Distinctive Stereo and Living Acoustics at CAF 2021 (Archived 12/16/2021)

Distinctive Stereo and Living Acoustics at CAF 2021 (Archived 12/16/2021)

We have still been playing catch up and getting more information about the rooms who used our product at Capital Audiofest.  Check out Distinctive Stereo and Living Acoustic's experience at the show!

We recently returned from Capital Audio Fest, the first audio US show since pre-COVID, and it was great to be back in the swing of things. Gary Gill and his staff did a great job, and we of course appreciated all the attendees, without whom there would’ve been no show.

In this Newsletter, Larry describes what a show is like from our perspective (see A Show From An Exhibitor’s Perspective below), Isaac, our analogue guru, describes Genesis Advanced Technologies’ The Player (see Genesis Advanced Technologies’ The Player below) and we showcase our visitors’ discography gallery (see Visitor’s Discography below).

As the cold weather approaches many of us spend more time inside. It’s a great time to get those stereo upgrades you’ve been thinking about, so we are running some Winter specials (see Winter Specials at the bottom of this newsletter). The list is only partial, so feel free to contact us about any products we carry as well as cartridge setup.
We wish everyone a happy holiday, and a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.
With best regards,
Larry and Isaac

Genesis Advanced Technologies’ The Player

At CAF Genesis Advanced Technologies debuted The Player: a complete phono system which includes a direct drive turntable with a suspended chassis, the Genesis Platinum phono stage, a power supply, a power conditioner, the supporting rack and all power cables and interconnects. Ultra low distortion, high speed stability and superb micro vibration control make this phono system sound super dynamic, detailed and three-dimensional. Check out this short video snippet of a visitor’s vintage Chicago LP during CAF.

​A Show From An Exhibitor’s Perspective

By Laurence Borden of Distinctive Stereo
As an audio enthusiast, and later as a reviewer, audio shows were something I always looked forward to. Going from room to room, hearing many new systems (and new music), talking to the designers, manufacturers, dealers, and other enthusiasts, seeing old friends and making new ones – it was like being a kid in a toy store. The days flew by, and despite having often visited all (or almost all) the rooms, some multiple times, I wished there were more, and it was sad when the show ended and it was time to head home.
I knew it was a lot of work for the exhibitors, but didn’t realize just how much until I started Distinctive Stereo. For those who are interested in what it is like from “the other side,” what follows is brief summary of what went into preparing for the recent Capital Audio Fest, which took place November 5-7, 2021. I will try to list the steps in chronological order, but there was considerable overlap.

