It's called Toronto Audio and Video Entertainment Show, but--just between usTAVES is basically an audio show. This is not for want of trying on the part of show organizers. They've arranged seminars on the TV calibration, the differences between LCD, LED and plasma displays, and set up an elaborate blind comparison involving 20 flat panel displays that included LCD, LED, and plasma designs, all professionally calibrated, and with the brandnames obscured. I thought it was quite an interesting and useful comparison, but on the three occasions that I visited the room, there were hardly any people therecontrast this with the booths where LPs and CDs were being sold (below).
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.
Ron Sutherland of Sutherland Engineering is famous for his phono preamps. At TAVES he introduced a new product: the N1 ($10,000), a line-plus-phono preamplifier. The most striking thing about this product is that it uses Nixie tubes for the display of source number and volume. Nixie tubes are those little tubes that light up to display a number or other characters. It's a charmingly retro look. I didn't think that these tubes are being made any more, and Ron Sutherland confirmed that this is correct; however, he has purchased a huge stock of Nixie tubes, so his customers are taken care of.
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.
"Have you heard the Woo headphone amps?" Todd Garfinkle of MA Recordings pulled me over. I told him that I hadn'tbut then I have not kept up with the market in headphone amps. "Have a listen." So I did, over Sennheiser HD800 headphones. The MA Recordings Seeing Unknown Colors (MO 15A) sounded great through the Woo Audio WA6 ($650), without the touch of extra brightness that these 'phones are prone to.
It's a well-known fact that any speaker can sound bad if the rest of the system if there are problems with the rest of the system and/or there's a problem with room acoustics. However, as I listened to the Sonus Faber Amati Futuras at TAVES (NBS preamp and cables, Basis turntable and arm, Audia Flight amplifier), which sounded very good indeed, it occurred to me that I've never heard Sonus Faber speakers sound bad. Was it just luck? I doubt it . . . (JA is working on a review of the Futura, to appear in the February 2012 issue of Stereophile.)
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.
Paradigm has some new active speakers, including the A2 ($300$350/pair, depending on finish) demoed here by Erin Phillips and Mark Aling using a Numark DJ mixing deck. Paradigm has also entered the earbuds market, with models ranging in price from $59 to $149. Like Paradigm's speakers, these were developed utilizing anechoic testing.
Totem's Vince Bruzzese is very proud of his new Element series of speakers, which have the bass drivers running full-range, with no crossover. The Element series include Fire (compact), Earth (column, passive radiator), Metal (column, twin woofers), Wood (center channel), and Water (subwoofer). In a demo of the Metals (Arcam BDP100 Blu-ray player, Arcam 888 pre-processor, and Bryston 7B amplifiers), I was particularly impressed by the bass, which didn't seem like it had any need for a subwoofer.
Bryston is one of the most successful Canadian audio companies, and I think a major part of their success is due to the fact that they have a good sense of their market: not interested in fads, but moving with technology to the future, and meeting new trends in listening. Headphones have been around for a long time, but they've been usually peripheral to the interests of audiophiles. This has been changing, and Bryston has a new product to meet this challenge. The BPHA-1 ($1295) is a headphone amplifier that is said to work well with the new headphones that are difficult to drive. Bryston's James Tanner is holding up a prototype of the BPHA-1.
There are probably no speakers that have a more old-fashioned look than those made by Tannoy, nor audio equipment more futuristically high-tech than the Devialet D-premier DAC/preamp/power amp. Audio Eden, a high-end audio dealer located in Newmarket (about 35 miles from Toronto), combined a pair of Tannoy Turnberry SEs ($7300/pair) with the Devialet D-premier ($16,500). Demoed by Mike Hamelin, this unusual combination worked well, producing an easy-on-the-ears, relaxed type of sound.