Capital Audio Fest 2023: A First Time Attendee’s Musings Pt. 1

Infigo Audio Method 7 Preamp

November 16, 2023

This was not meant to be my virgin pilgrimage to the Mid-Atlantic’s premier high-end audio festival (in the words of Capital Audio Fest or CAF’s website), but last year the entire family contracted COVID. This year, the entire clan made the journey to Rockville, Maryland for Capital Audio Fest 2023 and while my partner and kids explored Washington D.C., I ventured from the medicore Even Hotel, across 4 lanes of East Coast angry traffic for an audio adventure. Prior to diving into my thoughts on this high-fidelity festival, I’ll expound on pre-show expectations. To continue the virgin metaphor, I wasn’t completely unaware of what occurred at these shows thanks to the detailed footage documented via Youtube, specifically, Audiophile Junkie who provides as close to “live” experiences of the U.S. events as possible. Secondly, the greatest audio club on the planet, DC Area Audiophiles & High End Home Theater Enthusiasts (affectionately referred to in the short acronym of DCAAAHEHTE), provided invaluable pre-show guidance, tips, and hints to extract the most from the experience.  Not to gush on the club, but they also provided a place to rest, rejuvenate, learn, and party throughout the event.  Without further ado, expectations-a-plenty:

Capital Audio Fest 2023 Expectations

  • Easy walk from the hotel across the street
  • It will take much longer than anticipated to visit rooms I identify and then find previously unknown gems (to me).
  • Finding food at the same time as a general mass of predominately middle-aged men will be a shit show
  • Hotel rooms provide less than ideal listening spaces with people moving in and out constantly
  • Acquiring the middle listening position, or MLP (sweet spot) may be difficult without patience
  • Saturday between 11 and 3 is high tide and a proper opportunity for an extended lunch or loiter in the DCAAAHEHTE clubhouse

Disclaimer: before roaming through the tall grass, there were many amazing brands represented at CAF and my highlights may not be the same as others.  If I attempted to talk about every room, it would take me weeks to compose this blog post.  Consequently, this isn’t me getting paid by brands to talk about them or a cut at brands or dealers not mentioned–it’s a few highlights. There is plenty of show coverage out there if you’d like to see more!

Spoiler alert: all of these expectations were true except the “easy walk.”

My Favorite Rooms on Day 1 of Captial Audio Fest 2023

If I haven’t mentioned it already, the hotel left much to be desired including broken ice machines on every floor and a not-included $18 per person buffet which I declined. An “Easy walk” was untrue considering it was 48 degrees and raining and unless you’re a fan of traffic chicken, walking a block to the nearest light and back was the wisest move.  Upon entering the Hilton, it’s clear that CAF usurps the entire hotel including the lobby registration and the expansive atrium below filled with vendors hocking mostly vinyl, cables, and other fun audiophile goodies.

Before arrival, I devised a show coverage plan. Acquire wristband, check. Avoid sloth speed elevators in the lobby, check. Traverse 5 flights of stairs to the 8th floor and let gravity pull me down when my tired legs fail, check.  My first foray into this high-fidelity fun palace was a Canadian brand on my list highlighted in YouTube videos but like many brands at CAF, there are no local dealers, Infigo Audio.

Infigo Audio and Gershman Acoustics

Infigo Audio Method 3 Class A Mono Block Amplifier

Infigo Audio Method 3 Class A Mono Block Amplifier (55k per pair)

Infigo partnered with Gershman Acoustics for an incredible-sounding room.  I was hoping to listen to the 30th Anniversary Black Swan’s that were prominently displayed in the lobby, but instead, the monoblock Infigo amps were partnered with the 30th Anniversary Grand Avant Garde speakers (18K).  As per the norm of Violet HiFi, I will attempt not to bathe you in audiophile superlatives regarding sound but rather, provide unique characteristics.  First, Infigo Audio kills it with style points as all of their components provide a transparent view of internal components.  Not only is this stylish but also a massive flex for the company’s use of quality parts and exceptional construction. Like many in the hobby, I’m a sucker for blue glowing LED’s and both the front panel’s vertical light and internals add to the overall phenomenal aesthetic.

