The 2013 Capital Audio Fest spiffed itself up this year by moving to the Sheraton Hotel in Silver Spring, MD. But the ethos of the show did not change. At heart, it remains, as Stereophile reviewer Art Dudley aptly put it, an anti-establishment outfit. The Audio Fest never features a lot of brand names but tends to focus on the hardcore of the hobby. The inventors, the DIYers, the types who thumb their collective noses at expensive gear. Tubed equipment and home brewed loudspeakers abounded.
Some rooms sounded quite good. The Odyssey Khartago room bowled me over for price to value. The sound was open, transparent, warm, and all for a grand total of $4700. If I had to introduce a newbie to a high-end audio system, this would be it. I had heard the assembled gear at RMAF a year ago, but this time it sounded even better.
But for me the most intriguing aspect of the show came in the large room on the fourth floor devoted to—you guessed it!—vinyl. There have been a lot of articles in the press lately about the resurgence of vinyl, including in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. The show once more confirmed the deep interest in the LP. In a half off (my favorite word) bin of jazz LPs, I snagged a copy of “No Bass Hit,” a Concord recording of Dave McKenna (piano), Scott Hamilton, (sax) and Jake Hanna (traps), all terrific musicians. Whenever I see a Concord in nice shape, I usually try to snag it as the recordings are almost always superlative. In the hunt for collectible LPs, which have become crushingly expensive, I get the feeling that many jazz aficionados are ignoring, or at least slighting, many of the wonderful releases from the 1970s and 1980s, which you can get for a song. I paid 5 bucks for “No Bass Hit.” Another nice aspect of LPs is that they can convey a bit of history—my LP is signed by Jake Hanna, who wrote, “To Jo, the suits are from Simon Ackerman. They glow in the dark.” A little web research reveals that Ackerman was a famous Savile Row tailor. So sometimes you can glean historical nuggets from LPs. I can’t imagine you could even fit that message from Hanna onto a CD cover.
A terrific device that I discovered at the show was the Ultrasonic V-8 LP cleaner. It comes ready to rumble, with the ability to clean up to eight LPs at a pop. Dave, the designer by night and professional photographer by day, showed me that the water tends to remain pretty pristine even after a taxing day of cleaning moldy records, thanks to its excellent filtration system. You have to air dry the LPs. He simply uses the cavitation process to bombard the LP with air bubbles to dislodge minute dirt particles from the grooves. No chemicals, no nothing. Just water. Once again, the price was more than reasonable: $1495. If I didn’t have the Audio Desk Systeme cleaner, I might consider it. Heck, I still might, the V-8 is that attractive. It’s a winner.
The organizers of the Audio Fest deserve kudos for putting together such a great show. How will they top it next year?