Capital AudioFest 2019: Wrap Up and Final Thoughts

Capital AudioFest this year was an interesting bag. I did not expect to find as many new and prototype headphones as I did at such a relatively small show. In that regard the show really lived up to it’s slogan as the ‘Premiere East Coast Audio Show.’

On the other hand, the DIY roots and vinyl-leanings of the show have brought to my attention some fascinating trends in personal audio. There are still plenty of small companies being started by community members, and I suspect we’ll continue to see some of these companies do very well in the coming five or ten years. Also, there is a growing number of headphone listeners using vinyl setups, something I honestly never expected.

Low noise and high levels of resolution have long been recognized as strengths of headphone setups, and in general the level of knowledge about system matching with regards to DACs and digital setups is very high in the personal audio world, higher than in the stereo audiophile community in my opinion. On the flip side, many headphone listeners are less experienced with vinyl than the loudspeaker community, and there’s a lot to learn about system matching, especially with regards to noise and clean playback. Any pops, clicks, hiss or hum will standout even more on headphones than on speakers. I think it will be fascinating to see how, or even if, the headphone community’s growing demand for vinyl playback influences future product development or offerings from companies which make phono preamps, turntables and cartridges.

I have only modest experience with vinyl, but I’ll be keeping my ears to the ground with regards to this going forward, as I suspect vinyl and headphones could blossom into its own little subgenre. Again, the DIY roots and vinyl-leanings of CAF really leaned into this, and I had some terrific record listening experiences on headphones. I can certainly see the appeal for record fans who want to use headphones. The warm analog coloration of classical vinyl albums makes for just as pleasant and non-fatiguing experience with headphones as it does with speakers.

Speaking of pleasant listening experiences, new releases at the show were plentiful, the most surprising was the Aeon 2 from the newly christened Dan Clark Audio. Although Mr. Clark himself wasn’t in attendance, all of my fellow head-fiers commented that these were a real standout, and we were all eager to hear more. Same goes for the Aurorus Audio prototype headphones, and I thought what I heard in the Andover room had promise as well.

I gave a very quick listen to the newish Stax Sr009 Mk II and Dan Clark Audio Voce headphones on the LTA Z10e – the electrostatic integrated amp from Linear Tube Audio – and quite liked what I heard.

The Z10e has only been out for a short time, and while it isn’t cheap, I think that for an electrostatic amp of its caliber, there’s a lot to like. Unlike electrostats stereotypical reputation as thin or bright sounding, the Voce and Sr009 Mk II sounded punchy and dynamic, without giving up that famous ’stat detail. If you’re trepidatious about shelling out for something like the spectacular Blue Hawaii SE amp from Headamp, the LTA could be worth a listen, and it will drive dynamic headphones, and even high-efficiency loudspeakers.

That’s all for this year’s CAF, but I look forward to attending next year, and if you enjoy a smaller, more intimate – and quieter – show experience, that allows plenty of one-on-one time with gear, CAF is a great choice. It channels enough of the large ‘wow’ factor rooms to satisfy those looking for ultra high-end experiences, but without ever feeling overwhelming. A difficult balance to strike, but one that makes for a very satisfying and well-rounded time.

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