Gershman Acoustics and Infigo Audio Room - Capital Audio Fest 2023

The Gershman’s struck me for a few reasons:

  • It’s not a rectangular box
  • The bottom of the speaker is purposely designed to enhance the bass response through their patent pending BCT (back-wave control technology).  It’s not just a fancy pedestal.
  • The grills are a work of art.  Of course, this is subjective but most grills are an afterthought and these entirely wood grills are meticulously designed.  It’s also important to mention that Gershman recommends listening sessions with the grills off as they do slightly impact sound.
Gershman 30th Anniversary Avant Garde - Grills On

Gershman 30th Anniversary Avant Garde – Grill On

 

Gershman 30th Anniversary Avant Garde - Grill Off

Gershman 30th Anniversary Avant Garde – Grill Off

 

Infigo Audio Method 7 Preamp

Infigo Audio Method 7 Preamp with translucent top and alluring blue glow (20k)

MonAcoustic

MonAcoustic Speakers and Components - Capital Audio Fest 2023

MonAcoustic’s full setup at Capital Audio Fest 2023

Having seen a recent review from Darko Audio on the PlatiMon VC One, I was elated that they were represented at Capital Audio Fest 2023. The first intriguing component of this room was when I was bamboozled with 3 phases of marketing in about 12 seconds:

  • T-shirt size – woohoo! I love me some early swag.  The first 50 visitors received a MonAcoustic T-shirt.
  • Sign up for a chance to win a set of the SuperMon Mini’s (the speakers furthest inside on the photo above)
  • Someone handed me the SuperMon Mini (2k including stands) to feel the weight of its 6061-grade aluminum.  It is extremely dense for a tiny speaker: 11.5 lbs in a 4.72/8.27/6.69″ package.

This genius marketing methodology potentially impacted my emotions but regardless the PlatimonVC One pressed detailed, full sound to every corner of the hotel room. This is a hell of a feat considering (like every room) it’s an untreated hotel room and the PlatiMons use 5.5″ neodymium ferrite German drivers.  If you haven’t heard of these, I strongly recommend reading reviews. They are designed in South Korea and the AMT tweeter is made in the US.  Additionally, they anodize the front aluminum plate in a myriad of colors, and when I spoke to their rep, he explained that MonAcoustic will also color match to almost any Pantone for a $300 upcharge.  Of course, it’s aluminum so the color isn’t necessarily going to match perfectly but the ones displayed in navy were industrial sexy (if that’s a thing, I’m coining it–“Indusexy”).

MonAcoustic PlatiMon VC One

MonAcoustic PlatiMon VC One (6500k including stands)

Lastly in this room, I was instantly attracted to the Sanctus F4 Power Distributor. Regardless of how you feel about whether power or cables impact sound, at least MonAcoustic understands my aesthetic belief that if you’re going to charge atmospheric prices for power distribution, make it look cool. Mission accomplished as the crystal acrylic body provides every inch of wiring detail.  According to MonAcoustic, they’ve found a way for Americans with weak 120v power to utilize 220v via this distributor.  Feel free to ask them how as I have no idea but it’s a significant claim.

MonAcoustic Sanctus Signature 8 Outlet Power Distributor (7k)

MonAcoustic Sanctus Signature 8 Outlet Power Distributor (7k)

Margules Audio

I’ve read a few reviews online but it was fantastic to witness Margules Audio presented by their importer AV Luxury Group.  Completely designed and crafted in Mexico City, Mexico, I was instantly drawn to the wood finish of the Magenta SA-2 floorstander and the Magenta Monitor Speakers.  Both are beautifully constructed from a single piece of Tzalam wood from self-sustaining communities in Mérida, Yucatán.

Margules Magenta SA-2 Floorstanding Speaker: Capital Audio Fest 2023

Margules Magenta SA-2 Floorstanding Speaker (7k)

 

Margules Magenta Monitor Speaker and Remote

Margules Magenta Monitor Speaker (3900k)

Before discussing their tube amplifiers, I’m a sucker for anyone who invests in designing a remote that doesn’t resemble a cheap plastic afterthought from a home theater in a box company. The complimentary wood is a testament to the designers at Margules and also implores a potential Magenta speaker customer to investigate their amplifier offering.  Speaking of amplifier offerings, the Margules I-240 with a heavenly blue glow coaxed the Magenta SA-2’s to sing the sweetest notes in another subpar hotel space. AV Luxury Group’s representative Carlos Smith asked me to put my hands on the tubes of the class A integrated amp, which although I’m somewhat new to high-end audio, this is usually a recipe for 3rd degree burns. Out of blind trust and the realization that Carlos wouldn’t perform this demo if he paid for previous medical bills, I indulged. He explained that their proprietary technology helped reduce the heat and even though they were hot to the touch, they were not volcanic. The I-240 also comes with tube covers in case, like me, you have children with curious, wandering hands.

