(NEWS) Capital Audiofest 2023 – The Best of the Show

Capital Audiofest 2023 has come to a close and what a wonderful time it was. Gary puts on the best show(s) of the U.S. While AXPONA has more to see, the intimacy and community feel you get at Capital and Gary and Lou’s other shows is unmatched. We had another year of talking to old friends and making new ones. More than the gear itself the people are what make it a great show. This year also had a lot of new gear to see whether it was a completely new product or simply new to our market. I was also very pleased to see how many affordable options were present. Many times companies want to show their flagship products to drive home what they are capable of as a designer or manufacturer. While it is great to put your best foot forward, as we talked to attendees throughout the weekend we heard many people looking at many different price points. We listened to entire systems that are only a few thousand up to many tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

While this article is a best of show, it is not a ranked list nor do I see this as a competition. As you read about these rooms it may become more clear what I mean. These rooms represent to me the spirit of Hifi the best. I didn’t hear a single bad room at the show, there are rooms that I liked more or less, but none of them were outright bad. It speaks volumes to how far the audio market has come, to where you don’t have to spend big to get good sound. Granted for those with the money there is some incredible sound to be had at the top. I should also mention that it is only my wife and I, we can not write about every single room. My strategy at shows is to spend the first two days listening and visiting all the rooms, then on Sunday, return to my favorites to take detailed listening notes. I also want to mention that I am not super critical of these rooms for two reasons, I have not heard each piece of gear independently in my reference system (typically), as well these rooms are not ideal, while most rooms are not perfect, hotel rooms with goofy shapes and limited treatment are far from the ideal listening space. Without further ado let’s take a look at a sample of Capital Audiofest 2023.

Genesis, Merrill, Heed, Wand and VPI

This room is one of our two, twofer rooms. Gary Koh had his new speakers, the Series 7 Minuet and Foxtrott set up in the same room. Powering the larger of the two, the Foxtrott was Merrill Audio as well as a VPI turntable. The smaller but equally impressive Minuet was powered by a full Heed front end and a Wand turntable. I spent more time with the Minuet, which at the time of writing cost $8,000.00 (U.S.). While it is not cheap, this is the entry-level into Genesis’ line of speakers. The 8K does certainly get you a lot of speaker though. With the Heed electronics, the sound was simply impressive. I like to sit in multiple positions in the listening rooms to see how well speakers perform outside the so-called sweet spot. The Series 7 is the perfect family speaker. They sounded wonderful anywhere in the room. You still got good channel balance even if you were off to one side. The Heed amps and electronics were clean well into reference listening volume and even above. On my first visit to the room, we listened to the Wand table, which is their first full table. It was well designed to make sure the center of gravity was dead center to maximize stability and vibration control. The table performed flawlessly with the handful of different selections played. When I revisited the room Analog Audio Design had a TP1000 tape player connected and ready to play some rare tapes, including a rare Beatles Recording (forgive me for not being super familiar with the Beetle’s unreleased works). The sound was incredible. The tonality of the speakers is wonderfully neutral, though have a tuning knob in the back to dial them in perfectly for your space. I would really like to spend more time with Heed Electronics and the Series 7 Minuet. The Foxtrott sounds just as good, and if you have a large space they are the ones to go with, they do everything the Minuet does just bigger and more room-filling. The Merrill electronics powering the Foxtrotts provided incredible detail and texture. Merrill makes both visually and audibly beautiful equipment and they play very well with Genesis speakers as seen both this and last year. This year Merill had the new Clay Michael pre, $9,000 U.S. and Element 100 power amps, $12,000 U.S. The Foxtrott speakers come in around $13,800 U.S., comparivly the HEED setup shown is less than $10,000. The Thesis phono amp runs just under $2,000 U.S., the Power Supply is just over $1,800 U.S., the Pre runs around $2,750, and the Stereo power amp is just under $3,000 US. ( I do not have exact US pricing at this time, these are based on current English Market Pricing)

Viva, Esoteric, Albedo, and United Home Audio (High End By Oz)

