Capital Audiofest 2022
Yes CAF 2022 is in the books as the best in its history. From very meager beginnings in the summer of 2010 with 12 or so rooms to over 92 rooms and the greatest number of vendors in the marketplace ever. The crowds were great, even on the usually dead Sunday, there was vendor-satisfying traffic. Even with this rocketing growth CAF has maintained its “good vibrations” of a laid-back show. This is all due to Gary Gill’s go-with-the-flow attitude, just not taking any of it too seriously… Keep it up, Gary!!!
So many new vendors joined the family this year. One of the few complaints in the past is that CAF is same-old-same-old, nothing new. This changed in a big way this year… Keep it up, Gary!!!
Yes, the big VAC room was back again with its big sound, but Kevin Hayes brought a museum of his early products displayed with his latest products out on the landing in front of the now famous glass doors to VAC/Von Schweikert wonderland.
Kevin had one of his first prototypes from around 1987 that soon developed into the P45, P60, and P90 that carried the company to the late 1990s. Also displayed in this ad hoc museum where some of the latest products with VACs iQ technologies to ensure the optimum operating point of the output tubes for maximum performance.
The Deserted Island Fantasy:
So I am going to talk about my deserted island fantasy rooms I heard at CAF 2022. Systems I would want to live with. This brings me to the big change in the VAC/Von Schweikert showing. They set up a real-world system in room 645 with a world debut of the Endeavor Reference speaker and VAC electronics.
This starts me off with what rooms I want to talk about. There were more rooms at the show this year that were very musical to my aging ears than in previous years. I am not just talking Digital versus Analog here. I am talking about a musical quality that wraps me up in a warm blanket on a cold day.
Von Schweikert Audio/Valve Amplification Company
The VAC/Von Schweikert room 645 made me happy to be there. The Endeavor Reference with the VAC electronics just did it for me. In the VAC/Von Schweikert glass palace, down in the Marketplace, there was a big HiFi sound. Nothing wrong here it is the biggest and cleanest ever but it is just not for me. To me music listening is personal, I will never have a 30-foot listening room. But what I heard in room 645 was personal, warm, and glorious.
Salk Sound / McGary Audio
Salk Audio Room 512. Jim has been a major supporter of CAF for most years from the beginning. Back in 2017, he shared a room with the debut of McGary’s SA-1 amp. They have shown together ever since. Mike builds all his amps in his shop in Gainesville, Virginia. This year both Jim and Mike brought new models to room 512. Jim showed off the new and top-of-the-line Be Pure 3 floor stander. This is a stunner in many ways. The BePure 3’s are built with two cabinets…a woofer cabinet and a separate midrange/tweeter cabinet.
The drivers used in this design are the Satori beryllium tweeter, the 6.5” Purifi midrange, and the new 8” Purifi woofer. The woofer tuning with dual, side-firing passive radiators eliminates any chance of port noise. Finally, the midrange is open-backed to project an expansive soundstage.
Powering these new speakers Mike McGary brought new MA_1 monoblocks, and his new preamp the SPA-1.
The new amp and preamp, the units exhibited were prototypes. The only difference between these and production units will be the color scheme. For production units, there will be the same colors used on the SA1E stereo amplifier (Midnight Blue Metallic, Satin Blacktop plate, and Silver Metallic silkscreen for lettering/numbers.
The McGary Audio ‘Monoblock Amp One’ (MA1) uses an output pair of either KT88, KT90, or KT120 tubes, are rated 80WRMS into 8ohms (…with strong KT90s used at the show these measured 90WRMS), unbalanced (RCA) inputs only, Class AB push-pull ultra-linear output stage and something different-very large storage capacitance in power supply only using polypropylene capacitors (no electrolytic).
Of course low feedback design (less than 10dB) and point-to-point wiring with Cardas silver solder and Solen Teflon capacitors in the circuitry.
For the vacuum tube ‘Stereo Preamplifier One (SPA1)… a very simple purist design using only unbalanced (4) inputs/(2) outputs, a modified mu-follower tube stage, sensitivity control for sources that output either a hi or low voltage, and an ELMA precision (0.1%) resistor attenuator volume control (remotely controlled). The modified mu-follower design and placing the volume control after the tube stage (output side) rather than before (input side) allows for much more robust performance, precise balance with left and right centered exactly across all 47 positions of volume control, and reduced noise. The stepped attenuator is a precision ELMA-made device and the Source and Sensitivity switches are also manufactured by ELMA. These are very premium components. The front panel knobs are lit with LEDs so one can see their selection (sensitivity and source selection, and volume level). The tube cover panel on top of the preamp removes easily (4 screws) to access/change the 2 tubes.
The 6BQ7A (or 6N1P equivalent) tubes (one for each channel) are biased class A, low voltage, and coupled to the outputs with V-Cap ODAM capacitors. The power supply uses a capacitor multiplier circuit and single star grounding, accomplishing low noise, low distortion, and over 20dB gain (yes 20). The color of production units will be the same Midnight Blue Metallic and Satin Blacktop (powder coat).
