Best Of Capital Audiofest 2023
On Choosing The Best Rooms
With 120 rooms at Capital Audiofest 2023, that means 11 minutes per room, minus travel time between rooms and time for a couple of pit stops during the day. For me, lunch is typically a Clif bar and Mt. Dew while listening in a good room.
I've always tried to cover every room at shows since I first started back in the mid-1990s on the rec.audio.com newsgroup. There was always so much to learn in those early years and I was equally motivated by my desire to pay back to the industry the joy I received from continuously improving my listening skills and experiences.
The idea of naming a "Best Room at the Show" became kind of a sport early on, probably as a way of attracting advertising dollars and review samples. I quickly learned that it is a fool's game on an uneven playing field with so many variables affecting the outcome based on walking into a room, listening to a few minutes of music, and taking photographs.
Of course, if you spend more time in a given room, listening to a variety of music selections, you can get a more accurate assessment of the experience, but then you have to leave out other rooms. Most likely, the left-out rooms will be newcomers, smaller manufacturers, rooms sponsored by retailers, and others who are not likely to buy advertising in your publication or on your site. Often, those are the rooms that present unique products that eventually become successful manufacturers or are a forerunner of a significant trend. (Editors Note: We do not cover rooms at shows based on advertising with us.)
With the inherent dynamics and inequalities of selecting a single "Best Room", I expanded the concept to "Best Rooms" (plural) many years ago. This broadened the playing field to include manufacturers of different sizes, rooms sponsored by retailers, products in different price ranges, as well as sonic signatures that lay beyond my personal preferences. In case you haven't received the memo, we all have preferences.
How I Select the Best Rooms
After finishing my coverage of all the rooms, and at times I've missed a few, I review my entire report and make a list of all the rooms that stood out to me as special in some way or another. Most often this is acoustical superiority, but it could be a statement about the exceptional value or design of a system or major product introduction. In most cases, these rooms have systems that I could live with very happily, assuming I had an appropriately sized room and could also include a turntable if one was lacking.
From the above list, I then make a second pass, eliminating those rooms that do not make a significant improvement over their presentation at previous shows unless their presentation was truly exceptional. Often, such an improvement is the result of a new product being introduced, but it could also be the result of the room being set up more carefully. Or maybe in comparison with the other rooms, a room is left out because it doesn't seem quite as special as the others. (This is where my personal bias can creep in.)
Finally, I go through the second list with an eye and ear toward those rooms that move their companies or the industry forward in some recognizable way. They may not be the top ten or twelve best sounding rooms at the show, but they each have brought something special that moves the bar higher in some way or some category for the industry.
At a Canadian show this year, for example, my first list was about 30 rooms, my second list was about 15 rooms and the final awards were maybe five or six rooms out of about 60 total rooms at the show. With 120 rooms at Capital Audiofest 2023, the numbers were of similar proportions, but I came up with a new idea, to list all the rooms that made the first list, as these rooms are all worthy of very high regard. That this list totals 42 rooms verifies what others have claimed, that the rooms at this show were of notable high quality.
I'll start at the top and work my way down through the floors, just as I did in my report.