I’ve known about Capital Audiofest but hadn’t gone until this year. I’d heard it was a small but fun show – not enough to compel me. I didn’t have the money or the time. The New York Audio Show happens around the same time and is only a train and subway ride away so I’d go to that instead.
This year I finally made it and boy do I realize what I was missing. CAF is now a major show. Coordinator and audio luminary Chris Yuin told me that Capital Audiofest started almost a decade ago in founder Gary Gill’s house. This year it was held at the Hilton Washington DC/Rockville Hotel and Executive Meeting Center in Rockville, Maryland, about a 45 minute Metro subway ride from DC’s Union Station. (The subway stops right at the back of the hotel – how convenient!) There were 119 exhibitors listed and 234 brands. CAF now has the size, look and feel of a “real” show if not as big as Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, AXPONA and other such audio events…yet.
Right off the bat I noticed that the show seemed more upbeat, relaxed and well, fun than others. This sentiment was shared by everyone else I talked with. People were clearly there to have a good time both during the show and after hours. Olive’s, the hotel bar, became the unofficial after-show hangout.
I only had less than a day to check out as many booths as I could, so this isn’t comprehensive coverage. I just took a Zen approach to visiting the rooms and went where chance and circumstance led me. If I left out a room here, it wasn’t necessarily because it didn’t interest me or didn’t sound like the angels singing from on high.
And I would have loved to have heard Tom Fine (son of legendary Mercury engineer Wilma Cozart Fine and a top-notch audio man in his own right) and his presentation of the new Analogue Productions/Mercury Living Presence LP re-issues of the Janos Starker Dorati/Dvorak Cello Concerto and Bach Suites for Solo Cello (in the Robyatt Audio room). Or attended one of The Absolute Sound and Positive Feedback reviewer Greg Weaver’s popular listening parties in the big VAC/Von Schweikert room. Or gone to a Waxrax punk/post-punk/reggae 45 vinyl listening set. And other cool events I wasn’t even aware of.
I never make absolute judgments based on the sound I hear at a show. (Sorry to disappoint anyone who’s looking for Pronouncements from On High.) I’ve worked on room setups enough times to know that it can be a high-stakes crapshoot. The room may be lousy. The AC power may be lousier. If you’re using streaming audio as a source, I hope you’re not the anxious type when the internet connection goes down. A little insider tip – sometimes when manufacturers co-exhibit, a not-uncommon way to share room rental expense, they’ve never tried their gear in combination with each other before. Talk about rolling the dice. (Others have their equipment locked in to the last speaker spike.)
So…if I hear unimpressive sound, I don’t make a snap judgment. I’ve been to shows where the same speakers sounded OK at one and mind-blowing at another. (I know associated equipment matters but still…) Or maybe the stuff just needs warmup. (It’s no secret that some exhibitors work feverishly through the night getting their rooms ready before opening day.) If I hear good sound, I take that as a sign the equipment is good and will probably sound better at someone’s home. If I hear fantastic sound, I consider that the stars have aligned. That and the exhibitors worked very hard! Kevin Hayes, president of VAC (Valve Amplification Company) told me that for their huge exhibit in the Potomac room, they got special permission from the hotel to bring in their mountains of gear two days early. It showed.
There’s been a lot of hand-wringing in the industry over the last few years about how high-end audio may be a dying endeavor, to be lost forever when the last of the baby boomers lose interest, and as a corollary to this thought, that younger people don’t care about good sound. To all this I say: nonsense! Based on the evidence at Capital Audiofest and other shows I’ve attended in the last few years, I’d argue the opposite. CAF’s Gill told me that attendance was up almost 10 percent, and I’ve noticed more and more younger people (even pre-teens), women and non-audiophiles coming to shows. (Sorry guys, you can usually spot a wizened audiophile 60 yards away and no offense, I’m one of yez.)
Another enticement – if you’re in the Eastern seaboard or New York metro area, it may not be as expensive as you think to make the trip to the show. I took Megabus from NY’s Penn Station to Union Station and it cost…$41.99 round trip. The EVEN hotel where I and many other attendees stayed had a base rate of $108 a night. Plus, the show is a blast!
The most fun moment of the show? I was in the KR/Caprice/Alta Audio room listening to Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Big Black Cadillac Blues” from the live Blues Hoot album. Excellent sound quality. I had little time and got up to leave halfway through the cut.
At that exact moment Lightnin’ yelled out, “COME ON BACK!” It was startling. I stopped dead. KR’s Calvin Johnson, Caprice’s Luis Alberto and soon everyone in the room joined in and yelled, “Come on back! Come on back! COME ON BACK!”
I sat back down and said, “Well holy crap, I guess I gotta come on back! When Lightnin’ Hopkins tells you to come on back, you better listen!”
Here are some CAF highlights.