Capital Audiofest 2015 Show Report

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Jonathon Janusz

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Capital Audiofest 2015 Show Report
« on: 2 Sep 2015, 11:37 pm »
First, I'm sorry I didn't get this up sooner.  When I saw AC had come back on yesterday, I just didn't have enough time to get it done (work, school, yadda, yadda. . .).

That aside, I was at the Capital Audiofest this year!  To give myself something to do, and to share with others here on AC that were not able to make it, I decided to try to T/P the place! ;)  I thought I had a plan that could get me the whole show, but I got pinched for time on Sunday and got bogged down a little on Saturday afternoon.  So, I got about two thirds of the show and got a demo in on about half the rooms. :)

In T/P style, I had a selection of sample cuts with me that I played and listened with, typing away notes as I went.  Please keep in mind with this that it really is a stream of consciousness kind of thing, so apologies in advance for minor grammatical errors, tense changes, etc. for those who like to poke at such things on the interwebz. :)  In the rooms I was not able to get my demo disc in, I at least made some notes on what I heard while in the room, the nice thing about this show being that at least a few minutes in the sweet spot in each room was comfortably doable save for the very peak of Saturday.

The list of my demo cuts, and what I was listening for, about 2:30 overall track time:

"Queen Of The Lost Scots" - The Rogues
"Glycerine" - Bush
"Shatter Me" - Lindsey Stirling with vocals by Lizzy Hale
"Want" - Disturbed

Track 1 was a cut of a hand drum solo (off of a bagpipe piece I graciously chose to omit ;)).  I was listening mainly for speed and details with this cut - the attack on the sticks, skin of the drum, resonance of the trailing notes of the drum hits, etc.

Track 2 was a cut of an amplified electric guitar.  Tone and the body of the instrument were what I was looking for here.

Track 3 was a mix of xylophone, violin, and female vocals.  I was looking at nuances of how the instruments flowed with this track - clarity and harmonics in the xylophone, emotion in the violin.  I was also checking vocals overall with this cut - sibilance in Lizzy's leading 's'-es, the dusky tone of her voice not either getting to smoky or too deep/booming, that sort of thing.  The real trick with this cut was to see if a system could hold on to these kind of details even with the track being mixed hot - like most ordinary, everyday music sadly ends up being.  Coming up short here made the music come off as all but completely flat.

Track 4 is the hard rock/metal meat grinder I first started using at RMAF because it is easy to tick off a bunch of audiophile check boxes with.  Detail retrieval at both low and high volume levels, dynamics, and soundstage - imaging/height/width/depth are what I focused on with this track.  Again, this track makes it easy for even someone like me to pick up on these queues, as the track is hard mixed to make these things happen.

I haven't been one to do a definitive "best of" ranking kind of thing with these notes, as I grow more and more understanding that differences in music systems are less and less "better" or "worse" but a combination of things each particular system does differently, each special little snowflake with things it has challenges with and things with which it shines. . . and such sweeping words can cause. . . discord. . . among the masses. . . :lol:

One interesting observation at this show I discussed with a few of the presenters in the rooms:  at RMAF, it seemed rooms were either clearly "good" or clearly "not as good", with very little between.  At this show, at this venue, it seemed like the field was more level.  There were very few truly "not good" systems, with most being very competitively listenable.  That said, inline with the notes for each room, I'll give a  :thumb: to a room I thought really had things going on, and a  :D to those that were just short of getting there.  Cool?

So, without further ado. . . :green:

Jonathon Janusz

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Re: Capital Audiofest 2015 Show Report
« Reply #1 on: 2 Sep 2015, 11:40 pm »
Well Pleased Audio, Vida, Clones Audio, Alta Audio, Nuprime, Antipodes

I'm liking seeing an assortment of very sensible systems at this show.  Not quite as flashy woodwork on these speakers, but a few unique architectural details make them visually interesting.  Texture is coming through on the attack of the drums, but losing the skins on the decay; these are trading extension for definition in the lows.  Not a bad compromise, as they get the tone and body nicely on the guitars and violin.  The vocals are smoothed out enough to be maybe more fluid than they should be but more listenable, trading on tone and emotion for subtilty, but again I don't think a bad compromise.  Tweeters are a little hot for my taste, but I'm generally not one for the type.  A good value for around $12K all in, per the representative.