  • First, we (my colleagues and I) had to decide whether or not to participate in the show. This was a much more difficult decision than usual, because of COVID. All (or certainly, most) audio shows were cancelled once the pandemic began. When things seemed to be calming down, some were re-scheduled, only to be postponed (sometimes repeatedly) when it became clear that it was still dangerous. One of the largest and most successful shows, the Rocky Mountain Audio fest, was ultimately closed for good. Thus, signing up for the show, and putting down a significant deposit, entailed significant risk.
  • Once the decision was made to participate, we had to decide on a room. Because I participated at the 2019 CAF, I was assured of getting a regular size room. However, we wanted a larger room, which are usually very difficult to get, because previous presenters of such rooms get right of first refusal, and rarely want to give them up. As luck would have it, another colleague of mine (a distributor of products I carry) decided not to use the large room he had in 2019, and offered it to me. After discussions with my colleagues we decided to take it, though we knew the room was sonically challenging. Bu then we got even luckier - a month or some before the show a much better room became available, so we switched to it.
  • I have made mention of my collaborators. I knew who I wanted to partner with, but everyone had to be contacted, and agree to share the room. Fortunately, these were three close collaborators and friends (Isaac Rivera of Living Acoustics, Gary Koh of Genesis Loudspeakers, and Merrill Wettasinghe of Merrill Audio), so that part was easy. Other presenters sometimes have to hunt around for someone to share their room with. As is true generally of blind dates, sometimes it goes well, other times disastrously.
  • We next had to decide what equipment we would use, and who would bring what. We did the same for equipment we would have on static display, some of which was kindly loaned to us by other manufacturers (notably, VPI, Aurender, Audioquest, and Wally Tools).
  • We had to prepare and coordinate the printing of banners, signs, etc.
  • We scheduled three “talks/presentations,” by Gary, Merrill, and JR of Wally Tools.
  • Each of us had to pack up the gear we were bringing to the show. What may seem to some like “you just had to put a few pieces of equipment in their cartons” is akin to thinking that climbing Mt. Everest is just like walking up a hill. Okay, perhaps that is a bit of an exaggeration, but take my word that packing up all the equipment is quite a chore. After packing the gear, I had to lug it into my garage, put it on a pallet, and arrange for pickup. As is known to anyone who has dealt with delivery services, that often means staying home all day, hoping they arrive. (The truck did arrive, albeit an hour after the supposed “latest” time.) I should mention that I drove to CAF with my car (a large SUV) nearly filled with the “smaller” stuff I didn’t ship to save money.
  • Because CAF is within driving distance (about 4 hours from my home), I thankfully didn’t have to deal with the stresses of flying. (I am not afraid of flying; the stress to which I refer is getting to the airport hours before scheduled departure time; hoping the flight is on time (let alone cancelled); upon arrival, lugging the carry-on baggage to a cab or shuttle bus, etc. etc.)
  • I drove to CAF Wednesday afternoon, so we could get an early start Thursday morning. Setting up the room is where the real fun begins (insert emoji for sarcasm). My colleagues and I had previously reviewed the room plans, which unfortunately were not as detailed as we would have liked though I was familiar with the room, as Merrill and I had the room next to it a few years ago. We decided in advance on which walls the speakers and equipment would be placed. We had to take careful note of the wall sockets, and had to make custom interconnects and power cords so that everything would reach. We also brought two high quality power conditioners, as well as extra extension cords for lights, etc.
  • Setting up the room is hours of back-breaking work. Our speakers (the Genesis Maestros) each weigh about 185 pounds, and the Genesis Record Player (making its U.S. premier) tilts the scales at over 400 pounds. (Fortunately, it is partially modular, but still required four people to safely lift the heaviest portion.) Racks had to be assembled, electronics unpacked and placed on said racks, and all necessary connections made (power, interconnects, and speaker wire). Tables and chairs then had to be positioned, cartons stashed under the tables, lights, banners, and static displays of equipment placed for easy access and aesthetics. Then we had to work on the optimal positioning of the speakers.
  • Many of us have spent months or years optimizing the sonics of our personal listening space. At a show, one has less than a day to do so. The Maestro loudspeakers are precision instruments, that allow them to be adjusted for any listening environment. That is a great advantage, but it of course takes time. I should add that an added stress of shows is that it is not uncommon for equipment to be damaged during shipping. To the best of our ability, we brought back-ups, which of course meant more packing, more lugging, and greater shipping expense. As I’ll describe below, this turned out to be a very wise idea.
  • During the show, we are on our feet almost non-stop.
  • Shows are expensive.

Having read all the above, you are likely wondering why exhibitors go to shows and perhaps more importantly, if it is worth it. I will answer the second question with a resounding “yes,” though perhaps not for the reason(s) you might think.

Of course, we all hope for positive feedback from visitors, rave reviews from the Press, and sales. Regarding sales: For the second CAF in a row, we sold a pair of Maestros. Selling $40K speakers is not an everyday event, and we were of course delighted (an understatement, if ever there was one). However, we have now set a dangerous precedent as Gary Koh - owner and designer of Genesis - informed Isaac and me that he now expects us to do the same at every show. Talk about pressure!!!

