Exploring the 2015 Capital Audiofest

Show report
Solid-state power amplifiers,
Solid-state preamplifiers,
Integrated amplifiers,
Disc players,
Exploring the 2015 Capital Audiofest

As I walked down the sepulchral Hilton Hotel hallway from the garage towards the elevator in Rockville, Maryland, to reach the 2015 Capital Audiofest, it soon became clear to me that I was headed in the right direction. Emerging from the elevator was a couple of middle-aged guys clutching yellow bags filled with LPs and talking animatedly about audio gear. Bingo!

Each year the Capital Audiofest tries to take its show up another notch and judging from this past weekend’s installment, it definitely appears to have gained some traction. There were quite a few vendors of equipment—both modest and immodest in price—and CDs and vinyl. VPI turntables, including a new effort called the Avenger, seemed to be all over the place. In keeping with the relaxed vibe of the show, I didn’t make a sustained effort to visit every room. Instead, what follows are my idiosyncratic impressions from traipsing around the place.

The first room to bring my spirits up was United Home Audio’s exhibition of its spiffy and radically modified UHA Phase 12-OPS Tascam tape deck—complete with a beefy separate power supply—that was belting out Madonna and Van Halen, among other artists. A silver pair of MBL 116F Radialstrahler loudspeakers ($30,000) was in situ as well. The sound? Fast, vivid, and absorbing. I would have liked tighter bass but given that it was in a hotel room, the MBL was already performing like a champ. Greg Beron and Mike Jolida, who were showing the gear, always deliver a great sound. Incidentally, Jolida is also coming out with a nifty new device to help lower cartridge crosstalk—currently it’s in prototype stage but Jolida says it will be out in a few months.

Next door was another local dealer—Command Performance AV. Owner Jeff Fox was on hand to explain the ins and outs of the Audio Flight Aurender music server and Neat Acoustics Ultimatum X10 loudspeakers ($33,000), while his assiduous associate Bob Stenerson made sure the tunes kept playing. Extensive use of Stillpoints isolation and absorption devices was evident, both of which, as Fox confirmed, are amazingly effective products. The sound was a little loud—unfortunately competition between rooms means that a kind of sonic arms race can take place—but very engaging. The Neat Acoustics loudspeakers were dynamic and refined. They play big, though the performance of the twin super tweeters was probably hampered by the acoustic ceiling tiles.

And how about the Tidal room? Actually there were two rooms, but the one with the eyecatching Bricasti M28 monoblock amplifiers really impressed. The sound of the Tidals is simply gorgeous. So precise and refined! I don’t know if it’s going to satisfy anyone looking for the last word in thunderous bass, but I came away pretty smitten.

At the other end of the price spectrum was Luminous Audio. Based in Virginia, Luminous is a highly inventive company that is producing some top-flight phonostages such as the new Arion. In its room was presented a small bookshelf loudspeaker, known as The Cube ($1150); a pair of these transducers was driven by the Fern & Roby 30Wpc integrated amplifier ($2350). Gosh, for such a small loudspeaker the sound really was potent. The cast-iron The Table, boasting a 70-pound plinth and retailing for $4500, was generating more buzz at the show than just about any other product.

If vinyl playback seems to drive manufacturers to ever-greater heights, so does the cleaning of LPs. The inimitable David Ratcliff was busily demoing the new adjunct to his Ultrasonic V-8 machine, which allows you to clean up to eight LPs simultaneously. As the LPs slowly circulate in it, the large stainless steel vat almost seems to be bubbling with some rare potions. Now Ratcliff has invented a turbine-based LP-drying machine that will handle also eight LPs. Buy both units, and you have “up to 32 sides being cleaned at the same time,” he proudly declared. But Dave, come clean: Does a hat arrive along with the two machines?