Photography by Rick Nickel
After a fourteen year absence, an audio show returns to Toronto. The Big Smoke is not one of the premier stops for the great orchestras, opera companies or ballet companies. Same for audio gatherings. So, the many audiophiles in this city have to drive down the 401 Highway to Montreal to gather in one place. Luckily for us, SSI, the promoters of the superb Montreal Show, have bitten the bullet and given us TAVES, the Toronto Audio Video Entertainment Show.
The location this year was a dowager old Duchess of a hotel, the grandly-named Meridian King Edward Hotel. Long known as a superior establishment, it turned out perfectly for the show. Easy access, great rooms, good food and wine in the building. And valet! The last Toronto Show (not run by Montreal’s SSI) was in a concrete Northern suburb Ramada. I remember Albert von Schweikert (of speaker fame) tapping a wall and the room shaking like we were in a cheap hotel somewhere in the Rim of Fire. A 9.0 magnitude. No earthquakes at the King Eddie. Good choice, gang! A chat with the affable doorman suggests a huge makeover is coming — as such, even better for next year.
Very much like Montreal this year, the exhibitors found ways to make the rooms sound very good. I found very few rooms with bass humps, suckouts and other room effect nasties. The show took over two floors, 2 and 6. Elevators were quick and never took more than a few seconds to arrive. Directions were very clear, with TAVES team members on each floor to help and TVs with listings of rooms, exhibitors and brands. Good stuff.
It was nice to see the local stores like Toronto Home of Audiophile, American Sound of Canada [Disclosure -- Audiophilia advertiser - Ed], Executive Stereo and many others supporting the show. Distributors, too, like TriCell [Disclosure -- Audiophilia advertiser - Ed] Ovation, Audio Pathways and Crown Mountain. Many. And, they were rocking the joint.
On to the rooms. With almost 250 brands represented, there was something for everyone. Vinyl was represented in many rooms. I’d say half had a vinyl deck. A nice change from the past few shows I’ve attended. A couple of quality manufacturers still insist on playing files through the MacBook Pro. And it still sounds like crap compared to a good CD player, let alone a well setup turntable. It didn’t seem to matter if it was hooked up to a top class DAC. Maybe, I am being an audiophile curmudgeon?
The Scheu Analog Das Laufwerk 2 Turntable turntable from Germany looked amazing and sounded wonderful. The AJ Conti-designed Basis Audio 2200 Signature in the American Sound of Canada/Audio Pathways room sounded magnificent hooked up to a hugely expensive NBS phono stage and monoblock amplifiers. If this setup would have been mated to American Sound’s Focal Stella Utopia EM loudspeaker (reviewed in Audiophilia), this room would have run away with best sound of show. The distributor Plurison hogged their stunning Stellas (why not!?) to pair with the the wondrous Devialet Class A/D amplifier. So, American Sound used their very fine, to-be-released Sonus Faber. And, while very good, missed the hair raising accuracy of the Focal product. That said, the Mercury reissue of Dorati’s stunning Bartok Dance Suite amazed the listeners in its immediacy, power and incredibly accurate instrumental timbre.
A basic Project ‘table/arm/cart combo was playing Kind of Blue through the Aatma monitor by Reev Designs. The $6900 Canadian beauties were presented in a lovely setting, with subtle lighting, great ID and packaging, and with the designer/owner Jugveer Randhawa there to interject information when needed. I’ve asked for a pair to review. This is how to display in a small room.
Others, seem to have difficulty with a sales/business model. Shoehorn speakers far too large into minuscule rooms, dress shabbily, be grumpy, and present the products unprofessionally. Stunning, to me. Sad, as one room was boasting a pair of Australian speakers that had incredible potential. Another, had a prototype that sounded dreadful, will sell for 27K, and was finished poorly (globs of resin, a rat’s nest of exposed wires for the crossover). Prototype, be damned. Get your act together. The good news was these rooms were few.
The King Eddie’s rooms were plenty big enough for the most part and by Saturday morning the sound anomalies had been sorted. Onda Systems from Calgary was a case in point. A new cable company that is definitely heading in the right direction. Great ID and marketing, a unique design that eliminates some solder and connections. The sound via Vandersteen Quatro speakers playing We Get Requests, the awesome FiM Oscar Peterson reissue, sounded very musical. The cables enter at $700 and go to almost $7000. Watch this space. Enquiries made.