With all the “moving parts” necessary for a successful show, it is hardly surprising that sometimes things go wrong. Some of the things that can go wrong are what a politician once termed “known unknowns,” and include equipment failures (usually due to damage in shipping), poor electrical power in the hotel rooms, weak WiFi, sonic “interference” (especially bass) from neighboring rooms, and the like. To the best of our ability, we prepare for such events. Indeed, this year we experienced one such problem.

While Gary and Isaac were setting up the brand new, state of the art Genesis Record Player, I was setting up the digital side of the system. As is well known, systems often need time to warm up/settle in before sounding their best, and digital is the easiest way to keep the system playing non-stop; after warm up, we would begin the task of optimizing the speakers’ positions and settings). (The digital system was the Aurender N30SA streamer/server-->EMM Labs DA2 DAC. The rest of the system was the Merrill Audio Christine preamplifier-->Merrill Audio Element 118 monoblock amps-->Genesis Maestro loudspeakers). As soon as the connections were made and I hit “play,” I heard sound from the right channel, but not from left. “Nothing serious” I thought to myself, “a connection is loose.” (A connection to the equipment, not in my head as is often suggested!) So after turning off the amps I disconnected and re-connected interconnects and speaker wire, powered up the amps, but still no sound from the left channel. Uh oh. Gary and Isaac were fine-tuning the turntable and cartridge; I tried explaining that what they were doing would be moot if we couldn’t get the second channel working but they were deeply engrossed in what they were doing, and ignored me. (They also ignored me because I can be a pain in the butt, but that is a discussion for another day.) At the time Merrill was wandering around the room, likely pondering when and where he could get parts to finish the new Christine MX preamplifier - which, BTW, is spectacular, as we will describe in our next newsletter. (Said parts, like so many other things in the age of COVID, are either not available, or are sitting on a boat that is unable to dock and/or be unloaded.) I was able to get his attention, and explained the situation. Two heads are better than one - especially when one of the heads is as smart as Merrill’s - and we were quickly able to ascertain that one of the Element 118’s was damaged in shipping. Thankfully, about a week before the show, I suggested to Merrill that we bring a pair of the Element 116’s as a back-up. Disaster avoided! (A number of years ago - at RMAF if memory serves- the power went out in the entire hotel and surrounding area for well over an hour. To the best of my knowledge, none of the exhibitors brought gas-powered backup generators with them - probably a good thing, as the exhaust fumes would likely have killed everyone. For future shows perhaps we should all go hi-tech and bring Tesla Powerwalls!)

Then there are the “unknown unknowns,” by which I mean things that are not only unknown, but that we are unlikely to even imagine. Two such events happened this past show though thankfully, neither had any serious consequences.
Because our exhibitor room was in my name, when I went to the hotel desk Thursday morning to check in, I requested four keycards - one for me, and one for each of my colleagues. After filling out some forms, they gave me only two cards. There were a number of people behind me in the line who were as eager to get to their rooms as I was to mine, so rather than adding to the delay I took the two cards, assuming I could come back later to get more cards. I met my colleagues at the room, and we began the task of setting up the room. On Friday my colleagues asked for a keycard in case they arrived earlier or stayed later than the rest of us, so I went to the front desk to request two more keycards. So far, so good, right? The desk clerk balked when I asked for two extra keycards, and then mentioned that there was a $500 fee for any lost keycard. “Five hundred dollars?” I asked, incredulously. “For a plastic card with a chip that probably costs the Hilton $5?,” to which the clerk replied “didn’t you read the agreement you signed?” Alas, in my haste I had not read the agreement. Suffice it to say I did not get any more cards, and cautioned Gary (the holder of the other card) to please not lose the one I had given him. Thankfully he and I both took care, and at the end of the show I returned both cards without incident.

