Here are a few of my favorite rooms from CAF 2023, rooms that stood out because they made me connect to the music being made even in the less than good, forget about ideal, conditions of a hifi show.
First an important note: I did not get to every room at CAF 2023 so this list is not all inclusive and is in no way a “Best of Show” selection. Why no Bests? Because while declaring “Bests” is great for clicks (and egos), there is no such thing as an objective Best when it comes to hifi. Ask any ten people what their favorite rooms were at CAF 2023 and why, and you’ll get at least ten different stories. Them’s just the facts. It’s also what makes hifi shows fun, exciting, and relevant.
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Arthur C. Clarke
David Cope’s Old Forge Audio in Stonington, CT specializes in, at least according to me, gear that makes listening to music on the hifi feel like an easy voyage. Like a vacation from every day that involves no annoying airports, no annoying traffic, just a fast pass directly into your chosen music. The system at CAF 2023 is one great example and the Heretic/Thöress speaker/amp combo eased music into the room without a hint of effort, filling the smallish space with sweet, sweet music. You may be thinking that there’s something to high efficiency speakers and relatively low power amplification that plays an important part in this formula, and you’d get no argument from me. But lets not forget about the rest of the system that included the impressive digital gear from Wattson (see my review of their Emerson ANALOG streaming DAC). This system also checks my visual delights checklist, mucho.
Heretic AD614 Loudspeakers ($7290/pair)
Thöress EHT Integrated Amplifier ($10,995)
Wattson Audio Madison streaming DAC ($3450)
AcousticPlan DriveMaster CD Transport
Ediscreation Low Noise Linear Power Supply
Here’s a tip—every room I’ve had the pleasure to inhabit that includes Vinnie Rossi’s gear, and we’re talking many a year’s worth, has sounded plain lovely. And CAF 2023 was no exception as his BRAMA separates drove the delicate beauty out of the new YG Carmel 3 speakers creating a sound that was detailed, delicate, and forceful without any sense of force. Lovely. The MSB Premier DAC certainly played no small part in a silky sound that caressed as it excited the room and me.
YG Acoustics Carmel 3 Loudspeakers ($29,800/pair)
Vinnie Rossi BRAMA Stereo Amplifier ($33,995)
Vinnie Rossi BRAMA Preamplifier ($33,995)
MSB Premier DAC w/Digital Director ($44,000)
Innuous Phoenix NET Network Switch ($4,349)
NEMESIS Acoustic Panels ($799/each)
See! Told ya’. Vinnie Rossi’s BRAMA Integrated amp lit up the Qln Signature speakers with glorious room-filling music that had not a hint of artifice while offering as much detail and rich resolution as your ears can handle. This is another system that took no effort, no adjustments, to connect to the music in play.
Qln Signature Loudspeakers ($26,000/pair w/stands in Walnut Burl Piano finish)
Vinnie Rossi BRAMA Integrated Amplifier ($38,995)
Merason DAC MKII ($8500)
Innous Pulse Streamer ($3799)
AB-Tech Klar USB Cable ($1350)
NEMESIS Acoustic Panels ($799/each)
Finite Elemente Pagode Signture MKII Rack ($4750)
Bill Parish’s GTT Audio was showing off the new Mola Mola Perca Stereo Amps, albeit running in vertical bi-amp mode to drive the Vivid Giya G4S2 to invisibility, leaving nothing but pure, powerful music. I reviewed the Vivid Kaya K45 this summer and was more than impressed. And I quote: “their combined strengths come together to honor the delicate powerful forces captured on record as convincingly as I’ve heard.” In my experience, as you move up the Vivid line you get more and this room proved me out. You more than likely also spotted the Grimm MU1 (review) that made everything I sent through it sound more like music.
