2014 Capital Audio Fest: Day Three, The End

Room 515: Every picture tells a story don't it? Well, not really. Like I mentioned earlier Capital Audiofest has been wrongly pegged by some as a "DIY gathering," not a big-time mainstream audio show. This is my first CAF but I have attended most of the audio shows in Europe and America and I did not see it like that. Clearly, this is not a show for Dave & Dan and the people at Sony probably never heard of CAF. What I saw and heard was something very unique and necessary—a show where a group of small manufacturers could pool their resources, make good sound, and maybe get connected to a larger audio-world audience. Shows like this are essential to the continuing health of high-end audio because they promote diversity and dissention—not conformity!

Gary Gill of Sousahorn, plus Dave Slagle and Jeffrey Jackson of Emia Audio, combined to demonstrate some of that dissention and diversity in the Sousahorn room. Try to imagine a show so easy-rolling and human-scaled, that the organizer and hour-to-hour manager of the show—Gary Gill—can team up with his buddies and demonstrate one of his own products!

Thursday night and daytime Friday in the Sousa room were the "get all the parts singing together" time. By late Saturday, the Sousahorn (midrange) horns ($900/pair), the Emia phono stage ($5400), the Emia silver remote (autoformer) volume control ($5400), and the Emia Permally 50 monoblock amps ($15,000/pair) were all connected (with cables by Von) and singing the same sweet tunes. Dave and Gary were using a Garrard 301 turntable with a RS-A1 tonearm, a Denon DL-103R cartridge, and an Emia Silver SUT ($3600). This system looked really big, but it played very intimately. So many super-expensive and very large loudspeakers play well at only a narrow band of volumes—this system was comfortable all the way from a tiny whisper to a giant crescendo. This was also the only room that would (and could) play my Joe Bussard, "Screwdriver Slide" 78-rpm record!

Room 712: The middle range of high-end audio manufacturing is not just "Ma & Pa" stories—there are plenty Father-Son operations (and at least a couple of Father-Daughter businesses) too. Backert Labs appears to be the quintessential Father-Son kind, with Bob Backert and his son Gary manufacturing the beautiful Rhythm 1.1 preamplifier. When I introduced myself to Bob he started right in explaining why the Rhythm 1.1 tubed, line-level preamplifier ($7500) is unique and special. He explained how he had eliminated high-value smoothing and reservoir capacitors from the power supply and how his active tube-bias circuit would allow Rhythm 1.1 owners to swap tubes as radically different as the 6DJ8/6922 for a 12AU7. Both of these concepts left me scratching my dandruff and shaking my head.

But the proof is always in the listening—right? But wait! As Bob was putting on The Great Jazz Trio Direct From LA (a LP I must buy), I noticed that his preamp had a mute switch, a mono switch, and a balance control! I congratulated him. Mikey Fremer says in his Dan D'Agostino Momentum preamplifier review that "A preamplifier is the port of entry . . . you'd better assess how it feels, how it looks, and how it operates—you're going to be in an intimate relationship with it for a long time." When I read that I looked over at my equipment rack and frowned—where's my mute, mono, and balance controls?

When The Great Jazz Trio . . . commenced I realized that there is more to a beautiful preamp than its knobs—the sounds emanating from the amazing (drool, sniff) TAD CR1 loudspeakers were both intricate and intimate. For me, the best thing a preamp can do is become invisible—but while it is hiding I prefer that it doesn't take any of my detail and texture with it. The Backert Labs Rhythm 1.1 seemed to vanish and leave little but the music behind. The Jazz Trio. . . was feeding the 1.1 via a Dynavector XX-2 cartridge, an LKV Research Veros One phono preamp ($6500), and a VPI Classic 3 turntable. (Oh, I forgot to mention that the Rhythm 1.1 has this clever chrome access door in its top. You touch it and it pops open—allowing very easy "tube rolling and admiring.")

Room 715: The Red Wine Audio room was directly across the hall from my hotel sleeping room. Because the people were so nice and the sound was so "just right," I kept running in, listening, and taking pictures. However, for these same reasons, the room was always crowded, I never really got to speak at length with Vinnie Rossi, and that is a shame. Vinnie was proudly demonstrating the Red Wine Signature 57, battery-powered integrated amplifier ($995). You all know I love integrateds, so it will be no surprise that I was smiling like a kid on his first date listening to the Sig 57 drive the Harbeth Super HL5-plus loudspeakers. This was a made-in-paradise combination. To imagine what I heard think opposites: Extremely smooth yet extremely textured; extremely subtle yet extremely dynamic. Mr. Vincent Rossi was also using his Red Wine Audio RWA-Z1ES-2.5 (who thinks of these names?) tube modification of the Sony HAP-Z1ES music server.

Room 510: Fern & Roby received my award for the "Best Name in Show" and their "The Beam" loudspeakers ($4500/pair) were playing for prizes too! They were driven by the Luminous Audio Axiom phono stage ($6000) and Axiom III passive preamp ($1900) and the sound was . . . now wait! Help me out here. There were over 30 rooms at this show and this newbie reporter has only so many adjectives in his neophyte arsenal. The sound was _______________________ (fill in your own synonyms for excellent and enjoyable). Thank you very much.

Room 815: Conclusions
This was my first time doing my Fake Lester Bangs imitation walking around in my Mr. Magoo disguise with my little notepad asking dumb questions. I knew upfront this was dangerous territory. I knew all the exhibitors had a lot invested in being at the show, and I knew that if I failed to do my job fully and to the best of my ability more persons than just me would be disappointed. I apologize now to all those exhibitors I failed to mention by name and to all the good-sounding music I failed to recognize. Hopefully, I will get another chance.

