TAVES - November 2013
King Edward Hotel, Downtown Toronto
TAVES has become a Show that Canadian audiophiles in general and Toronto audiophiles in particular, look forward to because it is so well organized, keeps growing with each passing year and is always an enjoyable and very informative event. This year, TAVES featured more new product debuts than any of the previous years with some of the products shown to the general public for the very first time, making TAVES the venue for their worldwide debut. This is an indication of the growth in stature that this Show has attained in the audiophile world.
The reputation that Canadians have for being amongst the friendliest people in the world is very much in evidence at TAVES. Whether it is in the rooms or the hallways or even in the elevators, the bonhomie, good cheer and camaraderie between the attendees is very evident, with friendly and humor filled chatter between total strangers served up in spades.
For those who complain about the bad room acoustics at audio shows, TAVES is a refreshing change. They do not build hotels like the stately Kind Edward's anymore. It exudes the old world charm of an age gone by. The higher ceilings and the solid brick walls give the rooms significantly better acoustics than the rooms at most of the other leading audio shows around the world. Having reported on audio shows for the past three decades, I must say that TAVES is a Show that I totally enjoy covering.
I have done this long enough to realize that audio shows are not the best places to judge sound quality of audio gear with any degree of verisimilitude. The less than ideal room acoustics, the chatter of the visitors in the room, the ambient sounds from neighboring rooms, the lack of time to adjust the location of the speakers for optimum performance, the limited time available for the gear to settle down after been installed and the hum of HVAC systems all get in the way.
This being the case, my personal opinion is that the primary role of audio shows is for manufacturers, distributors and dealers to showcase their current and new offerings to potential customers. For audiophiles, it is a great opportunity to see the latest and greatest in the world of high-end audio all in one place over a period of a few days. This helps them short list the products that interest them so that they can then visit the relevant showrooms for a more serious audition. For high-end audio publications and reviewers, it is a great way to shortlist the gear that deserves in-depth reviews in the publications that they write for.
Besides featuring many of the better high-end audio brands, TAVES also had some very informative seminars on topics that are of high interest to audiophiles and most of these were very well attended. The seminars included topics like Speaker Setup and Optimization, How To Get the Most Out of Your Vinyl, High-End Audio: From Production to Playback, How Acoustic Treatments Benefit Your Listening Room, The Future of Hi-Fi & Cutting Edge TV Technologies – 4K Ultra HD and OLED.
Suave Kajko and Simon Au the organizers of TAVES looked amazingly relaxed and energized after all the effort they invested into putting this Show together.
Bryston's Vice President James Tanner was his usual enthusiastic self, showing me all his new wares. Bryston had one of the largest rooms of the Show and had their T Series Speakers playing, generating an easy and relaxed sound that was quite addictive.
At TAVES, Bryson introduced a whole new range of A Series speakers, which are a follow up to the T Series, which, according to James, has sold more speakers than what Bryston had projected. The A Series comprises of the A1 ($4299), the A2 (US$3440), the A3 ($2950), the Monitor A ($1200) and the Monitor A Center ($1400). Also new from Bryston is a range of in-wall, on-wall speakers and outdoor speakers ranging from $600 to $1100.
On the Digital Audio side, Bryston has a new USB converter called BUC-1 that sells for $799 and is capable of handling digital audio up to 24/192. This unit is inserted between your computer and your DAC and claims to clean up most of the noise that the computer adds to the audio signal. Bryston also has software in the works that will allow the BUC-1 to handle DSD signals.
Louis Desjardines the CEO of Kronos proudly demonstrated his Kronos Turntable ($32,000) with the Black Beauty Tone Arm and a Lyra Atlas Cartridge. Rounding up this system was the Accoustic Arts Preamp 2, Altas Power Amp and the Accapella Violin Mark 6 speakers ($32,000) that use a flame rather than a cone or dome for a tweeter. The sound was rich and full bodied with a deep sound stage.
Now here is something that you don't usually see at a high-end audio show, a motorcycle display by the venerable Harley-Davidson. Under their Project Rushmore initiative, HD now offer high-end speakers and blue tooth enabled audio electronics on their motorcycles. This system can be fed by an iPod and can be heard through the 6.5-inch speakers or through headphone outlets provided separately for the rider and the passenger. The rider and passenger can also communicate through these headphones, which should come in handy on unusually windy days.
