Capital Audiofest (CAF) 2019 Show Report
Capital Audiofest 2019
There is no denying it; Capital Audiofest has grown to be one of the best and most enjoyable shows within the USA and is rapidly becoming my favorite show to attend! The camaraderie, the "vibe," the diversity, the quality of the exhibits – at ALL PRICE POINTS, the after-hours events, the music, it's just a spectacularly fun three-days of friendship, sound, and music. What Gary Gill and his team (the only other team member I've met is Christina Yuin, Director of Sales), have done to organically grow and support this annual "party" should not be overlooked and deserves the highest commendation. One needs to keep in mind that, other than running this show, Gary really has no other connection to our industry. His day gig is as a construction manager. Capital Audiofest is a labor of love for him and his team; one that sees him doing the entire week of this show with only hours of sleep, sometimes less, a night. The man is all passion!
This year, the show expanded to fill 82 rooms of the Hilton Washington DC/Rockville Hotel & Executive Meeting Center on Rockville Pike, a beautifully laid out, virtually perfect setting for this show. Its central Atrium layout offers ~8000 ft2 of floor space for vendors, has sweeping stone staircases and steps, two banks of two glass-car elevators, and offers an open overlook from every floor's core hallway down into its remarkable space. The open space just inside the entrance, which supports check in, has a Starbucks, a large, open space with plenty of comfortable seating that fosters socializing, sweeps down the staircase into the Atrium, to the third-floor rooms, or to the left into Olive's restaurant and bar. This hotel is, well, it is as inviting as it is well appointed.
A view of the atrium of the Hilton Washington DC / Rockville Hotel & Executive Meeting Center, home to Capital Audiofest 2019.
The average room size here is given as 375 ft2, with suites available at 580 ft2 and 850 ft2, another 25 meeting rooms starting at 900 ft2, to the remarkable Potomac Room, just off to the right of the main atrium floor, with its 50' by 50' by 10' space providing 2,500 ft2. This is one grand location for such a show.
So, if you get the idea that I'm taken by this venue and this show, then I've made my point. Even though April's AXPONA 2019 in the enormous and luxurious Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center Hotel, just is just a two-hour drive for me in north-west Chicago, I've really looked forward to attending Capital Audiofest these past three years now. And, I can't wait for CAF's 2020 event.
But what happened at this show, Greg? In a word, LOTS! Before I get into sharing some of the best sounds of this event with you, I want to discuss one of the most effective and important demonstrations I've seen at a recent show.
Vinh Vu, of Gingko Audio of Farmingdale, NJ, was doing an especially impressive demo in the Munro Room, one that I see too rarely at shows, in furtherance of promoting the World Premiere introduction of his new Gingko Audio Sextet Speaker System ($8,995/6 piece system). Using a Salk Stream Player Gen. 3 ($1,695) and the LampizatOr Amber 3 DAC ($2,900), or a VPI HW40 turntable ($15,000), a Van den Hul DDT II Special cartridge ($1,300), and the VPI Voyager phono preamp ($2,500), everything rested on a Pangea Vulcan Stand ($139), all cables were from Danacables (Ultra Summa and Diamond series), and there was a liberal use of Gingko Audio ARCHs (recommended within our Great Audiophile Gift 2019, Patented Acoustic Resonance Clarifier devices for speakers and components) throughout the system.
The Gingko Sextet, a configurable system of monitors, active subwoofers, and outboard subwoofers (one shown near the door at the back of room), used in one super effective demonstration.
The Sextet is an ambitious speaker system that is a collaborative effort, building upon the Tubulous technology from Gingko Audio, the Swarm subwoofer system from AudioKinesis, and unique cabinet construction from Salk Sound. Leveraging the 1-inch soft dome tweeter and 6.5" paper-cone woofers used in both the Gingko Audio Clarissa and ClaraVu speaker systems, the Sextet is a fully configurable system that can be purchased as just the Sextet 2 (the pair of Sextet monitors - $4,995), the Sextet 2+2 (the monitors and two dedicated stands - $5,795), or with various combinations of the subs, including the full Sextet 6.2 (using two monitors, two powered subs – which also act as monitor stands, and two outboard subs – $8,995). The subs have switchable polarity, 0° and 180° to better integrate and help manage constructive or destructive interference.
