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2014 TAVES Show Report Part Two

12-10-2014 | By Malcolm J. Gomes | Issue 76

One of the fastest growing distributors in Canada is Charisma Audio. Owner Bernard Li always puts on a good show and this time was no exception. This time he collaborated with Trevor Wong of Update TV and Stereo for his TAVES Exhibit. The new products on display in this room included two turntables, the Well Tempered Lab Amadeus Mk II (C$3278) and the Lab Amadeus GTA Mk II (C$5583), the Audio Exklusiv P0.2 phono stage (C$7950) and P2 phono stage (C$7950). These were displayed on Codia Acoustic Design Stage 3000 single rack ($4660). Bernard has high hopes for his Cabriolet speaker stand which can be height adjusted from 24" to 28" making it a lot more versatile than the fixed height speaker stands. The room also had a few Modwright components including the LS36.5 preamp (C$5700) and the KWA150 monoblock power amp ($9000 each).

Another exhibitor at TAVES was R2R Audio Ltd. President Artur Ayvazov enthusiastically presented his RT15E speakers, which consisted of a single 15-inch full range driver unit per channel driven by a built in 700-watt UcD amplifier. Artur explained, this speaker is the culmination of 30 years of R&D where the goal was to combine the virtues of panel speakers with dynamic speakers while eliminating the downsides of both designs. The speaker has a unique look and aside from the sound stage, which was impressively deep and wide, although it did not perform at the level that most other speakers selling for C$50,000 do.

The room next door featured Audio by Mark Jones. It featured a pair of Tannoy Cantebury GR Speakers (C$29,000), which was mated to a Kronos Limited Edition Turntable, a Bryston BDP-1 digital player, a Tenor 175S Ultimate Reference Stereo Amplifier (C$55,000), a Tenor Line 1/Power 1 Reference Line Stage Preamplifier (C$100,000) and a Tenor Phono 1 Ultimate Reference Phono Stage (C$50,000). Mark Jones was literally jumping around pressing the flesh to build up enthusiasm in his products. The mucho dinero components in this room attracted a lot of visitor traffic and the sound quality did not disappoint.

I have seen Steven Huang of Audio Sensibilities grow in popularity with each passing TAVES Show, and this time it was no different. There was a steady stream of visitors to his stand and he did brisk business selling his cables and interconnects which offer truly outstanding value for money. At this TAVES, he introduced the Statement ST power distribution box that sells for C$1400 to C$1700 depending on whether you opt for the gold or rhodium option. He also introduces his new line of headphone cables, which garnered a lot of interest at the Show.

One of the big surprises at the show was the Yamaha Room. This is a brand that has been around for the better part of 125 years and was well respected in the 1980s. It does seem like they are making a concerted effort to regain their past glory. At TAVES, Yamaha showed their CD-S300 CD player (US$350) and A-S801 integrated amp (US$1000) that puts out 100 WPC. These were hooked up to the Golden Ear Triton 1 speakers (US$5000) that were borrowed from Bay Bloor Radio. The combination was synergistic magic. For this relatively small sum, the sound was big, bold, beautiful and totally addictive. For me this is the best value combo of the Show. Yamaha also had some very attractive lighting audio systems including the LSX-170 (US$550), which is a Bluetooth speaker amplifier combo that conveniently links up to smartphones and other devices that can communicate it via Bluetooth. These are not exactly high fidelity, but they are great for listening to your favorite tunes on the patio or the balcony on a balmy summer's day, or to lend a bit of ambient romance in your bedroom.

No TAVES Show is complete with the presence of Plurison. Voted "Best Canadian Distributor" by Canadian Dealers, this Quebec based behemoth has a truly enviable roster of brands. It is always a pleasure to meet Plurison's National Sales and Marketing Director, Michel Plante who gave me the grand tour of all the latest and greatest that they were introducing at the Show. He started off with the Naim Mu-So Music Center (C$1,699). This component looks like a sound bar but is so much more. It incorporates six driver units each one driven with its own 75 watt built in amplifier. It offers multi-room streaming of high rez (better than red book) music from a PC, Mac, network attached storage, iPhone, iPad (using iTunes) thanks to its built in 24/192 capable DAC. It can also link to Bluetooth devices and is aptX compatible. It can access thousands of stations via Internet Radio. Via USB, it can also be hooked to your iPhone, iPad and other USB compatible MP3 players. You can also plug in a USB stick that has your favorite tunes. Additionally, it offers native support of Spotify given you access to the millions of songs in their library.

