Location, location, location. Although there are more factors that go into a successful audio/video show, unless the location and the venue are right, it's really an uphill battle. The organizers of the Toronto Audio Video Entertainment Show recognized that unless the show is in location that's convenient and has a venue that's attractive, only the most devoted audio/videophiles will attend.
They got it right by selecting the King Edward Hotel, a luxury hotel in downtown Toronto, with many restaurants nearby, and also close to theaters. All right, so parking is expensive, but the King Edward is steps from the subway, so it's easily accessible by public transit.
One of my formative audiophile experiences was the first time I heard electrostatic speakers. I walked into an audio store and heard music played by a live jazz combo. But where were the musicians? I saw none, though I did notice a couple of room-divider panels in the part of the store where the music seemed to be coming from. Eventually, it dawned on me that these must be loudspeakersbut they sounded like no other speakers I'd ever heard, and nothing like the Advents I had at home.
I'm a great fan of the musical theater: musicals, operetta, and opera, more-or-less in that order. A typical summer vacation for my wife and me involves driving from Toronto to the East Coast, stopping off to see musicals (and some plays) at places like the Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, MA, the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, CT, the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, NJ, , and the Ogunquit Playhouse in Ogunquit, ME. The Glimmerglass summer opera festival, near Cooperstown, NY, is not far from the route we usually take, but I never thought of visiting it because my impression has been that they specialize in performances of modern and obscure operas, which are not quite our cup of tea.
My discovery of the fact that Glimmerglass has greatly expanded the range of its offerings came about through sheer serendipity. . .
Integrated amplifiers are hot. I don't mean in the literal sensealthough having a preamplifier and stereo power amplifier in the same chassis usually results in higher running temperaturesbut in the metaphorical one. Once viewed as the type of component that no serious audiophile would consider buying, integrated amps have made a comeback in popularity and prestige. Consider: the October 2006 "Recommended Components" issue of Stereophile listed 29 integrated amps, whereas the October 2011 issue lists 40. Stereophile's 2010 Amplification Component of the Year award went to an integrated amp, the Audio Research VSi60, beating out a host of heavy-hitter preamps and power amps. The 2012 Stereophile Buyer's Guide lists 400 integrateds.
On the morning of the last day of the show, I went around one more time, looking for anything that I might have missed, and re-visiting some exhibits that I particularly enjoyed. To this end, I stuck my head in the MBL room, hoping to get another listen to the small MBL126 speaker that had impressed me earlier. Alas, the speakers playing were the big ones, but Jeremy Bryan of MBL said that if I came back in 5 minutes, he would have a special listening treat for me.
The Light Harmonic DaVinci USB is perhaps the most unusual-looking DAC I've seen, with the top of the unit that can be rotated. It's a non-upsampling, non-oversampling, no-negative-feedback design, with up to 384kHz/32-bit capability. The DaVinci uses three transformers in the power supply: one for digital, one for analog, and one for USB and control. This looks like a very serious design, and the price is correspondingly serious $20,000.
Gala-Solo is a Canadian speaker company that intends their products to be suitable for both the pro and audiophile markets, the "M" that's part of each speaker model's name standing for both "Monitor" and "Music." The M3 ($3600/pair) is a two-way, three-driver system, using pro drivers. The 6.5" bass drivers from PHL France feature a patented "intercooler" process. The tweeter, pictured above, from Acoustics Beyma (Spain), has an aluminum diaphragm and voice-coil. Rated sensitivity is 94dB, and the maximum level is 116dB. It was pointed out to me that this maximum level specification is particularly important: some speakers may produce 94dB for a 1W output, but, unlike the M3, they won't play much louder than that without distorting.
ASW is a line of speakers imported to Canada from Germany by Tri-Cell, and was, for me, something of a find at SSI 2012. The speaker demonstrated was the Cantius 404 ($1950/pair), their entry-level floorstander. With an older-model Clearaudio turntable as source, and a Unico Secondo ($2000) hybrid integrated driving the speakers, the LP of Willie Nelson singing "Stardust" sounded sweetly musical, with excellent imaging.
Speaker manufacturers at audio shows often go to considerable trouble to make sure that their products sound good in the exhibiting rooms, but their efforts usually stop there. Totem is one of the few manufacturers that go beyond being concerned with sound quality; their exhibits are aimed at creating a total environment, in which the visual aspect is as important as the auditory. This was the case at SSI 2012, as you can see in the picture. The speakers included two Element Metals for the front, one Element Wood for center channel, two Tribe 5s for the rear, and two Storm subs.
Headed by the irrepressible Angie Lisi, Audio Pathways is the importer for some ultra-high-end gear as well as affordably-priced audio products, and usually has some new interesting goodies at every show. At $47,000, the new VAC Statement 250 stereo amp is right up there, but if the 225Wpc is not enough for you, it can be bridged to produce 450W. The Statement 250 is a two-piece affair, and is meant to be stacked, with the power supply on the bottom, isolated from the top piece with bearings (which reminds me of the Aurios accessory bearings that were very good but unfortunately are no longer available).