A little later this year, but another strong TAVES show. The third annual. Held at a venerable Toronto hotel, The King Edward, the show was well attended by local audiophiles and major manufacturers, distributors and dealers, many of them Canadian. I’ve attended shows in cities where a dealer from down the road didn’t show up. And, one show where some major players didn’t know a show was on in their town!
As usual, TAVES’ organization was superb. Easy access, well signed directions, smiling faces, plentiful elevators, good food in and around the hotel — all the requirements for an enjoyable audio show experience. Adding great sound was the cherry. There was lots of great sound to be heard. However, there were quite a few room setups playing subpar repertoire, far too loudly, on equipment that seemed poorly matched. The ‘audio show hotel sound’ caveat cannot apply because several rooms of different sizes got it so right. In fact, one of the finest digital setups I’ve heard at any show was in one of the smallest rooms. Interestingly, several pieces of kit that sounded very good at the recent Denver show were matched here with different anciliaries and sounded even better. More about these later.
For the most part, room demos were ready for the Friday 10:00 a.m. start to the show. The sound may not be the best first thing on Friday morning, but the crowds are quite sparse so it’s easy to navigate. As the day progesses, the hallways populate and stay busy ’till football kickoff on Sunday.
Three major Canadian distributors that carry the majority of important US, Canadian and European brands had seventeen rooms out of the hundred plus between them! Way to support high end audio, Audiopathways, Tricell Enterprises and Plurison. In fact they each had their own ‘zones’.
Plurison had some exceptional (and inexpensive) Focal speakers on display including the Focal Aria 926 ($3,000/pair) and the sexy Easya Loudspeakers in white ($2,799/pair). Both had Focal’s rich, detailed house sound, a sound that follows the genealogy right up to the magnificent Focal Grande Utopias ($195,000/pair). For less than the inexpensive Focals, were the Cambridge Audio Aero 2 Loudspeakers ($599/pair). Well made and filling a medium sized room, the Cambridge Audio Streamer Minx Xi ($1,000) and the Aero 2 speakers were giving hopeful audiophiles an honourable way in to the high end. Sure, you can spend megabucks, but the Cambridge Audio systems and the Rega kit in the next room opens the window and lets the good sound in.
One of the most remarkable sounds for the price point I’ve heard at any show was Magnepan’s 1.7 Loudspeaker. At only $2,000/pair, I would say one of the very best deals in high end audio. They were blowing minds with gorgeously detailed sounds and fantastic imaging. Two caveats before you run for the credit card. The ‘Maggies’ were hooked up to about 100K worth of McIntosh kit — they like a lot of very clean power and the sweet spot is very sweet and also very small, But, if you can find a good, inexpensive front end that can drive these monoliths and have a dedicated room, you could probably buy them unheard and still begin a passionate love affair. I don’t usually recommend high end blind dates.
Garth Leerer from Musical Surroundings was up from Oakland, CA and had a very musical setup. He was using Mike Yee’s classic Nova II Phono Stage ($1200) with an AMG Viella 12 turntable ($17,500) and Marten Design Django XL Loudspeakers ($15,950/pair). The vinyl rig was first class. Leerer had the famously audiophile Kojian/Utah Symphonie Fantastique LP playing. The sound (and performance) was so good, it inspired us to talk about love affairs with actresses, opium addiction, hallucinations, beheadings and obsession. Fun! I heard a smaller version of the Martens last month at the Denver show. Really good sound from this Swedish company.
Much like some very good local dealers who supported the Denver show, a few excellent dealers from Toronto and Montreal had very good setups. It’s interesting that the DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/93 Loudspeakers ($8,500/pair) sounded very fine in Denver under the auspices of their designer, but here in Toronto, as setup by Montreal dealer Coup de Foudre, sounded even better. There was no clutter in the room — the setup was Bauhaus in spirit and looked very elegant. The O/93s were about eight feet apart and toed in 10 degrees (very similar to the designer’s setup), but here were hooked up to a couple of tube beauties, the Shindo Monbrison Preamplifier ($10,000), Shindo Montille CV391 Amplifier ($7,000) and the wonderful Luxman PO - 171 turntable with arm ($6400) and EMT TSD 15 SF cartridge ($1950). The sound of Glenn Gould’s later CBS Goldberg Variations recording was absolutely superb — musical, detailed with Gould’s ‘difficult’ playing captured perfectly to my liking. At $8500, the Devores should be on anybody’s audition list.
Another relatively inexpensive speaker was the Kudos Super 20 ($8,000/pair) powered by the Mimetism 15.2 ($8,000). These speakers sounded a little more ‘box like’ than the wider and thinner DeVores, but they were very dynamic and portrayed a small jazz combo with wonderful musicality. The fleshed out instruments and seemingly unlimited power through two drivers was in no doubt helped by the Mimetism amplification. A very good, inexpensive English speaker.
Sitting next to the Kudos but powered by the Mastersound Evolution 845 ($16,540), was Ron Harper’s newest version of his The Reference One Loudspeaker ($21,900/pair). It sounded very refined and had a very transparent, airy sound. The craftsmanship of these Canadian speakers is exceptional. They look as good as they sound. Look for a review of these and the Kudos soon. Both speakers are represented by Crown Mountain Imports.
