Capital Audiofest 2022, November 11th - 13th, 2022

This thread is to discuss Capital Audiofest 2022. The event returned to routine operations in 2022.

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At the last minute I ended up attending Capital Audiofest on Friday, November 11 (yesterday). So, creation of this topic comes quite late. I’m not aware if anyone else on this forum was there or will be there.

Many vendors participated in the event, and they took over about 4 floors of a large Hilton convention hotel. Most of the speaker demos were in suites separated by a “storage” suite or in large meeting rooms, so sound isolation was often pretty good.

I learned a lot about current headphone products, what I like in speakers, and that tastes and preferences vary a lot. Here are my random notes and impressions while fresh in mind. Take these with a grain of salt, as the audio show environment is chaotic and noisy.

  • Geshelli: Even if you don’t like their products, this is a cheerful and wholesome family business. Grandpa makes the wooden cases, the son designs products, while a grandson, granddaughter, and wife have roles. They had lots of free swag too. CAF was the world premier of their speaker amp with a curvy-carved wooden case. It was running through small ELAC speakers and sounded fine, but as always, half of a speaker sound comes from the room rather than the speaker itself.

  • ZMF: While ZMF did not attend, Geshelli had an Atticus and an Atrium for demoing amps and DACs. Frankly, neither ZMF was to my taste at all – both sounded extremely extremely extremely warm and boxed-in to my ears. I even asked if Geshelli was running an EQ, as Geshelli products have a neutral or even edgy reputation. Nope, both setups were neutral. My interest in ZMF products declined.

  • Focal Utopia 2022 ($4,999): I tried it at 3 booths on different amps. The Utopia remains a nuance master, but also still has bursts of icepick treble that I can’t get past.

  • Stax: I listened to their current flagship (SR-X9000; $6,200) and prior flagship (SR-009S; $4,545) on a $6K to $7K Stax amp and the SR-X9000 also on the HeadAmp Blue Hawaii ($6,495). My first impression is that these sound a LOT like a well-sorted HD 800 S setup. This means airy, delicate, nuanced, and open. I’d have a hard time justifying both in my fleet as they deliver a similar experience. I’d need a lot more listening time to pick out the small differences.

  • Audeze LCD-5 ($4,500): I had high hopes for this one because earlier Audeze products were too heavy and bulky for my tastes. The fit and feel are much better than before. It’s a solid product for sure, but a bit too sharp-edged on Audeze’s solid-state demo amp. I liked it better on an LTA (linear tube) amp. As it stands now it’d not be my choice in this price class.

  • HiFiMan Susvara ($5,995): HeadAmp had this and many other high-end headphones at their booth. It came across as fully competent and refined. Key word: refined. My impression was that nothing was out of place and everything was quite fine-grained. It’s an excellent product but also not a profile that I’d pursue. I don’t want to use the word boring, as the demo area was noisy, but…

  • Abyss AB-1266 Phi TC ($6K to $10K): The weird Dr. Who Robot Men looks have visual charm, and I concur with many reports about its fun, bassy, punchy character. I enjoyed this one and went back for a second listen. The on-head fit is every bit as weird as its appearance, but you don’t buy this kind of product for practicality.

  • Dan Clark Stealth ($3,499): I listened back-to-back with a the Meze Elite and was disappointed. It’s flatter, deader, and nowhere near the Meze’s performance. It should be priced a lot lower – perhaps they had those blasted in-cup cottony filters in place? I hated those filters in my old AEON Flow.

  • Meze Elite ($4,000): A very positive surprise; used on an LTA amp and HeadAmp GS-X Mini. I haven’t liked prior Meze products much, but I’d give this one serious consideration. It had the right balance of comfort, detail, nuance, and punch. I’d pursue this one further.

  • RAAL requisite: (1) CA-1a (closed; $2,000 to $2,500) – just okay, running off a standard headphone amp with a RAAL adapter. As always, a closed design cuts the performance. (2) SR-1b (open; $3,000 to $3,750) – WOWOWOWOWOW! They were running on RAAL’s stunning $6,900 VM-1a tube amp and an $1,100 silver cable. These burn into your brain and suck you in. They are fantastic, and didn’t seem to have weak/thin bass in my demo (but, in a pretty noisy area). A couple years ago I tried these on another amp and was not impressed. With the all-RAAL setup they were amazing.

