The 2014 Capital Audio Fest was held at the Sheraton Hotel in Silver Spring Maryland, July 25-27. The show had a friendly and congenial atmosphere, though attendance was lower than most of us would have liked. The exhibitors were spread out on numerous floors, with only six or seven rooms per floor. Had the show been considerably more crowded, this would have made it easier to navigate; unfortunately, it simply made it seem sparser. On the plus side, navigating the halls was easy, and there was less inter-room sonic interference than there would have been had the rooms been closer together.
I attended all day Friday and Saturday, which was sufficient to visit pretty much all the rooms, and to go back (multiple times) to some rooms. I am aware that shows are extremely difficult for the exhibitors, and I sympathize with their struggles with misbehaving equipment and difficult rooms. That said, there were a few rooms that were sonic disasters, and I can’t help but feel that this was because they either didn’t put enough effort into making sure the various components worked well together, or they simply aren’t listening critically. Because first impressions are so important, I urge all exhibitors to be perspicacious, and to plan well in advance. Such efforts will pay off in the long run.
In this report I will discuss those rooms that either sounded especially good, or which intrigued me. The usual caveats apply: What follows is merely my opinions, and no offense is meant to those rooms I omit. In no particular order:
Bakert Labs is a new company, and this was (to the best of my knowledge) their first pubic showing of the Rhythm 1.1 tube preamplifer. The 1.1 retails for $7,500, and is advertised as being the only preamplifier in the world with (1) an all V-Caps power supply, (2) no aluminum electrolytic capacitors, and (3) auto tube bias to optimize performance for each tube inserted. It has a remote control, and a handy top access door to facilitate tube rolling. It was partnered with the TAD Compact Reference speakers, driven by Odyssey Stratos amps. The digital source was a Marantz CD player, while analog was via a VPI Classic ‘table with Dynavector arm, and the also new (to me) LKV Veros One phono preamplifier ($6,500). The sound was rich and powerful, with excellent balance from top to bottom. I hope to be able to spend more time with both the Backert Rhythm 1.1 and the LKV Veros One.
Gary Dews of Border Patrol was showing his new non-oversampling DAC, driven by a Mac Mini. This $1250 DAC, encased in wood (as are most Border Patrol products), sounded nice, but things took a major step up when Gary added the optional tube power supply (price to be determined, but likely to be under $700), which brought far greater clarity to the presentation. The speakers were the Living Voice Avatar OBX-RW, which at $11,850 are the top model of this series. Power was supplied by the Border Patrol P21 push-pull 300 B amp in the EXD version, the later adding cryo-treated transformer, and a copper chassis. At 20W/channel, it uses an external power supply. The system had a relaxing and seductive sound; while not the last word in detail, it is the kind of sound one can listen to for hours on end.
Jeff Catalano of High Water Sound wins praises at virtually every show he attends, both for the sound he gets and for his selection of music, and this year was no exception. The system comprised the Horning Eufrodite Mak IV Ellipse speakers ($30,000), which use a different Lowther (still whizzer cone-less) than his earlier models, powered by TW Acustic 45 SE Monoblocks $15,000), which produce all of 1.5 or 2 Watts per channel. The preamp was the Tron-Electric Syren II GT ($55,00, including built-in phono stage); mono was via the Tron Seven Phone/Mono GT ($15,000). Spinning the black discs was the TW-Acustic GT Se ($12,550) with two TW 10.5 Tone arms ($5,500 each), with an Ortofon Windfield ($4,200) and Ortofon Cadenza Mono ($1,200). In the past few years, my sense is that Jeff’s systems have tilted to the warmer, more romantic side of neutral. While always pleasant, they didn’t have as much excitement as I crave. Maybe it was me, or maybe it was the different equipment (I’d like to believe it was the latter), but this year he really had the Boogie factor going on all cylinders.
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