Small regional audio shows aren’t supposed to be this big. The boasting of a gazillion exhibits in the lead up to the event left some of us trembling. Capital Audiofest is considered “the east coast show” by all in and around the industry. It’s hallmark vibe (as stated earlier in our PREVIEW article) is that of a casual friday. A year end party of sorts. Work hard so you can play hard. Right?
Reporting by Eric Franklin Shook
This year’s CAF show was larger than ever, and I will attest that the vibes were off because of this. There’s just so much work and play that one can do in a single weekend. There’s true work to be done on the side of the exhibitors that also includes b2b meetings. For “the press” there’s a ton to see, cover, and hear.
Our coverage spans the usual three days, and will include a few auxiliary pieces that spotlight specific exhibits that we felt merit a deeper dive. Look for those extra articles to arrive in the coming weeks. For now, let’s take a quick tour of what caught our attention at CAF 2023.
Do stay tuned-in to this page and our social media outlets as our daily coverage from CAF 2023 rolls out over the following days. For quick access, each day’s article will be linked below as they publish.
Capital Audiofest 2023 | DAY ONE
ModWright Instruments + ACORA Acoustics
The new ModWright KWA 99 monoblock amplifiers (and associated MWI electronics) really showed us what they’re made of in this reference performing system. Be it digital bits handled by a stellar Weiss DAC 204 or an analog chain that included a SOTA Cosmos Eclipse w/SME V 9-inch tonearm, the final result was insightful, layered, and dense.
The Acora SRB speakers are a well known entity within our camp of writers, and to hear them driven as such with the new ModWright electronics feels like a bit of a climax in the long-term narrative of ModWright Instruments designs. The MWI LS 99 preamp, KWA 99 monos, PH9.0 XT phonostage, and Analog Bridge all seem ready for high-end primetime without the high-end price.
Right now, the MWI electronics sound like a reference value that only you and I know about. Other parts of the system included a phono cart from Ortofon, cables from Cardas, and rustic rack from Fern & Roby.
BAYZ + VAC
There will be several who encounter a Bayz exhibit with prejudice due to the visual appearance of the Bayz Counterpoint loudspeakers. Thinking of them to be a gimmick wrapped up in high-end materials. I’m ready to debunk those thoughts. What I heard from the Bayz flagship speakers was dynamic, spatially immense, and laser cut with details.
Radial type speakers are known for transmitting the venue of the recording more convincingly than conventional driver-in-box designs, but what’s more special here (IMO) is that the radial design isn’t the story. The story is the bottom-to-top cleanliness of the presentation. The only imparted distortions were the ones we welcome from the VAC tube electronics used upstream.
Zu Audio + Black Ice Audio
Zu Audio and Black Ice Audio had two exhibit rooms at the show, with this one featuring Zu Soul 6 speakers grabbing my attention in unexpected ways. The coherent driver design is one of my favorites, but only if it’s done well. In the wrong hands this formula can sound constricted and shut-in, which to my ears goes against the idea of stereophony in the first place.
In the right hands, which in this case is Black Ice Audio tube electronics, the presentation has the opportunity to play with time and space like no other. This is what synergy is about. I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect to be as impressed with this system as I was. My own experiences with Zu audio out in the real world have been a mixed bag of trial and error when it comes to amp matching a Zu fronted system.
MSB + MAGICO + Acoustic Signature + Overture AV
If you know, you know. It’s MSB and Magico — do I need to say more? In fact, yes.
This system brought forth by Overture AV of Delaware totaled in cost just a tick over $380K. It’s well known that digital and amplification from MSB when pushing Magico loudspeakers is like butted sex on a cinnamon roll. But something I don’t think I’ve ever experienced before, is analog in an MSB and Magico show system.
Enter Acoustic Signature and their Montana NEO turntable, mated to a Van den Hul Grail SE phonostage. One of the younger members of my team, which could be any of them considering I’m the oldest, remarked positively about the sense of added dimension when going from a digital recording to analog in this system.
This room was set up with expert precision. From speaker placement to component matching. Bravo!
Primare + Stenheim + VPI Industries + Nexus Audio Technologies
My listening notes say: simplicity equals transparency.