Oz has put together another amazing room this year at Capital Audiofest. The system is mostly comprised of Viva Audio gear, including the Speakers. The speakers shown are the Nudas, ($165,000 U.S), which have massive horns. For a digital source, the Esoteric K-03XD, ($15,000), CD payer was used as a transport only, with a Viva Numerico, ($21,500), handling the conversion to analog. Also from Viva was the Solista, ($25,000), integrated amplifier seen in a yellow finish. For analog playback Oz again selected a wonderful RTR player from United Home Audio, these run around ~$100,000. Everything was wired with Albedo cables. I am not sure of the exact amount of each cable used. Oz played one of my all-time favorite pieces, The 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky. This particular JVC recording was of the Chigaco Symphony Orchestra with Fritz Reiner conducting. The crescendo at the end of the song was more powerful than I had ever heard it from a speaker. The Viva horns brought the music to life. The excitement of the track filled the room. Not only did the horns wound incredibly I was surprised at how well-balanced they were, not only were they non-fatiguing, but even warm with the massive woofer. They also had good balance and separation when outside the otherwise forgiving sweet spot. I am normally not the biggest horn fan as they can at times sound thin and overly bright, but the Viva Nuda had all the richness of a conventional speaker but the power and attack of a horn. I was quite literally on the edge of my seat as the orchestra built up to the finally of the song. Often there are diminishing returns as you get higher and higher into the stratosphere of anything, and it is hard to say any Hifi system or a car is “worth” over 300,000 dollars, but I have to say, I see where the value is. I don’t know that I have ever heard anything quite as good as this system that didn’t cost significantly more. It is worth noting that in my room notes, I put down “Listening to 1812 Overture, Holy Shit”.

Advance Paris and Vienna / PMC

Switching gears, I want to talk about a couple of rooms that blew me away for a different reason. That is the Advance Paris rooms. Advance Paris is not a new company, but is new to the U.S. and this is the first time I have experienced their amps. The first Room used their Pre amp the X-P700 and two X-A220 Monoblock amplifiers to Power the Vienna Beethoven Grand Reference speakers, ($13,495 per pair in standard finishes; $15,495 per pair in rosewood finish). Streaming Qobuz I listened to a few of Moby’s tracks on Reprise, and the speakers had a neutral and natural sound to them. The speakers had good dynamics and texture, I would say if anything they lean a touch warm. I would say you wouldn’t want to power these with tubes but rather like in this room, clean SS power. What impressed me was the sound quality for the price. The Advance Paris pre amp is ~$1,500 and the power amps are each around ~$2,000, though that may change as no official US pricing is announced. In another room was the A12 Classic integrated amp powering a pair of new PMC Prodicgy 5s. The relatively small speakers had tremendous bass thanks to the expertly tuned transition line. Not only did they have impressive bass, but it didn’t come at the cost of hearing chuffy muddy bass. The highs and mids were also very well represented meaning here you get a great small footprint speaker at a cost of only $2,500, and should you choose to run the same integrated amp you can expect to pay somewhere around ~$3,000. You could be all in with great sound for under 6 grand. Performance like this is rarely had at this price point brand new. I look forward to spending more time with Advance Paris, PMC, and Vienna Acoustics

Michell, Lowther, Triode, and Gold Note

This room really stuck out to me because of the speakers and turntable. Lowther is a very old English speaker maker though very new to the US market, as is Michell. The table Michell chose to show was the Gyro SE ($6,999), with a T-8 tone arm and Curis M Cartridge. Michell is a family business started by John Michell in the mid 60’s. Now his legacy is carried by a younger generation of Michells, who are very clearly doing a wonderful job. Lowther brought their new Edilia Speaker ($25,000), and while it is new Lowther is not, releasing their first speaker in 1934. Gold Note handled the analog input with a PH-10 phono pre-amp and PSU-10 power supply, ($3,298), and Triode powered the speakers with a TRV-88XR ($3,890). The room had a warm vintage sound but with modern detail. If you are a vintage fanatic but want to take advantage of modern tech, Edilia may be the speaker for you. Lowther took what they learned over nearly a century and created something truly special. With a more modern cabinet design, you can achieve more detail and less resonance, while still keeping a warm vintage sound. The Michell table played beautifully with the speakers. I played an album I am very familiar with in streaming and CD format, Bewitched by Laufey. This was the first time listening on vinyl, and the table performed flawlessly. The album sounded as clean and detailed as the CD. As a package, Laufey’s voice was soft and lifelike, with the jazz melodies being engaging and well-imaged. It was mentioned while listening that, that was the best the room sounded all weekend. I would really love to hear more from both Michell and Lowther.