Jonathon Janusz

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Re: Capital Audiofest 2015 Show Report
« Reply #2 on: 2 Sep 2015, 11:44 pm »
Artisan Audio, Fyssion

I didn't do a demo in this room, as they are trying to show three different setups all at once.  Single drivers, no crossovers, hits all the marks one would expect for a good single driver speaker.  The side table would make a great addition to an open concept room that just needs some clean ambient music.  The chair is a little odd for my taste - both in style and in sound.  I'm thinking if they went a little more mainstream with the look they could pull in a part of the HALO-playing crowd.












Jonathon Janusz

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Re: Capital Audiofest 2015 Show Report
« Reply #3 on: 2 Sep 2015, 11:53 pm »
 :thumb:  GREAT SOUND   :thumb:

Modwright, Daedalus, WyWires, Viva hi-fi

I didn't get to do a full demo in this room (even though it was either number one or two on my must-do list. . . sigh. . .) but got to listen for a bit in between Scott making a presentation.  Now that I have heard both setups, I have to admit that I'm one of the people who actually likes the small speakers better than the big ones.  Maybe it is just a little more simplicity to the overall design, I don't know. Nicely sized setup for the room, rich tone with a laid back ease and gentile delicacy in the highs - all the things this combination of gear is known for.  Comparing to the big speakers, the big Daedalus just seem to me to sometimes sound like they are 'trying to be' where the Athenas 'just be', if that makes any sense. The corner placement is messing with the soundstage in this room too, and I'm sure there is a good reason the decision was made to angle both systems, but hearing many of the other rooms, I have to believe there is another answer in there somewhere.

Briefly on the tube amp, Dan needs to keep doing tube amps.  This thing sounds awesome. It has the 'tube magic', but with a real grip on the bottom end; this thing is not a wimpy sounding 'midrange only' kind of amp.  Again not too far over the top in these regards, but this is clearly a tube amp, putting it on the scale of flavor of sound on the axis of this amp - LS pre - DM pre.  Impecable fit and finish, which I actually would like to see wearing some of the Modwright silver, just to brighten up the casework a bit for folks that don't have the dark component motif going.  As is, it is a very modern fashionable look, and the copppery-gold logo on the top plate looks amazing.  People going to Denver are in for a treat.

I ran into Dan at lunch (Saturday) and we talked briefly about the tube amps and how they fit in the big picture of things.  What this got me to thinking in the here and now is that I wonder what biamping one of the Daedalus systems, using the tubes on top with a mono KWI-150 to run the 8" drivers, would sound like.

PPS:  For anyone with Daedalus speakers who haven't upgraded to the V.2 version of their speaker. . . or added the trim rings. . . or (and I'll catch FLAC  :green: for saying this one is a "must have" but whatever) upgraded to the new Daedalus driver(s):  do this.  Just do this.  The little money spent on an heirloom quality speaker will be worth every penny.



















Jonathon Janusz

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Re: Capital Audiofest 2015 Show Report
« Reply #4 on: 2 Sep 2015, 11:58 pm »
 :thumb:  GREAT SOUND   :thumb:

Border Patrol, Triode Wire Labs, The Living Voice

Very smooth sound coming from this room.  The only room with a blacker background is the LIO room, but this is very close (thanks, P.I. Audio Uberbuss!).  One of the most emotionally engaging rooms for me, the flow of the music just draws you in.  Soundstage isn't overly broad or deep, but image placement is good with a very wide sweet spot. Feels like I'm looking down on and into the music.  Just the right heft to large orchestral drums with very litte overhang.  I am repeating myself, but this show has a lot of very well thought out, appropriately scaled rooms.  I am a big fan of what Pete's cables do in this system in particular compared to the others at the show - sweetness in the treble with a touch of warmth, detail without going too over the top just for the sake of sounding 'fast'.  Ease and tone are two words to describe this room.

