Capital AudioFest 2011

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John Atkinson Posted: Jul 10, 2011 0 comments
The larger of the two JS Audio rooms featured Wilson Sasha W/P speakers driven by Dan D'Agostino's new Momentum monoblock amplifiers. Source was either a Sooloos system or the Sound Devices digital recorder belonging to Wilson's Peter McGrath (pictured standing on that hotel carpet), both feeding data to Meridian's 808 Mk.3 CD player/digital processor, which also controlled playback volume. My hurriedly scrawled notes say that the Sooloos feed was via Ethernet, but don't hold me to that; the Sound Devices was definitely S/PDIF. The cabling was all Nordost Odin, which may well have cost more than everything else in the system, and the source components sat on a Harmonic Recovery Systems rack, which all involved said was a major contributor to the quality of the sound in this room.

And OMG, the sound! Whether it was Peter McGrath's hi-rez recordings or commercial material like Yello's "Stay," you were mainlining the music. Peter asked if he could play some of my hi-rez recordings, and played first the Cantus performance of Eric Whitacre's Lux Aurumque in 24/88.2k fidelity. I was transported to the Sauder Auditorium at Goshen College in Indiana, with the acoustic wrapped around me. The system did subtlety. Peter then played the 24/88.2k master of Attention Screen's "Blizzard Limbs," from Live at Merkin Hall. Again, the acoustic wrapped round me but the drum transients were more startling than I have ever heard before. And I mastered the recording!

I have heard Wilson Sashas in a number of systems, and yes, they are "fast," in that the bass doesn't boom or blur. Yes, the Nordost Odin is extraordinarily transparent cable (at a price) and that Meridian player's D/A is top-rank. And that HRS rack is a black hole for vibrations. But driven by the Dan D'Agostino amps—wow, did the Sashas kick some awesome booty! Without ever sounding crass or lacking in subtlety.

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 09, 2011 1 comments
It was déjà vu all over again all over again (and again).Capital AudioFest was the fourth Show I have attended this season, only to encounter MBL North America's Jeremy Bryan demming the same system he had at SSI in Montreal, at Axpona in Atlanta, and at Axpona in New York: 101E Mk.2 speakers driven by 9011 monoblock amplifiers, a 6010D preamp, a 1621A CD transport, and a 1611F D/A converter. But this time, not only was the hotel carpet different (and uglier), the room was large enough to allow the omnidirectional speakers to sing as they should. Again I listened to "The Boy in the Bubble" from Peter Gabriel's Scratch My Back CD, and the hi-rez solo piano recording made by MBL's Jürgen Reis, "Walchensee, Mondnacht," performed by Martin Vatter, from the album Klangbilder, played back from a server, and the highs were smooth and mellow without being rolled-off, just as they should be and are in real life, the imaging stable and accurately defined.
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 for the full technical story on these speakers.

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

John Atkinson Posted: Jul 09, 2011 1 comments
That's the title of the book Ken Kessler wrote about the iconic American high-end audio company, and which was reviewed in the May 2007 issue of Stereophile. Shown here in the second room hosted by retailer JS Audio, next to the McIntosh turntable, which I believe is the only product not made in the company's Binghamton, the book reinforces the idea that despite changing owners several times over the decades. McIntosh has not lost its institutional memory.
John Atkinson Posted: Jul 09, 2011 0 comments
Ken Swauger runs a Baltimore-based company called TapePath ( that specializes in restoring classic open-reel tape recorders, especially ReVox A77s. Ken is shown here in the vestibule to the Polk room, holding a baggie with all the parts from an A77 that he replaces and upgrades. I still have an A77 in storage—perhaps I'll send it to Ken to have it brought back from the dead!
John Atkinson Posted: Jul 09, 2011 0 comments
There was no information available on this cute tube integrated from Italy, the Synthesis Flame, except that it has remote control and costs between $1500 and $3000. But it sure is pretty! Check out
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 09, 2011 0 comments
One of the first rooms I went into was that featuring products from The Signal Collection, the distribution company run by the affable Chris Sommovigo (right). Also in the room was Todd Garfinkel of M•A Recordings (left), who was using Chris's system to play the masters of some of his excellent-sounding recordings. (I mentioned below that M•A had made a sampler CD to be given ever attendee.) The speaker featured in the photo is the M3 Mk3 ($6499/pair) from Swedish manufacturer Transmission Audio, a floorstanding sibling of the standmounted M1i Ribbon Mini I had auditioned at the Atlanta Axpona last April. The M3 used two of the metal-cne woofers developed by Bo Bengtsson and Ted Jordan. Each woofer is loaded differently to give a two-a-half-way design. The crossover to the ribbon tweeter is set at 3kHz.

With the speakers driven by Klimo Tine class-A tube monoblocks ($8999/pair), a Klimo Merlino preamp ($6699), hooked up with Stereolab interconnects and speakers cables, I listened to some of Todd's DSD masters played back on his Korg MR2000 recorder, as well as a Red Book WAV file of a track from M•A's well-regarded Calamus: The Splendor of Al Andalus. Despite competing noise from a live band playing in an adjacent ballroom, the sound was open, and clear., with a wide soundstage.

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!
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 4 comments
As well as listening to hi-rez digital files on the MBL system, I auditioned 15ips open-reel tapes from the Tape Project on a much modified Tascam recorder from United Home Audio. UHA's Greg Beron (that's Greg's hand in the photo) replaces the heads with low-impedance ones sourced from the company that supplies Abbey Road Studios in London, wired with single-crystal cable and silk-dielectric caps. A UHA machine costs $8000–$17,000 depending on the level of work the customer needs, and the machine is lined-up to be compatible with Tape Project tapes. Listening to a Decca orchestral recording of Suite Espanole, I was reminded how good analog tape playback could be. Even a mono Thelonious Monk cut from 50 years ago sounded fresh.
John Atkinson Posted: Jul 09, 2011 0 comments
Listening to the Philharmonic speakers, I couldn't see a source. There was an AVA CD player but its display said "No Disc." There was a turntable but no LP playing. Then I saw an iPad in someone's hand. It was controlling Jim Salk's new StreamPlayer ($1295), the rightmost of the two small red-line-fronted boxes on top of the preamp in the photo. This is similar in concept to the Bryston BDP-1 we reviewed in June, in that it is a PC running Linux that is optimized for streaming audio from an external source, in this case Salk's own NAS drive (the left-most box), connected by Ethernet cable. Whereas the Bryston offers control buttons and a display, the Salk is controlled by a remote client running on an iPad, iPod Touch, Android phone, etc. The Salk StreamPlayer, which was sending audio data via USB to a Wavelength Cosecant DAC, will be available in October.
John Atkinson Posted: Jul 09, 2011 0 comments
Although I had seen the 4-way, floorstanding Polk LSiM 707 ($4000/pair) at the Montreal Show in April, they weren't being demmed in an optimal room. But driven at Capital AudioFest by an Audio Research stack—CD8 CD player, Ref3 preamplifier, and VS110 power amplifier—and hooked up with MIT cable, they gave great sound on Keb Mo's version of "It Hurts Me Too" from his The Door CD, with extended low frequencies and impressive dynamics.


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