The 2015 Capital Audiofest "Best of Show" - Home Theater Forum and Systems - HomeTheaterShack.com

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post #1 of 18 Old 09-01-15, 04:19 PM Thread Starter
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The 2015 Capital Audiofest "Best of Show"

It’s entirely impossible not to begin a download of the 2015 Capital Audiofest (CAF) without mentioning the infectious enthusiasm of the event’s organizer, Gary Gill. I began my journey through the halls of the DC metro area’s premier audio event by chatting with Gary, noting an excited twinkle in his eye and an undeniable grin, accompanied by a hint of pre-show anticipation. Perhaps it was the new – spacious – digs at the Rockville Hilton, or just relief that the show was underway, but Gill was jazzed. And his vibe definitely echoed through the halls and audio rooms throughout the seven hours I spent soaking-in all that the show had to offer.




If you haven’t had the good fortune to attend the Capital Audiofest, then you're most certainly missing out on one of the friendlier events around. This year’s venue was simply spectacular, offering an easy-to-navigate layout, classy user-friendly signage, and a staff that was eager to aid and assist. Of course, this all goes without giving a nod to the gear, which was well represented by a mountain of high-end options.

When I entered the Hilton there was an air of early show quietness backed by the sweet whispers of sonically tuned music softly echoing throughout the lobby (my kind of setting). Gill’s staff was busily preparing for an expected attendance of 2,000 enthusiasts…most of which invaded during Saturday and Sunday hours. The show's layout inhabited an endless array of larger conference rooms and tastefully altered guestrooms. You’ll read zero complaints about the setting from me (notably better than its previous location in Silver Spring, Maryland).

Rather than present a room-by-room rundown of the show, I thought it would be fun to highlight a few of my favorite finds with another edition of “Best of Show” awards. It might seem like a difficult task to find favorites amongst room after room of technically sound gear costing thousands upon thousands of dollars, but it’s not. Each of the award winners, in my opinion, was fairly easy to identify. As the old saying goes: “I could do it with my eyes shut.” And since we’re talking audio that probably isn’t too far from the truth. So, without further delay, here are the 2015 Capital Audiofest “Best of Show” awards.



Edison Award: Fyssion’s Prototype Audio Chair

North Carolina based Fyssion arrived at CAF with a haul of speaker models in tow, including their unique tripod mounted Profound Round and members of their Omega line. Fyssion’s designs sport an incredibly unique flair, and based on demo sessions they have the sound to back-up their looks. This award, however, isn’t about their currently available speaker lines. When I first entered Fyssion’s room one object immediately caught my eye: a prototype audio chair.

As you can see in the photo, the audio chair is a fairly self-explanatory design. With four 3-inch drivers (two behind the head and two on the armrests) and an integrated tactile transducer, it’s a compact surround sound experience loaded on a comfortable chair.

It turns out that Fyssion isn’t just about making great sounding speakers; they’re also fascinated by looking for ways to integrate audio into a variety of unique applications. While I’m not at liberty to discuss their pipeline ideas, I can say that they have some great ideas percolating amongst their brain trust.

The audio chair is fairly advanced in its development phase, but its end-of-line form factor will probably look different than what was shown at CAF. However, the overall design (and the incorporation of Tang-Bang W3 drivers) is close to the finish. I was given an opportunity to experience the chair using dynamic demo material from a Transformers movie. The armrest drivers create a very nice soundstage that has just enough spatial presence to allow for noticeable pans and an image that hovers head level. In addition, the armrest drivers rumble the chair for a hint of tactile immersion (the onboard transducer was not activated during the demo). The two rear channels did their job without being annoying, although my preference would have been for slightly higher volume levels. Obviously rear channel volume would be easy for a user to tweak.

The chair is billed as the answer to surround sound without shaking the house, disturbing the family, or strapping-on a headset. I think it has great possibilities for answering all three arenas and look forward to experiencing a final design.