Vivid Audio Giya G4s2 Lodspeakers ($34,000)
Mola Mola Perca Stereo Amplifiers (running in vertical bi-amp mode) ($9,850/each)
Mola Mola Makua Linestage ($12,200)
Mola Mola Internal DAC ($8,500)
Grimm Audio MU1 Streamer ($12,500)
Dejitter It Switch X ($3,500)
Dejitter It WiFi X ($850)
Kubala Sosna Sensation Speaker Cable ($6,400 1/M + $1400 per additional meter)
Kubala Sosna Sensation Interconnect cable ($6,400 1/M + $1400 per additional meter)
Kubala Sosna Sensation Power Cord ($1,900 1/M + $450 per additional meter)
Takoma Park, MD’s Linear Tube Audio pretty much shows up on every one of my Favorite Rooms list and this one, with the new and impressive Clayton Shaw CALADAN open baffle speakers was a doozy. Rich, saturated, room-filling music energy quickly overcame my show concerns and I found myself shaking my head in the affirmative in no time flat. As in, “Damn, this sounds great” combined with “Damn, I’ve to get a pair of these in Barn.” Sitting under LTA’s Ultralinear+ Integrated amp was the new LTA DAC, can you say smooth?, that will also make a Barn visit when the production cases are ready to roll. Stay tuned!
Clayton Shaw Acoustic Lab CALADAN open baffle speakers ($2950/pair) (!)
Linear Tube Audio Ultralinear+ Integrated Amplifier ($7650)
Linear Tube Audio Aero DAC ($3600)
Innuos ZEN MK3 Network Streamer ($3649)
AntiCables Level 3.3 USB Cable ($215)
AntiCables Level 5.3 XLR Interconnects ($900)
AntiCables Level 4.2 FLEX Speaker Wires ($640)
AntiCables Level 3 Power Cords ($330/ea.)
Made in PA with no additives, if you get my drift. I reviewed an early incarnation of the Rogue Cronus back in 2006, when it cost $1795, for 6moons and it was a hit with me and everyone I know who heard one. The new Cronus Dark was driving a pair of Joseph Audio PULSAR2 Graphine stand mounts at CAF 2023 and the combo was a joy to behold. I expressed my pleasure and desire to get my hands on a Cronus Dark and I very much look forward to getting reacquainted with Rogue’s new Cronus some 17 years on. I remember when I thought 17 was kinda old. Sigh.
Joseph Audio PULSAR2 Graphine Loudspeakers ($9999/pair)
Rogue Audio Cronus Dark Integrated Amplifier ($4495)
Eversolo DMP-A6 Streamer ($859)
Benchmark DAC3 B ($1899)
Darwin Cables Keystone RCA Interconnects ($395)
Darwin Cables Natural RCA Interconnects ($895)
Darwin Cables Natural Speaker Cables ($1875)
See? Told ya’. Room 730 at CAF 2023 was like old home week for yours truly as I got to re-hear the Credo EV1202 speakers I reviewed last November, “If you’re looking for a sleek, slender amp-friendly tower speaker that serves whatever music suits your fancy, you may have found your perfect mate in the Credo EV 1202 Ref.”, and the Meitner MA3 DAC I reviewed last December, “The Meitner MA3 took up residence in Barn in a number of different systems, acting as streamer and DAC and at times preamplifier, all the while calling attention to the music in play with all of its sonic wonders there for the taking.”
This system, with the LTA MicroZOLT monoblocks in charge, filled Room 730 with pure, sweet music without a hint of room, something that plagued some other exhibitors like a snoring rhinoceros in a library. Credo’s Michael Kraske uses Room EQ Wizard (REW) to help during setup and I can tell you it more than helps, turning what can be an exercise in frustration with crappy results into a simple task. I will also note that the EV 1202’s still surprise with a deep, rich sound that belies their size.
Credo EV1202Reference Loudspaekers ($16,995/pair)
Linear Tube Audio ZOTL40 Reference+ Power Amplifers ($6800/each)
Linear Tube Audio MicroZOTL Preamplifier (Level 2) ($5750)
Meitner Audio MA3 Integrated D/A Converter ($10,500)
van den Hul Inspiration Hybrid Speaker Cables ($1600)
van den Hul Mountain Interconects (XLR & RCA) ($1265)
ven den Hul Mainserver Power Cables ($290)
In an interesting twist on tradition, Border Patrol and Triode Wire Labs teamed up with Living Voice and their R80 speakers, this version sporting outboard x-overs. I recently reviewed the Living Voice Auditorium R25A about which I concluded, “I enjoyed, relished, our time together and just remember that when it comes to listening to music on the hifi, there’s nothing wrong with pure pleasure.” These bigger brothers sing with a similar but, you guessed it, more authoritative voice driven by the robust 16 Watts on offer from the Border Patrol S20EXD amp. That small component with the peek-a-boo opening onto a EZ80/6V4 tube rectifier is Border Patrol’s DAC, which I also reviewed way back in 2019, “If you’re anything like me, or Herb Reichert who remains one of my favorite writers (and people), your ears, heart, and mind may tell you the same thing—Julie Andrews be damned! This is the sound of music!”
