TORONTO AUDIO VIDEO ENTERTAINMENT SHOW
The Toronto based TAVES Show, which was well received last year, was bigger, better and attracted a bigger audience this year. Holding it at the historic King Edward Hotel in Downtown Toronto, is a great idea. It has higher ceilings and bigger rooms than more contemporary hotels which, while not ideal, is definitely a lot more conducive to getting audio equipment to perform closer to their optimum levels. The Show was held from September 28th to 30th.
What stood out at the Show this year was the number of brands that design and manufacture their products in Canada and the USA. There were a lot more seminars offered and I found that many of them provided useful and up-to-date information rather than be dominated with sales pitches.
Many brands like Bryston and PrimaLuna used this Show to debut new products, which is reflection of the respect and importance that TAVES is receiving in the industry. Many brands were keen to get their new models reviewed in Stereomojo and over the next few months I hope to bring you these reviews.
Although there were quite a few home theatre products exhibited, it was predominantly a 2-channel Show which is further evidence that the home theatre tsunami that swept the industry over the past couple of decades is ebbing and traditional 2-channel is once again king.
Given the ambient noise at the Show, it was difficult to do any serious listening, but I have managed to get some first impressions.
Here are a few highlights of the Show:
James Tanner describes the new powered Bryston speaker
This respected Canadian Brand used TAVES to debut their line of powered speakers as well as the BDP-2 and the BDA-2, which are the successors to the very successful BDP-1 and BDA-1. Bryston’s always-hospitable VP James Tanner gave me a tour of all the new gear with the same patience and cordiality that he always does. He also assured me that Stereomojo would get to review Bryston’s new products in the not too distant future.
The BDP-2 digital player delivers the same sonic quality as its predecessor but offers more convenience features and upgrades for those with larger music libraries. It provides future USB 3.0 upgradability and incorporates two additional 3.0 inputs for a total of 8 inputs. The new model also offers NAS connectivity and UPnP/DNLA client/server support. The power supply has been upgraded to deliver over 5 amps (10 amps peak). The motherboard is now custom Intel Atom powered. The load time for drives has been improved significantly, which is good news as I found the much longer the BDP-1 load time to be a real PITA. The chassis has been designed to fit in an internal 2.5 inch SATA drive. This must be provided by the customer and fitted by an authorized Bryston facility to preserve the warranty. Bryston does not assume any liability for the performance of the installed drive. The price for the BDP-1 is $2,995, which is quite a significant jump from its predecessor.
The BDA-2 DAC retains the fully discrete analog Class-A proprietary Bryston analog circuits of its predecessor. It also offers two independent analog and digital linear power supplies and dual AKM 32-bit DACs. The welcome addition in the new model is that it is now capable of handling sampling rates all the way up to 24 bits and 192 kHz via PCM and USB. The BDA-2 is priced at $2,395.
Given the huge product range offered by Paradigm and Anthem I was surprised to see just a few of their products displayed and demonstrated at this Show. Despite this, their room was always busy, a testament to their popularity, especially in Canada.
Though it's been out for several years, I was quite intrigued by the design of the Gershman Acoustics Black Swan speaker design. This Batman like design (see photo)created by Eli Gershman, allow the placement of the tweeter and midrange unit to sit above the woofer unit and still be totally coupled to the floor for better performance. I had a fascinating chat with Eli and complemented him on this unique design. My first thought was that others in the industry would be very tempted to copy this clever design, but then Ms Ofra (Eli’s colleague) quickly dispelled that notion when she told me that the design is being patented.
The sound of the Black Swan is quite impressive but at its lofty price point, it faces some stiff competition from the likes of the Verity Sarastro II which also delivers outstanding performance at the $35,000 to $45,000 price point.
Gershman has introduced a new and exponentially more affordable model that answers to the name of ‘Idol’. At $3,000, it is very reasonably priced and from the build quality and limited listening that I did at the Show, it should be quite competitive at this price point.
This iconic brand had a big presence at TAVES. They demonstrated their ESL 2905 Electrostatic speakers. The sound was vintage Quad; big on speed, sound staging and transparency and small on coloration. Their unique point source configuration continues to build on the advantage they have over more traditional designs to deliver uncanny coherence and top to bottom continuity that few multi-way driver designs can match.
This is a speaker range is designed and built by Frank Fazzalari who has been at it for 20 years now. The focus of Frank’s designs is to minimize the energy on the inside of the speaker cabinets and to optimize the performance of the crossover network by controlling the resonance that it feeds to the drivers in the form of voltage spikes. Frank also prefers to use multi-laminate Baltic birch plywood instead of MDF, which is the material of choice for most speaker brands. The cabinet is also designed to get away from the square box formula to control standing waves. The clean sound delivered by the speakers at the show does reflect this design/material philosophy.
The PL300 AV from Monitor Audio (see photo) attracted a lot of attention at the Show because of the unusually wide sound stage and wide dynamic range that it created in the room. High frequencies were very fast thanks to the ribbon tweeters while the bass was reproduced with good authority by the dual woofers. Build quality was commendable.
