Capital Audio Fest 2018--show report


DAY 1

I came primarily to audition loudspeakers, so this report will focus on them. I omit associated equipment, as there was just too much to keep track of, and few rooms had handouts with the detailed list of components.

The first day of the show, I managed to visit 2/3 to 3/4 of the rooms that were of interest to me. The remaining rooms I’ll visit tomorrow morning, and then start going back for a second listen in the afternoon.

In what follows, I’m more or less transcribing my jotted notes that I took while in the room in question.

Note: the regular-sized hotel rooms being used by most exhibitors tended to emphasize strongly a particular bass range. For too many of the rooms I noted “bass boomy”. Only a few rose above this…

 

Some highlights, not necessarily in order of preference.

DAEDALUS ZEUS. Very large speaker in a large room. Very good generally, beautiful on classical. A big sound, but not overdone (like some others). Very natural. Wonderful dynamics. True majesty on large-scale classical.

DAEDALUS APOLLO. I still don’t know exactly how I feel about this speaker. It’s good certainly, verdict is out on whether it’s great. Decent imaging and soundstaging (I would have had them a bit further out into what is admittedly a small room). A good clean presentation, could be a little overwhelming on some tracks (volume of playback?, room?). Promising to be sure, and a real contender.

SALK SONG 3 BEAT. Easily my nomination for “best bang for the buck” speaker auditioned so far. Extraordinary for the price.  I repeat, really extraordinary.  A nice presentation overall, good depth of soundstaging, for the size of the woofer the bass is definitely there—and then some. Bass could be a bit boomy depending on the recording (see above). Beryllium tweeter (the BE in BE-AT), one of the best I’ve heard. On one recording it got a wee bit steely on massed violins being played back at high volume. Very impressed.  Of course the wood veneer is also fantastic.

IMC Audio. One of the true sleepers—well, perhaps not even a sleeper, as it doesn’t go on sale till this coming January. Extraordinarily fine. Look for a photo on the web—it’s unconventional, to be sure. A large slightly curved array (curved both horizontally and vertically) using bending wave drivers.  Sitting on top of massive woofers in a large cube. Very very natural sound. Good imaging, good soundstage. Good dynamic range, but not overdone. A true full-range speaker, that doesn’t overwhelm. Projected price around 20K. Dedicated crossovers with lots of adjustment, needs two power amps. I repeat: if ever a new company and a new product deserved to succeed, this is it!

HARBETH 40.2. OK, I admit it, still my favorite. One of the few in the small rooms that didn’t boom, but still produced strong, deep bass. Pure, natural, clear. Excellent timbre. Good imaging and soundstaging. Brought a smile to my face and tapping to my toe.

VIMBERG MINO. 29K. I believe this new speaker, or its bigger brother, has been commented on very positively from other previous shows, and I understand why. Big, full range, but not overblown sound, very natural, impressive presentation, sense of effortlessless.

DESTINATION AUDIO NIKA. Large speaker with horns and a massive cone woofer. The size overwhelmed the small room…..but the sound didn’t. It managed that trick of being delicate *and* full when required. Dynamic for sure. Ultimately I thought that the image projected was perhaps bigger than natural.

SONNER LEGATO UNUM. These tiny speakers with small, small, small mid-woofers seem to defy the laws of physics.  Using a 5.5” driver (it looks about 4”), every single visitor to the room was asking: where’s the sub-woofer?  *And* they could play loud, very loud. Ultimately I thought them slightly bright, slightly “hyped” overall and a little “larger than life”, though part of this could have been the volume they were being played at. Amazing engineering, to be sure.

 

Middle of the pack (for me).

What these speakers shared, was that they all struck me as highly competent speakers, doing everything right, but somehow they didn’t separate themselves from the pack. It’s as if there were a good, clean, modern sound that a number of manufacturers are converging on.

DYNAUDIO CONFIDENCE 20.

VIENNA ACOUSTICS BEETHOVEN CONCERT GRAND.

QUAD Z4. Nice presentation, but little except a keen price to differentiate it from many others.

DEVORE GIBBON SUPER 9. Their new model. Thunderous bass for the size. Good dynamics and full sound. But everything a bit homogenized, blended/mushed together, I think this affects timbre most of all, as well as individual instrument lines. Perhaps a by-product of being demonstrated as excessive volume (compression?).

TAD E1 [not sure of model name, floorstander]. Big sound, but overlarge images. What I call a “technicolor” speaker.

LEGACY SIGNATURE SE. After that less-than-rave review in Stereophile, I wasn’t expecting that much, so I was pleasantly surprised. Rich sound, good bass. Dynamic. Believable size of image. The more I listened, the more I became aware of a less-than-totally-natural timbre, and they also got a shade steely on classical violin at high volume. Definite bang for the buck, but probably not for me.

 

Disappointments. No disrespect to these makes/models, but on the day, in the room, listening to the tracks being played, I was severely underwhelmed. They have good reputations, so likely under different circumstances they would be much better.

SPATIAL AUDIO M3. I’d been really looking forward to hearing these. Very boomy in the room (because of open baffle??), and the sound overall seem very homogenized. Timbres not distinct, and everything kind of mushed together. Opposite of what I’ve been calling pure/clean sound.

