Capital Audiofest 2022: High-End Sights and Sounds

It’s been seven long years since I last attended Capital Audiofest, the largest high-end audio show on the east coast of the U.S. This year’s show took place from November 11-13 at the Twinbrook Hilton in Rockville Maryland, which is the same venue as my last visit. The show grew significantly in the interim, with five full floors of the hotel taken up by demos, but it maintains the same casual look and feel and a strong focus on two-channel, audiophile-centric systems.

photo by Mark Henninger

Although it was a three-day show, I only spent one day auditioning systems and saying “hi” to familiar faces that I have not seen since before COVID pressed pause on shows like this. However, one of those faces was my friend and fellow audio enthusiast Dennis Young, who spent all three days at the show, seeking out the systems that were the most interesting, and selecting a few that sounded best to his ears. Although he visited a lot more rooms, Dennis selected his favorite listening experiences to showcase and highlighted the top three, also contributing numerous photos for this article.

A quick note before diving in: The tricky part of picking what’s “best” is that at an audio show, you must factor in the rooms—some spaces are just not a good fit for the speakers found within (too small, too large, too narrow, etc.), while other rooms are simply not a good reflection of what you’ll find in a home—even a mansion (oversize ballrooms and meeting rooms). But that does not change a simple fact: When a system sounds really good, it’ll captivate you, maybe even give you goosebumps. When the system doesn't sound fantastic, it's worth remembering that it could easily be circumstantial and the fault of the room. Given the subjective nature of the experience, it's hard to tell.

photo by Mark Henninger

Ultimately, if a system sounds great at a show, the credit should go to the gear and not the acoustic qualities of a random hotel room. One more thing: The focus here is on the speakers, not the supporting gear, and we’re not listing prices because most of the gear here is in the stratosphere, pricewise. However, the cost of entry to the show and hearing the gear was much lower, $20 (one day) or $30 (weekend pass).

Qobuz was a major show sponsor, but most of the demo rooms we visited did not offer streaming music as an option - photo by Mark Henninger

Judgments of audio fidelity notwithstanding, there's no question that for an enthusiast there was a weekend’s worth of entertainment to be had at the show including tons of vinyl records to browse and shop in the lobby, and the purpose of this recap is to share a slice of that experience with you! One of the more interesting observations Dennis made was the presence of women, couples, even families. It may well have to do with the return (and now, dominance) of vinyl records? Regardless of the reason, hopefully this is a trend that will continue.

If you seek more in-depth coverage, including individual rooms not discussed here, I recommend checking out the CAF reports found at Stereophile. – MH

The Lobby

One of the most impressive sights at the show was not in any room, but rather in the huge open lobby area. It was a giant pop-up record store, filled with audio enthusiasts flipping through crates of records (the dominant format at the show) and browsing CDs. - MH

photo by Mark Henninger

photo by Mark Henninger

Dennis Young’s Top Three

Perlisten: This room was among my personal show favorites. The Perlisten S7t features a controlled directivity design that helps the tower avoid room interaction, impressively, it controls the dispersion pattern down to 500 Hz. The effortless dynamics, low distortion, and notable bass extension I experienced confirms the validity of its Dominus THX rating. - DY

photo by Mark Henninger

MoFi: The Andrew Jones-designed MoFi SourcePoint 10 knocked it out of the park for a home run. Never have I heard imaging so finely etched, carved out in space with hair-raising realism. I spent extra time in this room just to feel that sensation, finally relenting the central listening chair after three songs and feeling like I was leaving a good meal without having finished it, not quite fully sated. – DY

photo of Dennis Young by Mark Henninger

photo by Mark Henninger

Arion Audio: The House of Stereo/Arion Audio room impressed me with the best sound at the show (in my humble opinion). The mid/high Apollo 12 line array towers feature 105 dB sensitivity custom AMTs with a frequency response extending down to 120 Hz. Add to that dual-opposed dipole subs (who else does this), and four stacked cabinets per side means the bass comes from a total of sixteen 10" woofers.

The use of active crossovers and Trinnov loudspeaker/room optimization put the icing on the cake. Send me to my desert island exile with this system now, please and thanks! – DY

photo by Dennis Young

Dennis’s Best of the Rest

Göbel Speakers: It's not easy to get smooth highs with the immediacy of horns, but the German Göbel Divin Marquis pulled it off. These have waveguide-loaded AMT tweeters, and an 8-inch midrange featuring what the company calls “bending wave” technology—that it says is inspired by the design of musical instruments—delivered the details. The hefty Divin Sovereign Subsonic subwoofer—a 320-pound, 2500-watt monster with an 18” driver that plays down to 10 Hz—firms up the bottom end in this system. The listen-all-day-long ease with which it delivered music was a great way to start day two of the show. - DY

photo by Dennis Young

Illusio Audio/Infigo Audio: The Illusio Audio/Infigo Audio room showcased some unusual speakers and amplifiers. Making their debut at the show, Alana loudspeakers (with matching stands) featured a spheroid waveguide based on the mathematics of Dr. Earl Geddes and an upward, rear-firing horn. The Subwoofer System (that's its name) consisted of four cabinets, each loaded with 10" woofers and distributed around the room–left/right/front/back–with the left sub elevated above the room's midline height.