On my demo cd, this is the most spot-on I've heard the drum track; this is a very 'live' sound for sure.  Guitar excellent at the heart of it, and the system is picking out inner details other systems missed - harmonics are coming through amazingly off the dark background.  Violins and vocals very good, the vocals are smoothing out just enough to not lose the details and bring this hot-mixed track in line.  Low and high level details again shine, even in the heavy metal, the backing distortion effect in the low level intro is perfectly clear.  Not the end all in soundstage size or depth, and not the last word in dynamics, but what you get - and that is a lot - shows a relentless refinement to get it 'right'.















Jonathon Janusz

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Re: Capital Audiofest 2015 Show Report
« Reply #5 on: 3 Sep 2015, 12:02 am »
 :D  Good Sound   :D

Backert Labs, MartinLogan, AudioQuest, VPI Industries, Chord Electronics, Odyssey

Great imaging and vocals on the host's demo music.  Not really pushing any evelopes dynamically, but a nice room filling soundstage.  Odyssey amps and the ML speakers are a fine pairing.  Bass is good but not great - the music has weight but I can tell right where the panels end and the cone drivers begin.  I'm not hearing any glaring faults in the pairing with the new as-yet-unnamed Backert Labs preamp either, my only question is with how the bottom end really acts, as there is a sub filling out the range in the main system.  Overall, a good, solid, system with nothing jumping out as bad wrong fun.  Maybe an odd observation in postscript:  there is what looks like a fairly costly CD player in the electronics stack, there is a nice turntable front and center, and the music in the room is being fed and run from a computer.  I am obviously not one to be in a position to make sweeping statements, but just kind of noting a trend, for what it is worth. 







Jonathon Janusz

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Re: Capital Audiofest 2015 Show Report
« Reply #6 on: 3 Sep 2015, 12:09 am »
SimpliFi Audio, DSPeaker, Gradient, Klangwerk

I did not get to sit down for a listen in this room.  The host was entertaining a crowd describing how he could randomly switch from among the speakers in the room and all of them would sound the same, equally good, and just as good from anywhere in the room.  Not sure if serious. . .?







Jonathon Janusz

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Re: Capital Audiofest 2015 Show Report
« Reply #7 on: 3 Sep 2015, 12:14 am »
 :D  Good Sound   :D  (during the show)

 :thumb:  GREAT SOUND   :thumb: (after hours)

Volti Audio, Triode Wire Labs

The cabinetry at this show is really impressing all around!  Another listenable horn system.  Really nice pick up on the detail in the decay of the sticks at the beginning of the drum track.  Good overall on the guitar but just misses the "just right" mark on a little lean in tone and body.  There is too much of a good thing in the top end with the violin and vocals - as nice as they are otherwise, I think the very high end just overpowers the room.  Low level detail retrieval is good, casts a wide soundstage but again lacking depth similar to other rooms, and not absolutely flawless imaging - good but not great.  Very good at picking out details at high volume levels - what one would expect of great horns when doing what the do best.  This is the second horn system I was expecting a bit more as far a dynamic range and I'm starting to wonder if my expectations are just off.  Rocked out to some Disturbed and then played some cellos - keeping this system tucked tight to the midrange makes a really nice, powerful presentation.