Meanwhile I have to tell you that I personally do not believe in notions like "best sound at show" or any similar audio writer pontification. Neither do I believe all that prattle about nobody can have good sound at shows because of the rooms, the transport, the mixed-up gear, etc. all conspire against it. Based on what I experienced at Capital Audiofest 2014 (and the dozens of other shows I have attended), I can tell you with complete assurance: Room for room I have experienced more good sounds at audio shows than I have in the private listening rooms of friends, experienced audiophiles, and reviewers! As I walked the halls of the Silver Spring Sheraton, I kept thinking, Dang! Almost every room played music better than I hear in people's homes.

Of course I wondered how this could be true, and then the answer became obvious: The people setting up these rooms, people like Doug White, Jeffery Catalano, or Robin Wyatt, are all experienced professionals. They have done this 100 times before! They are not new to this—they are true to this. Therefore, my advice to all you whining Monday morning audiofest quarterbacks is to take the cotton out of your ears and turn off your knee-jerk critical minds. Try to imagine that Art Dudley and John Atkinson are coming over to your listening room! What are you going to play? Are you sure it sounds good? Just trust me—the exhibitors at Capital Audiofest rocked the Sheraton Hotel. Best sound at show? I give it to the happy chatter I heard in the halls . . . "Did you hear such and such? Wasn't it amazing? Man-o-man I wish I had one of those LSD/3.2 Signature Doo Dads." (Who thinks of these names?)

CarterBro's picture

I think you are missing a digit on the Red Wine integrated. Starts at $4000

vinylsound's picture

"Best sound at show? I give it to the happy chatter I heard in the halls . . . "Did you hear such and such? Wasn't it amazing? Man-o-man I wish I had one of those?"

Right on, Herb! It was for the listeners and we hope they were all pleased!

Luminousaudio's picture

Thanks so much for the wonderful comments Herb. So great to see you again. Just a quick correction if I may....The new phono stage is the "Arion." The Axiom name is used only for our preamp line sir. My best, Tim w/ Luminous Audio.

Luminousaudio's picture

Also Herb, it seems as if in all other notes the picture above your report is associated with the report. The picture above room 510 is not of the system in 510. My best, Tim

doak's picture

This picture is of the Core Audio/Hawthorne Audio room. From accounts I've heard it was and awesome sounding system.

Trouble coming's picture

Mr Doak, did you hear the system? What is retail cost? I could find just a few mentions of the room and nothing about the cost of the speaker or equipment but I did find this.

Maybe the reviewer has never heard a zero distortion system?

Is it an under 3K system or more? If you have insight please share.

Johnnycopy's picture

See here for more info on room 510. CoreAudio Technology digital and Hawthorne Audio speakers.


Luminousaudio's picture

Gentlemen, Room 510 was VPI, LUMINOUS AUDIO TECHNOLOGY, and FERN & ROBY.
We were using the VPI Scout 2 with a Soundsmith Hyperion, the new Luminous ARION phono stage ($6,000), the new Axiom III remote passive pre ($1,899), and the new Fern & Roby BEAM tower speakers ($4500 pr). My best, Tim

Trouble coming's picture

Is the retail price of the total system or components in that room a secret? For all the praise I have not been able to determine what the total system that was playing cost in US dollars. Most other vendors had prices attached to put things into perspective. Reading through the link posted by Mr. JohnnyCopy did not reveal the system cost but was interesting nonetheless. No information on this seems to exist. Odd. Cost is a factor in any purchase.

Trouble coming's picture

You provide good information. I have VPI. I know the reviewer was praising the BEAM speakers and the room they were in but the picture got me curios about that room so I investigate. I did know the ones in the picture did not match description of your room. Good job and congratulations! I hope the review gets fixed to show your room.

audiocaptain's picture

I must say that Herb's writing about audio shows is a pleasant change from what you read from most, if not all, other writers.
"I can tell you with complete assurance: Room for room I have experienced more good sounds at audio shows than I have in the private listening rooms of friends, experienced audiophiles, and reviewers!"
Quotes like this should be mandatory reading for all reviewers preparing to attend, and write about, a show.
It seems that the rooms, the hotel, the setups, the color of the walls, the food, the weather, and anything to fill the pages is as important as the effort and the great sound and music that is
presented at most events.
Great job Herb!

Luminousaudio's picture

Thanks TC. Not a secret at all and I am sorry for not seeing that request earlier. The total for the system with the new Scout 2 would be about $20k (sans cables) using our Lyra Kleos cart (Peter from Soundsmith was kind enough to loan us his Hyperion $7.5k for Sunday's showing). The cables would add around $2k as we were using some of our finest of course. Herb is such a genuine and great guy. He has acknowledged and asked John to edit asap. My best, Tim

Trouble coming's picture

Thank you Tim, for your reply. I am sorry your room got a wrong picture. I was actually asking about the room pictured but the information you supply is welcomed. I am sorry I was not clear and you thought I was saying "yours" was a secret. You certainly do not come across as someone trying to keep secrets. The room in the picture got me curious and then I could not find cost of system anywhere. That seemed odd to me. Thank you again for you kind reply.

Pro-Audio-Tech's picture

I found Herb's report to be refreshing. Simple coverage everyone can relate to.

Luminousaudio's picture

No worries TC. Hopefully things will be corrected. Best, T