TAVES Consumer Electronics Show 2014 Show Report (Toronto Audio Video Entertainment
Part 5: Report By Rick Becker
Bernard Poulin of Simaudio
helped me out with their rig on yet another Krolo
Design rack. Top left was the Moon 310LP phono preamp and power
supply. To the right was a Clearaudio Ovation turntable. But I heard only
digital source through the 380D DAC, which is DSD capable and serves as a
network player and digital preamplifier. Utilizing Joseph
Audio stand mounted Pulsar monitors, this was the finest I've
heard a Moon rig sound under show conditions. The Pulsars added some warmth
and palpability to what I am more accustomed to hearing with the Moon gear.
Bernard was also delighted to show me their new 430 HA headphone amp with
readout indicating the input source of the optional DSD256 and 32-bit PCM
capable DAC that can be fed from computer, Blu-Ray player or satellite TV
receiver. The fully balanced analog circuitry can drive virtually any
headphone from a variety of headphone inputs. An indication of the high tech
inside the box is the claimed 120dB S/N ratio and 110dB channel separation. My
eye also caught the custom painted top with an homage to Rush—a wonderful
way to personalize your treasured gear.
A Unison Research
integrated amp with USB input and internal DAC was driving a pair of small
floor standing ASW speakers at
the time I visited. It was fed from a Unison Unico CD primo CD player. More
intriguing was the Unison Research Giro turntable, sans cartridge resting on
yet another HRS turntable shelf. The turntable goes for $3100 CDN with arm, or
$3400 including an mm cartridge. It's a very handsome table, not seen every
at every show. A ModWright phono
stage on the bottom shelf was likewise going to waste.
In the next Tri-Cell room, a similar looking Unison
Research Triode 25 integrated amp ($4000CDN), this time with a tube
cage in place, was driving Lawrence speakers.
A Thoress phono stage with lots
of EQ capability was fed from a turntable that was experiencing difficulty
from a combination of feedback from being mounted on a glass shelf and a
warped record. The turntable was the new Brinkmann
Spyder which will take up to four arms and sells for $18,000 with
one arm. I can assure you the problem was not with the Brinkman. A Unison
Research cartridge was in the arm at the time. The Lawrence Cello shaped
speaker sounded better than my previous encounter when it was driven with
solid state gear, but I'm still not hearing music commensurate with its
price. After the show I noticed what looked like a stand mounted tweeter in
the back corner in the photo, but I'll have to check that out next time.
Drifting Down To The Ground Floor
Steven Huang of Audio
Sensibility was keeping up with the explosive growth in the
headphone arena by offering conversion cables to adapt your headphones to
various inputs offered on high end headphone amps. The adapters shown here use
OCC copper cable from the Impact SE series and Steven explained the additional
benefit of the adapters in taking the wear and tear off of the headphone plug
itself. The interconnect from this series were used in my Entry Level Project
and they performed astonishingly well. His Testament speaker cable and power
cord were also remarkable in the Entry Level Project. Steven also makes
replacement headphone cables for higher end models with detachable cables as
well as a variety of power distribution and cable related products. As a
sideline, he had a long table filled with used LPs for sale at the show, but
my wife has forbidden me to look at them until I listen to at least a thousand
more in my own collection that I haven't yet heard. Oh, well.
Across the hallway in another table space was Todd
Garfinkle, renowned for his two-microphone purist approach to recording stereo in
exotic acoustic spaces around the world. Todd had his MA
Recordings CDs spread across several tables, but what was new this
time was a couple of LPs he had pressed of two of his most popular albums. I
guess if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Also remarkable was the spun
fiber LP sleeves from Japan that he claims are practically unobtanium. They
have a very soft texture and are breathable. That sounds like an import
opportunity to me. Go for it, Todd!
I reconnected with Tom who proceeded to drag me to the
Headphone/Personal Audio Zone where he had located the Mr.
Speakers Alpha Dog for me to finally experience. (That's Tom in
the photo.) It sounded really good, but so had an unspecified Fostex
model from which it was derived when I heard it earlier at the
show. Unfortunately, there was not opportunity for direct comparison. And now
the new Alpha Prime is on the market in the USA, but was not yet available in
Canada at the time of the show. I can't seem to catch up. I also had an
opportunity to listen to the HiFi Man HE-560, but preferred the Alpha Dog in
direct comparison. Likewise, in direct comparison, the Alpha Dogs seemed well
worth the extra $$ over the less expensive Mad Dog Pro, as you would expect.
At the Headfoneshop table
Charles Park told me Fostex was coming out with the TH500RP, an open-back
design to be priced about $800. His shop is both a brick and mortar store
where you can compare a huge assortment of better headphones and amps and a
hugely informative website where you can compare an enormous selection of
product. Look for it on Yonge Street in Toronto.
Somewhere in the Personal Audio Zone I discovered the new Unison
Research SH class A tube headphone amplifier ($2200CDN), their
first. Next to it was a solid state competitor from Naim. Talk of Nordost
Heimdahl, Cardas and Siltech
headphone cables was in the air.
In their new venture, Audio
Group, I found Sarah Tremblay, director of the Montreal show, and
Stephan Ritch, who is also a musician and involved with the Montreal show as
well. They are now the wholesale distributors of the Grado
line of headphones, phono cartridges and other products for Canada and had a
very convenient display to compare the various models ranging from the
affordable Prestige Series on up to the Professional Series of headphones. I
tried half a dozen different models, and couldn't decide which one I liked
best. It comes down to "What's in your wallet?" I'm really enjoying
borrowing Tom's vintage SR-80 phones to write this report and the newest
generation I heard was much better. I'm looking forward to solidifying my
opinion at the Montreal show next spring.
Nearby was a display of the Acoustic System room tweaks from
France that adorned the Reimyo / Tidal room seen earlier that morning.
And across the aisle from the Acoustic System display was
the Questyle table with DAC and
headphone amp manufactured in China. Their amps use current mode modulation
rather than voltage regulation to produce faster transients that are said to
eliminate TIM distortion. The current mode modulation is used primarily in
microwave broadcast. The $2000 DAC supported DSD and featured both single
ended and balanced outputs. The chipset was top of the line from Wolfson. The
gear looked very well made and sounded great with a pair of headphone amps
running in mono mode for improved stereo separation in balanced mode. Little
did I know what I would be hearing from them in an upcoming room.
Richard Kohlruss, of Vmax
caught up with me and dragged me over to his table to see and hear a couple of
terrific headphone amps. The first was the Roma 41, a two-watt Class A SET amp
from Synthesis in Italy in piano
black finish ($2500 USD) that is also available with a DSD DAC (about $3200 to
$3300). It has speaker binding posts to use with very high sensitivity
speakers if you wish, or use it simply as a headphone amp. There is an
impedance adjustment on the face to accommodate different headphones. Next was
the Hegel H160 ($3500 USD) which
should be available in December, with an internal DAC, headphone output and a
power amp putting out 150 Wpc into 8 Ohms, and over 250 Wpc into 4 Ohms. The
amp runs in their patented SoundEngine technology that they claim uses 60%
less power than ordinary amplifiers. It accepts both single ended and balanced
inputs as well as wireless streaming from Apple AirPlay or DLNA and the usual
digital inputs. Richard always has something intriguing at the Vmax table.
I'll be back after Thanksgiving with one of the most
exciting rooms of the show and a wrap-up in Part 6. Please check in again.
---> Rick Becker's part 6 TAVES 2014