Must Have Gear: DSPeaker Anti-Mode 2.0

Tucked away on the third floor, I found a slick room filled with several pieces of fantastic gear. Luckily, I entered the scene during a lively demo session of Klangwerk’s active Ella speakers and a nifty $1,000 room correction device made by DSPeaker. The Anti-Mode 2.0 Dual Core unit applies an audibly effective correction algorithm to two channel systems and the results are absolutely phenomenal.

The unit itself is rather small (9 ľ x 2 x 5-inch), but it packs a serious punch. Its front side features a highly functional color user interface screen and a microphone port, while the rear has 2 RCA and 2 XLR inputs (with matching outputs), Toslink, a USB port, and a datalink. Like any EQ package, the Anti-Mode measures the room response with a frequency sweep and then applies corrections. Users have the ability to save several sound profiles while accessing a variety of adjustment settings on the fly.

During the demo session, there was no question about the Anti-Mode’s impact on the sound stage. Its operation literally made imaging bloom to life with a sharpened intensity and depth. I left a believer and can confirm that Anti-Mode should be a serious contender for enthusiasts looking for a two-channel correction option.



Portfolio Booster: GT Audio Works’ GTA 2.5

During my visit to AXPONA 2015 my ears were set on fire by an incredible $140,000 system featuring MartinLogan’s gorgeous Neolith speakers. My show follow-up piece described the speaker’s abilities as “…alive and shockingly large…perfectly balanced and transparent…dynamic and delicious.” And despite being almost 6 months removed from hearing them, the flavor that the Neoliths left on my palate hasn’t faded one bit.

Enter New Jersey based GT Audio Works and its new GTA 2.5 speaker. Like the Neoliths they stand tall (75-inches) and feature a flat-front panel/large base design. The panel houses a high-energy neodymium magnet ribbon tweeter and a full-range planar magnetic driver, while the base is anchored by two internally powered (400W) 10-inch woofers. Like the Neoliths, the GTA 2.5s create an incredibly tall and deep sound stage that is especially notable for its amazing height. Oh, it was delicious to the ears – a sound stage to die for. The demo material I heard was exacting and sharp with wonderfully warm and present bass, making for a perfect blend of highs and lows. What I can’t shake is how the GTA 2.5s kindled my memories of the Neoliths. Of course, I write this without any intention of stealing thunder from the GTAs because they deliver incredible sonic beauty for about $8,000 (show special; $9,000 MSRP).

Owner and speaker builder Greg Takesh is able to deliver such incredible sound by keeping GT Audio Works a modest one-man operation. Every purchase is built to order by his own hands in his home-based shop. Therefore, his overhead and operating costs are kept low as compared to larger manufacturers. The benefit is incredible sound with a cost savings passed-on to the customer. If I were on a hunt for audiophile-grade speakers, you’d better believe I’d have a demo-visit at Greg’s home on my shortlist. The GTA 2.5s left a lasting impression on me…and I’d love to experience more.



Top-to-Bottom Beauty: Daedalus Audio’s Poseidon V.2

Spend five minutes with Daedalus Audio’s founder Lou Hinkley, and you’ll be a believer in the Washingtonian’s gear. In Greek mythology, Daedalus was a skilled architect and craftsman – take one look at the company’s speakers and you’ll completely understand the use of the name. To put it simply, Daedalus Audio’s speaker cabinets are natural-crafted works of art. Each one is hand made, unique, and flat-out gorgeous.

At first glance, I noticed the Poseidon’s dovetail joinery and grain-revealing hand finished surfaces. But, upon further inspection, intricate details in the cabinets ĺ-inch maple surfaced, such as a subtly carved bump-out slightly above the speaker’s top 8-inch driver, an angled baffle (to eliminate standing waves), and the beautifully planed radiuses on all of the edges. And the knuckle-wrap test? Forget about it, superiorly solid! Hinkley says the exterior is only the start, as the Poseidon V.2s also feature internal bracing that is equal to the task.