This French manufacturer was one of the surprises at the Show. They have taken co-axial speaker technology to a whole new level with 4-way driver units that are a true engineering marvel. They call their co-axial technology Spatially Coherent System Technology or SCS for short. I call it truly amazing. The speakers that they demonstrated at the Show included the Pacific 3 SA. It had one of the widest sweet spot that I ever encountered in any speaker at any price and the tonal balance was consistent at almost any point that you chose to listen from in front of the speakers. The coherence of the music across the whole audible frequency spectrum was truly astonishing even when you take into consideration that this is truly the state-of-the-art in co-axial speaker technology. Despite a noisy vent in this listening room, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the Cabasse room and I enthusiastically look forward to reviewing these speakers for Stereomojo. Cabasse is currently available in Montreal and are in the process of appointing dealers in Toronto and other major cities.
The Maggie 1.7 has got to be one of the best values in the world of audio. I have not and I don’t think I ever will encounter another speaker in the $2,000 price range that can match the 1.7 for sheer midrange magic. I spent well over 20 minutes at the Show listening to this transducer and enjoyed every moment. Granted, you need beefy amplification to drive Maggies to their full potential and they are not the easiest to place in a listening room but at $2,000 they are still unbeatable value. They are 64.5 inches tall and just 2 inches thick. The aluminum, wrap-around edge molding gives it a very contemporary look. This 3-way design includes a woofer, tweeter, and super-tweeter. The super-tweeter delivers around 10,000 Hertz signals and widens the dispersion while helping the resolve the high frequencies in a more delicate manner.
Blueberry Hill Audio
This room gets my vote for the “Best Sound at the Show”. Marlen Mogilever the Director of R & D at Blueberry Hill Audio is an elderly gentleman who can barely contain his passion for pushing the state-of-the-art in reproduced sound. At TAVES he demonstrated his top-of-the-line Rhapsody Speaker and his more affordable Nocturne Speakers as well as his Figaro Cables and interconnects including a USB cable.
The speakers have a very unique design and incorporate Fostex (Japanese) driver units that use banana fibre pulp (you read that right) as cone material. According to Marlen, banana fiber pulp is a great choice for cone material because it is supple and dense. This apparently improves mid-high frequency response.
For those of you who have read my reviews over the past 30 years, you know I am not given to hype and I am very hard to impress. However, the sound of the Rhapsody Speakers did impress me. This is one of my closest encounters to experiencing sound so close to the live performance via speakers. The dynamic range, the air around the voices and instruments, the way the leading edges were rendered and the tuneful way that the bass was reproduced really did sound very close to the real thing. And here is the kicker, the Rhapsody retails for $25,000. I have no hesitation in proclaiming that these speakers were better in most respects than many of the speakers I have reviewed and heard that carry a 6-figure price tag. Even if you have a 6-figure budget, I would strongly recommend that you listen to the Rhapsody Speakers before you pull the trigger. You could end up with speakers that satisfy you in every respect and still have enough money left over to splurge on a fully loaded BMW 3 series.
Blueberry Hill Audio’s more affordable Nocturne Speakers are priced at $15,000 and although I did not hear them, Marlen claims that they have the same tonal characteristics as the Rhapsody Speakers. If that is true, it would make them an incredible bargain as well.
The only caveat here is that since these speaker are modular, they are going to be a real PITA to set up and they are extremely heavy so if you do buy them, be sure to have a few of your muscular friends to help move them around.
Angie’s Room at TAVES featured the Acapella (horn design) Speakers driven by ARC electronics and sounded so good, it attracted a steady stream of audiophiles throughout the show.
Anne & Me!
No audio gear here, but rather one of my favorite singers. Not only are her vocals outstanding, but her albums are audiophile quality as well, one of the reasons she was featured at the show. Anne Bisson was her usual gracious self and I was so happy to hear from her that her career is taking off in a big way with concerts at RMAF and many other venues in North America over the coming months. Anne was at TAVES promoting her two albums available on CD and on Vinyl. If you’re into female vocals, it would behoove you to add Anne’s two albums to your collection.
The ultra efficient Audio Nirvana speakers driven by Quad electronics delivered a truly seductive midrange and keep a lot of audiophiles entranced at TAVES.
The elegant Avantara speakers by Audio Physics garnered a good deal of attention at TAVES. They provided great sound in a décor friendly package that scores very high on the Wife Acceptance Factor.
The world’s largest speaker manufacturer demonstrated two of its Combo HD TV (46-inch and 55-inch) and sound systems at TAVES. The HD TV part of the system is made for Bose by Samsung to Bose specifications. Both TVs do not have 3D capabilities. The systems retail of $5,000 and $6,000 and represent the most expensive way to get into direct lit LED backlit Samsung flat screen TVs. The configurations offered excellent ergonomics and are well suited to home theatre enthusiasts that prefer a plug and play option with minimum wiring and connections and a very small footprint. These systems have a very high wife acceptance factor on the system design, which is not intrusive and would blend into almost any décor. Sonic quality on the other hand is distinctively mid-fi.
