2022 Capital Audio Fest Report by Bill Wells
Finally, after nearly a three-year hiatus from attending high-end audio shows, specifically during the pandemic shutdown, I recently found my way back and attended the Capital Audio Fest (The East Coast’s Premier Audio Show). Once again, this annual event took place in Rockville, MD, and was hosted at the Hilton Hotel, where previous events have taken place. This year’s show started on Friday morning, November 11th, and concluded Sunday afternoon, November 13th. According to the advance promotional news releases by Show organizer Gary Gill – there were ninety active exhibit rooms with a wide range of equipment. Additionally, the open market area was again in full swing, with various products available for audio enthusiasts and beyond.
REGISTRATION & LOBBY
First, I grabbed a cup of hot tea from the lobby Starbucks and started promptly at 10:00 a.m. My journey began on Friday morning as I strolled down one of the many different hallways leading to the exhibits. Exhibit spaces consisted of both larger meeting rooms and smaller hotel rooms. At this point, I will offer a warning, not an excuse, and that is – for whatever reason, many exhibitors did not have a listing prepared, including the various components and cables, as well as pricing, that was in their respective system. As I went from exhibit to exhibit – I tried taking notes and sometimes inadvertently forgot to get this information. Hopefully, the photos will speak for themselves and with whatever commentary I provide.
One thing I would like to point out, and for anyone who has visited any of the high-end audio shows, you may be all too well aware of what I’m about to share. In terms of quality sound in the various exhibit rooms (i.e., typically smaller hotel rooms with beds and desks removed) as well as larger spaces will little to no wall treatment, mother, most likely due to the variability of room acoustics, the sound from these exhibits can truly be a mixed bag. This is often not the fault of the exhibitor and much more regarding the size of the listening room, flexing walls, and the number of components and speakers in any given room. There seems to be no common denominator for what might make any given system achieve the desired level of performance.
For example, there were times when I went to a specific exhibit with high anticipation, only to find that the system was fighting against the room. In instances such as this, provided the exhibitor has prior experience in dealing with this type of situation, they sometimes seemed better prepared with ways and methods of successfully addressing these issues. Additionally, there were times when the full system of electronics, cables, and speakers needed some time to recondition and settle in. There were situations when listening early Friday morning didn’t do justice to the sound, but by some time mid-to-late Saturday and Sunday, the sound had improved noticeably. My point is this – as I attempted to capture the true essence of what any given high-end audio system might achieve, a bit of patience, understanding and grace were required. Kudos to the many exhibitors who diligently spent time fighting through their frustrations and finally achieved satisfactory results.
Beyond this – several exhibitors seemed to have issues with the hotel WiFi and adequately connecting to the streaming service(s) of their choice. As a result – this limited their ability to provide the type of musical selections often requested by showgoers. Again, exhibitors seemed to address as best possible by playing LPs on sophisticated turntables, reel-to-reel tape machines, CD players, or memory sticks (i.e., digital).
BENDING WAVE – GOEBEL SPEAKERS & THRAX AUDIO ELECTRONICS
OK, so much for this, and moving right along, my first stop was to explore some captivating sounds from the Bending Wave USA (Ft. Lauderdale) exhibit featuring the exotic Thrax Audio electronics powering a pair of big beautiful Goebel speakers. This system produced a big, bold, dynamic, and fully rhythmic sound. Jazz piano sounded quite excellent. Playback in this exhibit was strictly via digital (i.e., CDs); unfortunately, streaming issues prevented a wider selection of musical genres for listening. The speakers were augmented with a new 18” subwoofer helping out on the low end. As I scanned the exhibit room price sheet, I quickly realized that I was listening to a costly system topping off with a total system retail price of $617,000. Here’s a breakdown of the system costs:
- Goebel Divin Marquis speakers – $89,000 pr;
- Goebel Divin Sovereign Subsonic subwoofer – $29,500 ea;
- Thrax Heros 100 W hybrid monoblock amps – $47,000 pr;
- Thrax Dionysos tube preamp – $27,000;
- Thrax Maximus Silver DAC – $ $38,500;
- Metronome AQWO – $20,000;
- HiFiStay Mythology equipment rack – $6,250 per shelf;
- Goebel Lacorde Statement speaker cables (3m pr) – $27,900;
- Goebel Lacorde Statement power cords (2m) – $9,000 ea;
- Goebel Lacorde Statement XLR Interconnect (1.2m) – $7,900 ea;
- Hemingway Z Core Series power cords – $13,500 ea.
20/20 EVOLUTION SYSTEMS – KHARMA SPEAKERS & CONRAD JOHNSON ELECTRONICS
Continuing my stroll down this aisle, next up was the 20/20 Evolution Systems exhibit with Jay Truitt, CEO and Design Architect, in total command. Immediately this was a sound that I was quite familiar with due to my long-time use of Kharma Elegance loudspeakers. In this exhibit, the featured speakers were the three-way Kharma Elegance DB9 Signatures with WBT connectors and internal silver wiring ($47,000 pr). These were driven by Conrad-Johnson tube electronics, including ART-88 Preamp (Limited Edition, $28,500) coupled to a pair of CJ ART 300 monoblock power amps (Limited Edition, #39,000); CJ TEA1 Series 3 Phono Preamp ($20,000) and CJ ART 108A Class A monoblock amp (Limited Edition, $52,000). The remainder of the system consisted of the following components and cabling: Kuzma Stabi R Turntable, rosewood casing (price unavailable), New 4Point SiR tonearm ($25,000), CAR 50 phono cartridge ($7,500); Taiko music server ($32,000); Siltech and Truitt Physics prototypes cables (prices unavailable) and Torus Power RM20 series ($3,299).
