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Capital Audiofest 2012 High-End Audio Show Report
Capital Audiofest 2012 Show Report
Coverage By Scot Hull of Part Time Audiophile 

 

  The last day of any audio show is a study in contrasts. Opening on Day One has that frenetic I'm-almost-done/I'm-never-gonna-make-it feel, with everyone rushing to put the finishing touches on their room, moving the speakers that last time, adjusting their products and how they sit on the racks, fiddling with the little tags that identify the thing they're showing off, setting out the info sheets, and generally futzing about the room. It's like watching a nervous teenager before that first date. It is kinda cute. Day Three feels more like a scene cut from The Hangover. Bleary eyes, missing persons, a trashed hotel room, a roofie-obliterated evening, and no one has any idea why there's a tiger in the bathroom. 1,000 repetitions of "Keith Don't Go" will do that to you.

Yeah, Day Three has a decidedly different feeling. Everything has been playing for three days – it's as broken in/warmed-up as it's going to get and assuming no one put a fist through a bass driver after doing tequila shots at 2am to deadmau5 turned up to 11, that is. Hmm. No, after two full days of practice, the demos are pretty established and routine. The questions have all been asked and answered dozens of times and now there's an easy flow to the response, carefully cadenced around a cup of steaming coffee.

Now, if someone could explain that tiger? Yeah. That'd be great.

 

Miracle Audio
I started my last day at the Capital Audiofest with Mark Kovach of Miracle Audio. Miracle Audio specializes in home theater, with a full line up of on-wall/in-wall speakers. Think: flat. Not really what I tend to think of when I think of speakers, but you have to admit that one of the main issues with loudspeakers is, well, the speaker. It is size and placement. The fact that your significant other thinks most speakers look like ass and will refuse to let them anywhere near your main living spaces unless it bears the name "Bose". It's a problem. But with flat speakers, this may be a non-issue. Of course, not everyone will be hot to hang a 42" high speaker on the wall, unless it's bracketing their 90" flat-screen TV. Personally, I'm trapped by a dreaded "media cabinet" that my wife has specifically blessed, but had I some bare walls, the $12,000 Miracle Audio Di-Ann could be tempting. True, the price is not insignificant, but typically, Miracle sees it's route to market through builders and new-home construction, so these costs tend to get lost in that mix.

With 14-drivers per side in a box that's 4" deep, the Di-Ann throws a very large sound stage, with detail and great height. The quarter-wave transmission-line design does put out a reasonable amount of bass, but a complementary subwoofer is going to be a requirement for home-theater thump. This is a really big – and big-sounding – speaker, which does vocals and large scale music with equal aplomb.

 

GT Audio Works
One of the most talked-about rooms was put together by GT Audio Works. The price on the flagship GTA 2 loudspeakers has been very recently increased to a still-modest $3395, but the price was only part of the draw. A full-length ribbon, a planar-magnetic mid-range, a pair of 8" mid-woofers and a pair of 8" powered subs – that was the other bit. Rather, that's a lot of bits for the asking price. A speaker like this would most probably benefit from some serious room to breathe. Acoustics were a bit challenging in the hotel room's confines, but the room was very engaging, the crowds pretty much continuous and the enthusiasm remained high. We're going to be hearing more from GT Audio, I'm quite sure.

 

Mapleshade
Baltimore's Mapleshade is in the business of "recording music and improving sound". I know, because I got that off the website. Their library of music is extensive and covers a lot of ground: jazz, classical, blues and a lot more. Recorded to analog tape, the sound quality is unusual in today's music market: that is, it's outstanding. I know, because I own a double-handful of Mapleshade CDs – and love them. Mapleshade also sells a ton of audiophile bits and bobs. Probably best known for their belief that more air-dried maple and brass will do ever-greater wonders for the sound of your audio system, they've been manufacturing and selling a huge variety of such solutions to bring these enhancements to the general market. I know, because I bought one of their Samson racks.

