CAF2016: Art Dudley’s Friday morning

It was 89°outside at 11am on the opening day of Capital Audiofest in Rockville, MD, a day when the high temperatures were predicted to reach the mid-90s—the show continues today and tomorrow. One could be forgiven for asking: why not spend the day at an audio show in a nice, newly renovated, air-conditioned hotel?

Why not, indeed. There are 58 individual exhibits here, representing God-only-knows-how-many different brands: Munich High End it ain't, but then Munich isn't a 25-minute Metro ride from our nation's endearingly dysfunctional capital.

And look! Here it was, a full hour away from CAF's opening bell, and show founder Gary Gill and volunteer Amy Oosterhout (above) were already selling show passes, including one to the man on the far left, who had set out early to cycle all the way from his home to the Hilton Hotel Rockville.

And look! The sweaty cyclist at the check-in desk turned out to none other than David Berning (seen here chatting with Herb Reichert, left), the innovative circuit designer behind Linear Tube Audio's MicroZOTL headphone amp and three decades' worth of Berning amplifiers and preamps.

Also prior to the show's official start, Herb and I made our way to the Hilton's Jefferson meeting room for CAF's sole press event: the US debut of the Mk.II version of KEF's Muon loudspeaker ($225,000/pair), a four-way, nine-driver loudspeaker built into a crazily beautiful super-formed raw-aluminum enclosure that's crafted at the same factory where Aston Martin's body panels are made. As KEF's Johan Coorg (above) told the attendees, "Last year, we brought KEF Blade 2s [to CAF]; this year, we said we were going to bring the Muons—and when we said that, VPI said they would bring the Titan [turntable]!" Indeed, Harry Weisfeld and Mat Weisfeld of VPI, who co-sponsored the exhibit, brought the top-of-the-line Titan turntable ($48,000 w/tonearm), which they demonstrated with a Lyra Atlas cartridge (Titan? Atlas? Makes sense to me!), along with the company's new Prime Signature turntable ($6000 w/tonearm), used with an Ortofon A95. Also in the demo system were VPI's Mike Bettinger-designed Analog Drive System (ADS) turntable power supply ($1000), a McIntosh preamp, Odyssey monoblock amplifiers, and Nordost Valhalla cabling.

Herb Reichert and I both attended the press event, and I believe that Herb will be reporting on it, too, so I'll add only that this Titanically (sorry) impressive-looking system created a huge sense of scale, tremendous center-fill and presence, and great bass power and bottom-to-top balance, although from my front-row seat, dynamic peaks—especially in singing voices—were a little harsh. But after a couple of selections, I moved to a seat a couple of rows back, from which vantage point the harshness vanished and, for some crazy reason, the drums on the title song from Sonny Rollins's Way Out West had even more impact. Go figure!

By the time I left the Jefferson room, Capital Audiofest had opened for business, and attendees were milling around other exhibits—as I saw when I visited the room sponsored by electronics manufacturer Dynamic Sounds Associates and cable manufacturer Luminous Audio. The former company demonstrated pre-production samples of their Amp I monoblock ($25,000/pair), a 125Wpc, class-A, solid-state monoblock. Also in the system were DSA's Pre I line-level preamp ($16,500) and Phono II phono preamplifier ($13,500), a VPI Avenger magnetic-drive turntable ($30,000, including three 3D-printed tonearms), Ortofon MC Anna ($9000), A-95 ($6500) and Cadenza Mono ($1280) cartridges, and a full system's worth of Luminous Audio cabling—all driving an especially nice-looking pair of Spendor SP-100R2 loudspeakers ($11,995/pair). I thoroughly enjoyed the system's rich-but-tight and rhythmically propulsive sound on a track from Dave Brubeck's Time Out album, but even that didn't prepare me for the even more involving sound of "Bye Bye Blackbird" from a mono copy of Miles Davis's 'Round About Midnight: chunky, substantial, colorful, and propulsive.

The room sponsored by Linear Tube Audio offered a rare chance to hear a prototype of a loudspeaker that CAF founder Gary Gill has been developing over the years, in which a fiberglass conical horn front-loads a Lowther-style 5" driver made by Voxativ (more on them later, from Herb).

Driving Gill's loudspeakers were production prototypes of two new David Berning-designed amps from Linear Tube Audio: a ZOTL10 ($2600) provided 10Wpc of EL-84 goodness to the Voxativ drivers, while the speakers' separately enclosed woofers received 40Wpc from an EL-34-based ZOTL40 amp ($5800). The sound quality varied a bit from seat-to-seat, but heard at its best—from a seat that was centered between the speakers and thus removed from the axes of the midrange drivers—the system offered an excellent sense of physical touch, which heightened my enjoyment of Johnny Cash's recording of "Further On Up the Road." (The presence and tactile realism of the Mellotron were breathtaking.)

tweekgeek's picture

Hello Art and thank you for the nice coverage of the DSA room. Not only do David Sckolnik and Doug Hurlburt make great gear, they are nice people. I was fortunate to be helping them put the finishing touches on their room. I provided the Bybee Stealth Power conditioner, the Stillpoints Aperture room treatments and various other accessories to get the already great system sounding better. They were mentioned on the system sheet which you were handed, but probably due to space limitations on your article, were omitted. I am shamelessly plugging them here because power conditioning and acoustic treatments are critical elements to getting good sound in hotel room conditions.