Creating a relatively inexpensive high end speaker that works well with solid state and tubes, will work in different size rooms, is efficient and, of course, sounds great, is damn hard. The Audiophilia team heard quite a few at this show. It was a very pleasant surprise. Naim’s two speakers, the Ovator 600 and 400 were both under 7K, the Thiel (not always a fan) CS 2.4 sounded layered and musical at $5900, the Grant Fidelity $1100 monitors were a knockout for the entry level price, the German Elac Linie 500 also at 7K looked incredible and offered superior sound via a phalanx of Burmester electronics. Also heard to good effect, the Chario Sonnet from Italy paired with a Brinkmann turntable in the Tri-Cell room. The Atlantic Technology H-PAS floor standers were 3K. Piano black, new design (not transmission line or bass reflex, we were told) looked and sounded excellent. And let’s not forget Zu Audio, the darlings of the Internet and flavour of the month(s). Inexpensive, made beautifully, and sounding very natural. At the price and level of workmanship and sound, all Zu Audio models are no brainers.
Before we continue, I must say a little about the sound and musical preferences. Both Rick Nickel (Audiophilia photographer — he took 630 photos!) and I have the same predilection for sound. Musical. We’re not into ‘ hifi’, if you know what we mean by that type of sound? Recordings that sound like they’re trying too hard. Too sterile. Too canned. I call it ‘ziss, boom, baah’. Some like it. Not us. There was some of that from famous manufacturers, but lots of music, too. All the manufacturers we are mentioning played music and musicians.
Late Friday, we had a wonderful visit with Joe Reynolds, President of Nordost. His Valhalla cables were connecting the splendid Audio Physic Avantera speakers and playing the wonderful vinyl reissue of Backhus’ Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2. It all sounded effortless. Reynolds is an affable Irishman who has produced American-made goods in Boston for 26 years. Lots of talk about life and music. Oh, and HDMI cables!
Alex Tiefenboeck of Crown Mountain held court with his imports, Kudos Audio Titan loudspeakers. Brand new at 27K. Visually, not my cup of tea, but they sounded beautiful. We listened to the DGG CD of Beethoven Violin Sonatas played magnificently by Anne Sophie Mutter. This was pure heaven — amazing soundstage, imaging and layers to the refulgent, accurate sound. Congrats on your new business, Alex. In Kudos, you have a winner.
To begin and end the show, we hit Liberty Trading. Rows of CDs and LPs with a center table of accessories. All the old and new favourites were there. I picked up a fistful. In the ante room, Liberty had on show all of its gear. I was drawn, as ever, to its collection of Roksan turntables for sale. Lovely.
From Hamilton, Ontario, comes Coherent Speakers. The model on display was a new floorstander at around 7K. The speaker was a co axial design that sounded very refined. Cabinetry was beautiful. Designer Frank Fazzalari has taken his time bringing this unique speaker to market. We’ll try and get the first review sample.
The show did not forget lifestyle or ease of use equipment. Naim was King, here. The Naim Uniti System was very cool. Using Naim’s own iPad app to control the one-box wonder, sound was immediate through the wireless connection. Naim suggests it can ‘recast the hi-fi rulebook and can re-wire your music’. My favourite was the UnitiQute, a small box that connects wirelessly to the app and plays just about every digital format you’ll ever need. Naim has a winner, here. Cambridge Audio, Micromega (with Apple Airplay) had neat lifestyle products, too.
Other rooms that deserve mention included Atoll Electronique, with a knockout $699 CD player and $799 integrated, Tri-Art Audio Block Amplifiers, Class D and sounding better than most I’ve heard. Tri-Art uses concrete in the construction of its pre and power amps.
One room, though, to me highlighted what is best about our avocation. It was presented exceptionally, highlighted a new technology while paying homage to good old engineering excellence. The room was sponsored by Montreal distributor, Plurison.
For years, Plurison’s flagship Focal speakers maintained a high place in the audiophile pantheon. Not my cup of tea. However, Audiophilia readers will know my respect for the new line of Focal Utopia marvels, and Daniel Jacques had the Stella loudspeaker (90K) sounding superb. The new technology came in the form of a handmade aluminum box by Parisian company, Devialet. The Devialet D-Premier integrated amplifier (16K) uses a patented technology of Class A and Class D amplification called ADH. A hybrid, if you will.
The Devialet design has an internal digital transport ensuring no signal degradation, only two inches between the DAC and the loudspeaker terminals, a lossless current path between the DAC and the Class A amplifier. Through the Stellas, it sounded divine. Powerful, smooth, crystal clear. The sound told me that Class A was keeping the Class D in check. Congratulations.
I’d like to take a moment to congratulate the sponsors, SSI — President, Michel Plante and Director, Sarah Tremblay, for their kindness, patience, and organizational prowess. The show was well attended and had wonderful, varied exhibitors. They threw a hell of a cocktail party, too. Thank you. See you next year?
More of Rick Nickel’s exceptional photography.