Steven Huang of Audio Sensibilities introduced his Statement Power distribution box, which is machined, from a solid block of aircraft-grade aluminum. The star wiring is cryogenically treated ultra fine stranded 12 AWG 7N OCC wire. The IEC inlet is the Furuteck f1-09 rhodium plated pure copper with solderless connections. This box uses a triple passive EMI/RFI noise reduction technology. Despite all the technology and impressive build quality, Steven has still managed to keep the price down to $650.
Robb Nieman, CEO of Rutherford Audio had one of the most elegant rooms at TAVES and had a lot of spanking new gear to show off, like a new 101 Class D integrated amplifier from Burmester which puts out 120 wpc.
He also had on display a new range of Thorens Turntables including the TD209, the baby brother of the TD309.
Thorens also has a new ultra compact ADC converter called the MM008 for $500. This component handles both MC and MM cartridges and has a USB output to transfer analog recordings in digital format to a computer. Robb also took us through the newly introduced Elac range of speakers including the FS-409 ($9000), the FS-407 ($6000) and the BS-403 ($3000). The cones are made from a composite of paper and aluminum, which Robb claims, is near indestructible.
The Boss Edition was created to show off the custom colors that Elac offers. Also new from Elac is a pair of wireless speakers that is so new, it has not been given a model number yet. These speakers incorporate three Class A/B 70-watt power amplifiers and are expected to retail for $5000 a pair. They transmit the audio signal via 2.4gig data stream. The formal launch of this wireless speaker system will be at the 2014 CES. For such compact speakers, the sound was big as a house with a great sound stage and dynamic contrast.
Also on display at the Rutherford Audio Room was a pair of Roksan Darius speakers that have not been formally introduced yet and so no model number or price is currently available.
At the Audio Eden Room Mike Hamelin showed us the latest Kharma Elegance S7 Speakers ($35,000), the successor to the DB7 and the DB9. Charles Van Ooestrum of Kharma has moved from ceramic to carbon fiber as his choice of cone material. The tweeter is Beryllium. They were driven by the Simaudio Moon P850 pre ($25,000), the 880 mono blocks ($42,000/pair) and the 750D CD player ($13,000). The sound was crisp and saturated with a highly extended and very smooth treble.
One of the biggest presences at TAVES was by Tricell Enterprises, which is owned by Vince Sclazitti the Godfather of the Canadian audio sphere.
Tricell is the distributor for many leading audio brands in Canada and the list includes Cardas, Joseph Audio, Clearaudio and HRS. Vince had multiple rooms to display and demo his products. One of the rooms featured the TechDAS AirForce One Turntable ($100,000), which uses air suspension systems extensively as well as a vacuum system to hold down vinyl records for minimum resonance during playback.
The rest of the system comprised a Lito preamp ($7500) an Andros phono stage ($4300) and the newly introduced Bia tube power amps which deliver up to 60 watts in pure class A ($12,000).
The speakers were the Joseph Audio Perspective that retail at $11,800.
The cables used were Cardas Clear. This combination got my vote for best sound of TAVES 2014. From the moment I entered this room, I knew I was hearing something very special and from the sweet spot what I experienced is one of the closest encounters to a live performance that I have heard from an audio system. In another of TriCell's rooms I ran into Jeff Joseph, demonstrating his Pearl 3 Speakers which retail for $31,500.
No audio gear here, but rather, one of the most elegant jazz divas in North America: Anne Bisson. Anne's recordings are a staple for me when I review audio systems and it is always lovely to bump into her every time I attend TAVES.
The High-End Audio Room featured Legacy Speakers and Victoria Dudleston the Marketing Director for Legacy demoed the Legacy Aeris a 4.5-way speaker system ($17,750) that impressed me the way it was able to sonically disappear despite its large size. It was being driven by a Koda 15.5 amplifier that retails for $10,000.
Another very big presence at TAVES was by Plurison, who are distributors for a very long list of reputed audio brands including Focal, Wharfedale, Rega, Naim, Siltech, Moon and Cambridge Audio. Michel Plante the National Sales and Marketing Director of Plurison gave me a tour of their various rooms. Michel started off with a demo of the Italian made $10,000 Pathos Musiteca Music Server and DAC with a 1TB storage capacity. The 21" touch screen user interface is the first that I have seen on a music server that approaches the intuitiveness of the Sooloos. It up-samples music files to 24/96 and reads CDs thrice during the ripping process to ensure greater data accuracy. It has its own volume control and so can be hooked up directly to a power amp or to power speakers.