Living Voice R80 Loudspeakers ($54,250/pair)
Border Patrol S20EXD Power Amplifier (starts at $21,500)
Border Patrol DAC SE-i (USB) ($starts t $1650)
Innuos Statement Music Server with Next-Gen Power Supply ($26,200 w/4TB SSD)
Triode Wire Labs Speaker Cables ($starts at $1099)
Triode Wire Labs Spirit II RCA Interconnects ($399/pair)
Triode Wire Labs Passion USB Cable ($329)
Triode Wire Labs The Obsession NCF Power Cord ($1499)
Triode Wire Labs High Power Digital American II Power Cord ($749)
PA-based MC Audiotech has a unique approach to building speakers. At work at CAF 2023 was a pair of their TL-12 that combine “wide band line source drivers…coupled to at 12” Transmission Line woofer”. Driven by amplification from California’s ampandsound with D/A duties courtesy of the lovely little Weiss DAC501 (review), this system painted a very convincing portrait of the music in play with exceptional speed, clarity, and body. Lovely.
MC Audiotech TL-12 Loudspeakers (starts at $25,000/pair)
ampandsound Zion Monoblock AMplifiers ($36,000/pair)
ampandsound Yellowstone Preamplifier ($35,000)
Weiss DAC501 ($9995)
In another fortuitous twist of fate, Fidelity Imports and the Audia Flight FLS 10 integrated amp I reviewed and loved teamed up with Magnepan and their new MG2.7x speakers. The FLS 10 was fed by an Aurender A15 and this system nearly blew the pocket doors off the place with crazy, beautiful music power. Do you remember how amazed I was with the FLS 10’s bass response? I was amazed, again, at this system’s deep, powerful growl. Nice!
Magnepan MG2.7x Loudspeakers ($10,000/pair)
Audia Flight FLS 10 Integrated Amplifier ($16,999)
Aurender A15 ($8400)
Titan Audio power products
American Sound of Canada put together a stirring system, paring Rethm’s Trishna speakers that combine a full range driver with a quad of Hypex-powered bass drivers (2 firing front, 2 back) with the serious as a building looking Western Electric 91E integrated amplifier that uses, you guessed it, a pair of new production Western Electric 300Bs for 14 Watts of output power into 8 Ohms (THD 3%). I reviewed the smaller Rethm Aarka Active Speakers (seen in the background here) in August of 2022 and said, “What’s more is they get the big things right—timbre, dynamics, and flow—and I can say after extended listening they remain immediate, vibrant, rich, and captivating.” And I would say the same with this system except to add that the larger Trishna add more body, weight, and bass to the Aarka’s fine traits.
Rethm’s Trishna Loudspeakers ($9990/pair)
Western Electric 91E Integrated Amplifier (starts at $14,999)
dCS LINA Network DAC ($13,650)
dCS LINA Master Clock ($7750)
Truth be told, I haven’t always been drawn into the sound made in this very room in CAFs past that feature speakers from Germany’s Göbel. And who knows the reason, maybe its the awful Hilton food. In any event, at CAF 2023, the Göbel Divin Marquis were paired with what has become one of my favoritest makers of hifi, Italy’s Riviera Labs and their most powerful AFM-100 monoblocks (that 100 stands for Watts of output power). I’ve reviewed the Riviera Levante integrated amp as well as the APL10 Preamplifier / AFM25 Monoblock combo and to say I was impressed is like saying sunsets are kinda nice.
Coupled with the heavy as a boat Wadax digital gear, this system grabbed my attention by the collar and shook me around like a rag doll in a hurricane. I would venture to suggest that the Riviera gear did to the Göbels what it did for every speaker I’ve had the pleasure to hear their gear with,which is to say it drove the music out them in a more convincing manner than I’ve ever heard before. Stunning.
