Photography by Rick Nickel
After last year’s exceptional debut of the Toronto Audio Video Entertainment Show (TAVES), my expectations for another great show was typical of most selfish, fixated audiophiles. Once again, southern Ontario audiophiles were treated to the very best in high fidelity — the show was extremely well organized and attended by manufacturers of some of the best equipment now in front of our listening chairs. Thankfully, for this attendee, surround sound and TV were in short supply. And, courtesy of Apple and its new iPhone 5 ‘Lightning’ charging port/connector, sound docks were at home getting rejigged from the long standard thirty pin connector. These two major absentees left us with lots of gorgeous, two channel goodies upon which to feast our ears and eyes.
A few trends this year, and some quite positive. First, prices have come down on top quality kit. Sure, there are lots of sub $500 complete mini systems, but, at least here in Toronto (we’ll find out in the daddy of shows in Denver in two weeks) prices on gear from famous manufacturers seem to have dropped. Let’s call it ‘value added’.
Another continuing trend is the $1000 — $2000 mini system. It’s a good thing for budget conscious audiophiles. I heard fine mini systems from Cabasse, Quad, Epsilon, and NuForce. All these systems looked as good as they sounded. They do not replicate or come close to a fine home system in your major listening room, but sound a hell of a lot better that most headphones and box store speakers.
I’ll mention some of the better value added kit as we continue, but I should mention a little of the location and general sound/rooms. The King Eddy is a fine, dowager duchess of a hotel, with solid rooms and a stately demeanour. Rooms were comfortable and ranged from ‘big enough’ to large suites to conference sized areas for the seminars and trade floor. The trade floor product stands ranged from iPhone 5 and iPad covers to Audio Note kits! Yes, a wide range. And, some healthy LP and CD sales among the punters, from what I observed. LP prices were low, low, low. Quality pressing second hand box sets for $10 and lots of good quality labels from $5. I expect to see ‘audiophile’ CD prices drop in the coming years. I like a demo CD as much as the next guy, but $70! We understand ‘R&D’ and limited pressings, but c’mon!
We attended the first two days. Audiophilia’s traditional show report deadline of Monday 9 a.m. after the show precluded Sunday attendance. We got to hear everything at the show, with some rooms in depth and a few great ones at length.
Sound in general? Friday morning was bad. I mean, execrably bad. Bright, harsh, overblown, beamy, boomy, some speakers out of phase. Yup! Bad! Happily, things got better as they day wore on. Or, was that my ears attuning? Seriously, folks rebalanced the room, turned the bloody things down, shifted gear, something. Whatever they did it worked. Sadly, some just let it sit there and smell (to quote my flute Prof. regarding one of my bad intonation days at the office!).
Saturday, the sound in many rooms was much better than the noted improvement from Friday afternoon. Warm, detailed, and appropriate volumes. But, repertoire was similar. I think one of my daily TAVES tweets was ‘OMG, if I hear one more Diana Krall track, I’m gonna freak!’. With a knee bend to her amazing engineers and fantastic musicians, I’m not a fan. C’mon trade, there are other artists to play. In fact, I say let’s have a moratorium on all female jazz singers at shows, at least for a while, unless requested. Many are average and their mediocrity is only highlighted by fantastic, audiophile sound. Denver gang, you reading this? If you must, there is this gal called Ella who sounds great on CD and vinyl.
One of my friends at the show commented how much ambient noise there was this year and it did seem to be noisier in each room. Lots of excited audiophiles talking and asking questions while others tried to listen. A risk at shows. That said, we must emphasize that our dear readers take all our comments with that in mind. I heard two speakers that I truly love sound pretty average in noisy, smaller rooms. As always, shows are for looking as much as hearing. Find what you like then go to your local dealer and hear the equipment properly under much better conditions. You’ll be much happier with your purchase. I did see lots of ’show prices’ on quality gear. Sure, it’s tempting (for both audiophile and manufacturer), but do you really want to risk your hard earned dollars to save a few bucks. Take your time. Your (quality) dealer is your friend.
Like all the shows I’ve attended over the years, audiophiles are a passionate, friendly bunch. Whether a dealer, distributor, manufacturer or even press, we love to share our passion with others. And it showed here in Toronto. I spoke to lots of folks, many non trade. What a great group of people. Music lovers, all. Where can you discuss the merits of the Amadeus Quartet in comparison with the Aeolian Quartet other than on a couch with a stranger at an audio show listening to said groups on a 100K system? Wonderful!
I had very interesting conversations about the business in general, music and equipment heard with folks from bel canto, Transparent, Dynaudio (a very interesting wireless full system called Xeo), Cabasse, Ceol (a new Canadian electronics company with very clean, detailed sounding electronics), and local dealers and distributors like Audio Excellence (highlighting outstanding sound from Cary Audio electronics and KEF speakers), Charisma Audio (some fantastic kit I’ll mention later) and two heavy hitters in Ontario/Canada, Audio Pathways and Tri-Cell Enterprises [Disclosure - both long time Audiophilia advertisers - Ed]. The latter two companies had four rooms each and truly promote high end audio in our province and across Canada. I still can’t believe some major Ontario manufacturers and dealers/distributors don’t attend. It’s the one place other than the dealer you should be on show.
Of course, we can’t report on everything. As such, lots of great kit will be missed. Apologies for that, especially to the hard working manufacturers. Hopefully your fine company appears in print or in a photo. There are many photos added at the end of the review. And we’ll be adding new photos every day this week.