Next up was a demo of the $9500 Devialet 170, which outputs 170 watts per channel and is configured to be extremely easy to set up. It has Ethernet and USB capability as well as line and phono inputs and digital output. The sound from this simple set up via Focal speaker was surprisingly good.
On display was the full range of Focal's new 900 series speakers including the Aria 906 ($1500), the Aria 936 ($4200), the Aria 948 ($5200) and the CC900 center speaker ($899). The whole line-up uses an innovative new cone material made up of flax and a polymer which is claimed to be very light and resistant to breakup even when driven hard.
Also on display was the new 85-wpc Focal wireless speaker system with Bluetooth capability that retails for $2800.
In the Naim Room I met with Dough Graham who is Naim's Sales Director. Dough gave me the rundown on the new Naim Supernait 2 integrated amplifier that retails for $5895. This component delivers 80-wpc and has six analog inputs. It also incorporates Naims discrete regular technology in its power supply.
In the Warfedale Room Plurison had on display the new speaker lineup including the 10.7 ($1,300), the 10.1 ($350) and the 10.2 ($500). All prices are per pair.
Rounding up the new gear from Plurison is the Cambridge Audio Minx that retails for $999.
This component contains a power amplifier, a DAC and a network player with Bluetooth capability. A great starter component for those with limited budgets dipping their toes into high-end audio for the first time. At the end of day one, Plurison had an elegant cocktail evening that featured live performances that helped everyone relax and unwind after a very hectic day.
The Audioscapes room had on display the new line-up of speakers from Usher including the N6300 ($1999), the N6311 ($2399) and the N6361 ($3199).
The Nordost Room focused on the new line-up of footers called Sort Kone and Sort Fut. These are made from an aluminum bronze alloy. The Sort Kones are designed to provide a direct mechanical ground path for the mechanical energy generated inside audio gear to drain out. Nordost claims that it reduces smear and other forms of distortion in the music that you hear. The Sort Futs are mechanically tuned resonance control devices, which have a four-part construction that eliminates unwanted vibrations. The claim here is that these footers increase tonal and textural details as well as the dynamic range of the music. The Sort Kones are designed for front-end components while the Sort Futs work best under audio racks and speakers. Prices range from $350 per foot to $1500 for a premium package that contains 4 feet, an adjustment tool and a laser level. Also being demoed was the Valhalla 2 cables with the patented Holo:Plug that is touted as being a better connector between the cable and the component that it is used with.
A new entry into the world of high-end audio is Muraudio. Rob Runolfson showed me their first product, the $48,000 Domain Omni EST which is a 360 degree point source omni-directional electrostatic loudspeaker that incorporates patented high output continuous curve EST technology, precision engineered low frequency drivers and a truly stunning design. This is one room where you did not have to wait for access to the sweet spot to tell what these speakers could do. The sound was superb almost anywhere in the room.
The Uphoria Speaker Design Room showcased The Bullet that retails for $47,600. It is equipped with a diamond tweeter, ceramic midrange drivers and a 1500-watt power subwoofer. Canada based designer William (Bill) Laleff was easily the most enthusiastic personality at the Show. He broke into flowery prose to describe his speakers and had some very unusual ideas about speaker designs. He does not believe in extra internal bracing to control speaker cabinet resonances and he found that when it came to the internal speaker wiring, the thinnest generic cables he could find, brought out the best in his speakers. As for the performance of his speakers, the best I can do is to opine that it is perhaps an acquired taste.
The Coherent Audio Room demoed the $13,900 Coherent Loudspeaker Model 15 NED. Frank Fazzalari took us through the speaker design, which incorporates 3" beryllium horn loaded tweeters, woofers with neodymium magnets and Nordost internal wiring.
Reputed Canadian Dealers Kennedy Hi-Fi had a lot of very interesting gear in their room including the new lineup of NAD Integrated Amplifier comprising the D3020 ($549), the D7050 $$1099), the D1050 ($549) which includes a built in DAC. The D3020 is a descendent of the legendary NAD3020, which celebrates its 40th anniversary and has been one of the most successful integrated amps in the history of audio. Like its predecessor, the D3020 is a veritable bargain for what it offers in terms of features and performance, which is another feather in the cap of designer Bjorn Eric Edvardsen who designed both, the original 3020 and new D3020. Also on display was the NAD M2 $6500 direct digital amp, the NAD M3 $4000 integrated amp, the well reviewed NAD M51 $2000 DAC, the NAD M50 $2500 streaming transport and the NAD MR5100 $520 line conditioner. Also being demoed was the PSB Imagine T2 $1000 speakers and the PSB HD10 $900 subwoofer. Given the modestly priced electronics and speakers in this room, the sound was more seductive and transparent than many of the rooms that had megabuck audio gear.
