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.)
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Reev Designs is a new Toronto-based speaker company, with so far just one model: the large, stand-mounted Aetma ($6950/pair). It's a striking-looking speaker, with wooden extensions on each side that are said to be critical in controlling resonances. Frequency response is claim to extend from 44Hz to 22kHz, ±3dB.
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.