The tremendous versatility here is that users can start with just the monitors, and later, as budget or space permit, add a pair of subs (Sextet Swarm 2-One powered sub with built-in amp and one passive outboard sub $2,000) which can be used as stands for the monitors, and/or then add the second Swarm sub system for the full Sextet 6.2, to maximum effect.
Vinh's demo was impressive, using the 6.2 system set up at follows. The left Sextet monitor was mounted atop a powered sub, with its mated outboard sub in the front right corner of the room. The right Sextet monitor was mounted atop the second powered sub, with its mated outboard sub in the rear left corner of the room.
Vinh now played a track with just the Monitors on. The sound was smooth and engaging but didn't really fill the room or convey the space and power of the music. Next, he turned on the left powered sub mated to the outboard sub in the front right corner of the room, then he played the same track. Knowing what to expect, I loved seeing the reaction from all the listeners in the room who may have not been familiar with what this would do. The look on most of the faces in the room was one of almost incredulity, of unbelievability!
Not only was there more bass fueling impact and weight, but the space of the recording completely opened up, filling the room, with more honest timbre and more realistic, three-dimensional staging. Finally, he turned on the right powered sub and its mated rear left outboard sub and started the same track yet again. While this was the more subtle of the two reveals, it was still handily impressive. More of everything, more weight, more space, more accurate tone and texture, more detail and dimension.
This was a masterful demo; one that clearly demonstrated why you need the extension provided by a full range speaker or a well-mated satellite/subwoofer system. It is not just deeper, more pitch defined, impactful bass, but the addition of the bloom and body, the more correct voicing, and the expansive space and dimensionality that it affords. I truly wish more people would demonstrate this effect. As such, my hat is off to Vinh, and the Gingko team. I hope they see wild success with this superbly versatile and enjoyable Sextet speaker system.
Linear Tube Audio, LampizatOr, Spatial, and AntiCables.
Amplification was handled by the Linear Tube Audio Z10 integrated amplifier ($4,900), and speakers were the Spatial M3 Sapphire Loudspeakers ($4,200/pr.), with all cabling from AntiCables (from $130).
This room offered surprisingly good tone color and texture, with vibrant, accurate string tone. While space was slightly compressed front to back, dimensionality was good left to right. Horns were just a bit lean in terms of their signature bite, but I was very impressed with how accurate piano was rendered here, both in tone and texture.
Room 548 - Overture Audio
Esoteric Grandioso Monoblocks amps and Magico M2 speakers.
I had expected the near pure magic I heard from the M2's at last April's AXPONA in Schaumburg. There, the M2's were in a slightly larger room and driven by the MSB Select Transport and DAC (which, truth be told, is not my favorite digital stack), CH Precision amps and the Synergistic Research cabling.
The Technics SL-1000RE-S 'table and Esoteric Grandioso electronics.
While horns had a nice authenticity, with proper bite, dynamics, and tone, staging was slightly restricted in all three dimensions, most likely due to room size limitations. This was one of the 375 ft2 rooms. Overall, there was a slight dryness compared to what I've heard from the M2's prior, and which is not an attribute of the Esoteric Grandioso electronics, which I've also heard on many occasions. And while this room was fairly neutral sounding overall, exhibiting nice speed (especially from upper-bass and midrange), upper mids were just a bit lean, leaving them sounding a bit withdrawn. Finally, midbass was overemphasized, again most likely due to room size and wall proximity. As exciting as it was to have Magico at this event for the first time, my expectations for the sonics of this system were nowhere near met. I hope Magico will return, perhaps in a more appropriately sized room and with better source paring, in 2020.