WALSH OHM 5000-series. What can I say? As with Spatial, I’d been really curious to hear these, but I didn’t cotton to them at all. Perhaps it was the unconventional set-up (even for them), perhaps it was the room, perhaps it was the source material. Other people there seemed happy. But other than being overly loud, there was no imaging at all, the sound was homogenized, not in the least beguiling, and frankly it reminded me of a quality sound system being piped into a noisy upscale restaurant. As I say, *my ears* *on the day*, as I know there are many fans of this line of speakers.

 

Any requests of speakers for me to seek out?


twoleftears
Will hopefully get there tomorrow.  Looking forward to it.


Thanks for sharing your impressions. Outside of speakers, what else struck you as memorable? Cheers,
Spencer
Headed there now with JOND. Looking forward to old fav'd and new.
What is a price tag for Destination Audio in US?
I want to say 29K, but I may be misremembering.  I know it began with a 2 and was five figures.
You missed the best room.. TriangleArt.. by far the best sounding room! 
I was at the CAF today and asked that exact question.  The Destination Audio Nika is $29k, but the US distributor is selling the 1st 5 pairs for $25k.
OK, added to the remaining list--I'll be here tomorrow morning, and so far Odyssey and now Triangle Art are on the playlist...

DAY 2

OK, first, I’m now ready to nominate my joint best of show: Daedalus Zeus, and IMC Audio Forty-10.

Also, my joint best value for money of the show goes to: Salk Song3 BE-AT, and Odyssey Liquid.

General observations.

Nothing new here. The preponderant demographic: middle-aged and elderly men. I felt right at home. Systems: just about every room was offering *both* vinyl (high-end turntables) and streaming digital.  General trend: no surprise here either, expensive and very expensive components, “value” pieces being relatively few and far between. Another general trend: playing demo systems/pieces in rooms at too loud a volume. Almost ubiquitous. It drove me out of a couple of rooms. In several others, I’m sure it negatively impacted the sonic presentation—surely people want to hear timbre, musical lines, etc., and not just how loud it can play before smoke starts issuing from the amp or the speakers.

 

Top picks of Day 2

I covered all the remaining room and revisited a good number of the others.

GAMUT RS3i. What a speaker!  Beautiful. Within 5 seconds of walking into the room, I could tell this was a quality product. Bass remarkable for its small size, if a bit bloomy (room). Overall superior sound, good imaging, difficult to judge soundstaging (positioned close to front wall with lots of windows). Expensive! If I had the $$$, I’d be seriously considering the floorstander that’s the next one up in the line-up. Color me impressed. These Danish speakers run rings around Dynaudio.

HARBETH 30.2 Anniversary. Wow! Paired with a full suite of Rogers electronics, and newcomer Accusound cables, this system rocked. Yes, Harbeth and rocked in the same sentence. Yet it was natural and balanced, definitely not polite but also not technicolor (this is a negative term in my improvised audiophile vocabulary). A difficult line to walk, but pulled it off. Fine imaging, perfect timbre, dynamic, vivid, and decent bass for the size. Volume getting cranked up excessively/needlessly towards the end, and I had to leave.

ODYSSEY LIQUID. I stumbled into this room at around 5:45 pm, but what I heard immediately perked up my ears. This is one impressive speaker. Natural, good timbre. Excellent bass. Fine imaging (on one sample, I would tend to blame the recording, when images seemed to be leaking from the center to the sides). Dynamic. I really need to hear this again (tomorrow morning, I hope) with some (classical) material I’m familiar with, but for the moment I’m struggling to find anything to criticize. A real surprise. $5900. Good sized floorstander, 2 ½ way, quality drivers. This could be a real winner, but relatively few people will ever hear it, given the sales model (cf. Daedalus and Salk).

 

Revisited…

HARBETH 40.2: one of the few rooms I’d characterize as producing a “human” sound, rather than a mechanical/electronic one. Along with Gamut and Daedalus Zeus (but not unfortunately the other Daedalus Apollo room, where something was amiss). In the Déjà Vu room I could immediately feel my body relaxing, rather than tensing up in the face of the sonic assault.

 

Middle of the pack

MURAUDIO SP1. Good imaging and soundstaging, good timbre, but presentation a little “technicolor”, and depending on the recording and the playback volume could be overbearing/piercing. That impression of being overly insistent was less apparent on my second visit.

BACHE TRIBECA-001.   Just missing my nomination for triple tie best bang for the buck. This is a fine speaker for the money. Presentation is natural, balanced, full, solid, has body, bass was not overdone but definitely there. Unlike most other rooms, I thought it perhaps was a touch over-polite (rather than the reverse). Doesn’t have pinpoint imaging or soundstaging. Instrumental images were natural sized. Massed strings were beautiful, not steely at all. Good prices and definitely worth an audition. I lingered here.

PARADIGM PERSONA 5. Being demo’d with Anthem integrated with room correction, which effectively dealt with the ubiquitous room bass boom. Impressive. A fine, very competent, mainstream, modern speaker. Image size correct, good imaging and bass “just right”. Timbre not quite as rich as I’d have ideally liked.

FRITZ CARRERA Be. Impressive stand-mount. Imaging and soundstaging very natural. A very listenable speaker (what a relief!).  Nothing exceptional, well balanced.  If this could be well integrated with a quality sub-woofer it could be a real winner.