We’ll continue with RJH Audio’s The Reference One loudspeakers ($8K). Pinpoint accuracy from an Alnico driver housed in the most exquisite cabinet. Artisanal cabinet making and Alnico. Review pair on their way!
The Capriccio Continuo ATD Ad/Submonitor loudspeaker ($25K) are below. Clean and refined sound from the Italian manufacturer. Expensive, yes, wonderful, for sure.
PenAudio Ceyna loudspeakers. This beautifully finished mini monitor has the very best that monitors offer but some oomph with it. I heard them last year at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest and was intrigued then. Even better here in Toronto.
I’ve always loved the look of McIntosh Labs if not the price. The complete system shown here was dynamic and very musical. I have not heard McIntosh speakers before, but the whole McIntosh ecosystem sounded like it had complete control over the music.
Casta Audio had its Model C three way loudspeaker on show. Not usually a fan of horns, mainly because of the look, but Casta’s sound was wonderful. Very sophisticated with accurate timbres and lots of power. Beautiful Italian craftsmanship, too.
Cables? The major players were around, some static, but the rooms I liked were using either Nordost, Transparent, Cardas or Kubala-Sosna. All four make top kit. If you’re a ‘cable guy’, wait for the upcoming Rocky Mountain Audio Fest report in a fortnight. I’ve never seen so many obscure, boutique cables as I did last year. Toronto was plain vanilla, but it was the best vanilla.
We come to what we considered the best sound of the show. Interestingly, the three rooms we chose were crammed with people for most of our visits and it seems many visitors agreed with Audiophilia’s choices, if not our particular order. I heard lots of comments suggesting’ ‘best sound’. In fact, all three rooms jockeyed for Audiophilia’s top position over the two days.
Friday, I was sure. Clear as a bell. Then another room introduced a to die for vinyl set up and the game changed all the while some German electrostatics cruised steadily with the most musical sounds, and from computer files! So, until late Saturday, or, possibly as I type today (as the sound still resonates), the position of 1, 2 and 3 was not in stone.
All this is audiophile fun, and the three rooms did offer fantastic sound, but if you attended the show, your mileage probably varied. Please post up your favorites in the comments section.
With all this in mind, here are our suggestions for the Best Sound of Show.
In third place: ASW Magadis Loudspeaker, Accustic Arts Amp II power amplifier, Zesto Audio pre/phono stage, Kronos turntable, Cardas cables.
Listening to a clean pressing of a DGG/Beethoven/Amadeus Quartet was one of the highlights of the show. Germany’s ASW has made its statement speaker. The 28K Magadis is gorgeous with a full range that focuses on musicality rather than ‘hi-fi’. The speakers were accompanied by the 28K Kronos turntable. Massive and massively expensive (without arm, cart or stand), the turntable offered massive detail via the new and very exciting products from Zesto Audio. A wonderful room that was large enough to accommodate the powerful sound from the gorgeous speakers.
In second place: Vienna Acoustics, bel canto, Audia Flight, Sutherland Engineering, Basis Audio, Transparent Audio.
This system had the synergy both from digital and analogue that makes for great listening. Once again, the room was large enough to appreciate the grandness of the presentation. Vienna Acoustics’ ‘The Music’ loudspeakers (28K) are tunable from the top module housing midrange and tweeter which enables pinpoint imaging and separation — and easily heard in the interesting demos (cartridge loading, too — an eye opening demonstration of how it effects sound). The superb bel canto gear sounded great, as usual — such good value from beautifully made products.
Later, when AJ Conti’s Basis Audio 2500 turntable with the Basis Audio Vector arm was introduced via the 45 reissue of La Fille Mal Gardee, the place fell silent. The sound was exquisite. Detailed, powerful, yet so perfectly analogue — cymbal timbre, instrumental separation and ambiance all to the fore. And the strings. So sweet. And real.
Reading the previous paragraphs, you can imagine my difficulty for top choice. Both those systems on another day would have won the day, but this day goes to another.
Best Sound of Show: Audio Exklusiv, Calyx Audio.
Charisma Audio is the local distributor of German company Audio Exklusiv, maker of the P 3.1 Elektrostatic Loudspeaker ($16K) , P 7 tube preamp ($8K) and P 14 mono hybrid power amps ($18.5K) and South Korean company, Calyx Audio, represented in this room by the Femto Reference DAC ($7.2K), stars all. The brilliant DAC was sorting out files from a MAC Mini most splendidly. I loved this sound. Refined and so immediate. The connection to this listener was very emotional and consistent each time I heard it. The speaker is a full range electrostatic. Thank God! I truly dislike a dynamic woofer thrown in for good measure. They never work, with the possible exception of the Sanders Model 10s. Maybe.
Charisma’s room looked as good as it sounded as did the large Tri-Cell and Audio Pathways rooms. All three rooms and others mentioned in the report got the synergy, presentation, room treatment, electrics and musical repertoire right. Congratulations.
And a special congratulations to the organizers of TAVES. A wonderful show. Please come back next year. Your support of high end audio in Ontario is a blessing for all of us who love the avocation.
Now, lots more photos by our amazing photographer, Rick Nickel. More will added each day this week.
Tuesday Oct 2 photo update
Wednesday Oct 3 photo update
Thursday Oct 4 photo update