The Final Report from Toronto Audiofest 2018

Borrowing a page from the Montreal show—and, before that, from the shows sponsored by Stereophile—Toronto Audiofest presented some live performances of music. One of the performers was the gifted cellist, Vincent Bélanger—see photo above—familiar to audiophiles from his recordings and appearances at audio shows. I was at one of these performances at the Toronto show, which served to demonstrate music played by a great performer. I was so enthralled that I failed to get a list of the equipment used in this live-plus-recorded (not live vs recorded) presentation. Suffice it to say that the speakers were Audio Note (and so, I would guess, were the electronics). Although the room was arguably too small, and the sound of the cello was sometimes overwhelmed by the bass from the speakers, the power of the music always came through.

Located in Aurora, about a half-hour's drive north of Toronto, Audio Eden is a small store that, through careful selection of equipment and a consumer-oriented attitude, has become something of a "destination" for Toronto-area audiophiles. The system they demoed at Toronto audiofest (see photo above) was centered around Kharma S7 signature loudspeakers ($27,000/pair; all prices in Canadian dollars), with Nagra electronics (Classic preamp, $19,995; Classic Mono amps, $38,000/pair; UPS Phono stage, $9500; MPS power supply, $7995) SME 15 turntable and Series V tonearm ($18,00), and Bryston digital front end (BCD-3, $3795; BDA-3 $3795; BDP-3, $3995), and Nordost cables. The speakers are actually pretty reasonably priced given their appearance and the performance they offer, but I would have trouble getting past the prices of the Nagra products, even though they're beautifully made (in Switzerland), and I couldn't argue with their contribution to the sound, which was truly excellent.

The Gershmans—Eli (Chief Designer) and Ofra (Director of International Marketing)—are familiar sights at audio shows (see photo above), and it seems that at every such show they have some new model, or modification of an existing model to demonstrate. At Toronto Audiofest, the product introduced was the Grand Studio, a stand-mounted speaker of substantial size, which sells for $6500/pair, stands included. The in-room frequency-response of the Grand Studio is claimed to extend to 25Hz, and while I can't confirm this exact claim, the bass of the pair of Grand Studios—with Krell electronics—suggested full-sized, full-range speakers. And, in fact, putting aside the US$129,000/pair Gershman Posh (which I've heard only very briefly), and all things considered, including price/performance ratio, I'd say that the Grand Studio is my favorite Gershman speaker.

The emphasis at audio shows is usually on speakers. When audiophiles meet in the corridors, the question they ask each other is likely to be, "Have you heard the X?" or "What did you think of the X?"—X being the speaker du jour. Of course, we know that every part of an audio system has the potential to influence the sound, but we still tend to focus on speakers (myself included).

And so, when I visited the Toronto Home of Audiophile room at the show), I immediately focused on the GoldenEar Triton One towers, which I had reviewed. "Hello, old friend!" It was rewarding to hear the Triton Ones sounding so good. In fact, they sounded better than I had heard them sound in Toronto Home of Audiophile's store, and maybe better than they sounded in my own listening room. There were, of course, a number of differences in the various setups, including room acoustics, but was there any difference in the associated components that was a likely cause of the sonic differences? I addressed this question to Wallace Poon, Toronto Home of Audiophile's technician and technical guru, who is very familiar with the speaker. His answer: "We're using the new SIT-3, the latest in the First Watt series from Nelson Pass."

Aha! This is the successor—or at least related—to the FirstWatt J2, given a rave review by Herb Reichert in Stereophile, and a winner of Stereophile's 2016 Component of the Year competition. I wonder what my Monitor Audio Platinum 300 IIs would sound like with this amp . . .

Are you looking for a speaker that offers the most bang for the buck? I haven't heard all the potential contenders at Toronto Audiofest; however, based on what I did hear, I would be inclined to go with the Totem KIN Play ($1250/pair). This is a powered speaker, with an array of inputs: Bluetooth, optical digital, analog line-level, phono (yes!), and subwoofer outputs. And it sounded really good, with the kind of dynamics that Totem is known for, and overall at least as good as you would expect from a similarly-priced speaker that was not powered and didn't have all those inputs. Yup, a great bang for the buck.

I found this one almost by accident: the Audio by di Tomasso room was two doors down from the Saturn room, and I read in the show program that the di Tomasso room had PMC speakers, which had impressed me in the Saturn room. And the Audio by di Tomasso room turned out to be something of a find. The speakers were indeed PMCs, but stand-mounted 25/22s ($5200/pair) rather than the floorstanders in the Saturn room.

I don't know whether it was the speakers, electronics (Lumin V1 mini digital transport/streamer, $3000; SPL Director Pre/DAC, $4200, SPL Performer S800 amp, $4300) or some fortuitous combination of equipment and room acoustics, but the result was a kind of magic: music presented with natural sweetness and a minimum of artifacts, lacking only, as the speakers' size would dictate, low bass. This was one of my favorite rooms at the show, regardless of price (the total here being $17,500.)