One of their solutions that seems to get little air-play these days is wire, which is odd in that the Omega-Mikro interconnects and speaker cable line is one of the first audiophile products that founder Pierre Sprey brought to market. The line has expanded over the years to include far more cost-effective solutions, but still, it's not something that gets emphasized much in the audio press – at least, it was certainly not something that was top-of-mind for me when I walked in their room. But -- it was certainly the first thing I saw. It was like a bomb went off at a spaghetti factory. They have some pretty specific ideas about wire over there at Mapleshade, what it should be, and how it should be set up. Let's just say that their advice tends to fly in the face of the Received View – a divergence that was on marked display.

Showing a pair of Strada speakers and their matching subs from Anthony Gallo Acoustics, the long-wall setup was especially challenging, though the Mapleshade refurbed vintage gear in the rack was very sweet to see, touch and feel, and all that maple and brass is very impressive.

 

EMIA
The EMIA room, or more properly, the Experience Music/Intact Audio room was an exercise for me, one of many that the show forced me into. My problem is, as usual, me. I am not an engineer – I'm an enthusiast. You can draw a circuit diagram and sure, I might be able to follow along (assuming you talk to it), but as to why those bits here and there matter? Dude. I left my EE degree for Philosophy after my Freshman year. You wanna talk shop about Wittgenstein or the Logical Positivists and I'm your Huckleberry. But shunt-regulated power supplies? Hmm... yeah. Let me get back to you on that. Which brings me to why the beer is so important.

Dave Slagle of Hifi Heroin and Intact Audio was on hand with some very fine beer from Black Man Brew. Yes, Dave was pouring micro brew. Not being an IPA or wheat-beer kinda guy, I wanted to climb into the cask of Black Dog and kinda live there for a day or three. Anyway, Dave had you covered, whatever your predilections. I wish I had hit this room on Friday afternoon and not Sunday morning, but oh well.

In the listening room, meanwhile, was a rather intimidating system with a Lowther Field-Coil mounted in a huge, white, Azurahorn that was easily sixty feet across. Each. Okay, no, but they were really big. A pair of 15" Hawthorne Audio drivers were mounted below each horn, driving the low frequencies. Tel Wire cabling connected everything, everything including a suite of electronics from the Emia venture, including a strain gauge system, several autoformer-based attenuators, and triode-based monoblock amplification based on some big, sexy 1929 Sylvania 50 tubes. Pricing for the latter was listed as "unobtanium".

Ever heard Kraftwerk at 95dB+ from a pair of giant horns? I hadn't either. My advice? Sit way back. As to why this happened, well, all I can offer in our defense is this: "because we can". If I were to say this in person, of course, I'd punctuate that with an expletive. But that's because I'm crass.

 

Synthesis Audio and Déjà Vu Audio
The second room by Déjà Vu Audio showed off electronics by Synthesis Audio. This is the second time I've seen and heard the brand – the first being, well, last year's Capital Audiofest. The Italian brand Synthesis has some very high-end looks-and-feels, but the pricing was almost modest, considering. The $3000 per pair leather-wrapped Debut loudspeakers from their "Prime" collection was very posh and looked quite the catch for the price. Also from that collection is the $3400 Matrix DAC and a $1500 Pride transport. Power came from a $7500 A100T 100wpc integrated, from the more muscular-looking "Action" collection, and came complete with an on-board 24-bit/192kHz USB and S/PDIF DAC. The sound here was pretty typical audiophile fare: Diana Krall's All For You and Eva Cassidey's Blues Alley. I found the sound to match the look -- rich and warm.

 

Luminous Audio
Tim Stinson of Luminous Audio provided the cables to the wonderful room shared by Surreal Sound, Dynamic Sounds Associates, David Berning and VPI. As I might have mentioned, this room was a smash on many levels, but I wanted to call out the littlest guy in the chain – the Luminous Audio Axiom. This tiny box is an entirely passive preamp and was occasionally used to front-end all of that wonderful gear, giving the wonderful ZOTL Pre One a probably unnecessary rest. Retail pricing for the ZOTL Pre One starts at a lofty $8360 – quite a distance from the Axiom II, which starts at $200. A "Walker Mod" version, which trades up the attenuator, the wiring, the connectors and the isolation, is available for $399. Each Axiom is tuned to the specific rig it is going into, so be sure to contact Tim for details.

 

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