On Saturday night, I was in the right place in the right time to get to hear this system with Vinnie Rossi's LIO.  The Macintosh gear used during the show isn't bad, but the LIO is a phenomenal match to the 104db efficient Volti horns.  With the subs off (we played them both off and on; I preferred them off), the absolutely black background on the LIO and the associated change in flavor on the pre and power made this system come alive for me.  The paring brought out a whole new dimension to everything on a micro scale and allowed the music to really find its sense of space.  Scratch a good section of my critiques above with the system running the Mac front end.  This setup basically discovering its lost low level musicality was like flipping a switch and getting all of the real dynamics that the Volti speakers had all along; it was just hiding waiting to be found.  If this setup would have been running during show time, I would not have believed it, but I would have a horn system near the top of my list for the show.  I had to cut out for a few more rooms before I could hear some more adjustments made, but as good as it was, there was even more on the table to be had with the LIO in the game.  A takeaway for Volti on this if nothing else is not as much a knock against the front end gear, but no matter what gear gets put in, top shelf power conditioning will pay off big to show what the system can really do.   









S1NN3R

Re: Capital Audiofest 2015 Show Report
« Reply #8 on: 3 Sep 2015, 12:21 am »
Thank you for sharing

Jonathon Janusz

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Re: Capital Audiofest 2015 Show Report
« Reply #9 on: 3 Sep 2015, 12:22 am »
 :D  Good Sound   :D

GT Audio Works, Paradox Pulse, Hollis Audio Labs, Prima Luna

There are just getting to be too many beautiful speakers to look at.  I said it before in the Volti room and I'll say it again - the bar is now raised in what this stuff should look like.  'Furniture-grade' is no longer a feature, it is the standard.  Very, very good on speed and picking up inner detail on the drum track, as I would expect from planars with my only caviat being the drums are missing some of their skin, and their resonance isn't coming through 100%.  Good tone, but the body in the guitar is a little diffuse to really get there, again with another but - the system really is trying to deliver it.  This system just nails the vocals and violin - no contest.  Low and high level details are there, dynamics are surprisingly good, and this is the first room at the show to actually get the soundstage - image placement, width, depth, height, all right.

Note that this speaker model does include a ribbon tweeter, planar mids, and powerered cone subs.  The subs blended well enough, but the speakers really snapped into their own, IMHO, with the subs shut off.  The skins came back to the drums, the guitar lost a bit overall but that is understandable limiting the frequency range, the vocals and violin that were already exceptional got even better.  The soundstage shrunk down a bit too, but again understandable with the panels playing within their limits.

To wrap, as set up with the subs, these were a good full range speaker.  The panels running alone, were an honest excellent speaker.

[From late Saturday after hours:  Word from this room is that unplugging and plugging back in the subs - from before I asked to change the system up for my demo when adjusting the room earlier - messed with the sound of the subs, and they sounded much better after being left on continuously for the day.  Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to stop back to check it out for myself.]

To address one last specific question from the forum, comparison to other planars.  Full disclosure: I have owned ET LFT8a that I upgraded to LFT8b (running good but not truly great front end gear), I've had MMGs in my home, and I have heard Maggie 3.6r a few times in dealer show rooms; I can't make a perfect comparison to the 3.7i - sorry.  For what it is worth - and comparing them with the panels alone because the subs make the comparison not fair for both good and bad reasons - these do a lot of the things I liked from the ET's that I didn't get from the Maggies but with better soundstage height, and a bit more airy than the smooth powerful top end on the ET.  I also think they can hang easily with the 3.6r, the 3.6 maybe having an edge in the body of the lower midrange due to panel dimensions and chosen crossover points, but I think the soundstage is better on the GT's - acoustic strings, small venue music, and vocals could arguably have the GT's out on top.  If I had to sum up, the decision might really come down to how one wants for their own tastes to deal with the low end frequencies.  IMHO, a pair of GR servo OB subs dialed in with the GT's (or an upgrade to the sealed bottoms of the GTs to dual servo GR 8's) would for me make it no contest, and I don't think the price points would still end up too far off mark.

