Capital Audiofest (CAF) 2021 Show Report
Five rooms to rule them all.... That may be hyperbole, but I truly enjoyed these five rooms:
20/20 Evolution proved that you don't need huge speakers and mega amplifiers to fill a massive room. Using a pair of Kharma Midi Exquisites powered with some terrific Conrad Johnson gear.
The room demonstrated the level of refinement and micro resolution that Kharma is known to deliver, emotionally grabbing you even from the hallway and luring you in. The stage was palatial and the whole experience reminded my why these are one of my favorite speakers. Kharma is solidly back in the USA, and we should all rejoice. Of course, the supporting equipment contributed greatly to the overall spectacular performance. Awesome room Jay!
Speaking of bigger rooms, my friend Doug White had his typical strong showing for The Voice That Is, presenting his usual all Tidal system with a new digital source he was especially excited to share with us, Ideon's Absolute Epsilon DAC/Time Re-Clocker/Stream Server stack (worth taking a deeper look at!). The Contriva G2 20th Anniversary Edition speakers were dressed in a spectacular Custom Macassar Ebony finish (the only pair in the world with that finish I might add) and the whole system performed up to its typical mesmerizing performance. Doug also utilized CAD's behind the scenes grounding system which has always intrigued me. I need to try that in my room when I get a chance!
Tidal combines micro detail and resolution with dynamic strength and a midrange presence that sets your soul aflame. I've heard his systems enough at shows to know they are the real deal and worthy of some serious time (and money) with Doug if your ready to buy your final system.
Another room worth a mention was the QLNm, Innuos, and Gryphon. Sounding its best on Sunday (which is typical at these shows), the combo was well set up and offered a staggering stage, surprising low end punch and an even and natural tonal palette that drew me back again and again. This room didn't WOW you (which I find loses it's allure quickly), but endeared itself to you for a long term relationship. Nothing in this room shined above any other; it was a well put together room that reminded us that system matching and good setup will always satisfy in the long run.
Now upstairs to the smaller rooms for a new kid on the block, Infigo (although the designer Hans Looman is anything but new to the industry). Clearly held back from releasing earlier due to the pandemic, Infigo came out of the gate swinging hard with a pair of all Class A 'Method 3' 250 Wpc into 4 Ohm monoblocks specially designed to limit output to 35 Watts above what's being drawn by the speakers. This design limits heat production and gives the amp free reign to hit 250 Wpc in pure Class A; yikes! Infigo 'Sparkle' cables connected the system. They also released a matching 'Method 4' DAC that runs direct into the amps, using a Resonance Labs Fluvius server as source. Speakers were a pair of Alta Audio Alec speakers punching way below the belt and above their weigh; implementing a unique transmission line design that offered low frequency extension making everyone look for the subs.
The room just sounded right, from top to bottom; and I went back over and over again to release the fatigue of covering a big show like this. I am working on arranging a review of the electronics, and hope I can solidify that to share these special new electronics with you.
My last choice was an affordable system in a small room upstairs utilizing The Muse (Daedalus speakers most affordable floorstander) , Linear Tube Audio amp and preamp, LampizatOr DAC and music server (which was EVERYWHERE at this show), and WyWires cabling / power distribution. Value for the money, this was the room I would go home with. Sonically open and well defined, musically engaging, handling upper and lower extremes with finesse but never overdoing it in either direction. The system fit the room; and the room fit my tastes. With a total cost of probably 1/2 to 1/10 my other favorite rooms, it was a breath of fresh air and represented equipment that represents fantastic value for the performance exhibited.
I left the bigger Daedalus room downstairs to my colleague Greg Weaver. If I could add one more room to my favorite five (which would make it my favorite six) it would be that one. I was pleased with the volume of great sounding rooms at the show and my list, by no means, comprises the only great sounding rooms there.
As a second aside, I didn't include the VAC, Von Schweikert, and Esoteric room because Greg is writing about it, and it's over $1 mil cost makes it more of something to just embarrassingly lust after and ogle at, like a Ferrari La Ferrari. I am absolutely obligated to thank Damon Von Schweikert for his hospitality, his generosity, his Scotch and the opportunity to make a new friend. Damon is approachable, warm, exuberant about his product and a damn nice guy. He epitomizes what this industry is about, and I am honored to now call him friend.
Everyone reading this should absolutely prioritize this show next year and come! The people are fantastic, the rooms are well set up and nicely put together, the lack of the same five "audiophile" songs playing was welcome and the after hours festivities open to the public give everyone a chance to listen to fantastic equipment while meeting people you read about and the authors who write about them. It's about the gear, the music, the magic and the friendship; and not necessarily in that order!