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TAVES 2012 (Toronto Audio Video Entertainment Show) Report Coverage
TAVES 2012 (Toronto Audio Video Entertainment Show) Report
Part 5 Report By Rick Becker

  With Part 4 done, it was time to finish as much of this event as possible; so here is the final part of my extensive TAVES 2012 show report.

 

  

In room 782 set up by Executive Stereo there was another very well thought out rig featuring Vandersteen Quatro Signature speakers (from $13,000, depending on finish) driven by Moon 400M monoblocks ($3450 each). While the slim profile of the 400M suggests a Class D amp, it is Class A in the first 10 watts and AB up to 400 watts at 8 Ohms. The front end was a MichellOrbe SE with Techno arm ($5795) with a Dynavector cartridge. I took this opportunity to have them play a Jackson Browne cut from Running on Empty I was carrying around. I'm not often overwhelmed by solid state rigs, but the sound here was more than acceptable. It would be easy to point a finger at the new Moon 810LP balanced phono preamp ($12,000) which is their assault on state of the art. The power supply is enclosed in a separate compartment within and there are literally dozens of DIP switches on the bottom for impedance, capacitance and gain as well as RIAA and IEC equalization curves. On the digital side there was the new Moon 380D DAC (from $3900) using ESS SABRE 32 chips with eight digital inputs operating up to 24-bit/192kHz. As an option you can add a MiND music streamer module and a remote controlled volume circuit. Also on display was their new 180 MiND streamer ($1250) which handles whole-house applications at a more affordable price than an upscale model. A Moon 350P preamp (from $2600) and cabling from Cardas completed the rig. It was a strange mix of moderately priced gear and a couple of high priced items but it came together very, very well. On silent display were the Michell Gyro SE table with arm ($3700) and their entry level Technodek with arm ($1695). It was nice to see these handsome Michell tables getting some exposure.

The Planet of Sound room next door in 784 was a perfect example of why I love tubes. The stand mounted Harbeth Compact 7ES-3 ($3599) is the current version of a speaker I lusted after when I was first getting into the High End. It is spec'd at 46Hz to 20 kHz but seems to go deeper in room. Likewise, at 86dB efficiency you might not think tubes would be a good choice, but the Airtight ATM-1S 36 wpc stereo amp with EL34 tubes ($10,299) produced a gorgeous, inviting sound with the Harbeth. And if you think I'm going to rave about the analog source — a Kuzma Stabi PS w Stogi S unipivot tonearm and a separate power supply that does 33 & 45 ($4599) feeding a whest TWO phono stage ($1399) — you would only be partly right. I certainly got in the groove with ZZ Top and "Cheap Sunglasses" but a laptop on the floor was also feeding the Audiolab 8200 M-DAC digital stereo preamp with USB DAC ($899) with headphone. Yeah, the name is a bit confusing on that one, but basically it is a preamp with a built-in DAC and headphone amp, complete with a nice screen on front to give you the specs of your digital source. And no, I did not leave a zero off the end of the price. Kimber PBJ cables were used to connect the Audiolab to the Airtight, adding further insult to the expensive rigs. When I name this as one of the Best Rooms at the show, I'm not suggesting it has the utmost inner detail or the prickliest pinpoint imaging, but rather that I enjoyed the music as much as with the Big Boys. It was so much fun here I forgot to take a photo.

 

In the Coherent Audio room (787) I came upon their coaxial driver floor standing speakers connected to an Audio Note 17 wpc tube amp with Nordost cables. Above that was an Audio Note L3 line stage being fed from an Audio Note M2 DAC 6922 (DAC KIT 2.1). But the real star of the room, as Mark Foley of Coherent Audio explained, was the Baetis Revolution R1 ripper/server, a modest looking black box with a slot loaded disc transport in its faceplate for $3000. It will rip and store just about anything, though their flyer states: "Of course, we do not condone illegal copying of material. We do not ship unlicensed decryption software with our computers." That should give you an idea of the scope of its capabilities. It rips and stores uncompressed files and boasts unlimited storage capability with 12T of direct connect storage, as well as the ability to link to NAS storage. It is said to be extremely quiet and is built in the USA. For those who are into this kind of media storage and playback capability, this appears to be quite the Swiss Army knife. A video of a pianist shot from above the keyboard was playing on a TV screen while the very lifelike music was pouring out of the Coherent speakers.

