Another Look at Capital Audiofest 2023

Another Look at Capital Audiofest 2023

Written by Harris Fogel

I was trying to think about the first audio show I attended. I couldn’t remember. Part of the reason for that was that because when I was young, there weren’t any shows that I knew of. The closest I came was either a listening party at an audio store, or at someone’s house when they had just purchased a new stereo. Of course, now there are audio shows seemingly just about every week somewhere on the globe, and half a dozen strong ones in the US.

Each show tends to have its own personality. This is due to many factors including the goals of the organizers, the clientele, the size of the venue, and the geography. For example, T.H.E. Show, which will be held in Costa Mesa, California this year, has a group of loyal attendees – so loyal they are named show “Ambassadors” and while they aren’t paid staff, they contribute to the family feel of that show and enliven the proceedings.

Capital Audiofest, held in Rockville Maryland every fall, is another show with a family feel and a warm, mellow vibe. Show organizer Gary Gill is such a pro that rarely does an event that’s as complicated as an audiophile show go off with such apparent smoothness as Capital Audiofest. From check in to navigating the show’s easy-to-follow room layout, Capital Audiofest was a great experience, overflowing with energy, exhibitions, eager attendees, gear, and music. (Capital Audiofest 2024 will take place November 8 – 10, 2024. The organizers will also host the first-ever Southwest Audio Fest in Dallas, Texas on March 15 – 17, 2024.)

As in previous shows, the main floor of the open-air lobby was filled with vendors offering everything from expensive limited-edition vinyl to record-cleaning systems, vintage audio gear, cables, and even 8-track tapes. Folks milled around, chatting away, enjoying themselves in the large, well-lit atrium, with floors of audio exhibits overhead and surrounding. In addition to the hotel-room exhibitors, there were enormous rooms just off the lobby, and others that were a little off the beaten path, like the SVS exhibit in the hotel’s library. Upstairs featured a bewildering amount of sublime gear, from the simple and affordable to gear that would be right at home on a mega yacht. The audio press was in full-force, as the scores of write-ups online (including the one in Copper Issue 202) will attest to.

Nancy and I had a great time at Capital Audiofest, so much so that we missed out on a few rooms. We arrived on Saturday and because we kept bumping into friends and colleagues we sort of lost track of time. I try to make a first run through audio shows quickly, and then return and listen to systems in detail. This time, there were so many rooms that we didn’t manage that; instead, we were happy to see less, and listen and learn more. When we got back home, I realized who I’d missed, and kicked myself. It’s probably best to check out the floor plan and exhibitor list before the show and formulate a battle-plan. Or, you can just meander the floors, checking out whatever piques your interest. Either way, it was a wonderful experience.

Wandering around the atrium, and listening to music in the rooms, it dawned on me that while vinyl is in demand, so are CDs, and Blu-ray audio discs. In fact, at many shows, vendors can’t rely on streaming services due to bandwidth limitations on the venue’s Wi-Fi, so they bring a server or drive loaded with music, and have stacks of LPs, CDs or Blu-ray discs on hand to insure plenty of music in case streaming doesn’t work as well as expected.



Capital Audiofest always draws a diverse group of exhibitors, press, and attendees. Here are Howard Kneller (The Listening Chair With Howard Kneller), Kemper Holt (The Listening Room), Zev Feldman (The Jazz Detective/record producer), Nancy Burlan (Mac Edition Radio), and Allan Hyman (Merrill Audio).



Ofra Gershman of Gershman Acoustics, which hosted singer Anne Bisson to an appreciative audience.



Richard Pinto of Treehaus Audiolab shows off the new top of the line Phantom of Luxury field-coil loudspeaker.



Bill Campanale traveled all the way from Queens, New York to attend CAF. Folks asked where they could get the T-shirt, but he designed and printed it himself. I say give a few of them to your wills and estate attorney, to explain when you leave an inheritance of speaker cables instead of cash.


If I may digress a bit: I'm still collecting CDs, although mostly at thrift stores and garage sales these days. I did recently pick up some surround SACDs including Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms, the new limited edition Mike Oldfield Tubular Bells surround mix, and the recently-released copy Steven Wilson Dolby Atmos mix of Van Morrison’s Moondance. There is still something wonderful about holding a record, CD or SACD and squinting at the liner notes, although my back doesn't agree when I need to move boxes of them. I still think vinyl is way sexier, but love listening to CDs in the car, as well as home, and ripping lossless to my computer.

As an archivist, I like the idea of WORM (Write Once Read Many) media, which is almost completely resistant to damage if stored and handled properly, something you can't say for vinyl or tape. CDs certainly don't have the ritualistic aspects of LPs. And the cases are always one step away from cracking…

I remember the first time I played a CD of Willie Nelson’s Stardust for my dad, on a rebadged Magnavox (Phillips) CD player, with a Proton receiver, through some lovely Mission loudspeakers, and he was just floored at the quality. When I played him some other titles, he just marveled at the definition and musicality. Even though we had a nice Gerrard turntable and solid-state Fisher receiver, it never seemed to sound that clean, with no clicks, pops, or noise to distract.

