Capital Audiofest 2016

I loved going to the Capital Audiofest (CAF) in 2013 and that feeling didn’t change this year. Gary Gill, the show’s organizer, is always gracious and magnanimous and open to ideas. I don’t doubt Gary’s enthusiasm for all things audio.

On the two-channel side of the house, I thought the Volti / BorderPatrol / Triode Wire Labs room sounded exceptionally good. Volti was demoing their new lower-cost horn loaded speaker, the Rival, alongside BorderPatrol’s S20 (with a gain knob for volume control). Their top of the line, non-oversampling, filterless DAC-1 and a CEC transport provided the tunes. All the electronics were wired up with Triode Wire Labs current stock. The sound was dynamic and instantly engaging. Midrange and treble were finely textured and never harsh or piercing. Bass was surprisingly tight and tuneful, given the tiny room they were working with. Just an all-out stellar performance and easily the best sound at the show.

The Voice That Is put together an outstanding room as well. Speakers were the TIDAL Diacero G2, with matching TIDAL electronics and a Bricasti DAC serving as the source. Music was stored on an Aurender server. The sound was clean and relaxed. Nothing about the frequency range really stood out – a good thing at a show! – implying a system that was carefully set up with a well-balanced in component choice.

I also attended a lecture by Klaus Bunge of Odyssey Audio on “Doing Away with the Bullshit in the High-End Industry” which somehow got derailed into a discussion of the relative merits of vinyl vs. digital. I found myself in the silent minority of audiophiles that don’t have a vinyl setup and never intend to. (Yes I grew up listening to cassettes and then compact discs.) Curiously, I also haven’t gotten on the streaming / music server bandwagon either – I still see the merits of physical media. Eventually, Klaus dug up some good nuggets on system building and speaker placement which made sitting through the format griping worthwhile.

One somewhat low note was a Mytek’s rep explanation of / sales pitch for MQA. I get the feeling that not too many audiophiles understand that it’s essentially a lossy compression scheme for high-res audio. All the talk of timing errors and better sound, etc. is all a ruse, a canard. Rather, MQA satisfies two industry requirements. The first is that you get to claim you’re streaming full high-res audio and the second is you simultaneously remove the ability for the end user to get access and copy the real goods. Clever that.

Unfortunately, it seemed that CanMania (CAF’s headphone related b-side) didn’t get too much traction this year. Nevertheless, there were some sweet sounds coming from the likes of Linear Tube Audio, HeadAmp, and Mytek Digital. ModWright showed up with a new headphone amp, which I somehow overlooked. Some news out of HeadAmp – they’re thinking of possibly offering the GS-1 again, this time with a balanced output in addition to the single-ended jack (but with single-ended input only). It also seems that there’s a new electrostatic headphone amp in the works. It’ll be Justin Wilson’s own design that’s a no-holds-barred assault on the state of the art, placing it above the venerable Blue Hawaii SE in both performance and price. They’ve also relaunched their website with a more modern design.

Next year the CAF will be held in the fall. Hope to see you there in November!

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