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?


C943649e 64b4 48a7 a173 3590ba214727twoleftears
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