For anyone who's been around the audiophile block a few times, Conrad-Johnson Design is a brand that needs no introduction. My first acquaintance with Conrad-Johnson was before I began writing for Stereophile (more than two decades agotime sure flies fast when you're having fun!). I was in the market for a new preamp, having become convinced that my Dayton Wright SPS Mk.II was the weak link in my system, and had narrowed my choices to two similarly priced products: a solid-state model made by PS Audio (I'm not sure of the model number), and the tubed Conrad-Johnson PV-2ar. They were carried by different dealers, who allowed me to take their preamps home over the same weekend for a direct comparison. I was impressed by both preamps, and was sure that either would represent an improvement over the Dayton Wright, but in the end decided to go for the PV-2ar. I later traded it in on a dealer's demo unit of another Conrad-Johnson preamp, the PV-5. And, as it turned out, one of my first reviews for Stereophile was of Conrad-Johnson's PV-11 preamp.
Every person I talked tomanufacturers, distributors, dealers, and, most important, audiophile visitorswere most enthusiastic about their experience at the Toronto Show. Of the visitors, perhaps typical was the brother of a neighbor of mine, who lives in Florida and made a point of timing his visit in Toronto such that he'd be able to attend TAVES. Both brothers came to the show, and took pains to look for me and tell me how much they enjoyed it. The brother from Florida said that there are not many audio dealers in his part of the country, and he really appreciated the opportunity to see and hear so many products that he had only read about in Stereophile.
The exhibitors I talked to were uniformly positive about venue, and about the efficiency of the TAVES staff. Congratulations to Suave Kajko, Simon Au, Sarah Tremblay, and Michel Plante (LR in the photo): a winning team.
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.
I've had a fondness for speakers by Vienna Acoustics ever since I reviewed their original Mozart. I've heard their larger speakers at shows since then, and they've always sounded excellent. This was also the case at TAVES. The Music (how can you criticize a speaker named Music?) at $27,500/pair was combined with electronics by Esoteric and cables by Transparent (about $42,000 total), and a MacBook Pro as the source.
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).
Prior to having attended TAVES, if you had asked me what the connection was between "loudspeakers" and "waterfall," I would have referred to the "waterfall plot" of frequency response that is part of John Atkinson's speaker test regimen. But it turns out there's another connection: there's a line of speakers called "Waterfall." Made in France, these speakers' claim to fame is that their cabinets are made of glass.
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.
MartinLogan had on demo their latest electrostatic/dynamic hybrid speaker, the Montis. At $9995/pair, the Montis is placed in MartinLogan's hybrid ESL line under the flagship $13,995 Summit X, and features the latest Curvilinear Line Source (CLS) design, with MicroPerf stator technology that provides for almost twice the exposed diaphragm surface as a traditional electrostatic of the same size. The electrostatic mid/highs are matched with a powered subwoofer that features MartinLogan's proprietary Vojtko crossover and DSP engine, and a 200W amplifier. I'm slated to received a pair of these speakers (maybe the pair that was at TAVES) for review.
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.
Divergent Technologies is known for producing the Reference 3A speakers and distributing a number of product lines, including Antique Sound Labs and Copland. They're now about to enter the turntable business. In collaboration with a partner in Hong Kong, Divergent has a classy-looking turntable, named the Perpetual Technology TT-1, which is a modest-by-high-end-standards $2500, sold with a 12" carbon-fiber tonearm for a combined price of $3000. It's to be available in three months.