I can see already that this show has something in common with my favorite audio designers, audio dealers, audio writers, and audio enthusiasts: Capital Audiofest is an event with a distinct point of view. That this point of view mirrors my own enthusiasm for vintage gear in particular and relatively affordable, anti-(high-end) establishment gear in general, is icing on the cake.
That said, it turns out I began my first day at CAF with a somewhat conservative system: a pair of GT Audio Works GTA2 loudspeakers ($6495/pair, above) driven by a pair of very powerful Arion class-D monoblocks ($7500/pair), with a Dodd battery-powered tube preamp ($1750) and Plinius CD 101 CD player (($3300), assembled with various cables from Triode Wire Labs.
There was this guy in the room shared by Joseph Audio, VAS, and VPI (above), and I guess he'd been there for a little while before I came in: big guy, sort of athletic-looking. Jeff Joseph had apparently just played one of his CDs for him, and the guy was stunned. You could tell he wasn't just being polite: "That was . . . really good!" Irrespective of the name over the door, I think we all live for moments like that.
Among the people I telephoned during my first month on the job at The Absolute Soundwe're talking January of 1985was Frank Van Alstine, the pioneering designer and builder of affordable-perfectionist electronics. Twenty-eight years and six months later I finally got to meet himand I was happy to hear he has zero intention of retiring: good news, considering the altogether fine sound being made by the new Audio by Van Alstine Transcendence Nine vacuum tube preamp ($1395), used in concert with AVA's hybrid FET Valve 600R amplifier ($3499) and a pair of Philharmonic Audio's two-way Philharmonitors ($850/pair).
It's my favorite part of every hi-fi show: the one big room, usually on one of the lower floors, where smaller companies exhibit such things as phono accessories, hi-fi furniture, publications, and, best of all, records. At Capital Audiofest, the Magnolia Ballroom on the Sheraton Hotel's fourth floor was home to all that, including a larger and altogether more impressive selection of used and collectable vinyl than I've seen at any other show in recent memory.
On Saturday evening, right after Capital Audiofest closed for the day, everyone seemed to converge upon the hotel bar at the same time: myself, Gary Gill (Capital Audiofest), Mat Weisfeld (VPI Industries), Clarence Wheat (Hifilogic), Dave Cope (Audio Note UK), Robin Wyatt (Robyatt Audio), Myles Astor (Positive Feedback Online), Brian Zolner (Bricasti Designs), Jonathan Horwich (International Phonographic), and numberless others. It was the first time since the Heathrow Airport show of 1996 that I'd witnessed such a convivial mobcompetition be damned.
While I was speaking with Gary Gill, an exhibitor approached and asked if would be too early to sign up for Capital Audiofest 2014; hearing this, another exhibitor expressed the very same thought . . .
Cardas Audio used Axpona NY to introduce their new Clear cable line, with loudspeaker cables ranging in price from $1200 to $6000 for an 8' pair, and interconnects ranging from $695 to $1200 for a 1m pair. The cables at the top of that rangecalled Clear Beyondwere put to good use in a system comprising the Unison Research CDE CD player ($4000) and S6 integrated amplifier ($5000). The latter, which uses parallel single-ended EL-34s, seemed to be a lot of amp for the moneyand sounded fine driving a pair of Opera Grand Callas loudspeakers ($10,000/pair).
RCA's time-honored 6SN7 may be the coolest tube of all. The octal-based dual-triode has its own Wikipedia entry—something not even the 2A3 or 300B can boast—along with its own website. The 6SN7 is chunky, rugged, and handsome. Best of all, it's available, probably because people keep coming up with very good uses for it. In that sense, the 6SN7 is the Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup of the tube world.
I had it all wrong. I assumed that the "SLP" in SLP-98P stood for stereo line preamplifier. But Dennis Had, Cary Audio's founder and chief designer, told me that it actually stands for sweet little preamplifier. In a day and age when acme is a word without meaning and the fighting Irish are neither, this strikes me as a risky marketing gambit—but one that may be effective if the name proves true.