MARTIN-LOGAN RENAISSANCE. A brief listen. Falls into my category of mainstream, more than acceptable presentation, but like many others rather insistent. Didn’t make me want to linger.

GINGKO CLARA VU no. 3.   A real sleeper. Worth keeping an eye on.  The imaging was particularly fine; sound dynamic, what I call a modern presentation. Not sure about ultimate timbral purity, and at high volume levels occasionally slightly strident. Nonetheless, impressive for the price.

PURE AUDIO PROJECT. These had the Voxativ middle driver. Effortless and transparent. Deep bass a bit boomy, even though being demo’d in one of the bigger rooms. Good imaging, decent soundstaging. But yet again sounded overcooked on certain tracks.

AMPHION ARGON 7LS. Another good, not great, speaker. The same boomy bass, with the accustomed modern, mainstream sound.

QLN model? Drivers looked very similar to those in older Proac Response 2.5. Another highly competent but ultimately undistinguished speaker, hampered, I suspect, by the nearly unlistenable source material being played. (Really?)

 

Disappointing

LARSEN 9. Oh dear, another speaker that I really wanted to like. Positives: nice timbre, nice full sound. Set up along the long wall, against the wall (naturally); but I felt the listening positions needed to be further back (impossible, given width of room). Poor, vague imaging, poor soundstaging. A piano was stretched w-i-d-e all the way between the two speakers. On another recording a voice seemed to float around, coming from different points at different moments (and it wasn’t just that the singer was moving around).

VOLTI RIVAL. OK, so it seems like all my disappointments are makes/models that I was expecting to like, whereas the makes I was, err, less than enthusiastic about going into this, all ended up in my middle-of-the-pack category. I don’t know what was going on here. Played with Border Patrol 300Bs and Triode Wire, they still sounded rather too bright to me. How can that be? The horns?? Other tracks sounded “up front” and occasionally piercing. Overall, I have to conclude tipped up. One redeeming feature was the imaging was excellent.

BOENEKE model?   Really really tiny speakers, sounding incredibly strained trying to reproduce full orchestra. Why??

 

Caveats. As ever, YMMV. My subjective impressions on the day, in rooms that were almost all acoustically challenged.  May post some follow-up comments once I recover...


Did you get to the Fredrick room with the GT Audio speakers?

I would be interested in your opinion on those.


I very much liked the Lawson room. Also the Spatial Audio did not disappoint. The Klipsch La Scala III were a lot of fun and love the aesthetics.

Best value I’d say were the Quad S2s at about a grand. Very nice.

There were some new names this year and lots of variations of good sound at various price points but nothing really game changing.

I only had about 5 hours but I think I hit every room. I spent the most time with Ohm, Spatial, Quad, Fritz and Klipsch La Scala. Given time limits I only gave quick listens to most of the large very pricey stuff that I would never actually consider buying comsidering if anying I would like to downsize and maybe try a pair of higher efficiency speakers with my 60w amp.

The OHM setup was quite unique! I will dive deeper into that very soon.

@bigkidz I was there, though fairly briefly.  What I heard was very impressive, everything obviously on a very large scale, but because (a) they were well out of my price range, and (b) you clearly would need a very big room to do justice to those stacks of servo subs, I didn't linger.  Sorry.
@gregb63 See my comments above on Muraudio.
I can’t believe no one has mentioned what were to me easily the best sounding speakers at the show—-the DejaVu Audio Western Electric Horn/open baffle speakers and the EMIA room with Double Double Quad 57s (literally 8 Quad electristats in the room).  I spent a good part of the show trying to decide which I liked more, but they were both phenomenal.
@bigkidz I was at CAF briefly on Friday and felt the GT Audio and Pass Labs room was my pick of what I saw during the day.  Open, spacious, great clarity with terrific integrated bass from the impressive bass towers.  
twoleftears - I have spoken to Greg (GT Audio speaker manufacturer) regarding this and he may address this going forward.  The subs can be cut down and he may come up with a smaller version.

Pops - Good to hear your comments.

BTW the GT Audio room features my Direct Heated Triode (DHT) DAC - Vu Jade Audio so some of what you are hearing comes from that source.

Happy Listening.
I was there yesterday only for about 5 hours and thought overall things sounded better last year than this year. A few rooms I really liked:
Charney Audio really lovely sounding system not sure the exact model of speaker but one of the best implementations of a Lowther driver I’ve heard. Also first time hearing the Sparkler CD player and their 300B amp looked to be a steal for $5K.

Destination Audio I was really impressed a very rich natural sound from a pair of big horns driven by all Modwright electronics.

Deja Vu Audio another great custom speaker from Vu set up with a full suite of Aldo’s WE electronics a truly holographic experience. I also liked the other room with the Harbeth 40.2s cj electronics and the AN TT-1/Arm-1/I-O.
Rogers featuring Harbeth 30.2s I just love those speakers and the big Rogers tubed integrated did a nice job driving them.

Gamut I visited this room near the end of the day mcslipp and I were the only people there and it was just a relaxed natural sound that really surprised me from SS.

IMC Audio very interesting speakers and nice sounding with good integration between the upper and lower modules. But what are those drivers on top? Anyone know?

