Capital Audiofest, save thyself!

This is a message to the brand exhibitors at Capital Audiofest. I've got an idea for next year: Don't bring any of YOUR boring music to the show and advertise the event as an all-audience choice show. That's right, WE bring our music and you play whatever it is, whether you like it or want it or not. Yes, you want to show off your equipment in a controlled environment, but I would venture to say the music I brought with me on CD does it better than the somnolent elevator or atrium with a waterfall music you all kill us with. We - or I - want to hear audiophile grade sources, of course, but also modern music that people not living in the high-end audio bubble - a place called the real world - listen to. We also need some damn life at the show. Not a single room in the hotel had sound coming out of it I was rushing to for the MUSIC. A show like this MUST include that facet, not just great equipment. Hell, even just play some Joni Mitchell (always flawlessly recorded). Something, anything. WAKE UP!

Every one of the rooms I visited were manned by equipment designers or sharp and mostly reasonably friendly salespeople who hadn't a single clue about how to bring out the best of their systems to normal people. Nothing had a beat, few were playing music with horns or voices, none of it - zero - had anything to do with what sells today - just terrible ambient, rudimentary garbage with a variety of percussive sounds. I would have settled for some old Blue Note jazz. I ran screaming from the hotel at the end of three hours there and my friend and I vowed to never return.

That said, we still heard some superb equipment. I took no notes, so can't remember everything, but here are a few quick-take impressions . . . The great Jeff Joseph manned the room showing off his sumptuous top-of-the-line Pearl floor-standing speakers (about $39,000 or so), but the room with his Pulsar2 Graphene mini monitors was far more effective and appealing. At around $10,000 they are indisputably ranking among the very best speakers in the world. Vivid, popping, wonderful soundstage, startling bass, tonal excellence. They have no drawbacks whatsoever, period, and they set the standard we measured by in every other room.
Good guy Bill Hutchins, the chief designer at LKV, has two winners in his effort to bring more affordable equipment to market. We loved his LKV PWR-3 power amp (I think $3,350) and the new Veros VNL phono pre. I'm pretty sure this was coupled with the Pulsars. Top shelf all around. Bravo. LKV was new to me, and I'm mostly a tube guy, but this was wholly impressive.

The all-Audio Note room was expensive and an absolute standout. I believe they were running their AN-E speakers, the 8w P3 Tonmeister amp, and I believe their TT-3 or coming TT-3 Half Reference turntable with cart. The whole system had good flesh to it, despite how boring the music was, with an appealing human-scale and dimension. I like when it sounds life sized. We got to play our own music (Christine and the Queens' "People, I've Been Sad" on the Audio Note CD player (I think it was the 5.1x) and I would have opened the wallet and taken that player home in a heartbeat if I hadn't purchased a Bryston BCD-3 a couple years ago. Another round of bravos. If my somewhat needy speakers could play nice with an 8w tube amp and whatever the pre-amp was, I wouldn't hesitate to break the bank and go Audio Note.

The Amped America room did nothing for us. Lifeless, flat, compressed sound.

On Sunday, the large Democracy Room at the hotel was in the hands of Command Performance AV and they were showing off a massive Gryphon power amp. I can't remember the speakers but if you like huge, all-enveloping sound, far beyond scale, get in touch with them about this system. They knew how to fill a big room. Bad music, enjoyable experience.

Tried twice to get into the little Border Patrol room, set up horizontally, but it was packed and we didn't want to stand in the corner by the door to try to hear.
Couldn't find Conrad Johnson, which was hugely disappointing because they were high on my list.

Enjoyed a Pear Audio turntable in Room 307.

Merrill Audio's Element 116 monoblocks (I'm pretty sure that was the model) and the Genesis Maestro (pretty sure that was the model!) speakers, a design I hadn't seen before and worth looking up, produced exquisite sound and I wished there was less talking in the room and less bad music and a little more volume showing off something worth listening to. I would have sat there happily for an hour. VPI had it's 80-some-pound 40th Anniversary Classic Direct turntable on display in there but not hooked up and it was a beast to behold. Would have loved to have heard it.
I didn't see it advertised on the Capital Audiofest website, but one room was showing a Kronos turntable (can't remember which one) and lord the music coming out of that thing was beautiful. I can't see owning a table that looks so bling, but rich people in the market should not ignore this company.

