2014 Capital Audio Fest: Day Two, Evening

Room 708–710: Most of the exhibitors at CAF are not big brandnames with factories employing more than 100 persons. Most are highly inspired and maximally driven "ma & pa" operations like Klaus Bunge's Odyssey Audio. What is unique about Klaus is that he appears to begin designing with a very clear idea of what he wants (precision, dynamics, and laser-clear soundstages). Starting with a cost-is-no-object design, Mr. Bunge distills it over and over making it simpler and less costly each step of the way. When he finishes, he ends up with a roughly $1000amp/preamp combination and a $2200 complete system that (no lie) plays better than many $22,000 systems I've heard. Klaus Bunge talks fast and speaks very passionately, but, unlike many in this business, he knows full well that talk is cheep —when the needle drops and CD drawer closes it is Showtime.

I listened to Ruggiero Ricci play Paganini on two Odyssey systems, one that cost only $1800 and another priced at $2200—for a complete system (less speaker stands and cable) and they both delivered on Mr. Bunge's promise. Music definitely speaks louder than words.

Room 8102812: Déjà vu Audio: The old book on Capital Audiofest has it that CAF is heavily infested with DIY'ers. I can't speak for the past, but if anyone thinks that restoring and refining vintage Motiograph MA-7505s (made in Chicago ca 1951) or Western Electric gear is DIY (or the specialty of pipe-smoking geezers) —I'd advise him or her to think again. First off this is investment quality hardware that will appear at Sotheby's or Christie's before you'll ever find it on Audiogon. Secondly, this stuff is state-of-the-art modernist industrial art —not overwrought CNC-tooled audio fashion of the year bling. Déjà vu's proprietor Vu Hoang has created the first truly super high-end "vintage" audio salon in America. He is so far ahead of the 21st century audio curve, most of us can't even see his taillights.

But stop, I know what you are thinking. You imagine this stuff sounds like old Victrolas or early "talkies" down at the Bijou. Wrong again. While it is true that most of this gear started out as cost-is-no-object, not-for-sale, state-of-the-art, movie-theater workhorses, the stuff Vu Hoang is demonstrating has been carefully massaged by master craftsmen. Each piece looks fresh and original —I am talking spa treatments not total restorations. His soldering monks breathe new life into these objects d' art. His main soldering monk is an Italian named "Aldo".

Some pieces are not just freshened up —some are totally transformed by Aldo. Try to imagine a beautiful green-faced Altec Western Electric tube DAC!!!!!

I can hear you again, cut the crap Herb —just tell us how it sounds! Well, I know you won't believe me but I thought Vu's room with the Western Electric 713 System speakers ($54,000.00), Vu Audio Vintage Collection WE 300B amps with Western Electric wire and transformers ($30,000.00) sounded surprisingly much (smooth, fast, uncolored, good imaging) like some brand-new Class A-type set up—not "talkie" or Victrolas at all. (I told you wouldn't believe me.) This system also included a Vintage Collection preamp ($17,000.00) by Aldo and that Altec/WE DAC mentioned above ($13,000).

Vu is also a regular new school up to date McLean, VA high-end dealer. His second room featured the always-awesome Harbeth 30s (one of my all time favorite loudspeakers at $5995) driven by a 100-watt Synthesis NYC 100 amp ($12,995), a Matrix DAC ($3495) and a Magnus CDP ($1395). The sound here was rich, highly textured and totally engaging.

Room 717: David Cope is doing a fine job (at my old job) navigating Audio Note UK through the rocky shoals of the American High End. He grasps the Audio Note aesthetic perfectly and his modest (by AN standards) system played an incredible range of music with hypnotic charm and quiet authority. In typical Audio Note fashion, the quality of the music played matched the quality of the machines playing it. This very humble-looking setup consisted of the AN TT2 Deluxe turntable ($3500), the Arm 3 ($2000), IQ3 MM cartridge ($980), the CDT 3 transport ($11,800), a DAC 3.1 Bal II ($9900), and another of my all-time favorite loudspeakers —the "J/D" at $4000/pair.

Room 817: In this room a quartet of audio manufacturers (Triode Wire Labs, Charles Rollo Audio, Sound Insight, and Kanso Audio Furniture) teamed up to make big, fast, impressive sound. This was the global Debut of the BG Radia FS 680s hybrid planar-magnetics with 900W amps and Beringer Ultracurve Pro bass management ($20,000/pair). They used the beautiful Esoteric K-01 SACD/CD player as their digital source for the Gary Dodd 6H30 tube preamp and the Arion HS-500SE tube/class-D hybrid monoblocks (500W into 8 ohms and 1000W into 4 ohms). All cabling was by the aforementioned Triode Wire Labs. This room was one of the few to feature a CD player instead of just a music server. Therefore it was also one of the few rooms where a visitor could hand a CD to the man in charge and he would (cheerfully and graciously) play the request. These guys left no doubts —they were happy to be there and they made sure every guest felt the same way.

Room 808: There were no equipment racks in the Vanatoo Audio room. There were just two skinny stands supporting little (6" x 10" x 8") "Transparent One" powered loudspeakers. Costing only $499/pair, they featured metal cone mid-bass drivers and a rear-mounted passive radiator. Mini-jack and wireless ready, you could connect your iPhone, iPad or Airport Express directly to the back of these 14lb beauties. I think they played music very well but the room was filled with so many excited chattering people (ooohing and awing) it was difficult to take photos or tell who or what was playing.

studiotech's picture

Just to clarify, these are planar magnetic loudspeakers, not electrostatic.

John Atkinson's picture
Thank you - JA
Psychedelicious's picture

Agreed re: Déjà vu Audio. The WE amps plus drivers sounded really good.

Glotz's picture

I must know!

Has anyone reviewed the Odyssey preamps? Please do so!

Pro-Audio-Tech's picture

Low cost high performance, what's not to like!
I thought this sound was awesome for the money.

Et Quelle's picture

That is great when will actually play your CD as they attempt to inspire a yearning for quality, thousand buck gear. IQ3 MM cartridge is a looker would have love to hear it though I will take your word for it. Even though I don't believe in expensive MM carts.

Dr.Strangelove's picture

How on earth can someone design and produce such rack???

Anon2's picture

Those monitor speakers in the Odyssey Audio room look very well-built. They do not resemble anything in Odyssey's current website. If they are new Odyssey Audio speakers, how can a person get more information?

If these apparently very solid monitors are part of a $2,200 system which sounds like a system costing 10x as much (according to the writer), then I'm sure there would be many people eager to know more about the monitors in this photo.