We resume with Part 4 after a Thanksgiving holiday break that included four consecutive delicious turkey dinners on the shore of Lake Erie, separated by trips to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland Museum of Art, an evening with an audiophile friend, and Beethoven's 5th at Severance Hall with the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra. I'll spare you photos of my cute granddaughters.
Michael Tang of Mike Tang Audio grabbed my attention as he always does with a wide variety of interesting objects & gear at his table. In addition to his wife, we see a wall full of LP clocks, a bored out tree root for holding wine bottles, and lots of original Western Electric wire from the 1960s made with virgin copper. (Don't ask, don't tell.) The wire was originally sold for scrap by the ton in thick telecommunications cables at auction. It was then sent to Asia where the two-inch thick cables were slit open and the individual strands shown here in their original colorful cloth dielectrics were separated out for re-sale to audiophiles. Mike has made up 8' sets of speaker cable with ebony wood stops and silver spades or bananas that he sells for $500.
He also offers short jumper cables. He took great delight in showing me his new Dragon Dot Phono Maximizer that comes in two sizes — the smaller red one seen here on the phono headshell, and a larger lime green one. They come with self-adhesive and using tweezers you place them directly above the cartridge for vibration control to improve transparency and focus. You get both sizes for $60 with a 30 day money back guarantee. Mike said none of his have come back and one customer at the show came back to tell him it works very well. Since it weighs less than 0.1 gram, tracking force does not usually have to be adjusted. Mike also sells the famous full-range Feastrex drivers from Japan and he had one on display that he had severed with his Samurai sword. I'll be reporting on the Dragon Dots in the near future and possibly the Western Electric speaker cables, too.
Plexiglas is the new sheet metal? VK Music came all the way from Vancouver, BC, to set up their tent and show us this very attractive TU834 power amp from Elekit, designed by Mr. Y Fujita and made in Japan. Elekit serves the DIY crowd offering a wide variety of quality kits that VK has shown us at shows over the past few years. The TU834 can use KT120, KT88, EL34, 6L6GC or the KT150 tubes shown here, which put out 50 Wpc in ultralinear or 28 Wpc in triode mode. The kit sells for $1250 USD without tubes, though VK Music will be happy to sell you the tubes, too. With the KT150 tubes and the Lundahl transformer shown in this unit the price jumps to about $2300. All in all, this seems to be a huge bargain if you can wield a soldering iron — and that's not factoring in the immense satisfaction of listening to something you've built yourself.
Paul Wakeen and I go back to the early days of Stillpoints when I totally missed their presence at a Montreal show, and subsequently wrote the first detailed review of their special footers. Their current footers are now even more special, being designed for specific tasks, and priced accordingly. Their record clamp found its way into my original Linn Project and does double duty damping the chassis of my tuner, making it much more cost effective. New at TAVES was the introduction of a very durable black painted finish seen here on three variations of their footers, which should help the footers blend in with the landscape of many listening rooms. A new product category was the Ultra Piano footer. Not having a piano, I didn't ask for a review sample, but I hope somebody out there will as many audiophiles own pianos — and who knows how this might improve Beethoven's piano concertos at your local symphony? Also in the works is a footer for cellos and stand-up bass. Both of these products could have a significant impact on the recording and live performance of these instruments.
The Ontario Vintage Radio Association gave us a taste of what preceded High End Audio, and offered free tube testing. If only I had known! But don't get too excited about hooking up with these guys, as they appear to either hibernate for the winter, or fly south. Their next meeting isn't until March 5, 2017. In the meantime, you can check out their website.
Audio Excellence, one of the more significant dealers in the Toronto area is on the verge of moving to their new location at 70 Esna Park Drive, unit 7 in Markham, and currently in the process of a big sale at their current location in nearby Vaughan. Consequently, they opted for a modest table presence at TAVES this year featuring the Sonus Faber Pryma headphones that are manually adjustable with snaps on the headband. Various trim includes gold, black and silver at $670 CDN and carbon fiber at $745 CDN. Sonus Faber is a premium Italian speaker manufacturer, as you know, and Italians are all about style. The Pryma is no exception.
The Speaker Shop also opted for a table this year, rather than a room where they could play completed speaker projects. I expect they received much more visibility with this approach, especially with their large yellow banner. What grabbed my attention here was this compression driver suitable for large stadiums or use on towers for notifying the local populace of the meltdown of their nuclear reactor. Obviously, the Speaker Shop is a haven for DIY folks and it is always interesting to view the wide array of drivers available. Their staff is exceptionally knowledgeable if your resident rug rats should damage one or more of your drivers.