  • Linear Tube Audio (LTA): I tried amps in 3 price tiers (ranging from about $1,500 to about $7,000). These were hard to evaluate because LTA paired mediocre headphones and DACs with the cheaper amps and really strong headphones/DACs with the pricy amps. The better amps thereby sounded a lot better. All of them had a clean and spacious modern tube amp tone and timbre. I’m not hearing much value at these price points, but you be the judge.

  • HeadAmp GS-X Mini ($1,795): I’d had my eye one this for a while, and used it for several headphone demos at the HeadAmp booth. It’s a really good solid state amp, and I’d like to compare back-to-back with my RebelAmp.

  • Chord Dave ($14,000): HeadAmp was running this as a DAC. It’s certainly a wonderfully refined product…but a bit too gentle and almost cloying per my taste.

  • Holo May DAC (version unknown; $4K to $6K): LTA was running this with their high-end amp. It’s certainly competent and less gentle than the Dave, but I need more time to say more.

  • Ampsandsound: Present with speaker amps but no headphone setups.

  • CheapAudioMan: I said hi to Randy the Youtube guy and shook his hand.

Speaker setups: These weren’t my focus but I learned a lot. Moving from room to room made it very clear that I usually preferred open baffle (no back) speakers and planars over box cabinet speakers. Some boxes sound tiny and boxy indeed. The open speakers need to be placed at least 1-2 meters from the wall, but resemble open-back headphones when they have space. I also reconfirmed that the correlation between price and performance is low – I liked many cheap setups better than some pricey setups. Some tube amps are really bad too, as they dirty up the sound rather than improve the soundstage. Finally, I learned that some vendors indeed have questionable hearing, as they blasted harsh treble so loud that I left their rooms in seconds.

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Was Vandersteen present and showing any of their open-baffle speakers? I love their stuff!

Great write-up, BTW.

Curious if Mytek was there and if so how did they handle the “hate,” within the audio community for them right at the moment. Their fall from grace as been one for the record books. Thanks for the recap btw, nicely done.

Where/how did this fall occur? I’m not aware of any “hate,” but then again, I haven’t been actively looking at that brand.

Regards,
Vic

Mytek has failed to deliver on the BB 2 with Roon core. They have taken many a deposit equal to the purchase price and have delayed months without delivery. Many folks had to stalk Michal, the founder of Mytek," to get refunds and once again another delay was announced. A lot of empty promises and lack of support of legacy products have not helped. Former owners of their gear are not happy, new (pending owners) are not happy and their former contract manufacture was stuck in the middle as Mytek parted ways with them abruptly. “Scam and fraud,” have been thrown around a lot related to Mytek, which is sad as they were a great company from what I experienced. Not so much now.

They are not listed the in brand directory, but at least one retailer had a pair as part of a setup. There were no corporate reps that I saw, nor detailed information about open-baffle, etc.

I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to speakers, but couldn’t avoid frequent discussion of certain fashion items:

Thanks.

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Yes, they were there. I very briefly passed in and out of Mytek’s room. Several other integrators/sellers used Mytek equipment too.

No idea. I was not aware of the issue and heard nothing.

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I paid for a three day pass and went back today. Notes continue.

Again, this was the debut of the Geshelli Labs “ZOOFA” integrated amp (target price <$2,000). VU meters. Source selectors. Tone controls. Volume. Clear top panel and curvy wood. The wood wasn’t purple but the lighting was very nightclubby.

  • Geshelli had a new comparison setup using their DAC and amps: Abyss Diana ($4,495) versus Fostex T50RP ($170). Someone loaned them the Diana to demonstrate the similarities between products. Yes, they have roughly similar characteristics. The Fostex had a lot more treble artifacts and general roughness. I reserve judgement about the Diana because the DAC and amp were clear bottlenecks (i.e., I heard flatness and compression of sources).

  • ZMF Atrium round two: I gave it a second listen because it was the less warm of the two ZMF’s for testing. I think I’m hearing wood resonance as thick warmth and coloration. At this point it’s not my cup of tea.

  • Spirit Torino (I think Titano): Geshelli had these on the same DAC with two amps. The first went to the Atrium and the second to the Spirit Torino. With back to back testing they sounded brighter (more neutral) than the Atrium, but I’d need more time to say anything firm.

  • Focal Stellia ($2,999): I heard this on the eccentric Manley amp (see below). I put the Stellia in the technical ballpark of the Clear, as closed cups start to bother me fast. They sound great for a bit, but closed dynamic drivers are absolutely not my thing. I had a similar reaction to the old Focal Elegia.