CDs were again in hiding, but lots of good digital/file solutions and turntables were playing. Clearaudio had a turntables few on static display (the Emotion is coming for review this year) and Brinkmann’s Oasis showed that red could be rad. A stunning looking piece of kit. And, rooms such as the Muraudio showed that LEDs and purple lights can never go wrong at an audio show. The Domain loudspeakers ($48,000/pair) sounded musical with a very pleasant sound signature.
A few grumbles. Each room should have a detailed equipment/price list, Some did, many did not. It saves a lot of questions and keeps the chatting down. A short musical setlist would be great, too. Preferably, one without La Krall. I guess the Torontonians didn’t get the same memo that the Rocky Mountain gang received. in Denver, she was nowhere to be found. In her homeland, she was not to be denied! That said, the show organizers thought of everything concerning administration of a successful show. It was a pleasure to attend. From the scuttlebutt, attendance was up over the past two shows but the show felt a little smaller — three floors instead of four. No matter, as audiophiles could hear many of our avocation’s major players. I hope the exhibitors can turn listeners into customers.
This is my favourite part of any show report. Sometimes, clear choices, sometimes, much more difficult. TAVES 2013 highlighted a few great sounding rooms, some of which improved as the show went on. We attended all three days. The following choices, however, were evident from Day One.
Best Sound of Show — Digital
bel canto/Vienna Acoustics/Transparent. An easy first choice. Listening to Glenn Gould and Rimsky Korsakov orchestral music was a humbling experience. The new bel canto ‘Black’ is a complete digital/amplification system ($55,000) and was heard at length through the marvellous Vienna Acoustics ‘The Kiss’ Loudspeakers ($18,500/pair). The ‘Black’ system includes three boxes — the C1 Controller and the PMD1 Power DAC monoblock (x2). We’ll be getting the bel canto system for review soon.
Best Sound of Show — Analogue
Bergmann Audio/Raidho Acoustics/Audia Flight/Sutherland Engineering/Transparent. Walking into this room was like an audiophile oasis. A Gene Ammons LP was on the the Danish-made Bergmann Magne Turntable ($12,999 incl. air bearing arm). Ammons’ breathy tenor sax was in the room sounding like live music. Beautiful, balanced, defined, rich, present. And, when listening to the incredible Esoteric LP reissue of Kertesz/Vienna New World, the tingle meter jumped through the roof. It was so refined. Sitting next to Audiophilia writer James Norris (another conductor and a brilliant violist) was instructive. We just kept smiling at specific moments where the sound reproduction transported us from hotel room to concert hall. World class. The sound had the power and the might, but with a velvet glove. I’m already planning negotiations with my wife after the upcoming review.
The Magne Turntable (and the more expensive Sindre and Sleipner turntables) are modern, Danish designs of simplicity and sophistication. A difficult achievement, but it’s what great designers do. The Bergmann Audio air bearing, tangential tracking arm (included with the ‘table) is a big cherry on the cake. It looks and feels amazing. Tolerances are microscopic and, when sliding the arm’s tube over the air stream, feels perfect. Complementing the Bergmann were the Sutherland Engineering Power Block phono stage ($11,000), Raidho Acoustics D-1 Loudspeakers and the Audia Flight Strumento pre/power combination. The Raidhos and AF kit are very well known to me. You can find our recent, very positive reviews of both Raidho Acoustics and Audia Flight in a quick search on Audiophilia. All the manufacturers make excellent musical bedfellows with the sexy Bergmann.
Best Sound of Show — Budget
Magnepan. Another easy choice. The Magnepan 1.7 Loudspeakers. We’ve already mentioned the idiosyncrasies, but at $2,000/pair, a steal.
Best Sound of Show — Honourable Mentions
A couple of rooms stood out.
Marten/AMG/Luxman. I very much enjoyed listening to the Marten Django loudspeaker/AMG Viella turntable/Luxman amplification combination imported into Canada by The Gramophone, assisted at TAVES by US distributor, Garth Leerer of Musical Surroundings. The pictures of the speakers and turntable appear earlier in the show report. Germany and Sweden matching perfectly for really dynamic and musical sound.
Acoustic Zen/Accustic Arts. A loudspeaker that sounded very good in Denver but quite wonderful here in Toronto was the Acoustic Zen Crescendo ($14,000/pair) driven by Accustic Arts electronics. The music — I did not recognize the track, but it was gentle Electronica recorded beautifully — sounded tactile and completely resolved. I’m a big fan of Germany’s Accustic Arts and they paired brilliantly with the AZs. Acoustic Zen and Accustic Arts are imported into Canada by Tricell Enterprises.
Whether you had $500 or $195K to spend or attending just for the love of audio, there was something special for you to enjoy and audition at TAVES. I was surprised that some of the very successful ‘corporate’ Canadian high end companies did not support the show. However, seeing smiling, happy audiophiles, passionate dealers, distributors and manufacturers, in sunny weather, and hearing some very fine sound was a wonderful way to spend a weekend up in the Great White North.