The Sony Room at TAVES attracted a lot of attention and Michael Neujhar, Sony's National Manager, Event Marketing & Training and his team had their hands full answering questions from the Show attendees. It is clear that Sony is pulling out all the stops to regain its reputation among audiophiles. They made their intentions crystal clear with the introduction of the highly acclaimed SS-AR1 speaker. At TAVES, Sony demoed the baby brother to the SS-AR1, which is the NA2ES, which retails for $13,000. The NA2ES has the same impressive cabinet construction a the SS-AR1 and has a 3-way configuration with six drivers including dual 165mm, aluminum cone woofers, an additional 130 mm paper cone mid range, two 19 mm soft-dome tweeters and a 25 mm soft dome tweeter. The NA2ES sounded incredibly good and should be a very strong contented in its price range. Sony is also getting into DACs, arguably, the hottest segment of the audio market, with vengeance. At TAVES, they unveiled the $2,000 HAP-Z1ES DSD DAC, which DSD playback and the full range of Hi-Res file formats, analog FIR filters, 1TB hard drive for local music playback and storage. The built-in DSD re-mastering engine converts all signals to DSD signals while the built-in Wi-Fi offers app control and music transfer functions. Another new Sony introduction that should have a lot of appeal not just to audiophiles but also to the mass market is the PHA2, which is a headphone DAC. This little component offers PCM up to 192kHz/24bits and DSD 2.8/5.6MHz, a direct digital connection to PCs and Macs, an asynchronous USB clock, a lithium-ion battery with 17-hours of run time between charges, a line out for connections to an external amp or active speakers and mounting straps. The retail on this pocket rocket is expected to be $799. Yet another DAC that Sony has introduced is the UDA1. This $799 unit also plays back both PCM and DSD files and has a built-in 20 wpc class AB amplifier. It is compatible with iTunes and Windows Media Player as well as Apple and Android devices with USB and analog/digital inputs. All the new DACs from Sony are scheduled for formal launches in 2014.
At the Wynn Audio Room, Wynn Wong, it's President, had one of the most tantalizing looking speaker of the show The Magic Flute which retails for $85,000. This futuristic looking speaker is a 4-way 4-driver design with each driver in its own enclosure. The speakers were accompanied by the $27,000 Reimyo KAP777 power amplifier, the $6700 Reimyo ALS777 power conditioner, the $20,500 Reimyo CAT777 pre amplifier, the $12,500 Reimyo CDT CD transport and the DAC that won many awards over the past year, the $11,500 Reimyo DAP999EX. The Magic Flute Speakers did sound very detailed and transparent but in the price range that it is playing in, it has some stiff competition with some truly splendid speakers.
Angie Lisi of American Sound of Canada has been in this business for quarter of a century and is well known in Toronto audiophile circles, She has always had a strong presence at TAVES. At this Show, she showcased her Audia Flight No.4 ($27,000), a range of Brinkmann Turntables and Focal Speakers.
Exasound was one of the better sounding rooms at TAVES. George Klissarov the President of Exasound was a very gracious host, giving me a tour of all the products he had on display, which included the e20 Mk III DAC that retails for $2899. This was the world's first DSD DAC that was capable of 246/2.28 resolution and it was favorably reviewed by Dr. David Robinson, the Editor of Positive Feedback in the May/June issue of this year. Also on display was the e28 DAC that is the world's first DAC capable of multichannel DSD and which sells for $3299, the Django L Speakers that retails for $10,000 and the Krolo Design Rack System with a price tag of $5888.
The venerable McIntosh Brand was represented by their dealer Audio Excellence. Jack Bakerjain the Audio Excellence Sales Manager gave me the rundown on what was on demo in his room. The line-up included the MCD550 CD/SACD player ($7000), the C48 preamplifier ($5000), the MEN 220 room conditioner ($5000), the MC601 mono block power 600 wpc amplifiers ($14,500/pair) and a new turntable the MT5 ($6800). The speakers were the Magnepan 1.7, which at $2200 have got to be the best performing speakers in their price range.