Zu Audio just a fun room I got a quick education in South and West African music from Kolby? from Charney Audio. Huge sound very loud but not fatiguing and un-hifi. No idea what amps were being used in the room though and never asked.

As far as Daedalus goes I didn’t care for the Zeus but I really quite liked the smaller model on the 5th floor the name escapes me they had an angled baffle.
Correction to my above post the driver in the Charney Audio room was an AER not Lowther.
Overall takeaway was I preferred what I heard last year over this year even with plenty of overlap of same/similar systems. Maybe I'm just that much more deaf... Vu's Vintage room is always a favorite but last year's custom WE/GIP speakers were superior to my ears and eyes then this round with essentially the same Aldo designed front end. Also most of the music I heard this year was lame. Could have just been my timing going around. I'm a huge SRV fan but hearing Tin Pan Alley in four different rooms gets old. But at least Diane Krall seems to have run its course. BIG EXCEPTION - Zu Audio - Sean Casey always plays the best music. This year with a mini-tutorial Afro-beat beatdown.

Many of my favorite rooms tended to come small bookshelves.
Those lil' Proac's with a random hodge-podge of gear rocked!
GamuT - Lovely
Fritz Speakers - Awesome bang for the bucks

Loved the Rodgers/Harbeth 30.2 room. Would have like to hear that set up with the 40.2 just to compare with Vu's CJ rig. 

Speaking of speaker swapping, all that killer Lamm gear driving tinny/thin sounding ribbon array's made me scratch me head. I guess ppl liked the setup because of the copious amount of weed filling the room. JOND and I stayed just long enough to get our contact high.

I've never heard the upper end of Wilson. The VPI Room with the new Alexia 2 was extraordinary. Not really my thing but I absolutely understand why so many love them. The imaging, soundstage and instrument separation was incredible. 

Didn't Get It - 
The Gryphon - Did it sound good - yep. Did sound $200k+ good - nope.

The Big VAC Room - for $1.2m I could pay off my house buy a Ferrari and put a couple $100k in the bank and still have my all Shindo system that I liked 4263 times better. I think that system is for ppl with more money than sense as illustrated by the three ppl seating in front of us drinking corked wine I could smell a mile away. The emperor's new clothes? Whatever, smoke 'em if ya got 'em I guess.
I caught the big Al Stewart Year of the Cat demo in the big Vac Von Shweikart room and left after a few minutes feeling very underwhelmed  for a setup of that scale.   Whatever I heard in there last year sounded better but I still gotta ask why when it comes to most any system I have ever heard of similar scale. 
I would have loved to transplant the 10k Ohm 5015 speakers from the big two level atrium outside the library room that they were tasked with and put them in a shootout in the fairly large but more conventional channel D room against the wonderful 30k+ Vandersteen 5s playing in there, especially off the same source gear.
@mapman 

More on the spatial room would be GREAT.

I love a huge soundstage (probably why I'm looking at an new pair of ohms, but also looking at spatial)

Would love your thoughts?  How was the bass (I dig a bit of bass)
Not a big room but the overall tonality top to bottom off not too many quality tube watts was IMHO spot on, in the same league as most anything I heard yesterday.  

Soundstage was very good as well.

A difference between these and similar Ohms would likely be the ability to present a coherent image from most any listening location in most any room.

So few affordable good quality speakers these days that use larger drivers. The open baffle design helps keep the bulk factor down. Chayton Shaw was also saying the open baffle design facilitates placememt either close to or further away from walls and indicated 3’ from rear wall is a common practice and that bass levels would still be good as was the case at CAF with the Spatial setup.

I asked Clayton Shaw about the efficiency which he stated as being in the mid nineties a good bit more efficient than many speakers doing similar things.
Spent most of the day there on Saturday and felt I could have used another to really see/hear everything of interest. VPI did a great job rolling out the 40th Anniversary Direct Drive table--they nailed the aesthetics on this one and the ergonomics as well. Very nicely done! I won't comment on the sound as the room was always very crowded and noisy so no real critical listening was possible during my visits. I also enjoyed the Charney Audio room--the new single driver speaker with the top of the line AER driver was very quick and nimble with good presence and surprising extension on top. I wish I had time to go back for more to hear it on different types of music, as the presentation may be a bit forward for my tastes but perhaps some more listening would have proven this untrue. I left all of the megabuck rooms feeling as though the sound was either not worth the coin or just plain mediocre. I agree with those above that the Daedalus Zeus offered an incredibly warm, spacious, detailed and highly musical sound. Certainly the best I heard over the course of the day (but I didn't hear all of the top tier) and that without spinning any vinyl (which would have really added to the presentation). I also spent considerable time in the room with the smaller Daedalus Apollo--disclaimer--I ordered a pair sight unheard and this was my first opportunity to hear them. Though the room was a bit cramped and there were clearly significant issues with the setup--a noticeable buzzing sound that appears to have been caused by the amp or preamp that masked detail and compromised other performance parameters--I heard great potential. So coherent, present, tonally immaculate, engaging. Can't wait to get them set up here with the LTA amplification that was driving the Zeus downstairs. Overall, great to see some good friends and listen to some different equipment.
I enjoyed the show.  It appeared to have approximately doubled in size since last year.  CAF is centered on American manufacturers and designers. Exhibitors are more relaxed and accessible than at larger venues. Interesting that the Canjam aspect receded this year. Keep it going!   
Wrapping up.  Day 3,fatigue beginning to set it.  Returned to hear the Odyssey Kismet Liquids (did anyone else try these), and this time round I couldn't stay long--once again volume set too high, and the highs in the recording were very strident.  I would have liked to evaluate with very different source material and control of the volume, but that wasn't going to happen.  The small Daedalus room with the Apollo's had improved on Sunday morning, but as said I really don't feel they were performing to their true potential.
Salk was playing the Song3 Encore's, with the different mid and larger woofer, and again its extension and soundstage were tremendous.  A little less forgiving than the model with the Audio Technology mid.  There's real potential here--as the enthusiasts on Audio Circle already know.
@mcslipp Yes, would agree with pretty much all your assessments.  The ProAc Tablettes in the Backert room were definitely defying the laws of physics, even more than the Sonners.  The Fritz Carrera sounded even better Sunday am--a tremendous, all-rounder stand-mount.  I returned to the Harbeth room for ten minutes of sanity.  And yes, those small Gamut's were really something.