 

Mike Manousselis of Dynaudio (in 762) was once again showing off the Xeo 3 Bookshelf speakers which go for $2300 and the $4500 Xeo 5 floor standers. When you consider that you don't need amplification (preamp and power), or cables to connect it all, the value of these powered, wireless speakers comes into focus. There is a small transmitter to take care of that, plus a remote control for volume. The sound is quite good and these speakers are located precisely at the junction of Lifestyle and High End audio, fully adaptable to multiple room use.

 

In the Ovation Audio room (789) I had a delightful opportunity to listen to Jackson Browne again on a Well Tempered Lab Amadeus turntable ($3135 Cdn) with a DPS power supply ($440). The grooves were traced with a Benz Micro LO4 cartridge (~$1500) that was able to pull out the introduction to "The Load Out" with a clarity I have never experienced. Other visitors may have heard CDs on an Electrocompaniet CD player ($3650 US). I didn't get specifics on the phono stage or preamp, but it could likely have also been from Electrocompaniet. The amplifier was a "house brand" Vif Audio made in Markham, Ontario that put out 40 wpc from four KT88 tubes for $2699, a very good value, it seems. It handled the floorstanding ProAc Response D40R ($12,995) with a ribbon tweeter very well. Wiring in this room was by Nordost, again.

And across the hall in 788 was a room sponsored by Nordost where Simaudio Moon electronics were set up on the Nordost Sort Kones, powering Elac Referenz (FS 509 VX) floor standing speakers (GBP 15,000) with their signature faceted speaker cones and ribbon tweeters. The midrange driver and ribbon tweeter were actually coaxially mounted. The music here was extremely focused and extremely revealing of the recording which was digital.

 

Second Floor

Down on the second floor there was a hallway off to the left as you exited the elevator. I entered the first room sponsored by Atlantia that dealt with a lot of computer oriented stuff for the Mac and PC lifestyle market. Confronted by a large poster of rap artist Fifty Cent wearing SMS Audio headphones, I was a little skeptical, but I tried a pair in the line of duty. Quite surprised, they sounded very nice without the bloated bass one normally associates with rap music. Standard colors are white, black and blue, but they were also showing a couple of limited edition colors — pink and yellow. Wired versions go for $279 and the wireless model sells for $449. Not only were they comfortable, but the real trick was that they are street ready and can be contorted as shown in the photo. This can be a good thing if you travel with a rough crowd.

 

In room 207 I found Audio Artistry. A pair of Simon Yorke turntables were on display, both the reference S10 model with an S7 12" tonearm and the more basic S9 table with a 9" arm. The S10 was fitted with a Shun Mook cartridge. A Manley Chinook phono stage was employed along with the Manley Stingray integrated amplifier. The sound should be familiar, I thought, because I have the Manley Mahi monoblocks based on the Stingray and utilizing the same tube configuration with EL84 power tubes. The speakers were Living Voice Avatar II, another brand from Great Britain with which I am familiar and hold in very high regard. Both turntables and the Stingray were resting on very substantial vibration absorbing footers which I suspect were Shun Mook Super Diamond Resonators. They worked extremely well, for the system exceeded my expectations with Jackson Browne on "The Load Out" again. My eyes began to wander around the room as we listened and on a table in the back corner was a large plastic dust cover protecting a bunch of accessories. Oh my God, "Is that a Shun Mook record clamp?" I asked pointing to the tall dark ebony stepped sculpture. I had been told about this clamp by a mentor in Europe who knew the Shun Mook products very well. A moment later, we replaced the flat aluminum Simon Yorke weight with the Shun Mook ($2800). I want to say "the music relaxed" but the relaxation was in my body. Maybe I should say my critical listener façade fell to the floor. The music was there and I was listening to it as if the reproductive chain had been removed from the equation.

