Borrowing a page from the Montreal Salon Son & Imageand, previous to that, the Stereophile Hi-Fi showsTAVES featured live music. Singer/pianist Anne Bisson performed at King Edward's Lounge on Friday and Saturday. Her latest LP/CD was also being played in a number of rooms, and was available for sale. In the Oracle room you had a choice of whether to listen to the LP or the CD. When I was there, the preference seemed to be overwhelmingly for the LP.
Anthem, Paradigm's sister company, has a very interesting new class-D amplifier, the M1 monoblock ($3799 each), a slim unit that is capable of putting out 1 kilowatt into 8 ohms and 2kW into 4 ohms. The M1 has an integrated fan-less cooling system that allows multiple amps to be stacked without feet.
When I went into VMAX Services' room, they were playing a recording of "Mona Lisa" that wasn't Nat King Cole's but had the same spirit. The speakers were small bookshelf units (stand mounted, of course) and they sounded exceptionally good. Who is the singer, I asked VMAX's Richard Kohlruss, and what are those speakers? He showed me the CD: Verve ERCD 6671, vocals by Densil Pinnock, guitar by Bill Coon.
The Avantera ($24,000$26,000/pair, depending on finish) is the speaker from German manufacturer Audio Physic that replaces their Avanti and Caldera models. (Avant-i and Cald-era combined gives you Avantera.) It's Audio Physic's 25th Anniversary model, and features the aptly-named Hyper-Holographic midrange driver and tweeter. The sound of the system, at a price not for the faint-hearted (Acoustic Signature Storm turntable, $7500; Trigon Chonolog CD player, $8995; Trigon Dialog preamp ($8495); Trigon Monolog Power Amps ($9495 each); Creative Reference Plus audio rack ($10,500); Creative Audio Amplifier bases ($1000 each) was exquisiteclearly a candidate for best sound of the show.
On their website, the only products listed are cables and stepup transformers, but at TAVES, Blueberryhill Audio had a new speaker on demo. And what a speaker! The Rhapsody 3D has a bipolar arrangement of two 8" full-range Fostex drivers, supplemented by a Fostex supertweeter, and a servo-controlled powered subwoofer, with all the drivers in cylindrical cabinets. The sound was fabulous, with startling dynamics, great imaging, and bass that was tight, well-controlled, and extended. The Rhapsody 3D was being driven by an 8W 300B amp for the mid/highs and another 25W tube amp for the supertweeter (or maybe the other way around; my notes are not clear on this). Sold factory-direct at $15,000/pair, the Rhapsody 3D system provided for me one of the best sounds of the show.
A well-balanced sytemboth in terms of the price of its components and the soundwas demonstrated by Jay Rein of Bluebird Music. The speakers were Spendor SP2/3R2s ($4295/pair), a reworking of the classic BC1, with the tweeter from the A line. CD player, preamp, and amplifiers were by Exposure, and cables by Van den Hul (which Jay told me were the most neutral sounding Van den Hul has produced so far).
Toronto-based Focus Audio has been around since 1993, and they manufacture a vast array of speakers. The ones on demo (Chord CD player, Conrad-Johnson ET5 preamp and LP125M power amps) were the FP88s ($6800/pair). I enjoyed a recording of Eva Cassidy played through this system.
Canadian-designed and assembled, the signal distinguishing feature of Tri-Art Audio amplifiers is that concrete is used extensively in their construction. Tri-Art Audio believes that class-D power amp chips offer superb power but suffer from microphonics, and only when the chip is isolated from vibration can its virtues be truly experienced. The Block amplifiers do just that. The amplifiers are available in various forms, some with and some without level controls, with optional battery power supply, power ranging from 25 to 200Wpc, prices starting at $1995.
Focal distributor Audio Plus can always be counted on to give impressive demos of the big Focal speakers; this time, they had the Stella Utopia EMs, driven by the Devialet DAC/preamp/amp, with a laptop as a source. At $90,000/pair, the Stella Utopia EM, is for those folks who can't quite afford the $180,000/pair Grande Utopia EM. Great sound, as always with speakers in the Focal Utopia line.
If you're wondering what you're getting when you buy a speaker like the Focal Stella Utopia EM, the back of the speaker gives you some indication. Note that it's signed by designer Jacques Mahul, and the quality control of this speaker was the responsibility of one S. Robert.
The interior of the N1 shows an impeccable arrangement of circuit components. There are separate circuit boards for the left and right channels; these are identical, and are stacked, as shown in the photo.