Random trends.  Beryllium tweeters everywhere, when not using new-fangled technology.  Audio jewelry--I won't go on about this.  Pass amps being used in a whole bunch of rooms.
The Fritz Carerra were one of the things I heard that I would consider buying. They are not speced as being particularly efficient but they seem to have a very benign impedance curve that allowed them to perform very well off not too many watts. They had a special show price of $3500 pair.

I would be curious to hear what others think of those. They seemed to offer good value compared to most at the show but I was also very impressed with the value proposition of the much less expensive KEFs, Quads and even Vanatoo speakers there I heard also running nicely off not very many watts. Are the Fritz low end extension specs for real? If so that would be a big plus in their column.

They were running on an 8-watt 300B amp from Modwright.  Just like my Proac Response 2.5's used to run on an 11-watt 300B amp from Cary.  The bass was really there, from what I heard this morning.  If you don't mind giving up those last couple of hertz, they're real winners.  Well-rounded performers, it sounded like a really mature design.
Extrapolating from what I heard, I would imagine that some of the less expensive offerings from Salk, the SongTowers for instance, would sound very good too, and people consistently praise Silverline's inexpensive models.

I am very interested in small speakers capable of high performance off fewer watts.  The Fritz were the winners for me probably at the show.  I would run them off my 60w/ch Bel Canto c5i in my second system.  We'll see.....

Afrobeat jams on Zu... nice!  Sounds like my house.
I enjoyed the show, even though I spent a lot of time feeling utterly lost by the confusing layout of the hotel and the unfathomable labeling of elevator buttons.  

Because of the very nature of show conditions--difficult acoustics, complete inability of separating out the inherent quality of any one component in a system of unknown components, etc.--I tend to not pass judgment when I hear "bad" sound (very common), and focus on systems that sounded good (if the system is good, then all of the components are at least capable of sounding good in the right context).  I heard a few quite nice sounding systems.

I particularly liked the Deja Vu vintage system with its ultra high end custom-built electronics and speaker system.  The speakers featured terrific G.I.P. Laboratories replicas of Western Electric field-coil woofers and tweeters and a non-replica Western Electric compression horn/driver midrange.  The electronics included a replica of Western Electric 300b pushpull amps using all vintage parts, including ultra rare Western Electric transformers; the blue glow from the four mercury vapor rectifiers was also visually appealing.  The sound was full, sweet, musical and extraordinarily seductive, while retaining the clarity and excellent micro-dynamics of horn and field-coil drivers.  If there was any shortcoming, it was a little bit of rounding off of the initial attack of a note (the kind of sweetening I commonly hear with 300b tubes).  Overall, a fantastic sound.  Hearing this system should end the debate over digital vs. analogue; the demonstration was about a 50/50 split between CDs and a table, and both sounded incredibly enjoyable.

I loved the sound of the Charney single driver system.  It was very dynamic, coherent from top to bottom, harmonically complete (not leaned out in the upper bass lower midrange as many other "dynamic" systems tend to be), and extraordinarily extended in range from top to bottom).  I have heard quite a few full range systems, but, this is the only one I've heard where no excuses are needed for shortcomings that usually attend the immediacy and dynamics of the breed.  I did not hear anything I would really call a flaw in the sound; there might have been just a touch of the upper mid-range peak and "paper" coloration of full-range drivers and it might come a bit close to having a sibilant edginess, but I must emphasize that these impressions are just so subtle and minor compared to the incredible attributes of the system.  The 8" AER driver used sounded so much better than the smaller driver used in the Charney system in last years show, and I thought last year's system was terrific.

Among the more conventional systems, I heard really nice sound from the two speakers that Gingko Audio had at the show; one was a monitor, the other a monitor sitting on top of a dedicated subwoofer.  The sound for both was well balanced, harmonically full, and very musical.  It had, for my taste, a touch too much of a sibilant edge in the upper midrange, but nothing like the unpleasant edgy and thin and bright sound of the majority of high-end speakers on the market.  Very good sound at a very reasonable price level.

