound on a classic Louis Armstrong cut.The S20 comes with two mono power supplies, these using tube rectifiers and choke filters, and uses 300B tubes in push-pull. Price is quoted as being "from $12,750."
John Atkinson Posted: Jul 09, 2011 0 comments
The second Capital AudioFest, sponsored by Carnegie Acoustics, takes place this weekend at the Rockville, Maryland Crowne Plaza, pictured here in Friday evening's rainstorm. On show are 61 brands in 28 rooms and I will be reporting live—well, as live as possible considering that when I am in a room listening to a system, I am not blogging and vice versa—from the show.

Hours are 11am–7pm, Saturday July 9, and 11am–6pm, Sunday July 10. A raffle is being held at 6pm on both days, and every attendee receives a free sampler CD from M•A Recordings. There will also be a swapmeet on Sunday morning starting at 8am. Details can be found at http://www.capitalaudiofest.com/p1.html.

John Atkinson Posted: Jul 10, 2011 0 comments
This room was pitch-black when I went in, so, sitting in the listening chair, I held my camera over my head, crossed my fingers and my heart, and pressed the shutter. What the flash revealed was a nicely finished pair of 2-way towers, the Carnegie CST-1s ($1999/pair) driven by an Onkyo Reference M-5000R 150Wpc amplifier. The CST-1 combines a 1"x3" Mylar-film planar tweeter with two 5.25" composite-cone woofers in a transmission-line enclosure. Carnegie's Ron May asked if I would like to hear some Nils Lofgren but to my surprise, he didn't select the track "Keith Don't Go" from the Acoustic Live CD, which has been a fixture at recent audio Shows. Instead he played me "A New Shoulder to Cry On," which sounded excellent. Carnegie is designing its products for the "Affordable Audiophile," an admirable goal.
John Atkinson Posted: Jul 10, 2011 0 comments
This room was packed each time I poked my nose in, so I didn't get much of a listen. The company's website—www.cathedralspeakers.com—explains that "Once you hear your favorite music on a pair of Cathedrals, you will never go back to ordinary speakers." Driven by kit versions of AudioNote tube amplifiers, the big, two-way Cathedrals feature Eminence woofers in enclosures fabricated from hardwoods rather than the usual fiberboard, and produced an equally big sound. Price is $6995/pair for the Model 3113 being demmed, which has an Altec 811-B horn, $7995 /pair for the 7117, which has an Altec 511-B horn.
Posted: Jul 10, 2011 1 comments
Classic Audio Loudspeakers' John Wolff, along with his red shirt, the parrots that perch on his speakers, and the reproductions of Nipper he offers for sale, is a fixture at regional audio shows. When I asked him about this, he responded that he believes regional shows are the future of this industry. John was using Atma-Sphere tube electronics, including M-60 monoblocks, to drive his 4'-tall T-3.4 speaker, which uses a wood radial Tractrix midrange horn fitted with a 4" beryllium-diaphragm compression driver firing into a 2" throat, coupled with twin 15" woofers—one firing forward, the other to the floor—and a supertweeter. The midrange unit and woofers all use field-coil–energized magnets.
John Atkinson Posted: Jul 10, 2011 1 comments
One of the Command Performance AV rooms at Capital AudioFest featured Carnegie speakers, the CST-2 ($5999/pair), which combines a Mylar-film planar tweeter with eight 5.25" composite-cone woofers in a slim tower supported on a marble base. The speakers were driven by Manley Mahi EL84 monoblocks and a Manley 300B preamp, with the source a silent CommandPC server feeding 352.8kHz USB data to the Light Harmonic Da Vinci DAC that had impressed at the Atlanta Axpona. The DAC has been upgraded since Axpona: when handling 16-bit data, it would pad out bits 17–24 with 0s to give 24-bit data, which is standard practice. But in 2s-complement digital arithmetic, which is how audio data are encoded on a CD, there are actually two zero levels: 16 0s but also 16 1s, which represents a magnitude one LSB lower. Light Harmonic's engineers found that if they padded 16-bit data with 8 1s rather than 8 0s, the sound improved.
John Atkinson Posted: Jul 09, 2011 2 comments
As you can see from my photo, it was pretty dark in the room hosted by Command Performance A/V, so I couldn't see who was discussing the state of high-end audio in the US. It turned out to be Joseph Audio's Jeff Joseph, Manley Labs' Eveanna Manley, and The Signal Collection's Chris Sommovigo. I write about the migration of audio manufacturing overseas in my forthcoming "As We See it" in the September issue, and both Joseph and Manley are proud that they still manufacture their products in the US—"We're based on Chino, not China," said Eveanna, though she admits that this does add a premium to the retail price that is an unwelcome downside given, as I wrote about in the April issue's "As We See It," the reduced spending power of the middle class these days.

But if the premium is accompanied by performance, it can be justified, and the system in the darkened room was providing much music, courtesy of Pure Music running on Jeff's MacBook Pro. As it had two weeks ago at the NYC Axpona, the laptop was sending USB data to a Bel Canto LightLink converter, which in turn fed the audio data via a low-jitter ST optical link to the Bel Canto DAC3.5VB. This was connected to a Manley Jumbo Shrimp tubed line stage and a pair of Manley Snapper 100W tube monoblocks ($7250/pair) via Cardas Clear interconnects and speaker cables. Speakers were the Joseph Perspective ($11,800/pair), which marries two magnesium-cone woofers to a Sonatex-dome tweeter. AC power was provided by Shunyata's new Talos ($3500, and also made in the US), which replaces the company's well-regarded V-Ray unit.

John Atkinson Posted: Jul 10, 2011 0 comments
Capital AudioFest organizer Gary Gill is a fine jazz trombonist, as I found out when we both sat in with Steve Davis's band at the Atlanta Axpona in April. To remind Showgoers what the real thing sounds like, Gary's quintet performed Saturday evening in the hotel's bar. This is Gary in full song, but not shown in my photo are the, not one but two Theremin players who sat in on some songs.
John Atkinson Posted: Jul 10, 2011 2 comments
These $150k/pair monsters weren't playing either time I went into this room. But they win the prize for most "Awesome-Looking Speaker at the Show." And there's my favorite hotel carpet again!
John Atkinson Posted: Jul 10, 2011 1 comments

The Highwater Sound room at the Atlanta Axpona had been one of Stephen Mejias's favorites: "I felt as though I were in a concert hall, gripped by the music, by the space around me, by the physical motions of musicians striking, plucking, and bowing their gorgeous instruments. There was a certain sacredness to the scene, a sense that what was taking place should not and could not be disturbed," he wrote. Unfortunately, by the time I got to that room on Sunday, Highwater's Jeffrey Catalano was already striking the system, so I made sure I had plenty of time to visit the Highwater room at Capital AudioFest.

John Atkinson Posted: Jul 09, 2011 0 comments
You can see that each woofer is mounted in its own internal chamber, the ports firing down. And there's that horrible carpet again!

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