Capital AudioFest 2014: The Evening Before

It is really funny how a simple thing like what hat I am wearing can affect everything I see and hear. When I used to wear my audio show "visitor" hat—only a few rooms had good sound and the equipment all seemed overpriced. When I wore my "exhibitor" hat my room always had the best music and the best sound. Now, I am wearing my "reporter" hat and a little tag that says Stereophile at the Capital Audio Fest, which runs Friday through Sunday at the Silver Spring, Maryland, Sheraton and the first three rooms I visit have amazing sound. How can this be?

Willow Room: I always wanted to meet John Wolff proprietor of Classic Audio in Brighton, Michigan and when I finally did I could hardly tear myself away. He is the archetype small manufacturer that started out as a hobbyist with a hobby "that went astray!" He formed Classic Audio Reproduction in 1988 to recreate the legendary JBL Hartsfield loudspeaker, which was introduced by James B. Lansing in 1954. What I auditioned were the latest versions of his T-3.4 ($44,990/pair, above) which sport two 15" woofers with 20Hz low-frequency capability plus a 4" beryllium diaphragm made by Truextent loaded into a 2"-throat, field-coil–energized compression driver.

The tweeter was by Fostex and it too featured a beryllium dome and a field-coil magnet. The T-3.4s were powered by Atma-Sphere Nova Crons to make some of the most naturally timbred realistically scalled music I have heard in a while. Horns usually draw attention to their crossover points but here the richest midrange bled oh-so-smoothly into the upper bass and lower treble. You can't play with the high-end big boys (or charge $44,990/pair for a loudspeaker) if your treble doesn't wreak beauty and behave with ease under stress—these Fostex horns played like the best silk-domes. The bass from these loudspeakers felt like it could stir dust up from the carpet.

Hickory Room: They were still tweaking the system in the Merrill Audio room, but the bass reproduced by the beautiful Sadurni Acoustic Horn Speakers ($40,000/pair) with their Added Backwave System in the Merrill Audio room felt like it pressurized the entire volume of their large room. Using a beautiful modified Tascam open-reel machine playing master tape copies via Merrill Veritas Pre and monoblock amplifiers, the sound they were generating was natural and easy-flowing with detail that simply existed and drew no untoward attention to itself.

Walnut Room: Here I met Doug White (above), proprietor of The Voice That Is audio salon in Newtown Square, PA. The musical presentation in Mr. White's room was no less than a revelation to my ears. I simply have never experienced this outrageous level of audio transparency. I seldom give much of my music listening energy to imaging and soundstage, but the scale and continuity of the space projected by the Tidal Audio Agoria loudspeakers ($105,000/pair, below) was among the best I have ever experienced. The beautifully crafted Agorias were powered by the equally beautiful electronics. We listened to a variety of superb Chesky recordings via Aurender Reference music server ($16,880), Bricasti Design M1 DAC ($8995), Tidal Audio Impulse amplifier ($32,290) and Purist Audio cables.

jonahsdad's picture

I realize you were referring to the music, not the equipment, but I couldn't help but be amused by the thought of the bright red enormo-horns not drawing attention to itself.

They are very nice sounding speakers.

wkhanna's picture

I was there Friday as John from IPI & Merrill were trying to get the room to work with the gear. Jeff, aka High Water Sound, had this room last year & learned his lesson. It has been a nightmare for anyone who has had to tried to achieve decent sound in it.

John & Merrill were working on bass issues when I left them mid-day Friday. They seemed to be making progress. Over the weekend, I kept dropping by to check on their progress.

Sadly, to my ear, for every step forward they seemed to take two backwards. The best I heard it was mid-day Friday. The hi's were some of the sweetest I have ever experienced. Of course horn mids are a wonderful gift from the audio gods. The bloated bass (with & without the subs) never was fully sorted.

Too bad.
I'm sure these sound much better than what I heard.

Allen Fant's picture

Wish I could be there, have a fun weekend!
Please continue the coverage and post pics of the CD/SACD players on exhibit.

andy_c's picture

It is Newtown Square, not Newton Square.

Et Quelle's picture

I am able to see the Newport, CA and tiny Vegas show and I am thankful. But I hope to one day see them all. Doesn't really matter how many items are repeated.

Pro-Audio-Tech's picture

The jazz I heard in this room from the UHA tape deck was so real it gave me goosebumps! You may like this kind of Jazz or you may not however the sound was absolutely amazing!
I listened to a few tapes during the show as well as vinyl and digital, there was no comparison to the immediacy, power, or dimension from the tape.

Koby's picture

Guys - Sorry for the late post but, I just got to share an experience with the music loving World.

Being a vendor myself, I went walking through the hallways of the 2014 Capital Audiofest to try to visit as many vendors as possible and wish all good luck for the show before the doors open to the public. I headed downstairs to visit the vendors in the bigger rooms basically gracing the lobby of the hotel. My eye caught a flash reflection at an angle and I turned to see Doug White of the “Voice That Is” scanning through his mobile phone. Greetings fellow vendor I said. Doug immediately waved at me to come in, I praised him regarding his set up and how nicely the live plants makes it stand out. He gave me a lot of insight about the development of the TIDAL Audio products. I learned a lot that morning regarding the processes involved to get these phenomenal products out to the consumer. Doug played some great music for me to see how the TIDAL Audio compares sonically with others. I truly did enjoy how the music was reproduced effortlessly with great transparency and dynamics.

I then went closer to inspect the exquisite finishes of the TIDAL Agoria Speakers, Preos preamplifier and Impulse power amplifier. The finishes were just out of this world, there is nothing perfect in this world of ours but, these finishes from TIDAL were super close to perfection. Doug then told me to touch and turn the volume control of the Preos preamplifier. I kid you not, my jaw did not drop but literally fell to the floor. Doug had a good laugh at that (wishing he had a camera rolling to record my reaction to a knob). Of all my years in high-end audio, I have never had such “high” from turning a volume control knob. As the saying goes “Smooth As Butter” but this experience was “Smoother Than Butter” that was how that volume control of the preamplifier felt at my finger-tips. TIDAL Audio truly does take care of details and it makes great music. Wow !

I highly recommend visiting “The Voice That Is” in PA to experience the TIDAL sound. I know it will not be everybody’s cup of tea but, at least go experience what I did and it will be on your wish list. At the end I was so glad to see that Doug’s room was nominated as one of the best rooms at the show. Don’t take my word for it but, make it a point to check out “The Voice That Is” whenever you are in the neighborhood. A true pleasure.

Koby at