These were my top three systems at the show.  
@mapman I also really liked the Fritz Carerra the imaging was spectacular and nice implementation of the Be tweeter it wasn't bright at all. Very natural tonality top to bottom and great bang for the buck.
One amusing moment in the Odyssey room wandered in lights were off weird techno music playing the room lit but little lantern things. The combo of darkened room the weird lighting and clicks and chirps of "music" made me almost burst out laughing. Track ends lights come on Klaus says "I'm German and even I don't like Kraftwerk" and hands a guy his cd back. My first and I hope last experience with Kraftwerk and no comments on the sound.
I was perplexed by the Odyssey Kismet Liquid's.  At the end of day 2, I thought they were sounding very promising indeed.  I couldn't find anything really to criticize.  On the morning of day 3 I returned, hoping to confirm my previous impression (I had lingered well past 6pm "closing time"), and was confounded.  He spun some rock that was so strident in the treble that it had me diving for the exit.  Go figure.

Also: Klaus has been selling the Liquid's since 2015, yet in his dog-and-pony he emphasized how he had only got them "just right" last week, having taken the advice of someone else and made 3 or 4 modifications at that person's suggestion.  Where does this leave the early adopters? 
I always like the DejaVu audio room. Both the modern and the vintage equipment. This was my first experience with the Harbeth 40.2, and I was impressed. Vu and his colleagues always do a good job. And if you are in the DC area, you should visit their headquarters. It is a treat. 

I did not hear much that was totally new. At least speakers that I had not heard in past years. It was interesting, however, that no one showed Audio Note speakers or vintage Quads or any of the Auditorium "hommage" speakers. Most of the speakers were either monitors or huge and meant to be SOTA. Conversely, there are many other companies that I wish would exhibit - companies whose speakers I have only read about, but never heard live.
In addition to the DejaVu vintage system, the Charney system and the Gingko system I mentioned above, I heard/saw several other items of interest worth mentioning.

For a conventional monitor speaker, I thought the Sonner speakers sounded quite nice--smooth, decently balanced, though lacking in deep bass, and lacking in any glaring flaw/annoying characteristics.  Exciting? No, but something that would probably be easy to live with.

The Emia room-- with its four double stacked Quad 57 (that is eight total quads), each biamped with built in tube amps--sounded quite good.  But, to me, their system from the previous year sounded good too, and I thought that if anyone thought that such an impractically large and unsightly system was needed to get great sound, that system gave the wrong impression (as compared to previous systems shown by Emia).

Boenicke Audio showed a micro-sized speaker that sounded really good for something so tiny.  It small size is a requirement, that is one worth auditioning.

Command had four rooms at the show and I liked what I heard from the system with the Devore speakers and the Naim/Dynaudio system.  This is sound in the lean, modern sound that I tend not to like, but, not excessively so, and I can therefore recommend an audition.

IMC had a prototype of a new speaker system that is interesting.  It has a large square, midrange/tweeter array on top of a smaller cube-shaped bass module.  The top array has something like ten small drivers handling 100 hz to 20 khz.  This thing reminded me of pictures of 1950's television sets (or maybe a radar antennae) in appearance.  The sound was promising with some notable flaws.  First, the bass was a bit soggy and over-ripe, but, that most likely was a room issue (a common problem at the show).  Over much of the range, the speaker sounded very good, but, I did not think the bass was that well integrated with the rest of the system; I don't know if that "needs work," or again, the hotel room was the source of the problem.  

I like what I saw of the Backert tube linestages at the show.  I will not comment on sound because I was not more familiar with the rest of the components, but what I saw was neat, beautifully constructed, and sensible; it had those things I require in a linestage--a balance knob and remotely controlled volume.  I also liked the fact that the various models had identical basic circuitry, with price differences reflecting different quality parts; different power supplies (some models having the same power supply, but, in a dual mono configuration) and different quality of case work; this just seemed like a logical approach to offering a line of products.
Morning all,

We just got back from CAF 2018 last evening, it was a hectic but exciting 5 days for us.

Our system consisted of...

GT Audio Works GTA3r planar ribbon speakers
 

Sound Insight SI 600 open baffle sub woofers.          
                               

Pass Labs XS line stage and phono stage and XA 60.8 amps
                                                                                                   
Esoteric Audio CD Player/Transport
                                                       

VUJADE DHT 101d tubed DAC
                                                       

Semper Sonus Te1 idler wheel drive turntable
                                         

Schick arm with Lyra Kleos3 cartridge.
                                                       

Triode Wire Labs cable for everything from input to output to power


We didn't get things set up and playing till 2am Friday morning, so it didn't start to warm up and gel till Saturday
Hope some of you had a chance to come out and hear our room.
We had a great time playing all types of music.
For me the best part of the show was after it officially ended at 4pm on Sunday at which point we let our hair down with some most definitely non audiophile music like Iggy Azalea, Robbin Thicke, Kendrick Lamar, Meghan Trainor and a bunch of other pop tunes at 112 db !!

Thanks to all the contributors to our room at CAF, and especially to my dealer and buddy Steve Rabitz of Sound Insight of Huntington Long Island NY.
Looking forward to next year to do it all again.


Regards,
Greg
GT Audio Works

My wife and I spent a few hours there on Saturday and had a great time. Picked up some records and heard some awesome equipment.
For us the highlight were the Deja Vu rooms and the Emia room. We live near Deja Vu and the vast majority of my system was bought there so I might be biased but their vintage room was phenomenal.
The massive self-powered quad-based electrostats in the Emia room were very impressive as well and the source custom Garrard 301 was outstanding.
As someone who is not a jazz fan I was starting to go insane but I was thrilled when Command Performance played Enter Sandman through their Divore Fidelity speakers.