The sound was very musical and precise. The midrange was warm and beautiful. Only sharp edges were on Jim’s fine cabinets not in the sound anywhere.
David Janszen has two knock-out-sounding rooms. David had the Valencia A8 in one room and I have never heard this speaker sound this good. Just amazing impact and presence. In room 542 Dave partnered with AGM amplification and debuted his remake of his father’s 1959 KLH 9 as the KLH 9.5.
I loved the sound of this speaker. I had never heard of the original Nine but I rebuilt a pair of Maggy 3a’s and were my reference for many years. I love the sound one gets off a properly configured and placed dipole. David’s remake was far more dynamic and impactful than my old Maggie’s.
The openness and realism were great. This is an amazing reproducer. It just disappeared. They just got completely out of the way of the music and it was glorious. Amplification by ADG Productions was superb.
The Voice That Is / Vinnie Rossie
Doug White (The Voice That Is, the name borrowed from the Johnny Hartman 1965 album) always brings the best sound to these shows. He is consistently mentioned in the audio press as “one of the best sounding rooms”. This year presenting the superlative Tidal Piano G3 speakers he partnered with Vinnie Rossi’s new Brama preamp and monoblocs.
This was the proverbial “match made in heaven”. The sound was inviting and involving.
TreeHaus Audiolab was at last year’s CAF. I liked what I heard very much. It was pure and open sounding, but it lacked a foundation. This year Richard Pinto brought one of the most distinctive speakers I have ever seen. The “National Treasure” is a three-way open-baffle floorstander made from a live-edge slab of one of the most beautiful pieces of wood. The range of colors and grain patterns from this book-matched set (sequentially cut from the same log and flipped) was unique. It is probably not accurate to call this a three-way speaker. The main driver covers the majority of the range of music. Probably from 90hz to 12 or 14khz. The super tweeter and the 15-inch woofer are just augmenting the sound. The air is on the top end and the foundation on the bottom. It certainly was all there in the room. I easily could have spent hours in room 508.
. From the website…….
“The heart of the speaker is the main full-range field-coil driver produced by Atelier Rullit. The foundation of these drivers rests in Klangfilm and Telefunken field coils. They are meticulously rebuilt, redesigned, “restomodded” to transform into some of the best drivers available at any price. Utilizing old German copper and ultralightweight “Aero” and “Super Aero” papers for the cone, voice coil, and Whizzer, they are quick, exact, detailed, and pure. The incredible strength of the high voltage field coil and the low mass of the voice coil and cone assembly produces a driver that is like a fine sports car.”
Richard’s electronics are very traditional but built to a very high level with the best components available The preamp uses a TVC (transformer-switched volume control) and no capacitors in the signal path. I am pretty sure all this attention to detail is what gives this system the purity I heard.
The ingle-ended thermionic tube amplifiers are ideally suited for any high-efficiency speaker. the amps are based on the work of Susumu Sakuma, our amplifiers utilize a directly heated triode driver interstage coupled to a directly heated triode acting as the power tube (801/300B). This architecture yields the pure sound that I enjoyed so much.
These five rooms were my fantasy Island systems. These were the most musical rooms that I heard at CAF 2022 and could easily live with them for the rest of my life enjoying the music. The hardware just disappeared and I was just experiencing the emotion of the music.
Now that some time has gone by and I am still reflecting on CAF 2022. I felt no need to try to scoop other reviewers on the show. What went on was bigger than a rush to judgment. This was an extraordinarily special event. More so than any other of the 10 previous CAFs. More so than in 2021 when no one knew what was going to happen after the COVID mess. Would anyone come? Gary gambled big and gave it the college try. The vendors said we will come if the show goes on. The public came masked and happy to continue the industry that gives so much pleasure to so many. We had a surprisingly great show.
More so than the first show in 2010 when on a very hot July weekend at the Rockville Mansion with just twelve rooms and a marketplace filled with used vintage gear for sale. The show pulled in enough of the public that gave Gary the confidence that CAF could be a real thing. At that first CAF, I met Jim Salk of Salk Audio and Gary Dews of BorderPatrol. Gary Dews had just moved to the US and this was his first venture into the US Audio market. It was a good one for BorderPatrol, he picked up a couple of sales at that show that allowed him to build BorderPatrol into a well-known and greatly admired company. I was there reliving my youth when my father sold records at the Shoreham Hotel in Washington DC’s HiFi show (in the late 1950’s) and I was maybe 12 years old running up and down the halls just not believing what I was seeing. I heard the Klipschorn/McIntosh system presented by Shrader Sound. I was gobsmacked! I wonder what I would think of that system if I heard it now.
So why do I think CAF 2022 was so special? Most talk about the “good vibe” the show has compared to other audio shows. This was and has been ever present since I have been involved. This year it was more so than ever. Everything worked. Yes, the Hotel is still trying to recover from a bad couple of COVID years. Staffing issues are prevalent everywhere. It will get better. I can get over this because everything else was just fabulous. It just felt like home with a comfy fire and a mug of hot spiced and spiked cider. Yum!