photo by Dennis Young

The Aria 3: Metamorphosis "Farewell" track has a xylophone duet mixed with electronica, the sounds fills the soundstage, starting from right and unfolding to the left. Then the vocal intro comes in, it is immediate, centered, and captivating. Strings entered, the sound of the bow on strands came through with impressive detail. Then a horn (instrument) makes its appearance, filling the back of the soundstage and supporting the front performance. I was captivated, fully-absorbed by this track on this system. O-Zone Percussion Group’s Jazz Variants cemented the dynamic capabilities of this singular system and left my jaw on the floor. Applause! - DY

photo by Mark Henninger

The amps in this room deserve mention, too. These Infigo Method 3 Audio Class A monoblocks use special circuitry to run cool despite delivering 250 watts into 4 ohm loads. Each contains a huge, artfully constructed toroidal transformer for the power supply, and a removable lid with a glass top to show off the beautiful internals. – DY

photo by Dennis Young

VPI/Tannoy: One of the two VPI rooms had a system I could happily live with, wishing for nothing else. The Tannoy Canterbury coaxial speakers were unflappable, the well-tuned sound in the room aided by a McIntosh Room Perfect processor and of course, the new VPI Avenger Direct turntable. Room treatments all around showed just how seriously these guys take their sound. Harry Weisfeld was there serving as the DJ. - DY

photo by Mark Henninger

BACCH-SP: How refreshing to see a room at the show with a massive amount of attention given to acoustical treatment. In this case, there is a very good reason for it. The first thing you should know is the person running the demo, Edgar Choueiri, is a Professor of Applied Physics at Princeton University and Director of the Electric Propulsion and Plasma Dynamics Laboratory, funded by NASA. In other words, he understands physics. He is also President & CTO of Theoretica Applied Physics, home of BACCH-SP.

The BACCH-SP from TAP is a preamp/DAC with crosstalk-cancellation that’s manufactured in Princeton, NJ. The purpose of the tech is to cancel interaural crosstalk, much like Polk SDA and Carver Sonic Hologram do. But unlike those systems, it maintains the enhanced imaging achieved through the cancellation with a head-tracking infrared camera and software (which is necessary for the processing to work). This is especially useful for dipole panel speakers, which typically mandate a head-in-the-vise posture for optimal imaging.

photo by Dennis Young

During my demo, the professor had me lean far left to right; the main vocal image remained locked no matter what. Having me lean far right again, he showed me on the laptop a bar graph indicator indicating my position. He then shut off the processor and the image collapsed to the right. Turning it back on, the image stabilized to the center once again. The professor said, "Did you hear that?", turned on his heel and walked away, leaving me in shocked amazement as I replied in the affirmative. – DY

photo by Dennis Young

Stax: It’s been a few years since I've had the opportunity to hear Stax headphones. While at the show, I asked for the best example of their craft and was led to the SR-X9000 electrostatics, the company’s current flagship. The storage case is made of surprisingly lightweight, hand-crafted Hokkaido Japanese wood. I used my Galaxy S9 as a source, streaming Tidal into the SRM-T8000 amp, and (once again) enjoyed that smooth, effortless Stax sound. – DY

photo by Dennis Young

Audeze: I asked the Audeze representative to show me their top 2 'phones, with the Audeze CRBN electrostatic and LCD-5 planar-magnetic models being pointed out. Streaming from a tablet into the LTA Z10e electrostatic amplifier, with the CRBN I was treated to the finest headgear sound I have ever experienced. Switching out to the LCD-5 planar, I listened for a bit, enjoying the sound, but found myself eager to get back the CRBN electrostatics. I was told that different people tend to favor one or the other, which is the reason Audeze offers both headsets (which are priced the same). - DY

photo by Dennis Young

SVS: The DC Area Audiophiles & High-End Home Theater Enthusiasts (say that 3 times, real fast) Facebook group took over the “library” at the hotel and had a nice space to relax and regroup. It was the only AV system at the show and SVS provided a surround-sound setup using its Prime series speakers to help them along. Of course Top Gun: Maverick was playing. I, as a recent Maryland/DC area transplant, joined the group. - DY
photo by Dennis Young

Mark's Chat with Matt from VPI

VPI Industries held court in two rooms at this year's Capital Audiofest and I took the opportunity to chat with Matt Weisfeld at the end of the first day. We talked about what he thought of the crowds and the value of this show.

Mark: OK Matt, say whatever you want.
Matt: Mark is awesome and an insanely amazing person (laughs). This has been the best show. It always has been for us. We've been coming here for eight years, it is the best show in the U.S.—to be fair, okay, it's not a Munich—and 2022 is definitely the best Capital Audiofest ever. Day one has Saturday traffic. This is the kind of traffic that if we get on Saturday, we're happy, but we're getting it on Friday, which gives me expectations that tomorrow's gonna be that much better.

