Capital Audiofest—Day One

I was late getting to the Show, thanks to congested traffic on the Staten Island Expressway, congested traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike, congested traffic on I-95 in Delaware; in fact, only when I reached the new MD200 tollway for the last 15 miles did the traffic ease up. The Capital Audiofest is not like other shows, which was emphasized when I finally walked into the atrium of Rockville, MD’s Crowne Plaza Hotel. There was show organizer Gary Gill wailing on trombone in a set of free jazz with drummer Kirk Kubicek Jr. and bass player Harry Walker. Walker was playing/stroking/tapping a fretless Ashbory Bass, which makes up for its short 18” scale length by having very thick, heavy silicone-rubber strings. Despite the unstructured nature of the music, the trio created fascinating and compelling soundscapes, rivaled only by those created in a later set by headlining act Janel Leppin and Anthony Pirog, on electrified cello and electric guitar, respectively.

The signs read “Half-Off” but the Crowne Plaza’s Salon II was empty, people drawn to the sound of the live jazz outside. Saturday Showgoers will be able to score some major vinyl from Entertainment Destination.

The first room I went in after taking in Gary’s set was United Home Audio. UHA have acquired a stellar reputation for their modified open-reel recorders, to play tapes from The Tape Project, and had two systems set-up in their large room. The first featured Vienna Acoustics Beethoven Concert Grand speakers ($6000/pair) driven by Jolida tube amplification with Celtic Silver Cables. The UHA Q series Phase 5 PB deck ($9600) was playing a copy of an Elton John master tape. The voice was palpable, the imaging precise, but the low frequencies were not as well defined as I would have liked and the highs were too mellow, the room really being too large for the Viennas. (The designer of a speaker with a 1” dome tweeter balances the on-axis output against the lack of top-octave dispersion; in a room larger than expected, the second factor dominates the perceived balance.)

United Home Audio’s second system, albeit at a much higher price point, worked better with the room. MBL’s 116F speakers ($32,000/pair, making their public debut at CAF), driven by MBL 9007 monoblocks ($42,800/pair) and an MBL 6010 preamp ($26,500), wired with Celtic Silver Dragon interconnects (UHA-Q Series 9PB deck, $14,500, to preamp), Tara Labs Zero interconnects ($15,000/pair, preamp to power amps), and Tara Labs Omega speaker cables ($12,000/pair), sounded, in a word, magnificent, de Falla’s Three-Cornered Hat, from a Tape Project tape open-reel tape reproduced with well-defined soundstage width and depth, uncolored mids, well-controlled lows, and high frequencies that were optimally balanced for the large room.

Across the corridor from United Home Audio, my eye was caught by the multicolored display of VPI’s new Traveler turntable ($1299). The turntable is scheduled for review in the November issue of Stereophile by Stephen Mejias, who also wrote about it in his report from the New York Show in April.

The VPI Travelers were on static display, the music in this room being provided by a VPI Classic 4 turntable with 12.7 tonearm and Lyra Kleos cartridge, a DSA phono preamplifier, David Berning preamplifier, Luminous Audio passive line stage, and David Berning 30Wpc tube amps, and Surreal Sound Fifth Row speakers. Cables were all from Luminous Audio and a Silver Circle Pure Power One 5.0SE provided the juice. By coincidence, all these brands are “Made in America.”

“You haven’t heard low frequencies like this before” warned VPI’s Harry Weisfeld, as he cued up a Crystal Clear Charlie Byrd album. He was right. The kick drum had terrific jump factor, the toms definition and power. Solo piano had good weight to the left hand register and ample highs. The Surreal Sound Fifth Row speakers ($19,900/pair in Baltic Birch finish) each combine six 10” woofers operating below 100Hz in a unique slot-loaded dipole array with a full-range driver that at first I took for a Lowther but is actually a Tangbend. (Hope I spelled that correctly.) This is a speaker I would love to hear in Art Dudley’s listening room.

michaelavorgna's picture

...are from Tang Band Ltd. (