Part way through the cut I put two and two together and recognized that these dudes, Nick, Jonathan and Ed, were the same people I had talked with extensively at a booth at last year's show. They had given me a complete lecture and demo of the Keith Monks record cleaning machine ($7500, $4995 Show Special), cleaning one side of the very copy of Running on Empty that I brought with me this year. As I recall, the side they cleaned on the Keith Monks sounded better than the other side that had been cleaned with my much more affordable VPI 16.5 machine. But both sides had been cleaned several times with the VPI since last year's show. The light bulb went on in our several heads almost simultaneously and Jonathan Badov popped the LP off the Simon Yorke and gave Side 2 another cleaning with the Keith Monks. Of particular interest this time was their use of a little plastic spray atomizer to apply special triple-distilled water which was then spread around the surface of the spinning LP with a brush. When the Shun Mook cartridge hit the groove of the freshly cleaned LP a smile came to my face within a few seconds and my head began to nod in approval a half-minute later. This was really good, I thought, as we listened to the cut. Tweaked with the Shun Mook products, this system was playing way above the level I would have expected. It was also perfectly proportioned for the size of room it was in, ranking as one of the very Best Rooms at the show.

 

8th Floor Roy Gregory Seminar
It was now mid-afternoon and I was warned to show-up early if I wanted a good seat for the System Optimization and Set-Up seminar with Roy Gregory, European Editor of The Audio Beat, up in room 837. Free tickets for each of the eleven (!) performances were required. There were a half dozen other folks ahead of me and after a considerable wait I was able to grab front row center. Those in front of me had zipped into row two and as Roy began, he announced that row two was the preferred row. Nonetheless, the triangle I formed with the speakers was pretty close to what I am used to at home. I felt very fortunate to be there and not standing at the back of the room like many others were obliged to do. Roy Gregory is a writer I hold in high esteem. I've read several articles he has written about building a power foundation for your rig and the importance of cabling. While I don't agree with everything he says, we certainly have a similar appreciation of the importance of vibration control and I was anxious to see what I might learn from his presentation. Roy writes for The Audio Beat these days and this seminar was sponsored by Nordost and TAVES and supported by Stillpoints, Simaudio, Leading Edge, KEF Audio and Bluebird Music.

In a brief introduction on the importance of system optimization, Roy put forth two criterions for evaluating a system:

1)     Does it sound like people (singers and musicians)?

2)     Do you connect with the space (in which the music is being played)?

He then played a short piece of music, maybe 30 seconds long, and asked who thought the system sounded pretty good. I raised my hand along with a few others. Roy then offered that it sounded pretty bad. Rather than feel embarrassed I consoled myself with the fact that the KEF Blade speakers in this rig sounded much better than the previous time I had heard them at the Montreal show when they were first introduced. Perhaps this pair was more broken in.

3)     Roy then spoke about the importance of positioning the speakers and he and  Paul Wakeen of Stillpoints, who valiantly assisted him with all the shakin' ‘n bakin' that went on in the seminar, moved the speakers a few inches to a pre-determined spot that had been marked with duct tape. With the same short piece of jazz, the music was noticeably improved.

4)     Then they placed Stillpoints beneath each speaker and again the music improved.

5)     Next they switched rigs to an identical set of components (which were Moon CD player and an integrated amplifier in order to keep the demonstration simple).  The silver rig had been wired with Nordost cables throughout. And again the music improved.

6)     After lecturing how regular feet on components trap energy in the chassis, they put Cardas wooden blocks under the components…again an audible improvement.

7)     Then they switched from mdf shelves on the simple rack to bamboo shelves. Roy also offered that you can cut up pieces of bamboo flooring to make inexpensive, but effective footers. And naturally, the bamboo shelves made things better yet.

8)     At this point they switched the music to a female vocalist and added Stillpoints under the components. Having written the first full-length review of the original model, I knew what was coming here.