The sound in this large room was very open, wide, detailed, fast, quick, solid, and expansive. All playback on the first day was analog, and the sound was quite good. As the day progressed, especially into the latter part of Day 2 (particularly on Day three), the sound progressed significantly, mostly due to the tubes settling down and the system acclimating.
Fortunately, streaming issues were resolved late on Day 2 and all day on Sunday, allowing listeners to check out a wide variety of artists and different musical genres. At this point, everything that was good to very good in the beginning had kicked in, and the system’s overall performance was elevated quite a bit. Very musical, dynamic, unrestrained, and with excellent impact. Additionally, the musicality of the system had become more colorful and engaging than early on. Good job, excellent exhibit.
THE VOICE THAT IS –VINNIE ROSSIE ELECTRONICS
Once again, the exhibit for The Voice That Is (TVTI) was visually and sonically exquisite. This time, Doug White, President for TVTI, had on display the all-new and recently released Tidal Audio Piano G3 loudspeakers ($64,000), stunning high-gloss piano black, and impeccable finish. The Piano G3 is a speaker that has been a mainstay for Tidal since the company’s inception and has progressively improved over many years. Judging from the sound – this latest iteration is far more advanced than previous models and represents SOTA-level design, development, and implementation. According to White, this version of the Piano lineage is more than merely an upgrade and instead has all new drivers, including a floating diamond tweeter. Additionally, there is new internal bracing for increased rigidity. For the most part, this system did a wonderful disappearing act with excellent sonics that was full, warm, open, detailed, clear, and so very musical. Whether playing vocals, instrumental jazz, or other genres of music – the rendition was consistently superb.
These speakers were powered sweetly by the new Brama series of electronics by Vinnie Rossi, including the preamplifier ($33,995) and stereo amplifier ($33,995). The amps power rating is 200 watts into 8 Ohms or 350 into 4 Ohms. Handling the digital signals was the very impressive Tidal Audio Contros Digital Controller ($60,000). Wiring included the new Siltech Royal Crown/Double Crown cables. No pricing was available at this time. The system included the new Critical Mass Systems Ultra Q-Rack (prices vary). Interestingly – this was the first official showing, in the US, for both the Tidal speakers and the CMS equipment rack.
CONVERGENT AUDIO TECHNOLOGIES / ESP
Next up was the Convergent Audio Technologies exhibit with Ken Steven, lead technical guru at the helm.
Steven’s tube electronics are legendary in high-end audio, and his exhibits have a consistency of really good to great sound. This time, the system consisted of the CAT Legend Preamp with the Statement Extreme monoblock amps. Input was via Audio Aero CD player for digital and a VPI HW40 turntable for analog (i.e., vinyl). The electronics powered a pair of Magico S5 MKII loudspeakers connected via Black Cat ICs and speaker cables. Providing AC to the electronics was via Michael Griffin’s highly acclaimed ESP power cables.
In fact – at this show, Michael had his brand-new flagship power cords, Renaissance power cords ($4,995), in the system and to very good effect.
Overall, the sound in the CAT exhibit was musically correct, engaging, and on point. No sonic spectaculars, and Steven’s superb tube electronics easily powered the Magico speakers with ease. Music was smooth yet detailed, full, open, dynamic, and lifelike, with accurate soundstaging and much more.
TRIANGLE ART SYSTEM (photos here)
Fascinating room with superb natural sound coming from a large pair of Metis Horn speakers ($60,000). Effortless, full, organic – primarily analog/vinyl playback on very sophisticated turntable rigs, including Anubis Turntable ($14,999) with Osiris MK2 Diamond Tonearm ($8,000) and Apollo MC cartridge ($8,000) or Maestro Turntable ($7,500) with Horus Tonearm ($4,000) and Apollo MC cartridge. The vocals and instruments were all very lifelike, smooth, detailed, and musical. Speaker interaction with the room created slight boominess, and the exhibitor did an excellent job in taming this to the best of their ability. Importantly, it didn’t interfere with enjoying the superb sound of the system.
Electronics included P200 tube phonostage ($15,000), L200 MK2 Ultimate tube linestage ($25,000), and M100 tube monoblock amplifiers ($25,000). AC power conditioning was provided by RA Ultimate power conditioner ($11,000) and RHEA Ultimate power cable ($7,000). Cables connecting the system included RHEA Reference power cords ($2,999), RHEA Reference interconnects ($2,999), and RHE Reference speaker cables ($5,999).
Stereo Times Masthead
Frank Alles, Mike Girardi, Key Kim, Russell Lichter, Terry London, Moreno Mitchell, Paul Szabady, Bill Wells, Mike Wright, Stephen Yan, and Rob Dockery
David Abramson, Tim Barrall, Dave Allison, Ron Cook, Lewis Dardick, Dan Secula, Don Shaulis, Greg Simmons, Eric Teh, Greg Voth, Richard Willie, Ed Van Winkle, and Rob Dockery
Carlos Sanchez, John Jonczyk, John Sprung and Russell Lichter
Site Management Clement Perry
Ad Designer: Martin Perry