  • HiFiMan Ananda ($700) under the worst test conditions possible: In hopes of seeing fist fights break out in the Mytek room (see posts above), I went back for a listen. They had a compact lifestyle speaker setup blasting, and a Brooklyn 2 in the corner with an Ananda. The Ananda used tangled and soggy pasta as a cable, which was fully expected for the brand. Well, when cranked over the loud competing music it sounded clean and clear and good. I had no chance of hearing nuances. I asked the host to reduce the volume and he did, but it still wasn’t enough to evaluate. That’s life at audio shows.

  • Manley Absolute headphone amp ($4,999): This is a triangular amp with the controls on the front and cable connections on the back. No matter what Manley says, this is a nutty design. I yanked the Stellia cable tight by merely leaning back in my chair. The amp itself has tone and balance controls (nice) and a traditional thick, warm, tube tone. It counterbalanced the Stellia’s edges but I’d never ever buy this design.

Speakers:

  • The Treehaus Audiolab speakers (image above) stage amazingly well and become absolutely invisible. They are not just fashion speakers.
  • Check out Songer Audio. They have some interesting designs and technology.

Finally, I saw the king of subjective audiophile weird trips: Michael Fremer (flanked by Ulrike Schwarz and Jim Anderson). Lots of talk about vinyl versus digital and the many ways that analog sources can fail, and how they suddenly become de facto digital sources during production/processing. It was as ‘audiophile’ as expected. The notions of double blind testing and functional equivalence were not open for consideration. Must…be…100%…analog…at…all…times…or…it…sucks… He he. My bucket list is now complete and I’ll be heading off to Valhalla.

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The show had a Vandersteen KENTO Carbon Fully Powered System ($61,500) in a lounge. To my ears it paralleled the brightish KEF and Focal profile. Not much bass presence but extremely clean and great imaging.

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Interesting. I’ve not yet heard the Kento, only the original 5A’s and the 7’s; plus all the less costly models. Both among the best I’ve ever heard, neither lacking bass. Their time and phase designs are so clear!

Do they still use an Audio Research front end?

Thanks for your event report - a very enjoyable read.

This amp for me is what really made both the CA-1A and SR1 for me in Munich.

On the solid-state amps, you can hear the great technical details and recognize that there is something going on there that can be special, its just personally missing for me.

The VM-1a completely changed that for me and firmly put me in the camp that I could have a CA-1a at my desk with the VM-1a and never need to swap out setups again.

Great write-up overall. Sounds like a great show!

In the speaker rooms, was the music overly loud with songs with overly sharp treble? It tends to be the norm so I’m curious if that trend has shifted at all.

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Yes. Following all of these demos I’m most interested in the Meze Elite and RAAL SR-1b as paired with the VM-1a.

Thanks. This has to be one of the biggest shows around. I overheard a couple vendors talking logistics – all those packages come in from across the country and fill about 95 rooms. About 80% were speaker focused, but that still meant 10 to 15 vendors with headphones or purely headphones.

For some yes. I was stunned by how bad they could be.

  • One eccentric guy with a KEF Blade setup expressly tried to avoid having a sweet spot and to prevent the speakers from imaging! He asked if I’d perceived an image and said “no, just point sources.” He was happy.
  • I went into a room with artistic multi-color wooden cabinet speakers (maybe 4 different sizes), and they were blasting the roughest, harshest most randomized treble this side of budget speakers at a high school party. The sellers were elderly men…with a nice woodshop?

For speaker quality I’d say:

  • 30% were smooth, refined, easygoing, creamy audiophile setups. Vinnie Rossi, the Estelon Forza ($150K speakers), and Vandersteen did this on the high end, but plenty of cheaper places sounded similar (e.g., Musica Cordis). QLN speakers were reliably good. GT Audioworks won my vote for the most encompassing, headphone-like delivery from its 6’ tall planar and dynamic hybrid.
  • 20% were pitching a specific product and not really trying to integrate the whole system. The speakers were an afterthought and sounded like it. Sorry, you just made your $20K tube amp sound like trash… Sorry, I couldn’t hear anything special from that Mola Mola DAC…
  • 10% were eccentric niche products (e.g., Terry Audio and Heretic Sound Systems) aimed at niche users and tastes.
  • 20% were technological experiments such as open baffle (Treehaus; Robyatt, etc.), field coil drivers (Songer; Treehaus, etc.). I liked all three a lot. In contrast, Voxactiv somehow charges $75K for a face-to-face double subwoofer system that replicates rubbery, one-note cheap and boomy bass. Ugg.
  • 20% of vendors were suffering from hearing loss and had extremely unpleasant rooms. This ranged from solo guys on up to expensive systems in huge showrooms on the main floor. They seemed to want to impress based on power, and yes a planar tower or jukebox-sized cabinet with subwoofers can play loud. I started measuring dBs with my Apple Watch. Several were in the 80s and one hit 90. The best sounding rooms were around 70 to 75 dB.

