Like my recent attendance at the Toronto Audio Show, I did not go to Capitol Audiofest 2022 on an official show report assignment for Part-time audiophile. I went to have fun and laugh with my other PTA team, Grover Neville, Jameson Mourafetis and Eric Franklin Shook. For Best of Dave McNair Show I’m going to talk about some pieces that I liked, but first I have a big bone to choose from. Or rather an irritating pimple that I need to press?
Lyrics by Dave McNair, images by Grover Neville
There has been a lot of silent discussion about the attitudes and policies of other larger audio publications and some of the writers who cover audio shows and review equipment. Technically, this conversation could be classified as hearsay, but I think it deserves a discussion nonetheless.
Self-interest is a fact of life, in addition to the maxim that life is not fair. The universe doesn’t care about you or your hi-fi business, but that doesn’t mean hi-fi industry trade publications should have free rein to declare winners and losers based on little more than ego and a perverse need to control the gates of information.
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If I choose not to write about a part or review a product, it’s because of what my mom always said, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” It’s very different from “This piece or product is really great, but we won’t say anything or if we do, not much that’s overtly positive because it threatens the order of things in our world”, or worse. again, “they don’t advertise.
Besides just being unpleasant, it deprives readers of information who are genuinely looking for this information to guide a purchase. And I’m sick of a lot of brands and products that I think are great being overlooked or worse by the audio press AND some little guys with no ears and questionable taste.
Much of this happens on every audio show and in the review process.
I am not saying that there is absolutely no personal interest in APTbut what little there is has nothing to do with publicity or the need to be the big man on campus.
End of the rant. Now Dave McNair’s Best of Show.
Best of CAF 2022
Dave McNair’s Best of Show isn’t in any particular order, because quality isn’t as subjective as most people make it out to be, but an absolute ranking is kind of silly.
Treehouse Audio had a wonderful and unique room. I thought it was much better than their presentation at the last CAF. It must have something to do with a speaker change in this unique 3-way, open-baffle, high-output speaker.
The new driver is an active magnet, field coil type. In the Treehouse speaker, this midrange driver is the heart of the system, covering a very wide range from 70Hz to 14K and beyond. The bass speaker has its own dedicated amp and dsp for seamless integration, and a roughly 14K, barely lit super tweeter, which completes the picture. Horn dynamics but no horn staining and a high degree of consistency. Treehouse tube electronics were used to drive this musically engaging system.
Acora Acoustics used the show to launch its current three-speaker range – but in a quartz material as opposed to the usual black granite. I found the QRC-1’s off-white quartz to be very elegant. Gray quartz was used in the QRC-2. The gray also looked good, although it’s hard to convey in pictures. The smallest speaker, the SRB, was in their traditional black granite cabinet.
I felt like something was wrong with the equipment used to power the QRC-2 system, including the analog rig. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t the sound I was used to hearing at previous gigs – or in my mastering studio, where I use SRC-2s as monitors on a daily basis.
The QRC-1 system, however, smoked well. Some of the best SRC-1 sounds I’ve heard at any show. That familiar razor-sharp imaging and revealing yet listenable Acora sound, and on Hegel solid-state electronics. Definitely Dave McNair’s Best of Show material.
One of the last rooms I heard on Sunday was set up by Maryland dealer 20/20 Evolution Systems. I felt like the Kharma DB9S speakers, along with the Conrad-Johnson electronics, put me in the Pleasure Dome like few other show setups I’ve heard. I heard a different but similar Kharma in this room at the last CAF, but this year it was more special. Maybe it was a magic combo of gear, whatever, the sound was great in that room. Big, punchy and detailed, but with a less neutral approach and more of a fun, carefully chosen editorial vibe. High quality sound but not hi-fi.
The four PTA amigos took over this room and hosted an iPad streaming party. I took the time to play several songs that I had mixed or mastered, which means that I liked the sound. Lots of fun was had.
Doug White’s TIDAL Audio room is almost a CAF bar tradition. This year was no exception. New Tidal Piano G3 speakers driven by these beautiful Vinnie Rossi Brama separations. I would be lying if I said the room was less than excellent, but this year just seemed a little different. Neither worse nor better, but different.
This is the first time I’ve heard of Tidal speakers with anything other than Tidal electronics. The sound still had that magical tidal quality of clear water, but this time the water was more Perrier than distilled. I was recovering from food poisoning after dinner the night before, so maybe that has something to do with my impressions. I didn’t spend much time in this room either, but it was definitely on my very short list of great sounding rooms at CAF 2022.
The small upstairs room set up by Von Schweikert Audio was a treat. The Endeavor Reference Edition speaker was both fun and high-end hi-fi. Using a simple but effective system with VAC electronics (a 450IQ amp and a Master Pre) and the LampizatOr Horizon DAC, I heard enough detail, linear frequency response and spatial information to be a true HiFi but with a percussive almost rock n roll vibe. The finish I saw was their new lower cost cabinetry panels. Was it a veneer or just the wood of the furniture with a finish? I should have asked but I was too mesmerized by the playing Floyd. Thought it sounded awesome, so why not save the money to put it elsewhere in the system and still get a solid speaker? wish you were Here sounded sufficiently rock and psychedelic.
Best of Show by Dave McNair – Postscript
Of course, there were plenty of other rooms that sounded great, but the ones above impressed me the most. There were also a lot of rooms that sounded mediocre to inaudible, and sometimes that’s due to circumstances beyond the exhibitor’s control; I understand. But what bothered me the most was the selection of music that most venues played.
Like I said in my Toronto post, I can pick up a few worn chestnuts, mostly because I have an idea of what they look like to judge a system. But come on guys, if the wi-fi is spotty and unusable, bring lots of records or a huge hard drive with a varied selection so I can hear something I know. Why is it so hard to play decent music at a hi-fi show?
So many plays gave me no way to judge. The few with streaming or a large selection of hard drives were big tellers at times. By this I mean when I listened to a system that initially had a wow factor with the curated selections, almost every time I played real world but high quality tunes, the magic was gone. Maybe that’s why the song selection is limited…
I don’t want to paint such a negative picture because I’ve had a great time with hearing aids and visiting friends. I don’t remember having laughed so much in a weekend. I’m sure I’ll go back next year.