There was a huge room dubbed the Technology and Innovation Pavillion again this year. While I took a brief tour of this space last year, I opted to just peek in since I was running behind. There was everything from 3-D printing to electric cars and the educational possibility for young folks — even those not old enough to drive — could be a life-altering experience. Fortunately for me, as a kid I veered away from guns and towards music as my hormones began to rage. It was a great survival move. If I were a kid today (no snickering, please) I'd probably take up the design and 3-D printing of tonearms to help my parents put me through college.
The Big Rooms
Nordost set up show in the hallway in front of the Victoria Square room where they had a rig wired with their cables, of course. They were offering a Show Special of 20% off many of their cables and the purchase of one cable could save you the cost of admission to the show. Inside, the rig was fronted with a CH D1 SACD CD transport/Player ($38,000 USD in base form). This fed a Viola Crescendo preamp with USB DAC ($22,500 USD) that passed the signal to a Viola Concerto stereo power amp at the same price. A Nordost QRT purified the electricity in front of the Massif wood rack that held these components. (There were quite a few Massif racks in use throughout the show.) The music ultimately emerged from a pair of Tannoy Prestige Gold Reference GRF 90 speakers honoring the 90th anniversary of the founding of the company. The 12" dual concentric driver is mid-size in the Gold Reference series that ranges from 10" to 15", but the 95dB/W/m efficiency allows it to rock with authority. It featured adjustable treble roll-off and adjustable treble energy (+/-3dB) via a series of plugs in the crossover on the lower front baffle of the speaker to help you tune it for your room.
The crossover itself is cryogenically treated for improved resolution and a more natural presentation. Bob Dylan singing "Blowing in the Wind" hardly taxed its performance capability, but proved it to be crisp and transparent with a slight coloration that was reminiscent of amplified live performances. But with the front end and electronics in this rig the music was far more "there" than being at any live performance, minus the sweat and heavy breathing of the audience, of course. I'm glad Mr. Dylan finally accepted his Nobel Prize in Literature, even if he won't be there to accept it personally. Snubbing it would have been a disgrace to his fans, at the very least. As for this room, with Altec Voice of the Theater and Kirsch corner horns in my past, I was not bothered in the least by the coloration of the speaker. Accepting that, it was one of the Best Rooms at the show with its outstanding resolution, transparency and dynamics that let me really engage with the music.
Mark Jones, proprietor of Audio by Mark Jones (no surprise there) loves to play special music for people and he did so with aplomb at the show. I sat through an unusual rendition of "Rocky Raccoon" by the Beatles who sounded like they were still all alive and well. (Sadly, this is not the case anymore.) It is experiences like this that makes you wonder "What if...?" The speakers here were the new Magico S5 Mk II ($38,000 USD, in powder coat finish) that were $42,000 USD in the car paint finish shown here. The Kronos Pro turntable with dual counter-rotating platters is nominally the flagship design, but the unit here did not have the upgraded power supply that incorporates two capacitive DC supplies — one that drives the turntable while the other charges — which I heard at the US importer, GTT Audio, last summer.
Unfortunately, the demand for the new power supply from existing owners is so great that there are not enough to supply to stocking dealers at this time. As existing owners' orders become fulfilled, this situation will be resolved. My audition at GTT was pretty convincing, to say the least. From the Kronos, signal was fed to the CH P1 phono stage ($31,250 USD) and then on to the CH L1line preamp ($35,000 USD). Digital (if they played it at all) was through the CH D1 SACD/CD drive ($38,000 USD) to the CH C1 DAC ($33,000 USD). An Aurender N10 ($8500 USD) was also in the rig. Up to this point, all of the electronics were housed on the same Massif Audio Designs rack with the signature knothole on top that they used last year. (Must be the rack works pretty well.) The Magico were driven by a pair of CH M1 monoblocks ($95,000 USD) with a graphic power display on the face that made me wonder what a McIntosh amp might look like today if their signature style had not been frozen in time. Cabling was Nordost Valhalla 2 and a Shunyata Denali power conditioner was in use. As you would expect from the brands used here and the expertise of Mark Jones, this was one of the very Best Rooms at the show.