Göbel Divin Marquis Loudspeakers ($90,000/pair)
Riviera Labs AFM-100SE Mono Power Amplifiers ($82,800/pair)
Riviera Labs APL-01SE Preamplifier ($46,995)
Wadax Atlantis Reference DAC (166,420)
Wadax Atlantis Reference Server ($68,800)
Wadax Optical System ($20,400)
Riviera Labs Power Cord ($1850)
Nordost Q Base Reference Power Distribution ($18,000)
Nordost Q Net Network Switch ($3199)
Nordost Q Source ($2799)
Nordost Q Core 1 ($3000)
Nordost QB8 Power Strip ($9900)
Gobel Lacorde Statement Power Cord ($27,999)
Gobel Lacorde Statement Speakers Cables ($7900 1.2m pair)
Gobel Lacorde Statement Ethernet Cable ($5900 1.2m)
Core Audio Racks and Amp Stands
You may have seen this one coming as Jeff Catalano’s High Water Sound is always on this kind of list. Jeff’s room is always among my tippy top recommendations for anyone asking about “must see” rooms and the reasons for this are not just about sound, or gear, or even music, although Jeff consistently plays adventurous, especially for a hifi show, unexpected, especially for a hifi show, and just plain wonderful music. If I gave an award for the most attendees asking to take a photo of the album cover of the music in play, Jeff would always be a winner.
CAF 2023 continued all of these wonderful traditions with great sounding great music in a relaxing and, thanks to a room purifier and lots of big plants, comfortable environment. I always make two stops in Jeff’s rooms; one early on and one on Sunday. As I told him, it’s my reset and what I mean by that is the experience resets my mood and mind by reminding me about the things I love most about hifi.
Cessaro Horn Acoustics Wagner II Horn Speakers ($65,000/pair)
TW-Acustic Raven 300B Monoblock Amplifiers ($35,000/pair)
TW-Acustic Raven Line Stage ($25,000)
TW-Acustic Raven Phono Stage ($25,000)
TW-Acustic Raven LS-3 Copper turntable ($24,000)
TW-Acustic Raven 12″ tonearm ($6500)
TW-Acustic Raven 10.5″ tonearm ($6000)
Miyajima Infinity Mono MC Cartridge ($3475)
Fuuga MC Cartridge ($10,000)
Dalby Audio Design Pirueta Record Weight
Stein Music Cables and room tuning
Codia Acoustic Design Racks
Another confession—on the last day of most every hifi show I’ve attended there comes a time when I have to choke back tears. It may be because a certain song reminds me of my father and our shared passion for hifi and music, near exhaustion at the wonder and beauty of it all, or in the case of the Voxativ room at CAF 2023 a reminder of Art Dudley, one of kindest people I’ve had the pleasure to know, whose writing in Listener made me consider writing about hifi, and someone I would later call a mentor and friend.
Berlin’s Voxativ was showing their new incarnation of the single driver Ampeggio back-loaded horn speaker, the original reviewed by Art for Stereophile in 2011 when it was selected as Stereophile’s Product of the Year.
From Art’s review:
The Voxativ Ampeggio went beyond sounding good: More than once, with too many records to mention, I found myself stopping to marvel at its brilliantly good pitch certainty. In terms of being able to simply nail a note, whether in isolation or tucked within a whole string of the little bastards, I’ve heard few other speakers this accomplished. And while it’s one thing to focus on such a characteristic for a moment at a time, it’s quite another to bask in it subconsciously—and the Voxativs allowed me to do just that. I was able to enjoy everything I played through them—not just as sound but as music—without fatigue, frustration, or, worst of all, lack of interest.
The Ampeggio (2023) features a Japanese paper cone (washi) Voxativ driver (AC-1.9), a modified horn mouth, refined contour, and a redesigned support system. Driven by the Voxativ T211 Integrated amp, lovely doesn’t begin to describe the sound and experience. You may be thinking, again, that there’s something to high efficiency speakers and relatively low power amplification that plays an important part in this formula, and you’d get no argument from me. But here, there were spirits in play in room, a level of humanness that touched me to tears.
Back when Art reviewed the original, the Ampeggio cost $29,750/pair. According to Christopher Owens, Voxativ has grown since and due to economies of scale and improvements in production, the new Ampeggio are yours for $12,900/pair. Now that’s progress.
Voxativ Ampeggio (2023) ($12,900/pair)
Voxativ T211 Integrated Amplifier ($23,900)
Weiss DAC 502 ($10,695)
Voxativ Ampeggio Due Speaker Cable ($4599)
Voxativ Rack ($2968)
all cabling by Voxativ except for standard stock power cabling