McGary Audio - maker of a very striking KT88 tube-based SA2 amplifier was back again this year with Salk speakers. McGary himself declined to allow a switch flip from ultralinear to triode on his very versatile amp because it would change the volume level, as if that wasn't adjustable. Don't bring in a system you can't adjust the volume on. When your amp is before the public, find a way to flip a switch to triode if asked. We're there to hear the amp, not just half of it. I liked the McGary-Salk match better the last time I heard it, so it must have been the room, setup or (yawn) music. Still, really good-sounding equipment by both, although I'm still not thrilled from an aesthetic standpoint with the SA2's unbalanced RCA interconnects being on the front panel. He's got a sound reason, as the designer, but I'd sacrifice whatever little incremental betterment that is to have them in the back. One of the most beautiful amps on the market (a shade under $8,000), and I'd love to fiddle with it - and its user-adjustable global negative feedback knob - when no one is saying no to me. This amp remains coveted.

Finally, VAC took over the massive Atrium room again with a system that probably cost about $450,000. Teamed with Von Schweikert speakers. It was better-sounding than the last time I remember it, and that's saying something, but I didn't hear any music playing I'd want to play at home (the theme of this post). I asked if I could play a CD and the gentleman in charge said I could - after he played a few things he wanted to hear - so I rolled out. There were maybe three or four other people in there. This is the second Capital Audiofest I've attended at which VAC has displayed its beautiful Sigma 170i integrated with KT88s - probably the most affordable amp in its lineup yet still plenty expensive - but not had it plugged in. I'd love to hear this thing (and others in the lineup) some day, not just the company's most untouchable components.

The music vendors in the lobby were not getting much action on Sunday and had a bevy of audiophile discs and vinyl records for sale. I didn't snap up a thing but was tempted. I would have LOVED to have heard a "Still Crazy After All These Years" MoFi one-step ultradisc, but at $200 I decided to take the money up the road for some cheap and delicious Northern Chinese dim sum at the venerable A&J on Rockville Pike. If you like authentic Chinese food, that stretch of road is a wonderland of options.

Where these shows miss the boat is not providing products that will appeal to a broader audience at all price points. Why visit a Ferrari dealer if all you can afford is a Toyota or maybe a LExus if you stretch.

Most people will go and leave thinking I can’t afford this stuff and move on.

Not to mention the music that nobody really cares about playing.
fsonicsmith, please refrain from taking the Lord's name in vain; I find it offensive. Thank you! Lovely virtual system, BTW. 

I disagree with what I consider exaggeration about lack of show attendance by owners/manufacturers/designers, as in my experience it is not representative of the reality at shows. Having a lot of show attendance over the years, it is not challenging to meet a designer/manufacturer. Perhaps  you have had poor timing, but I cannot think of a show I have attended where several to many of the owners/designers were in attendance and spending a fair bit of time in their rooms. I especially remember the ones I have reviewed; Salk, Exogal, VAC, Legacy, Wells Audio, Van Alstine, PureAudioProject, Clarity Cable (have not done a show for a while). Others I recall seeing at forums, TAD, D'Agostino, I recall also Merril Audio, Synergistic Research, EAR, Voxativ, Sanders Sound - all these come to mind in a minute or two. If I were to go through my review list of the past 14 years at I believe I would have a lengthy list. Add into that the numerous mentions and images in other review magazines about designers and owners at shows, and I believe your characterization of shows as bereft of the designers and manufacturers is unwarranted. I find that though the days are long for them, many truly love to show their work to eager audiophiles.   :) 

I also suspect (no confirmation - yet) that many of them have been whipsawed by the end of the covid indoors, cessation of some shows, and parts shortages. I fear the fallout in the next couple of years may be terrible. I am hoping AXPONA makes it. You may gripe about shows, but just wait. If they go under, have fun traveling hundreds of miles or having no demo prior to buying. Perhaps you do not care, but many do. For the serious customer a show is a godsend, a collection of some of the finest gear under one roof, something that could never be replaced virtually. All this is aside from the discussion of music genres, but I fear the industry will have to row hard against the wind for several years. A lot of these small businesses would not take the strain of an online shopping community that figured they deserve things like free (or practically free) returns on in home demos, etc. You could see a lot of nice gear makers decide to quit while ahead. The landscape could change pretty dramatically in a few years. 

