We've all got our problems. Some of us have issues with health, money, family, work. Some of us just "have issues". And, if you're reading this, it's probably accurate to say that there is someone in your life who fears, perhaps greatly, for your mental well-being. Ahhhh, isn't it great to be an audiophile? Europe seems about to eat its own tail economically. Here in the United States of America, the political finger pointing is reach new artistic heights almost daily, which is helpful because the U.S.A.'s economy seems to have set up camp out there "on the ropes" and is showing no real inclination to do anything other than mock us.
It is almost enough to make a body, tired and
beaten-down by The Man, retreat to his warm man-cave, tasty beverage in hand,
and put on some soothing tunes of past days and greater glory. Not that
audiophiles really need any particular excuse to do this even in the best of
circumstances, but it is really handy to have excuses ready to hand, now isn't
it? Right on.
This is where the 2012 Capital Audiofest finds
me. Fraught with worry, anxiety, guilt and shame. Okay, no, not really, but
reading the papers, I feel like I ought to be counting my lucky stars. So, I
am. And I am, lucky that is. I'm lucky, because a few years ago, inadvertent
organizer Gary Gill got left holding the bag. The Capital Audiofest started
off as an idea "a bunch of us had", Gary says, "while hanging out at Ijaz Khan's
place after CES." Ijaz used to host an epic after-CES party, something of a
Who's Who in audio's high end, and it was here, at a party of 80+ audiophiles
and audio manufacturers, when somebody commented that Washington DC hadn't had
an audio show since the 1980's. "Everybody said ‘let's do it!'" but Gary,
apparently, forgot to forget about it all after that weekend in Vegas.
Cardinal rule violation! And as a direct result, the First Annual Capital
Audiofest happened three years ago.
That first show was held at the historic Glenview Mansion in Rockville, MD. Sprawling grounds and a 19th century building made for a scenic, if not a particularly capacious, place to house an audio show. With 14 showrooms that first year, Gary and team saw about 500 visitors from around the Greater DC area. I was one of them – it was my first audio show.
I remember trying to explain it to my wife, who's most decidedly not an audiophile and still thinks I'm completely out of my tree when I start getting all starry-eyed talking about amplifiers. Yes, honey, I'm going to hang out and listen to a bunch of stereos. No, really! No, I'm not taking the checkbook. Yes, there will be other people there. Lots and lots of them, actually. Yes, I'm sure that they're all nuts too, uh huh, yes. Sure, I can stop and pick up some milk on the way home. Bye!
That was the easy conversation. The ones that
attempted to justify why the second and then third day's attendance was
necessary... well, let's just say that the following weekend, I had kid-duty
all to myself.
That first show, even with its modest approach, was overwhelming to me. I remember vividly – because it was only two years ago and despite what my wife says, I have an excellent memory – wandering the old building, poking my nose in here and there, and then doing it again, and then finally sitting still, sweating my balls off, listening to some spectacular music on some outrageously, eye-wateringly, expensive gear – that's when the show-bug bit my ass clean off.
I had a marvelous time. Long before 2011, it was clear that the lovely old Glenview wasn't going to support the kind of growth Gary was looking for. He'd gotten some great feedback from the prior year and his show generated a lot of buzz – DC was back on the audio show map. So, he went big – and picked up the entire venue and dropped it on the Crowne Plaza Hotel, a mere five miles away. Then, in a very "Field of Dreams" moment, he doubled the number of rooms, and subsequently, also doubled the traffic through the show.
The Crowne Plaza is an modest three-story affair just off Route 270 on the north end of Rockville, with lots of a suite of large suites and a hundreds of modestly sized rooms that, when converted to demo rooms, are, actually, big enough to really get a flavor for what's going on sonically. There's a big atrium area with room for vendors to set up kiosks, a bar, and a space for live music – this is important, says Gary, "so that we can keep a reference as we go from room to room. You know, so we remember what real instruments actually sound like."
For 2012, Gary doubled down again. With over 40 demo rooms and what looked like a steady and even flow of foot traffic, Gary punctuated this year's agenda with a ton of live music, "all weird!" he says with a big grin. Every day ended with a raffle, with everything from cables to DACs. Understandably, the draw for these end-of-day events was... robust.
After having run a gauntlet this year, with the New York Audio Show and it is mad crush and wildly variable acoustics, and the sheer speed needed at Newport just to see everything, Capital Audiofest is a welcome relief. I was able to get to every room. I got to most of them more than once. I heard great music. I heard spectacular systems – and some of those latter were hand built by the same kind of enthusiasts that have a remarkable success when they go on to selling such things professionally. I ate well, when I remembered to avoid the rush that did "bad things" to the unsuspecting service crew. I didn't buy any LPs this year, though I did pick up some CDs – yes, apparently vendors still sell them! I saw old men wandering the halls with canes and scooters. I saw little kids carrying teddy bears. I saw a striking number of young to middle-aged women. I know! Women, at an audio show! Tubes everywhere. A lot of smart questions asked by a startlingly knowledgeable crowd. And something rare in the Washington area these days – a lot of happy, smiling faces.
So, without further ado, let's put some meat on
the table and dig in, shall we?
Black Cat Cable
United Home Audio
High Water Sound
I listened to a lot of different music in this room – Jeff has a legendary LP collection – but it was Percussion in Colors, by Sumire Yoshihara that knocked my teeth in. Long out of print, this disc is really hard to find, which is a shame because the dynamic range on this LP is incredible. Jeff, looking very much like the cat with the cream, explained that a buddy of his had scored a $70 copy off of eBay and had been crowing about it – until Jeff got a copy from Amoeba for $15. Ahem! Anyway, the first track has this drum strike about 45 seconds in that nearly caused me to drop my camera. Freaky.