Looks aside, the Poseidon V.2s are sonically masterful. Believe it…they sound as good as they look. Utilizing an MTTM design with tweeters that are slightly offset (to create a wide dispersion of high frequencies), the Poseidons deal in spades. The dual 8-inch woofers don’t disappoint, completing a package of sound that is perfectly balanced from top to bottom. At my request, Hinkley played a Norah Jones track that melted me in my chair. Imaging and breadth of soundstage were absolutely outstanding, putting the Poseidon V.2s in rarified air.



Total Wow Sound: Classic Audio Loudspeakers’ Hartsfield

Let’s get this out of the way: Classic Audio Loudspeaker’s Hartsfield speakers (pictured left) aren't cheap. If you were to make a move on a pair right now, then you’d be facing a bill north of $36,000 (the show price was a slightly cooled $32K).

So what does $36-large fetch, you ask? For starters, it brings to life a design that was first introduced over five decades ago by the James B. Lansing Sound Company. We’re talking aesthetics that are definitely from a different era – and that's a good thing, because the speaker looks both stately and wickedly unique. It also brings you girth, as the speaker is just about as hefty as it’s price tag, weighing-in at 400 lbs. (46H x 45W x 25D, roughly). Then there’s the sound, as in sound stage, and that’s the true money shot delivered by the Hartsfield.

Spread some 30-feet apart for the demo session, the Hartsfield duo created a jaw-dropping soundstage, laced with exacting detail to levels that could quench the most wildest of desires. We’re talking airy highs…tight and impressively deep bass…a beautiful midrange marriage…a ridiculously wide sweet spot…and the ability to take just about any genre of music and make it sound oh-so-right. Of course, the Hartsfield duo had the advantage of inhabiting one of the larger – if not the largest – demo rooms at Capital Audiofest, which made me wonder if the room played to the speaker’s advantage. The answer to that is yes, but John Wolff of CAL tells me they’d sound just as good in a smaller setting. I have to admit, I’m a skeptic, but I believe him.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard his Hartsfield speakers strut their stuff, and I certainly hope it isn’t the last. To say they were my favorite sound at CAF might not be a huge stretch, although choosing the Hartsfield over the offerings I’ve detailed from Daedalus Audio and GT Audio Works would be mission impossible. All three of these manufacturers have elite products that I’d happily invite into my home.


Image Credits: Todd Anderson
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post #2 of 18 Old 09-01-15, 04:50 PM
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Wayne Myers
 
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Re: The 2015 Capital Audiofest "Best of Show"

Wow, Todd, great report. Sounds like you had a pretty fun day at CAF. Thank you for bringing those products to life for us.

Although I have not heard most of the products you wrote about, I have to agree that the Classic Audio speakers stand in a category by themselves. The first time I heard them at AXPONA 2014, I actually had a little emotional moment. There really is something special in their sound.

Thanks again for sharing this report with us, Todd.
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post #3 of 18 Old 09-01-15, 05:31 PM Thread Starter
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Re: The 2015 Capital Audiofest "Best of Show"

Hey Wayne, thanks. Seeing as though CAF is in my backyard, so to speak, I selfishly want to see it continue to grow... no reason it shouldn't. The Balt/DC Metro area is big and can support it...and Gary Gill has the know-how to make it happen.

I wish you had been here to hear the GT Audio Works and Daedalus speakers...I think you would have found something truly special. Both are sonically right there.

I agree about the Hartsfield. They are amazing (period).
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post #4 of 18 Old 09-01-15, 07:36 PM
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Re: The 2015 Capital Audiofest "Best of Show"

Thanks for the reviews and thoughts Todd, I am a wee bit jealous of course but I guess we can live vicariously through you.

Good Listening

Jack

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post #5 of 18 Old 09-02-15, 08:01 AM
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Re: The 2015 Capital Audiofest "Best of Show"

I'm a lot jealous, and a fool for not going. My parents in Fredericksburg, VA would have only charged me half the going rate for a hotel suite! Alas, I prioritized a motorcycle run to Louisville over my audio callings.

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post #6 of 18 Old 09-02-15, 08:10 AM
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Re: The 2015 Capital Audiofest "Best of Show"

A motorcycle run, now I am jealous of two things. You guys are killing me.