The Reference 3A Room featured the new Nefes loudspeakers, which are designed without a crossover network. Tash Goka conducted a demo of these speakers, which sounded clean and relaxed, proving the ills that crossover networks, especially poorly designed ones, can visit on loudspeaker systems.
At the Onda Room, Greg Kozokowsky gave me a rundown of the Vortex Technology that he has developed, and how it helps his cables deliver superior performance. The gist of it is that the Vortex Technology causes the naturally occurring electromagnetic domain boundaries of the electricity to shift in favor of those domains that are parallel to the applied field, which is the vortex.
The Mystic Audio Room featured Blue Circle Electronics including the BC505 DAC ($4750), the BC307 Preamplifier ($12,000), the NSP power amplifier ($10,000) and the new BC60X1 power filtration system ($4495) that made its debut at TAVES. The speakers were the Casta Model D8. Also being demoed in this room by Robert Neill were the Oritor Bullets, which go between your digital inouts/outputs and your digital RCA cables and are designed to clean up the audio signal. This retails for just $99 and you need two of them for the front and back end of the digital cable. This room also had the PLC Thingee FX2 power conditioner. Rene Evans gave me the rundown on this inexpensive component that he admits looks quite crude but makes a very positive difference to the sound quality when used in any audio system
The Erikson Consumer room featured Mark Levinson and Revel products. Joe de Jesus gave me a demo of the Revel Salon 2 ($24,500) where were driven by the Mark Levinson No.53 monoblocks ($57,000/pair) and No.52 pre amplifier ($34,000), which made its debut at TAVES. The CD player was the Model 512, which retails for $16,400.
One of the most popular exhibits at TAVES were in the SVS Room where Dan Marks had his hands full demoing the popular SVS Subs as well as the new lineup of speakers that have been introduced. These included the Ultra Tower, which sells at $1998 (directly from their website), which includes shipping. This model has a 3-way configuration featuring a 1" aluminum dome tweeter, dual 6.5" midranges in a D'Appolito configuration and an 8" side-firing woofer. It can be had in an oak veneer or a piano gloss black finish. Given the build quality, features and power handling of this model, one wonders how they managed to hit a sub $2000 price point. Also featured at the show was the SVS Ultra Center ($699), the Ultra Surround ($1199) and the Ultra Bookshelf ($999). The star of the line-up was the SVS SB-13 Ultra subwoofer that kept the audience enthralled with their tight, deep and very tuneful bass reproduction.
The Star Electronics Room featured Dynaudio gear. Michael Manousselis, the Director of Sales and Marketing for Dynaudio North America showed off a new Dynaudio model, the Excite X14 that retails for $1500 a pair. The X14 is the most compact Excite model yet and the sound stage it created belied its petite dimensions. It has a long-excursion mid/woofer and a soft dome tweeter. Dynaudio also displayed its wireless speakers which according to Michael, garnered a tremendous amount of interest at the Show.
The RHJ Audio Room featured their new Reference One Loudspeaker, which retails for $21,900. It is a highly efficient transducer clocking in at 96.4dB SPL and can work even with just 2 watts of power. According to the designer, Ron Harper, the internal wiring is done with pure silver wire. This is one room where the sound was so seductively smooth, I just had to listen to a few complete tracks before moving on.
The Charisma Audio exhibit focused on their acoustic panels from Vicoustics, a Portugal based company. According to Bernard Li, the owner of Charisma Audio, these panels have proven to be very popular with his clientele especially since he offers high tech custom acoustic diagnostics of listening rooms before recommending the type, number and placement of panels to improve the acoustics of any listening room.
Amidst audio equipment with mega prices, it was nice to visit the Adsum Audio Room where I found speakers at very down to earth prices. James Osualdini the President introduced himself and his Company to me. Apparently Adsum is Latin for "I am present". James is based out of Alberta Canada and for the moment the only audio component they make are speakers. Their new model is the Detonator, which retails for $850 a pair and comes in a variety of colors. Adsum speakers use aluminum magnesium cones. They are tiny enough to disappear into a room and cute enough to have a high wife acceptance factor.
TAVES had literally dozens of seminars on all things audio and video. One of the more popular seminars was titled "Acoustic treatment which pleases the ears as well as the eyes," by Mark Scola. Mark spoke about ways to correct issues like reverberation, reflections, echo, and modal problems and his talk was followed by a very enthusiastic question and answer session.