Mark: Bam. So what's the hottest thing that you showed, like what got the best reaction?
Matt: Besides my dad and myself? I mean, you know? (laughs) I would say that we had a bunch of things. One thing we had was our Avenger Direct, the production model. The other thing we had, which is really exciting, is the debut of our Goldy cartridge. We debuted the Shyla cartridge four years ago here at Capital. Now we're debuting... I had a second kid! And the Goldy cartridge is going to retail at about $1,200. It's made in partnership with Audio Technica, voiced by VPI industries.

Avenger Direct photo by Dennis Young

The Japanese engineers from AT actually flew out Capital Audiofest. They're here! And then they gave us the opportunity to be the first manufacturer to ever showcase in the U.S.—at this show—their 60th-anniversary cartridge. It's "only" $9000 and it's called the AT MC 2022, they are only making 60 of them and we've got number 9 of 60; we bought it.

Mark: In comparison to the MC 2022, the Goldy cartridge, what does it get you to? 70% there? 80% there?
Matt: It is better than the Goldy, hands down. But then we went back to the Goldy. I can't say that we were like, going out of our minds like oh no, we've totally lost the sound. At first blush, it almost feels like 90%, but half it is psychoacoustics. Then as you listen and then you really get the feel for other nuances that you did hear like, oh, wow, that drum, that was almost as good. Like, oh, okay, well, the voice wasn't as full. So then I'd say it goes from like 90% then drops down to about 75%, once you get a fuller feel of what it's actually doing. But, the Goldy is 17.3% the price.

photo by Mark Henninger

More Musings from Mark

While I did not visit as many rooms as Dennis, I did take time to sit in the center seat for a number of excellent sounding demos, here are photos and a few pithy comments to go with 'em.

Valve Audio Company and Von Schweikert Speakers: The 500 pound gorilla of the show in terms of demo rooms, VAC and Von Schweikert put on an good show. It's the same space—the Potomac Room—that the company occupied seven years ago. The room itself is huge, so is the sound coming from the Ultra 7 speaker system. - MH

photo by Mark Henninger

Alta Audio: The new Titanium Hestia II was the star attraction of this room. I'd heard the pair playing at a press event a few weeks earlier, but at the time they were not dialed in. At Capital Audiofest, the design proved its worth, serving up extremely tight bass and a cohesive sound that's smooth, detailed and eminently listenable from bottom to top. Bonus points for their willingness to play electronic music including Yello's "Stay" and "Planet Dada" as well as "Ice Age" by Deadmau5, those were really enjoyable listens. - MH

photo by Mark Henninger

Linkwitz: The Linkwitz LX521.4MG speaker system is one of the most unusual looking at the show, but it is a perfect example of form following function. It is an open-baffle active 4-way speaker that (according to the company) keeps 2nd and 3rd order harmonic distortion beneath the threshold of human perception. The end result is undeniable, super easy to listen to with "picture perfect" soundstage and imaging. - MH

photo by Mark Henninger

Voxativ: Modular and somewhat iconoclastic, the Voxativ 9.88 system shown at CAF came through where it counts, pumping out dynamic tunes with a particular predilection for reproducing female vocals—"Come Around Soon" by Sara Bareilles—with a bracing realism. Up top is the PI, which uses an 8-inch full-range driver, the .01 mid-range module that offers three selectable response curves, and the PI-Bass active "ripole" design bass module, with dual 12" drivers and 200 W of built-in amplification. - MH

photo by Mark Henninger

creepcarry's picture

I don't see why these gadgets are so pricey when you can stream everything in high-quality audio for such little money. It must be for a higher take-home pay and a bit more robust structure. Definitely not worth the cost. The Cocktail Audio N25 krunker, which is frequently overlooked in the United States, is my top selection.

sarahgibson's picture

Looks like a great sound systems I have never seen this before I felt that this type of exhibition should be promoted I've been a fan of speakers and sound systems since I was a kid. There is no need of any Trauma Recovery Coach to run them, for some they are easy.

hoangbrian's picture

They are indeed high-end devices, and I will definitely need high-quality mp3 files to use them. I use Soundcloud Downloader to download Soundcloud music for use.

soundcloudmp's picture

SoundCloud is a treasure trove of music and audio content, but what if you want to take your favorite tracks with you on the go? Enter, a user-friendly online tool that lets you convert SoundCloud tracks to MP3 format for free.

SoundCloud's picture

Maximize your Perlisten headphone experience by connecting them to a top-notch audio source, fine-tuning the EQ for your taste, and using high-res audio files to enhance richness and clarity. However, I use SoundCloud Downloader for downloading SoundCloud tracks.

storiessaver's picture

Arion Audio can elevate user experience by diving into AI-driven personalized sound profiles and adding smart voice assistants to their lineup. Building strategic partnerships with emerging tech companies may open doors to exciting collaborations, fostering the creation of next-gen audio products and services in today's dynamic tech landscape. After all thing I used to download Instagram audio in smart voice from Instagram Audio Download tool.

sandy3d's picture

Impressive writing, let's spread the word.
Discover tailored architectural services:
2D Floor Plans: Precision layouts
3D Floor Plans: Immersive designs
3D Apartment Floor Plans & & 3D house floor plans : Detailed blueprints
Floor Plan Drawing: Expertly crafted for accuracy.