Within my CAF 2018 show report part one, I covered the wide diversity of approaches and price points that successfully managed to create the engaging sensation of real music at this year's event. Now, let's take a trip into territory that is typically reserved for only that one percent (or fewer?) of buyers, or a handful of very lucky journalists (can you see the smile on my face?), territory that the average listener can only experience at a show like this. Let's spend some time in the 50 foot, by 50 foot, by 10-foot-tall Potomac Room, just off the Atrium main floor at the Rockville, Maryland Hilton, at Capital Audiofest 2018.
I suspect you've all heard the phrase, "Go big or go home?" While the team of players that installed and showed the system that enchanted us in the Potomac Room on the mezzanine level of the Rockville Hilton may not have created this phrase, they sure as hell have made it their own! The main system in this room, a system that has wowed everyone who has had the opportunity to hear it, save for some who blatantly refuse to acknowledge this truth (more on this subject later), presents a musical experience far truer than that created by any other system I've heard...save for the other embodiments with this same equipment at other recent shows.
Sponsored by The Audio Company of Marietta, GA, co-owners Keith Sequeira, Jim Kumpe, and Gordon Waters, played host to a system that carried a retail price of $1,300,000! That's right, one million, three hundred thousand dollars! And while you may rightly expect any system even approaching that lofty price should be impressive, as monumental as that sum sounds, it still doesn't begin to inform you of the transformative, beguiling, simply staggering listening experience this synergistic system produces. The reconstructed sonic event, an entirely fabricated deception, an auditory illusion regenerated by this utterly magical conglomeration of electro-mechanical devices in this room, was truly epic and inescapably authentic!
The analog source was the Kronos Audio Pro Turntable ($38,000), with the Kronos Audio SCPS-1 Power Supply ($13,500). This Super Capacitor Power Supply, referred to as a DC Accumulator, provides DC to the motors from a pair of alternatingly charging banks of 32 Farads of capacitance, at 20 volts. While one side is discharging and driving the motors, the other is recharging. The arm is the 12" Kronos Black Beauty Tonearm ($8,500), designed by André Thériault and Louis Desjardins, which was fitted with an Air Tight Opus 1 Cartridge ($15,000). Digital playback was either the Esoteric N-01 network audio player ($20,000) or the Esoteric Grandioso P1 transport ($38,000), using the Esoteric Grandioso G1 master clock ($26,000) and a pair of the Esoteric Grandioso D1 monoblock DACs ($38,000/pr.).
Electronics were all from Kevin Hayes' Valve Amplification Company, and included the Statement Phono Stage ($80,000), the Statement Line Stage ($75,000), and two pair of Statement 450 iQ Monoblock Power Amplifiers, four in all ($240,000/four).
Speakers were the Von Schweikert Audio flagship ULTRA 11's ($300,000/pr.), and a pair of Von Schweikert Audio Shockwave V12 Subwoofers ($11,500/ea.) were deployed in critical locations near the rear of the room to manage active room correction.
The IsoThermal TubeTraps from Acoustic Sciences Corporation ($26,000) were used for room treatment, and all equipment rested on Critical Mass Olympus V-12 Luxury racks, which come in at $10,250 per component space, and this system used 12 such spaces (for $123,000)! It also used four of the Critical Mass Olympus V-12 Luxury amplifier stands, also at $10,250 each, adding another $41,000. Finally, interconnects, power cords, digital, and speaker cables were all from the ULTRA series of MasterBuilt Audio cable (>$200,000).
As well as this stunning live system, they had five other static system displays, the first of which, off to the left just inside the door, was the heart of the system introduced at Rocky Mountain Audio Fest just one month ago. That show saw the world primer of both the VAC Statement 450i iQ integrated amplifier ($150,000) and the Von Schweikert ULTRA 9 loudspeakers ($200,000), both of which are headed to my listening room mid-December for review in another journal.
Just past the eye-catching 450i iQ and ULTRA 9 display, also on the left, was a more modest system featuring the Transrotor Fat Bob turntable ($11,000) fitted with an Airtight PC-7 cartridge ($2,500), the Naim SuperUniti streamer ($6,995), and an Esoteric K-07 CD player ($6,500). Electronics included the VAC Sigma 170 iQ integrated amplifier with integral MC/MM Phonostage ($11,500), all resting on a Critical Mass Sotto Voce rack ($7,110). Loudspeakers were the entry level Von Schweikert Endeavor E3, finished in a black piano lacquer ($10,000).
Not to be slighted, just to the right of the entrance, was another killer system featuring the Transrotor Rondino turntable ($19,500), with an Air Tight PC-1 Supreme cartridge ($11,000), the VAC Master preamplifier ($40,000), the VAC Statement 450S amplifier ($46,000), all sitting on the Critical Mass Maxxum rack ($18,750). Speakers were my current reference, the Von Schweikert VR-55 Aktiv's ($60,000/pr.).
Further into the room, just behind that system, was the last full static system, featuring the Clearaudio Innovation Wood turntable ($16,000), with 12" Universal Tonearm and the Ortofon MC-A90 cartridge ($4,000), the Esoteric N-03T network audio transport ($11,000) and the Esoteric K-03X CD player/DAC ($20,000). Electronics here were the VAC Renaissance V preamplifier with phono stage ($12,990) and VAC Signature 200iQ amplifier ($14,500), all resting on the Critical Mass Maxxum rack ($25,000). Speakers here were the Von Schweikert Endeavor E5 ($40,000/pr.).
The final display, further into the room on the right, included the dynamic duo of the VAC Statement Line Stage ($75,000) and Statement Phono Stage ($80,000), plugged in and lit up to allow for some up-close and personal appreciation of the sheer beauty of these flagship products.
Gleaning all those equipment price lists, it doesn't take much effort to arrive at the conclusion that we are nearly two-hundred grand over the two-million-dollar mark! And, this is all in one room at this show! I've been attending shows since the 1970's, and in all that time I've never seen a more impressive display of product. But, enough about quantity... Let's talk quality; that is, after all, what this whole room embodied.
While I've heard some variation on this system on over a half dozen occasions since its introduction at AXPONA 2017 in Chicago, and almost this exact system in this same room at last year's event, the performance this year was even more impressive than any ULTRA 11 appearance prior, especially after some time and repeated tweaking of the analog front end. I've covered this system in detail in several other reports, for several journals, but if you are interested in a deeper dive into this world-class, state-of-the-art system, have a look at last year's report on this show.
Following in the tradition we started last year at this very show, I was permitted to program all the music played on this majestic system right after dinner Friday, from about 8:30 PM, until just after 1:00 AM. Because I personally prefer the sound of analog, I played exclusive selections from my personal collection of LPs brought with me for this express purpose, or, ones that I had already recommended or given to these guys to use in their demonstrations. This event was open to anyone who whished to attend, and it seems to have become quite popular. Along with the large number of general show-attendees, Fridays audience included nearly a dozen other manufactures (not associated with this room), as well as that many more journalists and reviewers. Honestly, the bulk of the audience stayed for the whole evening's presentation, and in fact, my performance Friday night was awarded a "Best of Show Gold Award" from AVShowrooms!