Diptyque and Soulnote

Michael from The Listening Room (Dealer Store) has been telling me about both of these brands for a while and I was looking forward to hearing them both. Soul Note is a brand that the Japanese Govt helped create to keep engineering and business in Japan when Marantz was bought out. The Diptyque Speakers are from France and are a push-pull planar design. The ones shown at CAF were the DP 140 MK II ($17,000) and powering them was the Soul Note D-3 DAC, ($24,000), A-3 Integrated Amp, ($25,000), and the X-3 Clock, ($5,000). The first thing you will notice listening is the bass. These speakers are flat to 30hz, an impressive feat for a planar speaker. I genuinely looked for a subwoofer in the room. But they are not a one-trick pony. The ribbon speakers put out impeccably detailed mid and top-range frequencies. These units have two bass panels and a single long ribbon speaker on the outside, in effect making them a 2-way speaker. Though the flawless coverage of frequencies would make you think they have to be a 3 or 4-way speaker. Soul Note kept these speakers full and warm with plenty of clean power. There was no audible distortion even when listening at relatively high volumes. The aesthetic is also something I am a fan of, and they seem as though they may be a more durable design than other planars available. Sound-wise compared to Magnapan, the obvious competition, is hard to say. Both have plenty of speed and detail, though the Diptyque is a bit more pleasant to me due to the bass coverage. They do come at a premium over comparably sized Magnepans though and that is something to keep in mind while shopping. (also shown are more of Soul Notes offerings in a second room)

Show Highlights

Some more rooms I want to highlight are below. I would love to be able to give a detailed report on each and every room but also want to visit as many as I can to share with you what is available.

First is Treehaus Audio. Rich, creates absolute works of wooden art. Not only do they look wonderful they sound absolutely delightful. Rich also built the lights in his room to fit his look and I’ll be honest I would like to have one of the small ones for my turntable. This year Rich debuted his absolutely stunning and aptly named “Phantom of Luxury”, this massive speaker is made up of multiple slabs and cookies (small disks of live edge) with epoxy holding it all together. The drivers are each hand-picked to fit the sound signature he is looking for, this setup is made up of Klangfilm and Telefunken speakers. They are meticulously hand-rebuilt and redesigned in Germany. For more on the specs see our article about these speakers HERE.

Next up are these brand-new speakers from Maco Audio out of Toronto. The speakers displayed, one made of quartz and the other granite. They like Treehaus are an open baffle design, however, while they too are available in wood, they more notably come in as mentioned stone varieties. They were auditioned at the show with both Geshelli Labs’ new Integrated amp as well as a Chord and Triangle front end. I did not get to hear them with the Geshelli Labs amp, however, in the other room they sounded very nice. I am quite excited to see where these go and a chance to spend more time with them.

We also spent some time with Duncan from YG and Vinnie Rossi as well as a crew of folks for some after-show fun with this simple yet effective system. While enjoying a pilsner and playing a bunch of different music with Duncan, including some Taylor Swift Folklore, I got a sense of the speakers and amps. with a room price north of 100k, I was very pleased with what I heard. The speakers had a wonderfully deep soundstage and precise imaging. Vinnie’s amps have a very sweet warm sound, taming the YG Carmel which could probably be a bit bright with the wrong paring. This was the debut for these speakers as well, which are the entry point for YG, though not exactly at an entry-level price, nor with entry-level performance.

Geshelli brought a few new products to CAF this year, including both a new Headphone amp and a new integrated 2-channel amp. The two-channel amp was connected to Andrew Jones Source Point speakers and sounded delightful. I am not the biggest fan of those speakers, however, with the Geshelli amp, I could happily listen for hours on end. I also gave the new Archel 3 Pro, using Sparko Labs gear inside. I can not comment a ton as I am not super familiar with the headphones I tested with, however, I liked what I heard and would like to check it out with a set of my personal headphones sometime.

Camand AV put together a killer system as well. Debuting the Diablo 333 in America. The source shown is a J. Sikora Standard Max in Ferrari Red. It sounded as stunning as it looked. The Diablo 333 was pouring a pair of Magico S3s. The overall sound was precise and detailed. The Diablo 333 is an impressive piece with loads of power and top-tier fixtures on the back. Again a well-matched room, that was constantly packed to the brim with listeners.

There is so much more to talk about than I can write about, if you haven’t been I highly recommend Capital Audiofest. It is my favorite show, and you are sure to have a good time. If you have any questions about specific rooms that I didn’t mention I will do my best to recall the sound, however, be sure to check out other reports from folks like Howard Knellar at The Listening Chair on YouTube. Several different publications were covering the show so hopefully, between all of us, we got a good variety of the show for you the readers and the viewers.

Below are the rest of the photos from my time at Capital Audiofest 2023.

  • gyphon and j sikora
  • treehaus audio
  • yg and vinnie rossi
  • viva audio

Helpful Links

Capital Audiofest Info
Pacific Audiofest Info
Southwest Audiofest Info

I want to say thank you to everyone who made Capital Audiofest happen, foremost Gary Gill, but also the hotel staff, the volunteers, and the exhibitors. Last, but not least, you, the readers and attendees, who make all the work that goes into making this show great worth it.

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