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TAVES Consumer Electronics Show 2014 (Toronto Audio Video Entertainment Show) Report
TAVES Consumer Electronics Show 2014 Show Report (Toronto Audio Video Entertainment Show)
Part 1: Report By Rick Becker

I met up with Graeme Humfrey, proprietor of coup de Foudre (Montreal) who always puts on a fine exhibit and this room was no exception with a very handsome Line Magnetic LM-518IA integrated amplifier that puts out 22 wpc with 845 tubes. It was driving a pair of LM Audio speakers with a full range driver in a retro-looking vented cabinet. Line Magnetic makes high quality reproduction drivers of Western Electric originals from the good old, old days. This 95dB/W/m high-efficiency, crossover-less speaker runs about $9000/pr. An analog front end with an EMT cartridge was pulling jump-blues out of the grooves and the place was hopping with enthusiasm and interest from visitors.

 

At the Crown Mountain Imports room I discovered Norma, another new brand to me. Manufactured in Italy, the simple system included an integrated amplifier with 180 wpc, MOSFET design ($8900). It was being driven by a Norma CD player ($6600) complete with TEAC transport, but you can add USB ($1000) and a phono stage ($650) to the amp if your sources demand it. A smaller version of the amp is available for $4950, also with available phono stage for only $350 and a USB input for $1000. The speakers came from Kudos in England ($4200) and sounded every bit as praiseworthy as models I've heard in the past from designer and owner Derick Gilligan. On the back of the speaker was a bolt directly behind the mid/woofer that perhaps reduced vibration of the driver's spider. The importer had never noticed it. I also noted the duplicity of stands on the speakers—the lower ones came from Track Audio. I fondled one of their individual footers on display and they give evidence of their aerospace origin, as does their price of $800 for a set of three footers. The speaker stands will obviously be more. Using standard Red Book (16-bit/44.1kHz) resolution, the music here was very high quality. In snooping around the Crown Mountain website I discovered another unfamiliar brand, Rothwell, also from England, who makes phone stages and step-up transformers. File this away for future need.

 

  

The tall Bowhead Alpha Five Seven speaker shown here belied its complex internal structure. The top three drivers are high frequency 5" polypropylene full range units. The next four drivers are mid frequency 5" polypropylene full range units and on the downward facing slope on the back side are two 8" aluminum subwoofer drivers. The full range drivers each have a 150 watt Class D amp and are enclosed in their own individual chambers. The subwoofers each have a 250 watt Class D amp. All drivers are enclosed in sealed (acoustic suspension) chambers. The circular base of the speaker houses the amps and the proprietary 8 channel active crossover that operates in the analog domain. The cabinet is made out of solid, cross-ply bamboo and was shown in the natural bamboo finish, although other finishes are available. The rest of the system was comprised of a Blue Circle preamp, DAC and power line conditioner as well as a Fractal Design server. A tall 5" diameter column behind the table with the gear was the tallest of Yeung's affordable power conditioner. Gilbert, himself, was on hand in the "inner office" of the room, held captive by fans wanting to know more about his plastic pipe power conditioners. Obviously, he's a fan of the Elton John School of Eyewear Design. There are not many people as cool as Gilbert in this industry, nor many who make such fine sounding tube gear. There were too many people in conversation in this room and I wasn't familiar enough with the music to call this one of the best rooms at the show, but it is gear certainly worth checking out further. The $28,000 Bowhead is a very handsome speaker capable of prodigious levels of clean music.

 

  

OK, guys, IMHO, this is how it's done: a couple of little stand-up signs listing all the gear in the rig that can be perused or photographed quickly without having to dance around the rig, blocking the music for others while trying to read copious detailed descriptions. Snap a photo and check it out on line when you get home or on your smart phone while you sit and listen to the music. Such notation eliminates repetitive questions and greatly improves the music-to-noise ratio of your presentation. Dare I suggest it allows visitors to "Enjoy the Music"? Rene Evans of Mystic Audio ran down the system for me. The Cocktail Audio X30, he claims, is the Swiss Army knife of sources. The short story is this unit does everything for $1895. Well, you still need speakers, and a phono stage and a turntable if that's your preferred source. And you have to supply your own hard drive to slide into a tray on the back, which allows you to choose the amount of storage you need. But other than that, it addresses the needs of young, incoming audiophiles who are geared to digital in all forms, and comfortable listening with headphones. So, what's with the rest of the rig? Well, Cocktail makes similar products at lower prices, but with this unit they have upped the quality for people who want to utilize its functionality in a higher level rig, thus by-passing the built-in Class D 100wpc power amp. The amp is still there should you want to take the Cocktail to your summer cottage, but the internal Class D amp does not compare with the fine Blue Circle gear in the rig. The Gershman speakers usually sound best to my ear when driven by tube gear, but the Blue Circle solid state gear did not disappoint with the red Avant Garde R1. Not to be ignored in this room were the equipment rack made by Mystic Audio, and the tall black Dynaudio speakers some of you may have heard at other times.

 

Having just set foot in the Woo Audio room, in walked the ever cheerful Sarah Tremblay, director of the Montreal show, whom I had seem a month earlier in a supporting role at the Brooklyn show. This woman gets around. She graciously treated me to a review sample of her now famous sugar coated walnuts which definitely spiced up the weekend, and also invited me to visit her new Grado headphone adventure in the headphone/personal audio zone somewhere in the maize on the ground floor. (I'd get to that on Sunday).  But here in the Land of Woo were probably all of Jack Woo's products available to listen to through a variety of high quality headphones, including the $5495 Abyss planar magnetic phones seen here plugged into the $15,900 model 234 monoblocks. Capable of driving a wide variety of headphones as well as high efficiency loudspeakers, this is a unique combination for the wealthy connoisseur. Having more proletarian tastes, I found happiness in a pair of genuine Fostex, the brand from which Mr. Speakers evolved. I've made more effort to listen to headphones at shows over the past two years, and while I'm far from expert, I'd dare say the Fostex are pretty decent—easily preferable to the Sennheiser HD650 shown with them. I was about to leave when Jack pulled me over to his new, portable tube powered headphone amp, shown here with a business card for scale. I tried it with both a wall wart attached and off-grid. It seemed a reasonable product, but I had nothing to compare it to. The target price of amp is in the $1500 range. For that kind of money I would sooner get one of his table top models and forgo the portability. Nonetheless, I suggested that he incorporate a headphone jack and turn it into a high end, high powered hearing aid that would blow away anything from the traditional hearing aid industry with the right mic and good headphones—for far less than the $8000 some hearing aids cost. Seriously.

Much, much more to come—keep checking back over the next few weeks.  

On a closing note to Part 1 of this report, I'd like to share this news item with you. It has nothing to do with audio, and everything to do with audio, for without peace our hobby would be just a fantasy. I rarely use the word "awesome" in my writing; this is awesome.

 

---> Part 2 of Rick Becker's TAVES 2014 report.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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