Capital Audiofest, Day Two, Part One

Among the people I telephoned during my first month on the job at The Absolute Sound—we're talking January of 1985—was Frank Van Alstine, the pioneering designer and builder of affordable-perfectionist electronics. Twenty-eight years and six months later I finally got to meet him—and I was happy to hear he has zero intention of retiring: good news, considering the altogether fine sound being made by the new Audio by Van Alstine Transcendence Nine vacuum tube preamp ($1395), used in concert with AVA's hybrid FET Valve 600R amplifier ($3499) and a pair of Philharmonic Audio's two-way Philharmonitors ($850/pair). It appeared that the Philharmonic design team shared some members with that of the Salk Sound loudspeakers on display in the next room over; with respect, I vastly preferred the former, finding the latter somewhat fatiguing.

One can count on hearing, at virtually any show these days, the products of any number of new loudspeaker companies; CAF 2013 was no exception, one example being the Tampa, Florida-based Soundfield Audio, who demonstrated their VSF-T1 floorstander ($3500/pair). Driven by the class-D solid-state mono amps from Audience ($15,000/pair), which use Hypex modules, the sound was punchy and wide of range, but lacking in warmth, and a bit hard on vocal peaks.

In the Luminous Audio suite, the new Axiom II passive preamp ($195 in single-ended form, $299 with XLRs) appeared to offer exceptional value, and sounded fine in a system that included an original GAS Ampzilla.

Speaking of the fondly remembered Great American Sound Corporation, engineer Mike Bettinger was on hand to promote his services in repairing, rebuilding, and refurbishing all things GAS. Mike can be reached at

"If people can afford a $25,000 car, a music lover can afford a $15,000 music system." Thus spoke Scott Dalzell, proprietor of Viva HiFi, who demonstrated just such a thing: a charmingly musical and compactly attractive system built around the Daedalus Audio Pan V2 three-way monitor ($4600/pair), with a ModWright KWI 200 integrated amp ($5000), a ModWright-modified Oppo BDP 105 digital disc player ($4350), and WyWires wiring.

The spirit of this show was manifested in part by those who exhibited not for commercial reasons, but for sheer love of the hobby—just as I saw on Day One, in the DC Audio DIY room. Another nice example was the room sponsored by on-line publisher John Gatski and his Everything Audio Network, whose "hospitality suite" offered cold drinks, M&Ms, and an entertaining comparison setup that John referred to as his Stack O' DACs—featuring a Benchmark DAC2 L, Teac UD-501, Lynx Hilo, and various others.

Although the sound of their wall-mounted loudspeakers wasn't entirely to my taste, I was impressed with the genial attitude—and dedication to vinyl—on display at the room sponsored by Queens, New York manufacturer Miracle Audio, whose Phonatic XR phono preamp ($6200) was remarkably free of noise and hum, even at very high listening levels.

The system being demonstrated by Hifilogic was essentially the same as the one I heard and saw in April at the New York show, with its Music First Audio Baby Reference preamp ($6990), Wells Innamorata power amp ($6500), and the exceptionally high-value combination of Audio Space LS3/5a loudspeakers and SW-1 woofers ($2890). At Capital Audiofest 2013, this combination was no less involving, aided in that regard by the excellent selection of music on hand.

Music files ripped from LPs using Channel D's Pure Vinyl software ($279) formed the basis of my enjoyable time at the room co-sponsored with the makers of the Sanders Sound Model 10 loudspeakers ($14,000/pair) and Merrill Audio Veritas monoblock amplifiers ($12,000/pair). In particular, a selection by Nickel Creek had genuinely good drive and touch—surprisingly so, in my experience, for panel loudspeakers.

Call it psychoacoustics if you will, but there seemed to be a connection between the prettiness of the gear (and of the naturally lit corner room) and the sheer beauty of the sound in the room co-sponsored by International Phonographic, Mapleshade Records, and Jolida (with loudspeakers from MBL and a modified vintage Tascam open-reel tape deck). The music, none of which I'd ever before heard, was uniformly excellent and compelling. And, again, the aesthetics contributed to my atypically long visit. To be blunt, some heavily tweaked systems look ridiculous; this one, with its Mapleshade support components, cables, and hardwood sound diffusers, looked (and sounded) pretty in an almost ethereal way. I just plain loved every minute I spent in this room.

And I finally got to meet Mapleshade's Pierre Sprey—who, like Ahmet Ertegun before him, has distinguished himself as a foreign-born impresario with a boundless love and understanding of American music.

Capital Audiofest's second day was enhanced with presentations by members of the recording and audio communities, including Mark Waldrep of AIX Records and, seen here, the Grammy Award-winning mastering engineer Alan Silverman of Arf Mastering, who spoke with conviction (and considerable humor) of "expectation bias" in all aspects of audio engineering.

And what would a show report be without a picture of Mikey?

Kevin White's picture

In the picture of Mark Waldrep of AIX Records, there are two speakers I was hoping you could ID. There's a rather large monolith with dual AMTs on the right side of the frame, and next to it a smaller speaker with what looks like a Great Heil.

Do you remember what each of these were?

Thanks for the pics and report!

BrolicBeast's picture

The large one is a last-generation Legacy Audio Focus SE (before the dual AMT, which is far more of a rectangular design, were introduced in the current gen.)

Kevin White's picture

@ BrolicBeast

Thanks. So does that mean those are true ribbons? They looked a bit AMT-like to me.

BrolicBeast's picture

I had an absolutely spectacular time at CAF this year.  I attended on Friday and Sunday--my favorite rooms being the Legacy Audio and Sonic Hemisphere rooms.  There were, however, a lot of great speakers and plenty of superb equipment at the show.  I'll be an annual attendee henceforth.

Allen Fant's picture

Much Thanks! for the outstanding coverage.