The second “unknown unknown” surprised me more than the keycard. Isaac and I were showing a perspective customer a product we had on a static display. Out of the blue, a representative from a competing manufacturer came into our room, put his hand on the customer’s shoulder, and physically steered him out of our room. Isaac and I looked at one another in amazement. I stepped outside of the room into the Atrium, looked to my right where I knew that manufacturer had a booth, and sure enough - there he was with the customer. I went back into our room, and continued to take care of our other guests. A bit later I again stepped outside our room, and seeing that the representative was not with a customer, I walked over, introduced myself, and as politely as possible explained that it was not proper for him to take a customer out of my room, while I was talking to him. He defended his behavior by telling me that the customer had previously been to his booth but that he was unable to speak with because he was with another customer, and thus asked him to come back later. I told him that I understood his desire to try and make a sale with said customer, but that it really wasn’t cool for him to come into my room to take a customer away, especially when I was speaking with him about one of my products. He still wasn’t getting it but finally agreed to not do it again “in MY room” (his emphasis). I replied that, with all due respect, he shouldn’t do it in anybody’s room, and then offered him my hand and assured him I was not angry. We shook hands, and that was that. Or so I thought, until the next day when he saw me passing by, and said that he owed me an apology. I thanked him, said that his apology was accepted, and that there were no hard feelings. But then he again began to justify his actions, using the same logic as the day before. I realized that this was not going to be a fruitful discussion so I again shook his hand, wished him a good day, and walked back to our room, SMH [text-speak for “Shaking My Head”].

But there were also many high points of the show, including of course the positive feedback (often glowing) we received from visitors to our room, some of whom came back repeatedly, and some who remained for long periods of time. And of course, a high point of all shows is enjoying music with new and old friends, learning about new music (not necessarily newly recorded, but new to us), and introducing visitors to some of our favorites. This was fun throughout the show, but three occurrences – all of which took place on Sunday, the last day of the show - especially stood out for me. The first involved my buddy Mike, and his buddy Ken, both of whom had attended the Genesis event with special guest Gary Koh, held at my place in September 2019 (https://www.audionirvana.org/forum/title-to-be-added/audio-events/123670-distinctive-stereo-thows-weekend-event-featuring-genesis-advanced-technologies). Mike is an avid (an understatement) collector of incredible first-class recordings of great music. He and Ken stopped by our room on Friday, and arranged to come back on Sunday to listen to Mike’s recordings. As promised they returned on Sunday, and stayed for close to two hours, dazzling everyone in the room with extraordinary music. (The Genesis Record Player, Genesis Maestro loudspeakers, and Merrill Audio electronics certainly didn’t hurt!)
Later in the day on Sunday, Gary and I both immediately recognized another visitor, as he had visited us at CAF 2019 with a fantastic album of Prince playing piano. This year he again knocked our socks off with different music with which we were not familiar (see Visitor’s Discography below).

But the high point of the show for us was something we truly could never have imagined. After the show ended on Sunday, as we were collecting our energy to face the task of dismantling the gear and packing it all up, a security guard looked in as part of his rounds. He apparently liked what he heard, and asked if he could come in. We welcomed him, and showed him to the chair at the sweet spot. We asked what type of music he likes, to which he replied “gospel.” We then played a few tracks of gospel - or as close to it as we could - including Fairfield Four “My God Called Me This Morning.” The look on his face was incredible; he was truly in ecstasy, and couldn’t stop expressing his amazement at what he was hearing. (As an aside, he mentioned that for the three days at the show, almost all he heard while walking around was bass boom.) It is unlikely he will become a customer, or that our paths will ever cross again, and I don’t remember his name - nor will I know if he stumbled upon us by chance, or if (pardon the pun) God was calling him to our room. But none of that matters; what my colleagues and I will never forget is the sheer joy we brought to him. That made all the work worth it, for all of us.

In closing, I want to give a sincere and hearty “thank you” to Gary Gill for organizing CAF, to all the exhibitors who took a chance despite the uncertainties associated with COVID, to all the attendees (without whom there would not be a show), and to my colleagues Isaac, Gary and Merrill.

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