Capital Audio Fest 2014

Solid-state power amplifiers,
Tubed power amplifiers,
Solid-state preamplifiers,
Tubed preamplifiers
Capital Audio Fest 2014

The Capital Audio Fest seems to progressing nicely. This year there were crowded rooms, palpable excitement, and, not least, good sound.  Several demos caught my eye.

As always United Home Audio featured excellent sound via its UHA-HQ tape deck. Reel-to-reel aficionado Greg Berron explained that he has now built a special outboard power supply for it to further improve performance. In addition, the demo featured the company’s Luxor VTM 100 Monoblock tube power amplifier, which can be run with either EL34 or 6550 tubes. In bi-amped mode the amps seemed to supply plenty of current to the MBL loudspeakers.

Also notable was The Voice That Is room, which was running the splendid Tidal Audio Agoria loudspeakers--$105,000 a pair--and electronics. The sound was smooth and sophisticated and elegant—not the ultimate in bass response, but then again, I reckon that the room was sucking out a lot of the sound.

In the category of unusual and enticing was the Hawthorne Audio open baffle boxless loudspeaker. It uses an air motion transformer and was a fully digitally active system. It sounded uncolored and extremely linear, as you might expect. A very intriguing demo in modern sound that won’t be to everyone’s taste—it’s the opposite end of a tube presentation—but not one that can be easily dismissed.

At the other end of the spectrum was Music Technology’s display of a restored Apogee Caliper that, fully tricked out, costs $8,000. Music Technology’s Bill Thalmann and Doug Weisbrod were on hand to explain the lengths that they’ve gone to restore the speakers, including sourcing new ribbons from Australia, where they are meticulously cut by a CNC machine. For my money, Thalmann is something of a restoration whiz, and the speakers sounded timeless—extremely coherent and pure. Was the bass a little murky? Sure. But the overall sound was superb.

Next, at the exhortation--nay, the insistence--of local audiophile Bob Stenerson, I visited the headphone vendors to sample a super duper Viva 845 tube headphone amplifier. The Ferrari yellow looked amazing with the colossal 845 tubes. A Louis Armstrong cut and sounded vivid and immediate. I didn’t even remember to ask about the price. If you have to ask…

Last but not least I snagged a bunch of classical and jazz LPs, plus a Led Zeppelin album for my wife. I can’t say that the show necessarily provides a stairway to heaven, but the vibe was relaxed and enthusiastic. The countdown to the 2015 show has now begun. If you didn’t make it this year, put it on your calendar for next year. Highly recommended, as they say.