Good Listening

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post #7 of 18 Old 09-02-15, 08:35 AM Thread Starter
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Re: The 2015 Capital Audiofest "Best of Show"

Jack...the wait for AXPONA 2016 (did I just type that number?) isn't too far off.

Glad you enjoyed the reviews!
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post #8 of 18 Old 09-02-15, 10:12 AM
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Re: The 2015 Capital Audiofest "Best of Show"

Thank you for the effort you invested in this write-up, Todd. Your approach leaving room-by-room coverage to the wayside was refreshing; so much so that I wound up reading through the whole review (a first for me regarding trade shows). I think you're being just a bit modest when you say it's not difficult to find favorites. I'll bet you blended some technical savvy with a dab of inner soul-searching, elevating the selection exercise more complex than seen from the surface. OTOH, like any good professional artist/athlete/etc., you make the reviewing task look easy. Kudos!

Quote:
Todd Anderson wrote: View Post
  • The show's layout inhabited an endless array of larger conference rooms and tastefully altered guestrooms. Youíll read zero complaints about the setting from me (notably better than its previous location in Silver Spring, Maryland).
  • Each of the award winners, in my opinion, was fairly easy to identify.
As many of us know, room size/shape/construction/furnishings all play a role in acoustics of the listening space. This is THE biggest obstacle audio trade-show reps must overcome to demo their wares. The room can make or break the auditioned component or system. Which leads me to:

Quote:
Todd Anderson wrote: View Post
During the demo session, there was no question about the Anti-Modeís impact on the sound stage. Its operation literally made imaging bloom to life with a sharpened intensity and depth. I left a believer and can confirm that Anti-Mode should be a serious contender for enthusiasts looking for a two-channel correction option.
No doubt this is a powerful and desirable room-correction device; though I can't help but wonder whether system/room setup was intentionally manipulated to negatively impact SQ, thus paving the way for the Anti-Mode to shine.

Extrapolating my imagined, unscrupulous practice to include speakers:
L≥ applies here (Location...Location...Location). It would seem that those reps who pay more attention to setup reap the benefits of better performance. No doubt that reps attempt to demo gear in the most favorable light possible. Some products require more setup than others, especially speakers in an unknown acoustic space. Assuming reps had sufficient setup time for this show, the new and larger rooms you mention seem to have leveled the playing field. Now if we can get the underachievers to just TURN IT DOWN! Showgoers have all encountered that out-of-control booth or room where EVERYTHINGMUSTBEPLAYEDASLOUDASHUMANLYPOSSIBLETODROWNOUTCONTENDERS!!! Any of those there?

Quote:
Todd Anderson wrote: View Post
This isnít the first time Iíve heard his Hartsfield speakers strut their stuff, and I certainly hope it isnít the last. To say they were my favorite sound at CAF might not be a huge stretch, although choosing the Hartsfield over the offerings Iíve detailed from Daedalus Audio and GT Audio Works would be mission impossible. All three of these manufacturers have elite products that Iíd happily invite into my home.

.
I try to be as good as my dog thinks I am
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post #9 of 18 Old 09-02-15, 11:57 AM
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Re: The 2015 Capital Audiofest "Best of Show"

Quote:
Todd Anderson wrote: View Post
Jack...the wait for AXPONA 2016 (did I just type that number?) isn't too far off.

Glad you enjoyed the reviews!
that is good point and I will once again be there and may bring Lumen along kicking and screaming

Good Listening

Jack

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post #10 of 18 Old 09-02-15, 12:06 PM Thread Starter
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Re: The 2015 Capital Audiofest "Best of Show"

Thanks, Lou. Glad you enjoyed the article! I think our full, room-to-room, show reports have a ton of value (and the ones that Wayne and Dennis generate are wildly popular)...but I guess my ADD has me on the prowl for singular things. Good that we have contrasting styles across the staff

Your question/point about the DSPeaker Anti-mode...it's impossible to know what goes on inside the magician's cape...only can take the magician's word for it. I was certainly impressed with the impact of the unit, but your points are well taken. To my eyes, the room's set-up was no different than what I would have expected...fwit.
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