These were in a theater-like room maybe 30 or 40 feet deep with two sofas and standing room too. The little 3-4 foot tall KENTO cabinets did a good job for the space. They apparently didn’t have a subwoofer…a lifestyle Vandersteen?

I didn’t check. The room was dark and it wasn’t clear which control area was operational (front of room or a stack on the side). Some equipment was only there for show (especially phonographs), and you had to inspect closely to figure it out.

Did anyone drop by the RETHM/Ampsandsound room?

I hope you enjoyed Jacob’s Sandhannas. The Aarka (new edition) is one of my favoriten all-time speakers.

I stopped by. It didn’t stand out either way so I didn’t say anything pro or con.

Oh wow, that’s a big space.

Yeah, Vandersteen likes to demo their big boy speakers sans external subwoofers. The 7’s have built-in 11” subs, so…weeee! But, the Kentos have 9’s, so seemingly not enough to fill the space and excite the room. The former are my dream speaker.

See the long skinny “Executive Lounge” room between Eisenhower and Olive’s Restaurant on this hotel map:

(Source)

The speakers were probably 6-10 feet from the back wall (in front of a curtain) and 6 feet from the side walls.

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I was there yesterday. Ended up buying a Ferrum OOR. I was interested in checking out the ERCO but did not like its sound with any of the headphones in the VANA room, including my U12t IEMs. It seemed edgy/bright, while the OOR seemed neutral, even a bit warm on the chain they had, HugoTT > OOR/HYPSOS > HE1000SE. I thought that combo sounded great.

I also had chance to listen to a few headphones I’ve been meaning to check out at other booths. I didn’t find any of them particularly memorable but I do have some notes I still need to reflect on. One comparison I can comment on and find funny is the Abyss Diana (not sure which version) and T50rp I heard side by side in the Geshelli room. Probably a lot to do with power but the Diana sounded awful compared to the Fostex.

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Capital Audio Fest (CAF) Impressions! This was my first audio expo I attended and it was a blast. Unfortunately, I could only attend 1 out of the 3 days it takes place so I had to do some speedrunning today. The notes I list here about each system is what I wrote down in real time in my notebook so don’t expect anything elaborate / worthy of an audiophile article. This is stream of conscious from a mid-20 something dude who loves music and loves audio reproduction.

After experiencing today, I realize I could never be an audio reviewer. Most systems sounded pretty good but the duds stood out. Additionally, all systems were heard in a hotel room… so less than ideal.

Skip the section below if you don’t care about my preferences and home setup. Just giving it for context.


Context about me: I got started into audio through headphones. Found the endgame there in the Audeze LCD-5 and figured instead of paying and playing around with different headphones, it would be better to diversify into a stereo system. My current system is as follows

  • Computer with Roon connected to Schiit Bifrost 2 to Ferrum Oor/Hypsos preamp AND Project Carbon Evo record player connected to a Schiit Mani 2 to
  • Schiit Freya S preamp to
  • Benchmark AHB2 to
  • Philharmonic BMR Towers in Rosewood
  • Subwoofer: Arendal 1723 2S (this is fed by RCA from the preamp)

The Oor is my main headphone amp so I figure why not incorporate it into my stereo? Sometimes I remove it for variety’s sake.

I love a neutral to mid-forward sound that leans on the dark side.

In addition to all this hardware, I use a software called Audiolense to generate convolution filters and correct for my room. It greatly improves the quality of bass and eliminates all boominess. Highly recommend it as it honestly makes this system as good as any system I heard at CAF or elsewhere. The exception to this is the Wilson Alexia V’s I heard last week (and made a post about it). No system has generated such a tall soundstage.


Photos of every system I wrote about. The photos follow the order I talk about them below

Credo EV1202 - $17k/pair

  • Holographic and bass is not boomy / blurred in anyway. A lot of output from these towers and easily fill the room. Imaging was exact and pinpoint. Showcaser didn’t have any streaming…

Illusio Audio Speakers - $ ??

