2012 Capital Audio Fest



The 2012 Capital Audiofest, held July 13-15, at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Rockville, Maryland, provided a cacophony of listening pleasure. This event also presented an opportunity for me to sample a wide variety of new products, purchase CDs and vinyl. Surprisingly, this show also included a swap-meet for those interested in selling or buying used gear and (especially) vinyl. Having attended the Capital Audio fest the past two years, I was excited not only to peruse the new equipment offerings, but also the awesome selection of reasonably priced vintage tube gear and LPs at the swap -meet. The price of admission also included excellent live music events. I attended the show on July 14th and 15th and enjoyed listening to the wide variety of products and tweaks that actually made a significant impact on the listening experience.


I also managed to pick up quite a few used LPs at bargain prices, and couldn’t wait to get home and spin them on my turntable.


Pick a color, any color. The new VPI Traveler turntable was very impressive especially when considering its $1,299 price point. I was amazed that the little VPI was much closer to the new $8k VPI Classic 4 than the price differential would dictate.


While its big brother, the new VPI Classic 4, definitely sounded better in the same system at many times its price through a pair of Fifth Row loudspeakers (above), the Fifth Row speakers demonstrated extraordinary musicality through both turntables.



The Audio Note UK room demo'd their exotic electronics driving a pair of Audio Note ANE SPE HE speakers, which sounded much bigger than their size. The system had an extremely organic character which immersed me into the music. When I closed my eyes, the instruments jumped out at me, and sounded more like live music than a recording. Need I say more?


United Home Audio, as in prior shows, presented a very natural/realistic sounding system, which was likely attributable in large part to the front end I heard consisting of the United Home Audio UHA-Q Series Phase9PB Open Reel Tape Deck ($14,500). I don’t remember my old reel to reels sounding nearly this good. But, it made me think about reentering the tape extravaganza. I am sure it didn’t hurt that the deck was being driven by the MBL 6010 Preamp ($26,500), and MBL 9007 Amps ($21,400 each) into MBL 116F Speakers. All and all I kept on thinking how smooth the system sounded with a three-dimensionality close to live music. The system shown above also included the Clearaudio Innovation Turntable ($11,000).




The absolutely gorgeous Audio Power Laboratories 50 TNT amplifiers ($47,500 per pair, 50 wpc RMS, above), with a tube complement of 2 X572B, 2 X 5881 and 2 X 12 BH7, sounded as good as they looked driving the TIDAL Piano Diacera speakers ($37,690 - $41,890 depending on finish), using WideaLab Aurender S10 Music server and dCS Pucinni digital front end, Bricati M1 DAC, and a Purity Audio Silver Statement preamp.


The more I listened to the big TIDAL Contriva Diacera SE speakers ($58,190 - $64,190), the more I liked them. The Contrivas were driven by the TIDAL Impulse amplifier, with the front end including the WideaLab Aurender S10 Music Server, dCS Debussy DAC, dCS Pucinni CD/SACD player, and Pucinni U-clock.




Highwater Sound presented an array of fine sounding equipment, as usual, including the Horning HybirdEufroditeZigma Ultimate speakers ($24,000), driven by Tron electronics (TronTelestar 211 SE - $40,000, Seven Line GT - $18,000, and Seven Phono GT - $18,000. The front end was new TW-Acustic Raven GT - $10,000), with two TW – Acustic 10.5 arms $5,500 each. The Highwater Sound room was packed each time I wandered by, but when I finally got an opportunity to sit down, I found out why and was glad that I made the effort to return.



I was quite impressed by the Cathedral Speaker Company’s Model 3113, which was driven by a Scott vintage integrated amplifier with great results. I had heard the Cathedral’s being driven by low powered Audio Note amplifiers at 2011 Audiofest and was quite taken by their engaging performance at that time. I wish I had room in my listening room for these big bad boys (W 24 x H 64 x D 25). At an introductory price of $6995, it would be hard to find anything that can beat the Cathedrals from top to bottom. With a sensitivity of around 100 dB 1W/1M, and nominal impedance of 8 ohms, the Cathedrals are designed to be driven by wide range of amplification; tube amps from 2-200 wpc or solid state amps from 20-600 wpc.




I had the distinct privilege of listening to Janel and Anthony perform in the lobby of the Crown Plaza Hotel. Cellist Janel Leppin and guitarist Anthony Pirog presented an intimate and engaging performance. I would have loved to stay for the entire set, but needed to cut short the listening experience to provide coverage to all the audio rooms.






Sophia Electric know by many audiophiles for its quality current production tubes, showed several speakers, including its 97 dB, 8 ohm, Princess horns ($18,000 – standard version - which sounded ohhh so musical to these ears), along with its beautifully built current flagship 91-05300B SET amplifier ($8,000 - $10,000 above)

Also on display was the Sophia Electric 126S dual-mono stereo integrated amplifier (base model 126S-03 - $5,000).




Paola Audio presented a beautiful lineup of reasonably priced products available in either cherry or mahogany finishes. Above is Paola’s Petit Audio System ($2,990) consisting of the Petit Stereo Amplifier (6 wpc push-pull, with tube complement of 4 X 6AQ5, 2 X 2C51) and Petit Desk Acoustic Monitors.


Paola’s Klassika Audio System($6,490), was quite musical and includes the Klassika Stereo Amplifier (30 wpc push-pull with 4 X 6550, 2 X 6SL7, 2 X 6SN7 tube complement) and Klassika Loudspeakers. This was the first room I entered, and I had to pull myself away so I could sample the other equipment offerings.



Robert Lighton Audio presented its own Robert Lighton branded RL10 speakers ($20,000) in a beautiful solid wood finish (available in teak or mahogany – 95 dB, 6 Ohms, featuring 10 inch woofers, with alnico magnets with hand made paper cones, and 1 inch fabric dome tweeters with alnico magnets, both made in Japan exclusively for RL Audio). The speakers were driven by all Audio Note electronics. Having come from the dedicated Audio Note room, I was interested to compare the RL Audio Note combo. I detected a bit more bass and fuller sound with a bit more top end, but ultimately favored the organic sounding Audio Note UK system.



Mapleshade presented an interesting array of its platforms, spikes, cables, and modified vintage Scott electronics, along with its excellent sounding CDs. The setup sounded quite remarkable, especially given the small speakers. But, being an owner of Mapleshade stands, cones and modified electronics, I can attest to the significant improvements in my system after the stands and cones joined my system, and I will never let go of my modified Scott 222c amplifier.



The Déjà vu Audio room was a refreshing departure from some of the tipped up sounding systems I experienced at the Audiofest. The vintage speakers ($44,000 - featuring Western Electric compression drivers/midrange horns, Western Electric/Jensen 15 inch woofers in folded horn cabinets,and other vintage parts and crossovers, etc.)in gorgeous custom made cabinetshad a warm balanced sound that I could have listened to for hours. These custom vintage speakers were driven by the Déjà vu Audio Vintage Collection 349A stereo amplifier ($27,000) and 127C stereo preamplifier ($30,000), both including Western Electric output transformers and tubes. They were above my budget, but I certainly enjoyed the opportunity to enjoy the relaxed listening pleasure.




Woo Audio presented a vast array of both dynamic and electrostatic headphone amplifiers (above and below), ranging in price from $495 to $4,990. The Woo room was full both times I visited and tried to sit down and have a listen. If that is any indication of the (Woo) sound, I would think that it is at least worth giving an audition. Hopefully, I will next year.

See you at the next Capital Audio Fest....