I’ve always had a bit of a crush on Primare electronics. For the last two decades their facade design has only refined itself, while always looking ahead of its time. For this exhibition it was Primare throughout, preamp with DAC, a component phonostage, and two stereo amplifiers to fill out the rack.
On the speaker end of things, a pair of Stenheim Alumine Two.Five (2.5 colloquially) which feature minimally invasive (my words, not theirs) crossovers and drivers that do well to add soul and character to their all aluminum enclosures.
In a discussion with the youngest member of the team, we talked about this exhibit system’s components and asked the question: who benefits? The Primare electronics are remarkably affordable, while the turntable and speakers are between four and ten times the asking price. The answer: everyone. Primare shows that it can hold its own when it comes to tying together pricier gear. Stenheim flaunts its efficiency and the ability to play well with others.
Heretic Speakers + Thöress + Wattson Audio + Luna Cables + Olde Forge Audio
Is there such a thing as a maestro in high-end audio?
David Cope of Olde Forge Audio has been imitated by more new dealers of hi-fi than I can even begin to list without offending someone. If anything, this CAF exhibit is exactly what it should be: an invitation. Curation is such an important part of system building, and Mr. Cope has a sense of taste in the matter that is as right on trend with where several members of the industry would like to arrive one day. That’s high praise, and rightly earned.
Partnering with Phonographe Distribution for this exhibit, which distributes Luna Cables, Wattson Audio, and Thöress in North America, Dr. Cope paired the aforementioned brands with a distinctly old-school set of loudspeakers. The Heretic AD-614 are a coaxial 12-inch driver speaker which eschews modernity by choosing serial crossovers and slot venting as opposed to the more common tuned port and parallel crossovers of today.
With somewhere around 20 wpc of amplifier power, the system didn’t sound short of dynamics or headroom. Nor did the fact that digital as our only source available make the experience seem any less settled and inviting for long term listening.
Audio Note UK Ltd + Deja Vu Audio
An all-Audio Note UK system, that in total reaches above a $100K outlay, the vibes are here in spades.
Before permanent magnets like alloy and ferrite were commercially sensible, field-coil electromagnet drivers were all the rage. Yes, I’m speaking about way back when, the early days, the twentieth century. The field-coil does things differently, and maybe for now, that’s all you need to know.
The electronics are more conventional, as far as one can say that tube electronics in 2023 are conventional outside of high-end audio circles. The speakers are of the field-coil type, and for those who dabble in such things, they will tell you that FC-type speakers are superior in concept. For myself, I hold the rest of my judgement on the matter to implementation. I have a heap of respect for brands that still design around the FC design scheme, and more when they make solid choices of where to use them.
Deja Vu Audio is a Virginia, USA based dealer and purveyor of system building.
Vivid Audio + Mola Mola + Grimm Audio + GTT Audio
Undoubtedly one of the most high-end experiences at the show that may have not worn that label so strongly. When it comes to Vivid Audio you kind of get caught up in the art of the design. However, the engineering backs it up sonically without fail.
Much of what I heard at CAF for the GTT Audio exhibit can be further bolstered better by Grover Neville’s latest review of the Vivid Giya G4 S2 loudspeakers. This won’t be the first time I defer to Grover’s writings to better encapsulate the experience.
VAC “Valve Amplification Company”
Though only on static display, I felt it necessary to cover the existence of the new VAC Essence line of tube electronics.
All VAC electronics are handcrafted in the USA and define what “heirloom quality” can be in terms of audio components. The Essence line receives exceptional engineering and design from its upmarket brethren. So we expect them to sound as musical and as insightful as their brand moniker implies.
VAC Essence Linestage – $9K
VAC Essence Phono – $9K
VAN Essence 80 Monobloc – $9.9K
Countless systems we’ve heard and reviewed from have included VAC tube electronics. Take this as our stamp of approval.
TriangleArt is a US based manufacturer of high-end audio dream-fodders. Each of them clad in gold honey, and built as if the US military had spec’d the design requirements for NORAD use. The brand is an audio show mainstay and does well to put on an eye-catching exhibit.
A recent addition to the TriangleArt family of products is the new Metis horn loudspeakers, which from a few of the show attendees I spoke to was remarked as their favourite horn speaker of the CAF 2023 weekend.
This wraps up day one, stay tuned for more coverage to come.