Capital Audiofest 2012—Summing Up the Show

I said in my first story from this year’s Capital Audiofest, the third overall and the second to be held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Rockville, MD, July 13–16, that this wasn’t like other audio shows. On the positive side, CAF had a great atmosphere, friendly and collegial, with great organization from Gary Gill and his team. The hotel had a goodly number of rooms with manageable acoustics, and the hotel staff was friendly and supportive. The live music was superb. Every showgoer I spoke with said that they were having a great time at CAF, that the Metro Washington DC area really does need a show like this, and it was great to hear so many products. And the nightly raffle—my photo shows Gary Gill holding up one of the prizes at the Saturday evening event—was an excellent draw, with the big prize a Benchmark DAC 1 D/A headphone amplifier.

However, while the number of exhibiting brands had increased compared with the 2011 Show, with more than 50 compared with around 30 last year, and a record 42 display and dem rooms, the public turnout was disappointing. There had been around 900 audiophiles visiting in 2011, and while 1500 had been expected this year, I would be surprised if there had been more than 500. (I am waiting for Gary to get back to me with the official attendance) Friday was very quiet, and while there were more people in the corridors Saturday, there wasn’t a room where I had to wait for good seat. Some might feel that the economic climate was to blame for the low turnout, but THE Show Newport Beach in June had good attendance despite the economic climate. So the reason for the low turn-out at CAF remains a mystery.

Looking back at my four stories from CAF, in which I presented the rooms in the order I visited them (and my apologies to the manufacturers for the rooms I failed to get to in the day and half I was at the Show), I am struck by two things: First, the absence of many “marquee” brands; second, the preponderance of retro and vintage speakers and systems. I am not saying that these are out of place at a Show—when done right, a low-power SET tube amplifier driving high-sensitivity speakers can get close to some of the aspects of music reproduction that conventional systems can overlook. But when so many of the rooms at a Show are devoted to this singular system strategy, the appeal of the Show to more mainstream audiophiles is diminished. An analogy would be if there was a car show that had no representation from Ford, Chrysler, GM, Mercedes, Audi, and BMW and instead was devoted to companies remanufacturing Cord roadsters and the Studebaker Avanti. As worthy and as interesting as such vehicles might be, they are not what petrol heads, let alone the general public, purchase and will drive to see.

The Third Capital Audiofest had many good things going for it, and I understand that the hotel has already been booked for the 2013 event. But we shall see if CAF 2013 manages to build on the promise of the first three shows.

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Dear Mr. Atkinson,


I thank you for attending the Capital Audiofest for the second year in a row and for the dead on commentary. I would like to add to your story by giving you a bit of insight about the CAF. The CAF arose from a gathering of audiophiles at a local friend’s house, Dr. Ijaz Khan, over live music, food, beverage, cigars and of course lots of audio banter. (By the way Ijaz has the best system on the planet hands down as far as I am concerned but that is another story and by the way he is the owner of the highly modified Garrard turntables). With Ijaz, Frank Schroeder of Schroeder Tonearms, Terry O’Sullivan of Loricraft, Dave Slagle, Pierre Sprey of Mapleshade and many other audiophiles standing around, we noticed how many people were in Ijaz’s house in the name of music and audio, and was mentioned that there hadn’t been an audio show in the DC area since the 1980s. We all agreed that there should be a DC show and several even agreed to help set it up. But as most conversations go with alcohol involved, very few positive things resulted from it except this time I was determined to make it happen with or without anyone’s help. So I took it upon myself to apply the “Build it and they will come” approach and put down my wallet on a five-figure venue in the City of Rockville Maryland named the Glenview Mansion for the inaugural event.


Besides the monetary aspect of putting on a show, I had other hurdles to overcome including: 1) Being an audio hobbyist with a lean towards vintage and not an audio insider. 2) No significant players in the industry know me. 3) No connections with any significant audio manufacturers or retailers. 4) No connections with any media in audio or non-audio arenas. 5) My background and experience is in land development/construction and have never done anything like this before. 6) Other challenges included how do I build a website, do I have the time, how much will it cost, what to name it, etc? I truly took on this event as a construction manager would approach a building project and even built the website on my own! After many visits, calls and emails it appeared as though I was able to attract some vendors to fill the rooms…….and sure enough the listeners came!


I have to thank those vendors who took a chance on me at the first show and are still with the CAF of which the list includes: High Water Sound, United Home Audio, Polk, Border Patrol, Philharmonic Speakers, Dynamic Sounds, Luminous Audio, Command AV, Cathedral, Sonist Speakers and of course those crazy vintage and used vinyl guys!


As you stated, the quantity of rooms has grown (Approximately 25% increase from last year) and relates to the number of quality vendors. This year the list included notables of the likes of: Legacy, VPI, Audio Note, The Voice That Is, Woo Audio, MBL, Polk, Classic Audio Loudspeakers, Daedalus with Bob Carver, MA Recordings, The Cable Co, AIX Records, Sophia Electric, The Signal Collection, Zu Audio, Audio Power Labs, Robert Lighton, Swap Meet Audio, Déjà vu Audio, Lowther America, Volti Audio, Soundfield Audio, Mojo Audio, Benchmark and several more. In addition to the retailers and manufacturers with their names on the rooms, there are many manufacturers that are directly associated with the rooms including notables like: Bel Canto, dCS, Joseph Audio, Leben, JC Verdier, MIT, Sherbourn, Thoress, T-W Acoustic, Sonist, Snake River, WyWires, Devore, Audience and many others so do not think there is a shortage of quality audio in the show no matter how you look at it.


I have to say that I am extremely pleased with the vendors that have been with me for the last three years, added several new vendors this year, and am betting that I will continue to attract more each following year. Are some of them ‘Ma and Pa’ operations, maybe, but how else does one get started? I think that if you look back at the history of many brands, including many reviewed and advertising in Stereophile, you will see similar pathways although not all. These dealers, designers and manufacturers come to the CAF to get feedback and exposure for a cost effective rate, no union fees, no moving charges and all less than most other shows I am told. Some tell me that they even sell product at the CAF and do not at the other shows. At larger shows smaller companies may get overlooked but at a modest sized show like the CAF you are guaranteed that almost every attendee will visit every room. Note that the DC metro area has some of the strongest demographics in the US and yet it is under or unrepresented by many audio brands. I am proud to have newcomers come to the CAF including innovative Oasis Speakers, hybrid/planer speaker designer GT Speakers, local speaker and amp builder Paolo Audio (Who by the way once was an engineer at the Svetlana plant in Russia), and upstart Virginia retailer Appalachian Audio Royale. The CAF may be a modest audio show, but it has plenty of potential to grow and truly feel a kinship with all of these vendors.


The attendance was not as high as last year but have determined it to be around 750-800. We are not sure why this is the case and yet have received accolades from many vendors and attendees. We advertised in all the right places including Stereophile both on-line and paper format. We also advertised with other on-line audio and social media sites and furthermore placed a season long advertisement in the nationally known Strathmore local concert venue publication. Do we know why the traffic was less than last year? No, but can assume it was likely due to several factors including the economy and most importantly the horrible storms in our local area the week before that knocked out power for millions all over the DC and Baltimore region. I received several emails from vendors and registrants concerned about this issue and note that a few vendors mentioned that several of the folks that contacted them didn’t come because of storm related issues. Who knows? What I do know is that I am going to do it again next year and promise you that I will take your comments to heart and will work hard to make the show better! Thanks again for attending the CAF and will surely see you next year!



Gary Gill

Capital Audiofest