  • Cello and drums sound great and natural. Jazz is lively and not bright at all. Dealer didn’t have any music to stream

Salk BePure 3 (not released yet- Jim Salk said ~ $20k/pair , not confirmed though)

  • This is the point where I realize I would be a terrible audio reviewer because this too sounds awesome. The system really charges the room and makes the music very tactile. Mids and highs sound right and no hint of brightness or fatigue
  • I returned to this room twice more and it proved to be my favorite passive speakers I heard at CAF. Not on the level of the Wilson Alexia V’s but I think the room is really holding these (and every other) system back.

Linkwitz - $20k/system (pair of speakers + amplifiers)

  • Phenomenal sound, fast, and holographic. Bass is so fucking tight and “in the pocket” as it is on my home system. This is an active system. They use ASP to a target curve and you can still use DSP to alter it

Raidho Acoustics TD 3.8 - $109k / pair

  • Mid… most dissapointing so far. Does nothing exceptional. It’s not bright or bass is out of wack in anyway. It just sounds lifeless. This is a speaker…
  • Note in post: I didn’t know how much these cost until looking them up and typing this. I’m glad I found a speaker this expensive that sounds meh.

Heretic Loudspeakers AD612? Or 618

  • Worst so far. One word- underwater. This speaker makes Dire Straits sound bad, which is an accomplishment.

Klipsch - didn’t catch the model

  • Bright! Actually a mix of bright and playing too loud. No resolution in the bass.

Alare Remiga 2 - $80k/pair

  • Great acoustic resolution and fills room nicely. Vocals are exceptional. Dealer wouldn’t let me change the song :confused:

Paradigm Persona 3f - $12k/ pair

  • Sounds fine. Speakers are ok. Probably not worth whatever they cost. Got the whole room of 8 people listening to Reflection by Tool haha . I met Michael Keaton’s doppelganger! I swear this dude is Michael Keaton- he denies but I’m onto you Michael. Bass and drum decay was lacking.
  • The person showcasing the room was really trying to sell me on his fancy illuminated cables. Looked up the prices for them while typing it up… $10k a cable. Go kick rocks my dude.

Kerr Acoustics k320 mk. 3 - $11k/pair

  • Listened to a whole the whole Khruangbin album Con Todo El Mundo with the dealer. Cool guy. Speakers sound correct. Bass isn’t lacking and mids are lively. Not bright.

MC Audiotech - model idk , price idk

  • Brightness crept up towards the end of Perfect Darkness by Fink. Otherwise good bass and Fink’s vocals are not out of place.
  • Note in post: The dude running the room, who also designs the speaker, has an ego and is one of few people who rubbed me the wrong way at the show. He scoffed at playing Tool and asked me why I had a notebook. Just kind of weird behavior.

Fyne Audio F18 - $8.5k/ pair

  • Acceptable. Not bright. Bass is off.

Usher ML801 - $13.5k / pair

  • Pretty fucking solid tonally. Imaging is solid but did not extend beyond the speaker. Demonstrator was kind of rude.

There were some other systems I heard but didn’t take notes or pictures of and I’m sure there are plenty I missed. This experience today really makes me appreciate the system I have in my room currently because nothing I heard today was enough of an improvement for the cost. I don’t say this as someone that has the mindset that because it’s more expensive , then it must be snake oil (the inverse snob opinion). I say this as I really appreciate the time I spent picking out my current gear and getting it just right at a price point beneath any of the speakers I heard today. The Salk’s and the Wilson Alexia V are still on my mind though…

I didn’t really focus on headphones since I’ve found my endgame (really I have) with the LCD-5 and Ferrum Oor/Hypsos. I did hear the Expanse and Susvara and both seemed like good headphones. Susvara had a great sparkly treble and punched as much as the LCD-5. What I could get over was how cheap they felt. Expanse sounded ok but was not as good as resolving the busy drum passages in Vicarious by Tool as either the LCD-5 or Susvara.

@generic - sorry I missed this post. I would’ve loved to meet up with you. Does your attendance at CAF mean you’re local to the DC area? Feel free to PM me.

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You didn’t happen to see Eggleston Works? They don’t go to many shows, but have been showing off their OSO speaker at some. But of course, I’d anticipate that you would have mentioned them (unless they were playing harsh treble music)

I listened to the Fyne at my local audio store. I agree with you, there was something off about them. I’d been listening to the Favorite Haydn Concertos (Yo Yo Ma, Winton Marsalis Cho-Liang Lin) CBS Masterworks ‎– MK 39310 and switching off with Trentemoller’s Chameleon and the bass was off.

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