CAF 2017 Recap

 

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Living in the DC region has its pluses and minuses – there are lots of great free museums, a ton of sports teams to root for, schools are pretty good, and you’re never too far from a protest. And group karaoke is an adult competitive sport. There are also minuses aplenty – traffic is universally horrid at all hours, it’s a swamp (literally and politically), group adult karaoke is REALLY competitive.

One of the unequivocal pluses has to be the critical mass of audio hobbyists and stereo nuts. One of those nuts (using this term as endearingly as possible) is Gary Gill, who has been organizing an audiophile gear and trade show called Capital Audiofest for over a decade. It’s grown into a massive event with almost 100 exhibitors of speakers, turntables, receivers, amps and other assorted audio esoterica. Everything you can imagine is there to see, with an emphasis on high-end gear, extreme performance and impeccable style.

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Classic Audio Loudspeakers T-1.5 Reference. 18″ woofer, 15″ midbass woofer, 4″ Beryllium diaphragm midrange compression driver mounted in a wood tractix horn. 

Consumer brands were not well-represented, with a couple notable exceptions – TAD (affiliated with Pioneer) had their Reference line available for demos in two rooms, and Technics brought their new GU-8700 digital integrated amplifier, a couple pairs of their reference speakers, and an all-in-one media player/amplifier, all driven by one of their two latest 1200 series direct-drive turntables.

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Technics SB-C700 speaker. Coaxial, designed by HAL 9000

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Technics Grand Class SU-G700. I’m a sucker for meters.

I really liked hearing the Grand Class SU-G700 integrated amplifier. It’s a full-digital amplifier, which means it transmits to the speakers in a lossless digital signal, even converting analog input signals to digital using high-performance onboard Burr-Brown DACs. It pushes 70 watts into 8 ohms and 140 into 4 ohms, which is plenty for most speakers. I’d love to carry one home.

The German Physiks speakers were unique – one massive carbon-fiber unidirectional cone sticking straight up, with a woofer stuffed into the base. Kind of a modern take on the old Ohm Walsh speakers, except for $30k+. They sounded great and looked like aliens.

One of my favorite speakers to listen to were the Audio Charney Companions. Each the size and shape of a mailbox, he Companions had one 5″ Voxativ full-range speaker perched on the front of its exquisite woodwork. Looking under the rear of the speakers revealed a 104″ folded horn crafted out of smoothed birch. Running off of a quarter watt of tube amplification, these things roared, pulling rib-scraping cello riffs across the soundscape. They’re rated down to 40hz and my bowels can attest they get down there or farther. Unbelievable.

Turntables came in all shapes and sizes. Prices were uniformly high – the cheapest VPI I sampled was $900 and sounded great. Others on hand reached into six-figure range. I have to say that on these price-no-object systems, vinyl took on a new life. I was amazed at the clarity and color pulled out of the discs. I didn’t even think it was possible, and wonder whether sound engineers mixing some of these revered jazz pressings in the 1960s could ever fathom that some day there would be audio systems capable of completely bringing these artists back into the flesh.

My favorites still have to be the Vanatoo Transparent Ones. They’re small, relatively affordable ($499) powered speakers with integral DAC. They shouldn’t be my cup of tea – no horns, no tubes, no ancient walnut veneers – but they’re happy. They sound happy. Well-rounded, accurate, beautiful imaging and detail, no fatigue at all. 60 watt amps run a 5 1/4″ aluminum woofer and a silk dome tweeter with a passive radiator on the back. They’re tiny, 6x10x8 inches, and that’s even with one of them packing the amp, USB, optical, coax and analog inputs, a set of speaker outputs, a run for a sub, and volume, bass and treble controls. It’s a whole system in the palm of your hand. This is the third year I’ve heard the Vanatoos, and they, more than anything make me question why I obsess with the rest of the audiophile gear. They really sound that good. I took a picture of the new Transparent Zeroes, which are even tinier, pack more tech, and sound excellent as well. I kept coming back to the ones, however.

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I don’t remember what these are, other than they are open-baffle arrays. Those are large brass discs hung on there too, to eliminate resonance. I guess that a slight curve to the disc increases their rigidity, so each is slightly unflat. Neat.

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These are speaker cords with massive, humungous rare-earth magnets to do something or other. Maybe nanoparticles? They look neat. And it’s been featured on The Discovery Channel.

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Showcase of beautiful gear. The stands  themselves are likely worth more than my car.

My second favorite speakers were these Odyssey Kismets. Simple principle – one Scanspeak Revelator woofer and one illuminator tweeter. Put to good use.

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Here are the gorgeous Fern and Roby horn speakers with mid-range box. Dipole dual 12″ subwoofer next to it. Amazing craftsmanship.

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~ by silverfacestereo on November 9, 2017.

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