9)     Then they added Stillpoints footers under the AC distribution boxes on the floor behind the racks and again there was an improvement.

10)   Roy then spoke of the importance of grounding the AC input and having a grounding rod in your yard. (I didn't get a chance to ask him if grounding to the copper water pipe is a sufficient substitute). Obviously, it was a long way from the eighth floor to the earth below but Roy supplied a grounding box filled with earth and minerals which again made a noticeable improvement.

11)   At this point Roy and Paul shifted the CD player and integrated amplifier to a Stillpoints rack, which included Stillpoints footers as part of the rack system. This took a few minutes as they were also careful to level the CD player. This step was of particular interest to me because racks of this caliber are considerably more expensive than merely having vibration absorbing footers under each and every component. And yes, there was an indisputable improvement in the sound, once again.

12)   In this step they turned their attention to the KEF Blades again and replaced the stock jumper cables between the two sets of inputs intended for bi-wiring with high quality jumpers from Nordost. Yep, you guessed it—better still.

13)   Returning to the components again, they ran a separate ground wire from an unused RCA input to the same grounding box they had installed earlier. And this made an improvement.

14)   Next, they grounded the metal Stillpoints rack for yet another improvement.

15)   The next step suggested a bit of black magic as they placed what they called magnetic field boxes directly behind each speaker. They did indeed make a perceptible improvement which suggested possible credibility to a number of such devices available to audiophiles.

16)   All the while there had been special sound baffles on the side wall and on the front wall directly between the speakers, as I recall. They removed these panels which were about 3' wide and 6'-7' tall and placed them out in the hallway. There was a decisive degradation when they replayed the music segment. I believe the panels were from Leading Edge.

17)   When they re-introduced the panels back into the room, there was a very obvious improvement.

18)   Roy Gregory had recently written a rave review of the StillpointsLPI record clamp and at this point he put one on top of the CD player, integrated amp and the power distribution box. Again, the improvement was undeniable. As it happens, I have an LPI on loan for review and when I returned home and tuned in Hearts of Space on NPR that evening, I put it on top of the tuner, achieving similar positive results. The neat thing about this tweak is that you can use just one LPI for all your sources — CD player (or DAC), tuner and your turntable for which it was originally intended, assuming of course that you can remember to switch it to the source in use—a task that becomes more difficult when you reach the age to be able to afford this kind of toy.

19)   While there is a price tag on all of the system optimization devices employed above, some of them quite dear, Roy offered a freebie most of us can easily utilize. He pointed out that the solenoid switches employed with the use of a remote control actually degrade the sound. This was demonstrated by first using the remote to start the music, then by activating play by pressing the button on the player itself. And yes, it was an audible difference. You can easily try this yourself and decide whether you wish to continue your couch potato ways. The good news is he made no mention of enhanced musical performance from bench pressing your power amp prior to a listening session.

20)   To this point, all of the improvements were noticeable, but not earth shaking. We nodded in recognition of the enhancements, but I'd be hard pressed to rank them on a scale of One to Two, much less One to Ten. Each step was incremental. And from a cost basis, the various steps ranged from single digits to thousands of dollars, double entendre intended. Moreover, the sequencing, aside from proper speaker placement, was less important than actually applying the tweak, so you can easily start with some less expensive tweaks to gain confidence and move up to the more expensive ones if or when you are able. As a final proof of the validity of these system enhancements as well as to prepare for the following presentation (although the one I attended was the last one of the show) they deconstructed then entire rig, putting it back into its original configuration and played the music sample again. It was as if my TV set went from color to black & white. Q.E.D.

Roy left us with a couple of important ideas to contemplate as we continue to upgrade our rigs.

A)    You can't listen to a CD player; you can only listen to a system.

B)    Maximize the system you have first (with such tweaks as he demonstrated in this seminar), then upgrade your components.

      I hung in after all but a few left the room to introduce myself and ask a question, but Roy was cornered by some guys asking questions about speaker placement. The seminar ran late and I still had many rooms to cover so I reluctantly moved onward.

 

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