Anyway, back to the discussion about tunes at shows... 

I've been saying it for quite sometime that the music is horrible often times. I couldn't review the VAC VON SCHWEIKERT room because that's all they played. It becomes an "equipment pageant" when the music, the REAL MUSIC is missing. 
I did get a few rooms to take my music requests so i know it wasn't every room that was doing this. 
Some brands aren't afraid to take requests (GT AUDIO comes to mind)
You should have went to the Overture Audio room and listen to the first world wide public debut of the new B&W 801D4s paired with McIntosh MC901 amps. That was a great listen and the MC allowed some of us to pick digital tunes from the Aurender streamer. Showing up to an audio show with your own listening media will many times run up against what’s already been put into a listening queue, either for vinyl or CDs. 

Usually, when the crowd is very small, I have seen some vendors allow a very limited amount of people to play their music on the vendors system at audio shows. Yes, have had enough of Diana Krell and would appreciate some Led Zeppelin Stairway to Heaven or Santana Black Magic Women or Oye Coma Va on the next to play list. When I visit in store vendors, I usually can play my own music, which for me, is mostly records.

Sometimes the vendors choose music to showcase their system strengths as Douglas Schroeder alluded to. Taking a chance with a poorly mastered CD or an obscure recording that is flat sounding does not help their desire to present a good sounding system.

I ended up buying from the record vendors and had to make numerous trips to the car to carry off all the records I bought. I saw plenty of things to buy besides music. The McIntosh and new B&Ws were one room I liked, but Dr. vinyl also had a vibrant sounding room and they played Santana and Buddy Guy through a DS audio optical system.

Now, I am facing a conundrum as to whether to purchase either the Soundsmith optical Strain Gauge or the DS Audio optical system. Both have been on my radar and at CAF, I listened to both. The Straingauge was at CAF last year. I knew which rooms I wanted to visit and agree that they are not easy to find. I was looking for a room and ran into Anne Bisson selling records with autographs next to another room with a Transrotor turntable. 
Being a Transrotor turntable owner, I asked the guy in the room about the Transrotor but he seemed preoccupied with prettying up the speaker cables in the floor. Too bad, I seriously would have bought some Transrotor accessories. Transrotor was listed on the brochure for this room but I could not get garner a conversation with the dude and only 2 people sitting in the room kissing and hugging each other pretending to listen to music just to have a spot to make out, LOl.

So, went back to the Anne Bisson desk and bought one copy of every record she had on the table with autographs. That was the end of my day after 5 hours at the fest.

Mr. Schroeder, it is no easy task to tell when you are being serious and when you are not. Your history of posting is nothing to be proud of. Whether you are self-aware or not your subjective views are so far in the minority as to be true only to you and perhaps a kissing cousin or two. 
You list a bunch of manufacturers who are examples of my statement-small producers. And Dan D'Agonstino is not on many people's lists of gentlemen. 
As to offending you, who's Lord exactly? Yours is not necessarily mine. Leaving that aside, "for Christ's sake" is a common phrase not to be taken literally. Would "Crikey" have made you feel better? 


Being a Transrotor turntable owner, I asked the guy in the room about the Transrotor but he seemed preoccupied with prettying up the speaker cables in the floor. Too bad, I seriously would have bought some Transrotor accessories. Transrotor was listed on the brochure for this room but I could not get garner a conversation with the dude and only 2 people sitting in the room kissing and hugging each other pretending to listen to music just to have a spot to make out, LOl.