We bought that system for our family’s condo in Palm Springs, California. When he sat down and listened, he would act annoyed and dubious and crack jokes about unnecessary expenditures on a fancy stereo. That was until he heard it. Then he would hand me his credit card to buy more CDs. The receiver came from some crazy sale they had in New York at The Wiz, dirt-cheap, under a hundred bucks. It’s still working today, although its developed some noise in the right channel. I remember hooking up the Proton to speakers at a friend’s house one day, then switching back to his 1970s-era solid state receiver and being blown away at how much better the Proton sounded. While people now wax poetic about 1970s gear, I’ve heard enough horrible solid-state units from that era that I’m not automatically impressed, even if I do love all the dials, knobs, and switches.


At the time of writing this article, we’d just returned from CES 2024 in Las Vegas, and while there wasn’t a huge amount of new audio gear on display, there were new CD players. In fact, many of my colleagues noted that CDs seem to be making something of a comeback, with some really capable new players for sale or in development, and this reminded me of the first times I heard the CD format back in the 1980s. So, wandering around the Capital Audiofest atrium and seeing CDs for sale or being used by exhibitors was an affirmation that just as folks predicted the end of vinyl, CDs are shouting, “I’m not dead yet!”

At CES 2024, the Leiyin Audio booth in the Central Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), featured a lovely new S.M.S.L Audio CD player on display. In case you aren’t aware, as a distributor, Leiyin Audio is responsible for many of the “Chi-Fi” brands people are slowly getting to know and love, such as, XDUOO, FIL, TRN, MOONDROP, TRUTHEAR, SMSL, Topping, Gustard, TANCHUJIM, and others. We asked about the use of the term “Chi-Fi” and if they viewed it as a derogatory term, as some commentators have posited, and they said they were fine with it and saw nothing negative about using it. So, there’s that. With all the equipment they had on display, what was the unit they were most excited about? Their new CD player, the S.M.S.L PL200 MQA-CD player/DAC. 

As always, we have more photos...



Christopher Hildebrand of Fern & Roby with some of their beautiful handcrafted gear.



Howard Kneller and Zev Feldman during their presentation at CAF. Zev is holding one of his latest releases, Maximum Swing by Wes Montgomery and the Wynton Kelly Trio.



Danny Labrecque of Luna Cables exhibited a variety of models, all based on using cotton as an insulator.



Leonid (Leo) Ayzenshtat of Orchard Audio, creator of the superb PecanPi series electronics, with his new Class D Starkrimson Mono Ultra 2.0 amplifier.



Jaime Demarco of Black Ice Audio, which was one of the most buzzworthy rooms at the show. Formerly Jolida, Black Ice Audio showed a range of high-value tube preamps, amplifiers and other components.



Hailing from Paris, France, here's the Advance A10 Classic integrated amplifier, featuring numerous connection options including a phono input, HDMI and multiple digital inputs.



Here's the A10 Classic with a Volumio Rivo streamer, and PMC twenty5.23i  speakers.



Signage abounds at audio shows. Here's one for Free hugs, if you knew where to go.



Norman Varney and Dale Stultz of AV RoomService and J.R. Boisclair from WallyTools were first brought together by mistake, when they unexpectedly had to share a booth at a previous audio show. Now they always exhibit together, helping attendees understand and control room and equipment resonances, and improve the performance of their phono cartridges.



Here's a magnificent Analog Audio Design TP-1000 tape player. Pricing is available on request by visiting their website.



Here's a closeup of the tonearm of The Wand turntable. Designed by Simon Brown from Design/Build/Listen in Aotearoa, New Zealand, The Wand was an audio work of art and a show standout. it features a 14-inch platter, four-layer platter construction, an asymmetrical platter designed to reduce resonances, and a unique Zentroidal three-point suspension system that places the center of the suspension close to the playing arc for shock and vibration rejection.



Here's Michael Fremer (The Absolute Sound, The Tracking Angle) with Mick and Ken Bucher of Magnepan, maker of Magneplanar loudspeakers.



This absolutely stunning Western Electric 91E integrated amplifier ($14,999 – $15,999 depending on finish) combines old and new technology, featuring newly-manufactured 300B power tubes, an LCD display screen, and remote control operation.



Here are two CAF attendees who had flown in from Bermuda, hanging out in the mbl room with David Solomon of Qobuz.


Header image: Norm Ginsburg (Gingko Audio), Ralph Cager (Danacable), and Ollie Felibrico of Water Music with a Loricraft record cleaner. They demonstrated the effectiveness of record cleaning with a before and after display that showed the reduced noise level of cleaned recordings.

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