Margules I-240 Integrated Class A Amplifier: Capital Audio Fest 2023

Margules I-240 Integrated Class A Amplifier (7k)

 

Margules U-280 SC 30th Anniversary Limited Edition Amplifier

Margules U-280 SC 30th Anniversary Limited Edition Amplifier (12k)

YG Acoustics, Vinnie Rossie Amplification

My esteemed friends at Alma Music and Audio brought the goods with 4 different rooms but my favorite was the YG Acoustics and Vinnie Rossi electronics.  The depth of sound in this room was truly sublime and from the aesthetic standpoint, this also qualifies as “indusexy.” While aluminum may not be your jam, this electronic and speaker pairing looked and sounded as good as it gets.

YG Acoutics and Vinnie Rossi Room: Capital Audio Fest 2023

YG Acoustics and Vinnie Rossi Room Presented by Alma Audio

The waveguide on the YG Acoustics Carmel 3 (30k) is a work of art as it’s intricately machined from high-grade aerospace aluminum. Now, I realize what you may be thinking, and unfortunately due to how busy this room was, I didn’t get to ask what exactly that means.  What is aerospace-grade aluminum? At the same time, the details are clear from witnessing these visually stunning speakers and listening.

YG Acoutics Carmel 3

YG Acoustics Carmel 3 (30k)

The Carmel 3’s were powered by Vinnie Rossi electronics which in a non-cheesy way reminds me of the Infiniti J30 commercials with Jonathan Price from the 1990s. The analog gauges are reminiscent of luxury watch faces. Circling back to Jonathan Price, I’d love it if high-end companies would bring back these styles of commercials.  The vast majority of advertisements for high-end audio seem to be in print only and while the commercials may not increase net profits, they’d provide an entertaining throwback to appeal to vast audiences.  After all, the kids of the 80s and early 90s are the ones who likely amassed enough income and wealth to invest in the hobby.

The “Brama” collection is named after the Italian word for desire, which is aptly a fantastic naming choice. Like the YGs, Vinnie Rossi components and hand assembled and tested in the US (Massachusets).

Vinnie Rossi Brama Preamplifier (34k)

Vinnie Rossi Brama Preamplifier (34k) – Can run in both tube or solid state mode.

 

My favorite moment happened in this amazing room when behind me, I could hear a familiar voice that I knew I’d heard on the Darko Audio Podcast.  Yes, it’s the one who expressed this remarkable rant on Episode #47 (I looked it up), “Fuck you, I want to listen to fucking music.  I don’t want to listen to your shit-ass technology takes on how I’m supposed to digest the music I love.” Michael Lavorgna of Twittering Machines was sitting right behind me and unlike the normally introverted me, I needed to introduce myself and relentlessly shower my audiophile blog-writing hero with praise.  Sadly, I turned around and stared at him for a bit too long as he just stared back at me before I remembered that I do have the ability to speak (pregnant and awkward 4.7 seconds). While I do think as a genuine and kind individual, Michael appreciated my exuberant praise, I couldn’t help but feel like an asshole afterward for freezing up. I did subsequently encounter him multiple times where I continued to exude my wild awkwardness (including knowing the county where Michael lives) in front of Steve Jain, president of Fidelity Imports(one of my favorite logos and distributors). who offered to take a picture of us. Normally, I’m not one to inquire about photos as I carry constant anxiety in my pocket that I’m wasting someone’s time but I appreciate that Steve made the following happen:

Damon Wyatt from Violet HiFi and Michael Lavorgna from Twittering Machines

Left to Right: Awkward guy from Violet HiFi, Damon Wyatt, Twitter Machines prolific writer Michael Lavorgna

It was amazing how few rooms I was able to capture and listen to after a full day from 10-4:30. DCAAAHEHTE provided a raucous happy hour with refreshments and pizza so I pulled the plug a bit early to mingle with local audiophiles and revel in our experiences of the day. In a feeble attempt to break up reading, this will be part 1 in a 3 part series of Capital Audio Fest 2023 reflections. Until next time hifivers.

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