Burmester / Elac
This room that featured Burmester electronics with Elac speakers (see photo) was a popular destination for TAVES Visitors. The sonic performance was very German, surgical precision, accurate and no nonsense. Many rooms at the Show featured Elac speakers but they sounded best in this room perhaps because of their synergy with Burmester electronics.
The Cary Audio Room was another popular destination at TAVES. I was told that no new Cary products made their debut at this Show.
Vince Scalzitti is one of the godfathers of the Canadian audio scene. It seems like he has been around forever and his stable of world-renowned brands that he distributes in Canada (including Cardas and Clearaudio) keeps on growing, which is a testament to the high esteem that he is regarded in this industry. In this photo Vince is presenting his Chario speakers.
Vince had 4 rooms at TAVES. One of the most impressive components he had on display was the Joseph Audio Speakers, which delivered great performance despite the fact that the acoustics of the listening rooms were not the greatest.
This highly regarded manufacturer of speaker driver units, which are featured in some of the best loudspeakers in the world, demonstrated its XEO wireless speakers (see photo). Although these speakers take wireless performance to a whole new level, they have some way to go to emulate the better hard wire speakers in the same price range.
This renowned manufacturer had most of its speakers on display and just a couple being demonstrated. Their room was quite popular and the sound was vintage Focal.
Focus demonstrated its FP88SE speakers driven by the Focus Liszt Sonata Amplifier. Very good build quality and finish but sonics that were par for the course in its price range.
Given its modest visual dimensions and aesthetics, the Kudos speakers truly beat expectations to the upside by a wide margin. They were placed besides much bigger and more impressive looking speakers and everyone in the room guessed wrongly at which speakers were playing. For their size and dimensions, the Kudos speakers sounded incredibly smooth, full and coherent. They are not exactly cheap ($7,000) but given their performance, these British Speakers should sell reasonably well. The only other mini monitor in this price range that impressed me as much as the Kudos is the Merlin Music TSM Master, which has a bit of a price advantage but not as good looking as the Kudos. Look out for a full review in Stereomojo soon.
This venerable audio brand demonstrated its latest gear and the great respect that audiophiles have for this name was amply demonstrated by the fact that the McIntosh room was almost always full and the McIntosh Staff always busy talking to visitors.
The Canadian (TT WEIGHTS) made Momentus V2 turntable garnered a lot of interest and sounded marvelous. The solid plinth is machined from a 60 LB billet of MIC-6 Aluminum on a 4 AXIS CNC Milled to exact precision, finished in 1 mm thick piano black that is hand finished.
Simaudio’s Moon series of components (see photo) were demonstrated via Vandersteen Quatro Speakers. This turned out to be a very synergistic combination that enthralled all who visited this room.
The highlight of the NAD room was their new M51 DAC, which at $2,000 is considered by many to be one of the best values in that price point.
There were obviously a lot of Naim fans at TAVES and they made their presence felt in the Naim Room where the Naim Ovator S800 showed why this brand has such a loyal following.
Nordost had a three-pronged strategy at TAVES. They had other speaker brands use their cable with a sign in each room using their cables bringing visitors attention to this. They also had a room where they held auditions (see photo) comparing stock interconnects to their own interconnects at the $200 and up price ranges. In addition, converts after the audition were directed to the Nordost stand where their cables could be purchased at ‘show special’ prices. This strategy could have worked better if their modus operandi compared the stock interconnects to their various interconnect models using the same sound track and at the same volume level, with back to back comparisons rather than interrupting each listening segment with 3 to 5-minute sales pitches between them. I heard many visitors in the room comment that using different tracks at different volume levels and with a 3 to 5-minute sales pitch between each listening segment made it difficult to objectively tell the sonic difference that each of the interconnects made.
The Audioscapes Room at TAVES featured the Space 294 Turntable which I consider to be a great value at the $2,600 price point (turntable only). Another $2,039 gets you the Ace Space Tone Arm.
The Oracle Room featured the brands more popular turntables and CD players. The popularity of this room is a testament that analog is not just surviving but thriving.
The Ovation Audio Room had the new Proac Response D40R performing. The sound is big step up in performance compared to the D38. The new model features equalized vents that use two billet aluminum rods between the cabinet and plinth, which together with the drive unit frames are shaped and coated in a non-resonant material.
The Planet of Sound Room featured Perreaux electronics driving Harbeth speakers. Over the past few years Perreaux has been on a roll, introducing one winner after another and the sound quality in this room tells the story behind Perreaux’s recent successes.
The Audioscape Room had a lot of new models from PrimaLuna including a new DAC, a new CD player and my favorite – the new PrimaLuna DiaLogue 3 preamplifier that impressed me quite a bit. I hope to review it for Stereomojo soon.
The Totem room was a bit of a let down because all they had was in wall and on wall home theatre speakers. Given their impressive line of floor standing speakers I was disappointed that none of them were featured at this year’s TAVES.
This was one of the more intriguing rooms at TAVES. It featured gear using organic materials like leather, wool as well as concrete to boost the performance of its gear. Their philosophy is that all these material have their own sound and tapping into them does help improve the sound of audio gear. I hope to review one of their leather-clad speakers (see photo) for Stereomojo soon.