No doubt about it: Toronto Audiofest was a great success. The people I talked to—attendees and exhibitors—were uniformly enthusiastic about the show and the venue. One attendee I talked to said that the Westin Toronto Airport reminded him of the King Edward hotel, site of the original TAVES. Unlike the recent TAVES venues, the rooms at the Westin allowed for good sound without extensive acoustical treatment. The Toronto show staff—some of them veterans of Montreal shows—were pleasant and helpful. The hotel offered a $10 discount on the $25 parking fee—free would have been better, but given that attending the show was free, this did not seem too onerous. The food at the on-site restaurant was good, and reasonably priced.

Saturday evening, after the show closed for the day, there was a party for exhibitors and media, at which there were presentations of Lifetime Achievement Awards (originally established by Sarah and Michel at the Montreal show). The awards were given to Lily Luo of Motet Distribution, Paul Barton of PSB Speakers, Terry Richardson of Plurison, and—accepted posthumously by Peter McGrath—Dave Wilson of Wilson Audio. Peter spoke eloquently—and a little tearfully—about his association with Dave Wilson over the years.

What next? All the rooms for 2018 Toronto Audiofest were sold out, and there are apparently no additional spaces available for next year. Michel Plante told me that they want to stay at the Westin, but they may have to use the Holiday Inn next door as an overflow.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Toronto show—the people and the music I had a particularly memorable conversation with one of the attendees, who told me that a while ago he won a car in a raffle, and instead of taking the car, he spent the money on a pair of MBL speakers. Whenever people visiting him ask where the new car is, he points to the speakers.

That's my kind of audiophile!

RH's picture

Thanks for the fine reporting on the show, Robert.

Unfortunately I was unable to attend and have to go on reports such as yours, and other forums.
The show received virtually unanimous thumbs up as a "real deal" high end audio show and a great success.

The original TAVES show at the King Eddie was excellent and classy. It's too bad that was the high point for that show and it was a steep decline afterward.

I'm really happy to have an excellent audio show in Toronto now.

As to the coverage of various rooms, the Artist Cloner system, in particular seems to have garnered lots of positive notices and discussion.

As for MBL speakers, for years the MBL 101s were my dream speaker but way out of reach financially.
Fortunately a few years ago I managed to pick up a pair of the MBL 121 radialstrahler speakers for an absolute bargain, as they had been slightly damaged in shipping and rejected by the original customer.
Sharing the omni mid and tweeter unit with the big speakers, they give a really big helping of the MBL magic in my home.

I wish I'd been able to see the MBLs at the Toronto show as they have rarely made an appearance in Toronto for years. Hopefully they'll bring them back soon.

EDIT: Whoops, though listed on the Toronto Audiofest brand list, apparently MBL speakers weren't actually shown this year. "Never mind..."

Robert Deutsch's picture

MBL was not at the show. However, I heard them at Update TV and Stereo in Unionville. I don't know if they still have them. The fellow who got the MBL speakers instead of the car told me that although he admired many of the speakers he heard at the show, he didn't like any of them more than his MBLs.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Thank you RD for an excellent show report ......... So, are you gonna review Totem KIN play ($1250/pair) speakers? (may be not) :-) ...........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Even if it is twice that price, at $2,500/pair ($1250/pair as mentioned), it is still great value for the money, for all what it offers :-) ............'s picture

I bought my MBL's (instead of the car) from Update TV in Unionville. Great service from Peter and the team there. I was up there a week and a half ago, and they still had a pair of MBL 116's. I was concerned when I bought them that I would second guess it and have some degree of buyers remorse...but as time goes by I am only happier with my decision.

Jason Zidle's picture

We are thrilled to see so much interest in the KIN Play, read such positive comments (thanks Bogolu), and appreciate the loyal following of our tribe. Stay tuned, it will be available by the beginning of December.

navr's picture

You must be kidding. S7 was selling on audiogon for months, for around $8000. Nobody bought it, of course. BECAUSE IT SOUNDS BAD, that's why. To plunge, what, $27000 bucks for bad sounding speakers?? No way. I personally wouldn't pay $4000 for it. But hey, the world is full of suckers

navr's picture

Let's recall those $16,000cad Sophia 3s. This was, not long ago, A VERY PROFITABLE PRICE for creators. PLENTY of profit. I mean, 16000 bucks. More than a superb car.
And then, what happened? To make a room for Darryl (and not for any other reason), late Dave increased DELIBERATELY the price for MIND BOGGLING 6000 bucks. But suckers jumped in this bandwagon, nonetheless.

Diagnosis? OCD. That's it.

I hope that the next, final financial crisis that many experts predict is around the corner, will put stop to all this insanity, once for ever. And only then, when Mr. Real Buck become valued again, only then we'll talk (but vendors, be prepared for BIG, BIG, HUUUUGE, discounts, on the account of your previous misdeeds of unprecedented proportions).