(one more 'last'): The GT speakers are all but individually built, bespoke items.  Word on the grapevine is that GT is planning a bigger set of panels in the not too distant future, and the HAL active processing system (which I agree with the reviews from the field thus far sets a new benchmark for the "new" approach to active designs in the audiophile space) not only sounded a great match with the GT's as-is (meaning as a DAC/source only), but could bake in a lot of flexibility in addressing some of the 'A vs. B' challenges that I rambled about comparing the GT's and Maggies.  For the adventurous, pulling the Magnepan passive crossover altogether and plugging in the HAL system could do some impressive things if the GT's were to be considered a proof of concept test.











Jonathon Janusz

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Re: Capital Audiofest 2015 Show Report
« Reply #10 on: 3 Sep 2015, 12:23 am »
Thank you for sharing

We're just getting started!   :green:

Jonathon Janusz

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Re: Capital Audiofest 2015 Show Report
« Reply #11 on: 3 Sep 2015, 12:28 am »
Sound Insight, Pass Labs, BG Radia, P.I. Audio, Triode Wire Labs

Now we do a 180 on aesthetics; good enough, but maybe a little too industrial, clean but more like a season out of fashion if that makes sense.  Full disclosure: I like OB, I like planars, and I've heard these OB servo driven subs be (IMHO) the absolute standard by which all others are measured. 

In short, I really wanted to be in love with this room.  The challenge here is that the whole just isn't quite the sum of the quality parts.  Soundstage is big and wide like I would expect, but the imaging isn't quite where I would expect.  The system has very clean sound, but maybe too much of a good thing, it is a little dry for my taste, and some harmonic details just aren't coming through.  Note that the lower cone drivers in the BG mains were cut out completely, with the planars being handed off directly to the subs - a decision I agree with.  Stand up bass from the host's music on the subs is just as I thought it would be - truly excellent.  I have to add another "but", in that the integration on the subs to the mains to me is just a little bit off, maybe another room to try on Sunday after a few more adjustments.

On my demo, speed on the attack on the drums is good, but the skin on the drum is missing.  Tone and body on the guitar are spot on, the violin is good, but there is a little wiggle at the top of the vocals.  Low level and high level detail retrieval is good, but dynamics are a bit flat (even for planars) and the soundstaging is good but not quite "there".  As is, to wrap on a positive note, a relaxing, easy to listen to system.  Good but not quite 'wow'.









Jonathon Janusz

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Re: Capital Audiofest 2015 Show Report
« Reply #12 on: 3 Sep 2015, 12:32 am »
 :thumb:  GREAT SOUND   :thumb:

Deja Vu Audio, Audio Note

Another attendee played a few tracks from a disc purchased at the show from the artist performing on site in the Audio Note UK room over the weekend.  This room and setup is really simple... and I like it.  It is light on the absolute extremes of the audiophile check-boxes, but the music is emotionally moving.  Tone and the subtile details just flow without drawing attention to any one bit - no "feature" had to jump out to have its presence known.  Sealed, reasonably sized monitors, playing nice with the room just as it is, made for a darn good showing - kudo for not trying too hard to reach for too much.  This is the kind of rig I could put in my mom's living room and she could be happy with good, honest music.







Jonathon Janusz

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Re: Capital Audiofest 2015 Show Report
« Reply #13 on: 3 Sep 2015, 12:34 am »
DCAudioDIY

20-year old prototype direct driven electrostatic panels made locally.  This system is just plain cool.  I'm listening to to a super coherent, great tone, full bodied sound while folks are chatting about how the components were made with begged, borrowed, and found parts.  Again, very cool, and darn good enjoyable sound.  Big, single-driver speaker sound with some range - the panels are running full range while I am typing, and there is some conversation about dust built up on the speakers causing some arcing and random burn marks. . . :lol:!  Glad I stopped by!







