TAVES 2014: Part 3

The Estelon X ($70,000/pair) was on the cover of the TAVES 2014 Show Guide, with the printed admonition "Don't miss Estelon in the Yorkville East Suite, 4th floor." Since they were kind enough to provide direction to the demo room, I just had to comply.

What I saw was a speaker with an appearance that seemed both artistic and organic, high-tech and yet natural. Sound—with Accuphase DP720 digital source, Brinkman Balance turntable, Benz Micro Ruby cartridge, Burmester 100 phono stage, Ayre KX-R Twenty preamp and Ayre MX-R Twenty amps—was absolutely topnotch, with delicacy as well as power.

The word that for me best describes speakers made by Sonus Faber is "elegant." It certainly describes the new Lilium ($75,000/pair). It's simply a beautiful speaker—visually and sonically. The pair at TAVES 2014 sounded great, complemented by the stack of Esoteric Grandioso electronics (these are about $145,000).

"No audio show would be complete without a new or revised speaker model from Gershman." That's what I said in my Montreal 2014 SSI report, and applies equally for TAVES 2014. At the Montreal show, the new Gershman speaker was the Avant Garde R-1; at TAVES 2014, it was the Grande Avant Garde ($12,990/pair). According to the product literature, the Grand Avant Garde produces "even deeper, faster, more tuneful bass, sweeter and more detailed high frequency and larger, deeper, and more precise 3D imaging and soundstage" (that's compared to the original Avant Garde). Not having the opportunity to listen to the two models side by side, I can't comment on how they compare, but the new speaker certainly sounded excellent in a system at TAVES assembled by Toronto dealer Toronto Home of Audiophile, featuring products by Pass Labs, Aesthetics, Berkeley Audio Design, PS Audio, Clearaudio, Graham, Siltech, etc., the total cost of which, not including the speakers, was about $120,000.

I've encountered Lawrence Audio speakers before, but never really spent any time listening to them. I suspected that the naming of these speakers after string instruments (violin, cello, double bass, mandolin), and having them shaped somewhat like these instruments, was a gimmick, reminding me of the speaker made by years ago by Yamaha, whose claim to fame was a driver shaped like a piano soundboard (and which didn't sound very good). If you accept this "musical instrument" approach at face value, then a speaker named Mandolin would be expected to sound good in playback of mandolin recordings, but fail in the playback of recordings of all other instruments (not to mention the human voice).

Well, it just goes to show how expectations can lead to you astray. At TAVES 2014, there was a system demoed by importer Tri-Cell Cell Enterprises featuring the Lawrence Audio Violin SE ($9000/pair)—which, by the way, resembles a cello rather than a violin—with Unison Research electronics and CD player. I didn't make note of what music was being played, but I know it was not solo violin—and the sound was well-balanced and thoroughly musical. Naming aside, there's nothing gimmicky about these speakers!

Wynn is a name that I associate with luxury hotels and casinos, and, seeing the name in the TAVES Show Guide, I wondered if Steve Wynn caught the audiophile bug and decided to go into the business.

But that was not the case. The Wynn at TAVES was one Wynn Wong, a genial young man of Chinese background, whose company—based in the Toronto area—distributes a wide range of audio products, some conventional, some on the tweaky side. The tweaky ones include the Harmonix bases, footers, etc., Acoustic System Resonators (and the intriguingly-named "Sugar Cube Filter"), Telos Quantum Acoustics Diffuser and Quantum Noise Resonator. More conventional products distributed by Wynn are Reimyo electronics, and the Tidal Audio Contriva G2 speaker ($65,000/pair), the latter shown in the photo.

Class-D amplifiers have had something of a bad reputation, but I've noticed lately that a number of amplifier manufacturers—some with impeccable audiophile credentials—have come out with class-D amplifiers, claiming, more-or-less, that their class-D amplifiers are different in their implementation of the class-D approach, and as a result they're not just efficient but actually sound good. This is essentially what Cyrus claims for their new hybrid class-D amplifiers, the first of which is the Cyrus ST 200 ($3499), a 200Wpc amplifier, introduced at TAVES 2014. They have a white paper on the subject that makes a convincing technical argument, and, more to the point, a pair of Monitor Audio Platinum 300s ($11,000/pair), sounded excellent, with a kind of crystalline clarity, and no amplifier-related sonic anomalies that I could hear. I'm familiar with the sound of Monitor Audio's Platinum series (I've reviewed the Platinum 200), and they're nothing if not revealing, so if there was a problem with the sound of the amplifier, the speakers would show it.

According to the obituary by Barry Willis in Stereophile, David Hafler's name is "permanently etched into the history of audio." I still recall fondly the Dynaco PAS-3X and Stereo 70 amplifier that I had—which sounded much more natural than the solid-state integrated amp they replaced that was supposed to be so much better than that old-fashioned tube stuff.

The Hafler brand has been purchased by Radial Engineering, who was Hafler's Canadian distributor, and they're devoted to preserving the tradition represented by the Hafter name. True to the Hafler tradition, their products relatively inexpensive, ranging in price from $400 to $1000. The one shown in the photo is the HA 75 ($1000) a tube-based headphone amplifier that has adjustable negative feedback and a variable "Focus" control, bringing the stereo image to the center. I listened briefly, and can confirm that it works as claimed. Good-sounding, too.

No show coverage of TAVES would be complete without a photo of the "TAVES Girls." They are, left to right, in front, Lindsay, Liz, and Christine, back left to right, Rhiannon and Sarah. Along with their male colleagues, they played a major role in making TAVES a success.

Suave Kajko, President of TAVES (above left), and Simon Au, Vice President, have a vision for TAVES that would move it in the direction of becoming a "mini-CES," featuring a much wider range of consumer electronics than just audio and video. With TAVES 2014, they've moved somewhat in that direction (the exhibits included things like 3D printers, and a brain-wave biofeedback device that's claimed to improve your ability to concentrate), but the bread-and-butter of the show remains audio, and Suave and Simon have not forgotten this fact. It's hard to know to what extent attendees were attracted by the show's non-audio aspects (my guess: not much), but, as Suave pointed out in a speech to exhibitors and media, TAVES 2014 broke all previous TAVES records for number of visitors, exhibitors, industry professionals, and media. The show also attracted a lot of mainstream media coverage, including all Toronto-area TV stations.

So TAVES 2014 was a definite success. The change of venue involved a few hiccups, but I'm proud to say that by the third day I was starting to get an idea of where things were—and I look forward to TAVES 2015.

eriks's picture

I couldn't figure out why all the pictures for the Cyrus amps were fuzzy, was getting ready to send an e-mail to the webmaster but I realized I have a chrome plug-in that blocks and fuzzifies any references to Miley Cyrus! Doh.