Dislikes: As mentioned before the never-ending sea of jazz got old quick. I would think more displays would bring more acoustic classic rock or more universally beloved songs that can show off a system. I get that a jazz quartet is ideal for exhibiting the imaging of a speaker but after hearing that many saxophones I had more than enough.
The VAC room was impressive to look at but the sound was completely unremarkable. Anyone who pays that amount of money for THAT system should instead invest that money in a good ear Doctor. 
I was really looking forward to hearing the Tech Das Air Force III turntable but alas it did not arrive at 20/20 Evolution in time.
The Backert Labs Fleetwood Mac presentation made us laugh, the presenter tried to showcase his pre-amp with Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams" by pointing out Stevie Nick's additional background vocals and the acoustical guitar as if anyone who had ever listened to the song had not noticed they were there. I am sure his gear is fine but he needs to work on his salesmanship.
Finally the biggest lowlight was the guy who was taking my wife's picture as she browsed for records, not one or two but dozens right up in her face. That guy was lucky I was in the process of buying some rare metal LP's or I would have broken his camera.

Overall we had a great time and look forward to coming back next year!
Hey All, 

Just wanted to jump in and thank everyone who made it out to the show. 

Most vendors did struggle with a bit of a boomy room. I had significatn build up from about 55 to 65 hz. That being said everyone seem to enjoy the show and as a manufactuere it was really great :D.

All the best, 

Trevor Fedele
Amphion Louspeakers Ltd
[email protected]
Hi All,
 WOW ! 1.2 million dollar system to my ears was just OK. Curious what others feel were the best in show.
For me it was room 305 highlighting the Bache Tribeca -001 speakers driven by modest electronics.
I believe they should be best bang for your buck speaker. More detail/tight bass and larger soundstage that speakers 2x their cost
@Trevah I really liked how your largest model, Krypton maybe, I bet they would sound even better with higher quality electronics behind them. The Benchmark sounded fine but I am sure their ceiling is higher.
I spent 2 days at CAF.  It was a great show and sill be going back next year!

My favorite room by far was the VPI room.  The stars there were the new HW 40 Drirect drive table - a steal at $15,000 - and a pair of Wilson ALEXX speakers.  Matt told everyone how the Wilson people literally took the room over on Thursday for 6 HOURS, setting up every nuance.  Mission accomplished - that was about as great as anything I’ve ever heard.  Plus, the VPI guys had fun and played great music - a mix of everything.

The Daedalus Zeus speakers were fantastic, but you had to spend time there to get your ears reaccustomed to their natural sound, especially after scores of ear abuse from other rooms.  An acoustic track from Ray LaMontagne was just so real.  Many speak of how speakers reproduce female vocals.  Daedalus speakers do a fine job with the richness of mens’ voices, too.  The live version of Hotel California from Hell Freezes Over was outstanding - heard new things in that recording after hundreds of critical listens to that track.  The room needed a buzz, though.  Vinyl would have helped.

The other Daedalus room had no problems with buzz - it came from the amps!  I was not impressed with the electronics, but the speakers were beautiful to listen to and to look at.  Unlike the bigger-than-life Zeus, these Apollos could fit in just about anywhere, and with a huge WAF.  They have a wonderful combination of detail, soundstage and richness.

I enjoyed the Modwright room with the Fritz monitors.  I don’t love Be tweeters, but these were good, especially with the low power MW tubed amp.  A great setup for not a lot of money.

The VAC room looked more like a car dealership - A Mercedes dealership, in fact.  Except, the main system cost more than any Mercedes currently sold.  Let that sink in a bit.  At over a $500,000, this system was mediocre at best.

The Klipsch LaScalas were delightful!  Wow!  Close your eyes, and you might picture some modern works of wonder moving air.  Open them, and holy cow!  Those are my grandfather’s speakers!  I didn’t recognize them without the plants!  Seriously, though, these speakers sounded great with a digital source of Wolf.

I don’t get the Salks.  At all.  The Be tweeters in this room were painful, although not as painful as the yellowy veneer.  Yikes.

Finally, the Charney Audio speakers were a real kick.  Great sound, odd design..great conversation piece.  It gets all of its bass just the way a real instrument does...with its elaborately- shaped body.  Very cool!
A few more comments about systems I heard at the show.  First, one of the nicest and most helpful exhibitor at the show was the man running the VK Music room.  He also had a very nice sounding system.  The speakers consisted of a large acrylic horn with AER bd 3 full-range drivers attached to the horn; a small subwoofer, set to come in at a very low frequency and set to be barely on to help with the bottom end.  The result was an extremely pure, clean and light-weight sound.  This system was NOT for someone demanding bass, demanding high volume levels and screaming detail.  VK Music also had on display a variety of kit amps, from Elekit.  I particularly liked the sound from the single-ended 300 b kit amp.  This seems to be quite a bargain, provided you can do some basic building (it comes with a large printed circuit board that is NOT stuffed with parts, you have to do that yourself).  