Jonathon Janusz

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Re: Capital Audiofest 2015 Show Report
« Reply #14 on: 3 Sep 2015, 12:37 am »
 :thumb:  GREAT SOUND   :thumb:

Vinnie Rossi, Fidelis, Harbeth

LIO configuration run at show:  phono stage, DAC, tube linestage with autoformer, mosfet power amp, no headphone.  The LIO is a good match with the Harbeths; they compliment each other nicely.  The attack and inner detail on the drum track is a little soft but smooth.  Tone and body on the guitar are really excellent - shows in the speaker pedigree as a studio monitor.  The violin and vocals are exceptional - the absolutely black background just makes everything have an ease I haven't heard at the show yet.  Low level details come in clean and clear, soundstaging is at least okay in depth, but the setup is very near field, so the presentation is more being "on stage" than looking in on the performance.  This is another room with a fundamentally simple setup that does really well for itself.  This system impresses me a lot not for being 'wow', but for being 'just right'.  Thank you to my gracious hosts for goofing around dropping the TS track!









Jonathon Janusz

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Re: Capital Audiofest 2015 Show Report
« Reply #15 on: 3 Sep 2015, 12:41 am »
Gershman Acoustics, LVC, Lamm Industries, Oracle, Nordosdt

Just the pictures on this one, in spite of trying to sit down in this room three times over the weekend.  Not that the room was packed, my timing was just really bad.  :green:





Jonathon Janusz

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Re: Capital Audiofest 2015 Show Report
« Reply #16 on: 3 Sep 2015, 12:44 am »
Madison Fielding

So, I turned the corner and the system wasn't there, but the plants were making music. :D  Each teak planter is a 10" downfiring woofer with a front firing midrange and tweeter. Indoor/outdoor use, all passively driven.  There is also a standard planter version on display.  The drums are a bit rounded off on their attack, and not overly revealing, but the subs give them a good foundation to the sound.  The tone on the guitar could improve - maybe placement - but the body is good.  Soundstage is surprisingly good - not the pinacle of pin point imaging, but the cues are there and the stage width and height are good.  Not very dynamic, but an overall well balanced speaker.







Jonathon Janusz

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Re: Capital Audiofest 2015 Show Report
« Reply #17 on: 3 Sep 2015, 12:51 am »
Audio Note UK

I sat down for a demo and the room filled quickly behind me.  The hosts changed their timetable slightly to allow for a live cello soloist performing throughout the weekend.  Interesting in that they also had the live cello accompanied by the stereo system as part of the mini-concert.  Vincent Belanger became the consumate gentleman, playing to accompany a piano and then a trumpet piece.  The selections were inspired while Vincent discussed his music with some young musicians who came to the room and explained to him those as the instruments they played.  Vincent, if this note reaches your desk, pleasure meeting you and all the best in your endeavors.  I hope the coming vinyl release is as well received as the CDs I had already heard playing elsewhere in the showrooms by very pleased audiophiles.

This one's not getting a rating, as a live performance just isn't fair to everyone else. :lol:













Jonathon Janusz

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Re: Capital Audiofest 2015 Show Report
« Reply #18 on: 3 Sep 2015, 01:00 am »
Robyatt Audio, Kanso Audio Furniture

Quads - very cool!  No chance at a demo in this room right now, they are playing to a full audience with the host's music.  I have to agree with the sales pitch in the room that the added driver is integrating very well with the Quad panels.  Good sound, but a frustratingly small sweet spot (I'm on one of the ends).   Okay, shifted a seat over and better.  Nothing that is really jumping out at me as "wow", but I don't think the music selection is pushing the system to produce something great.  Would kind of like to do a demo with my cuts to see where this is at, as I haven't really had a chance to hear these famous speakers until now.

[Pictures somehow got eaten by the camera. . .]

Jonathon Janusz

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Re: Capital Audiofest 2015 Show Report
« Reply #19 on: 3 Sep 2015, 01:04 am »
Ultra Audio, Linear Tube Audio, Audioism

Just the pics, man!  Went to sit down for a demo and got pulled away.  Neat line array with built-in tube amps.