The Deja Vu room with the Harbeth 40.2 speakers and Conrad Johnson amp/linestage/phonostage and Lector CD player was also producing nice sound of the non-high fi variety.  The sound was warm, rich and relaxed.  Perhaps a touch too relaxed, probably the result of the room being excessively boomy for such a big speaker that usually demands a lot of space.  Still, this is the kind of non-showy sound that is easy to listen to for hours at a time.  The 30.2s in the Fidelis room did not come off as well-- the sound was a bit brittle and tizzy for my taste, probably a room/setup issue because I've heard much better with this speaker.
Thank you all for the kind words about my Carrera 7BE Loudspeakers with the ModWright HA300 300B tube integrated & headphone amp, Fern & Roby The Montrose turntable and Zu cables. It was a pleasure meeting and talking to everyone that came into our room.

We were actually supposed to debut the brand new ModWright balanced LS300 tube Pre-amp with the KWA150SE amp but that combo ended up powering the great sounding Destination Audio horn loudspeakers in room 549.

While the Carreras are 87 dB sensitive, they have first order series crossovers that are very easy to drive and IMHO worked and sounded great with Dan's 8 watt 300B tube amp.

Also- the CAF show special price is $2800 a pair which I will honor for the next couple of weeks if anyone is interested.

Thanks & happy listening... Fritz Heiler   FritzSpeakers.Com
My son and I had a great time at the show.
many of the systems were wonderful, so many companies producing great sound. My son loved the destination audio Nika’s.
i really enjoyed the La Scalia’s.
the harebeth/Conrad johnson room was very good.  I have always been a CJ fan and would love to own their big tube amp & pre amp. They powered the harbeth’s very nicely.
we had a very nice chat with the fern & roby room. Start up, I believe made in Virginia. Very nice wood craftsmanship. As a guy who builds furniture as a hobby, I thought his wood working exceptional. My son really liked his turntable.
the zu room was very fun, going to a stereo show with a 13 y/o boy, it was one of the few rooms playing music he would listen to.
plenty of great systems, lots to see and hear, had a great time.
I've been eyeing Salks since I heard them here last year when they auditioned the Song 3 with ribbon tweeter. Wish they had brought a set this year, may have pulled the trigger. I asked Jim to think about putting the Encore midrange in the Beat cab ......... said he already had one in testing...........think that would be the best combination for my ears.
KEF - Although my main speakers are factory refreshed Ref 104/2 I was overall disappointed with their room. Seemed they were most interested in making money on their tiny new offerings.....which to me would be what "mass America" would like, not audiophiles. After returning to their room 3 times to finally hear their England made Reference bookshelf.....loved the highs and sweet mids but the bass was pretty disappointing.....not as defined as my 30 year old KEFs.I was really blown away by the Charney speakers. He played a cello & some jazz and it was so big and full and natural sounding.........to my ears one of the best sounding speakers at the show.....in fact I have followed up with him and may purchase a pair. I don't think they will reproduce classic rock......Chicago, Santana, etc.........I listen to a very eclectic blend!I love the Harbeth 40 as well, agreed, the only "box" shaped speaker that didn't "bong" in the bass but when I found they were $16K.....I thought, way over priced.Came back home and fired up my Conrad Classic & Classic Sixty SE with KEF 104 and thought......I think I'm really happy with what I've got!


@mikeel... Yes, another plus with Salk is that he's open to customizing individual speakers for customers.  Sometimes these turn out so well, he adds them to his line-up, leading to the proliferation of models.

Ironic too that I was asking him pretty much the reverse, about the possibility of putting the BEAT Audio Technology midrange and a soft dome tweeter into the Song3 Encore cabinet.  That 9" woofer is very tempting...

This is Steve from Sound Insight
I just wanted to personally thank everybody who visited our room at CAF to audition the GT Audioworks speakers With associated gear from Pass labs, VuJade dac, Triode Wire Labs and Sempersonus turntable.
 Myles Astor from Audionirvana  selected our room as one of the best sounds at the show.
I haven't heard the Legacy Focus SE, but know the problem I had for years with the original Focus speakers.  There was insufficient damping material (dacron stuffing) behind the twin mid-ranges.  Once I stuffed them nearly full, leaving a space for air/resonance, the shrill violins and horns became as beautiful as a Harbeth.  Voices lost their edge and became mellifluous.  Just wonderful.  Which is one reason i dislike so many speakers/rooms at shows.  Bad music, played too loud in bad acoustic rooms.  I hope someone tries the cheap fix for a Focus SE if that's all it needs.  It would be a bargain great speaker then.
 Reading through the posts its funny how we all hear speakers differently. One thing I believe everyone has agreed on was the Charney speakers. Wow they were just so good. Going to be doing some major home remodeling next year and they will look incredible in my living room. I do a lot of work in the Somerset area and going to stop by for some more listening time. 
 As for the Legacy’s I’ve been listening to them for quite some time at two different dealers and at CAF as well. I didnt notice any shrillness when listening to the Signatures and actually just brought home a pair today. I sold my Kef Ref 3’s which killed my ears and so far I’ve played everything that was unplayable on the Kefs and the Legacy’s are handling them beautifully. First time in 10 months(thats how long I had the Kefs) I’ve been able to crank up Ted Nugents Cat Scratch Fever without looking for cover...Lol.