Next on Michel's list was the Micromega range of "MY" products. He began with the MY AMP (C$700) which is an ultra compact cube containing a 30wpc (8 ohms), Class AB amp, analog and digital inputs, a built in DAC, a Bluetooth aptX module, a subwoofer output, a headphone socket, a full function remote control. Also on display was "MY FIRST SPIN" a turntable with a USB output, which is offered complete with a tone arm and cartridge for just C$700. A great way to get music lovers hooked on vinyl.

Michel than took me across the room to introduce me to the Cocktail Audio range of products from South Korea. First up was the X12 (C$900), an amazingly small cube that is a HD hi-fi music server with a database, a CD ripper that stores metadata, a quality 24/192 DAC a built in 60wpc amplifier and a network streamer that is UPnP and DLNA ready. It supports multiple music streaming services including Qobuz, Simfy and Reciva. The 4.3-inch TFT LCD full colour screen offers a very user-friendly GUI.

We then went over the features of the X12's sibling, the X30 (C$2800), which is a smart HD music server/network streamer/ CD storage/ripper, a DSD/DXD capable DAC and an amplifier. It can also be fitted with a 3.5" or 2.5" SATA hard disk drive or SSD. The step up model is the X40, which is a premium quality DXD/DSD DAC that features native DSD file playback, a music server with a database, a CD ripper and a network streamer. This component incorporates the ES9018 Sabre chip that can handle both standard and double (5.6448MHz) DSD as well as 24/192 PCM. For vinyl enthusiasts, the X40 offers a phono (MM) input, which allows you to store your vinyl in a 24/192 sample rate digital file. It is designed to work with music streaming services including Qobuz, Simfy and Internet Radio. The 5-inch full color TFT LCD screen offers a very intuitive GUI. Outputs include an HDMI out connection that allows you to connect it to a larger TV screen. It supports up to 3.5" SATA hard disk drive up to 4 TB and a 2.5" hard disc or an SSD. It also has a built in FM radio.

It does look like Plurison has seen the future of high-end audio and it looks like smaller, more affordable components, with an emphasis on streaming audio, wireless and Internet connectivity. This being the case, it has reinforced its brands portfolio with products that will take advantage of this trend while in the process motivating more of the younger crowd that followed the baby boom generation, to get into high-end audio.

Does this mean that Plurison is leaning towards affordability at the cost of SOTA high-end audio? One look inside their flagship room would dispel that notion in a hurry. Here I found Naim's top-of-the-line Statement System, which costs well over a quarter of a million Canadian Dollars. This one horsepower (746 wpc X 8 ohms) system is an all out assault on the state-of-the-art and hooked up to the Focal Stella Utopia Speakers (C$100,000) delivered a truly majestic performance.

Another popular destination for TAVES Visitors was the Meridian Audio Room. Holding court here was the DSP7200SE (US$46,000) fed with the Meridian Sooloos Control 5 Server (US$7500). According to John Bartkowiak, the International Sales Executive of Meridian, the DSP7200SE delivers a frequency response of 30Hz to 20kHz plus or minus 3dB and is capable of achieving 112dB spl @ 1 meter on music material which are impressive figures. The driver units include two 200mm long-throw bass drivers, a 160 mm polypropylene midrange and a 25mm composite-dome tweeter that has a dual magnet and is semi horn loaded. The FIFO memory buffer input reduces jitter to insignificant levels from almost any source and the analogue gain and filtering is done with proprietary Meridian Class-A discrete amplification in AB Class. So how does all this translate into sonic performance, suffice to say that in the C$50,000 to C$75,000 system price category, the Meridian Room provided the best sound at TAVES.

My next visit was to the Monitor Audio Room, which featured the Platinum 300 Speakers (C$11,500). They were been driven by Cyrus Audio front-end components that included the XP2QX Streamer (C$3700), the PSXr2 Power Supply (C$1099) and the Stereo 200 Amplifier (C$3500). The small footprint Cyrus components are very misleading as they look like most mid-fi ultra compact component systems. However, when you go through their specifications, it is quite a revelation as, on paper, they match and even exceed the performance specifications of many full size true high-end audio components. Because of their modest dimensions, expectations of visitors to this room were lowered, only to be pleasantly surprised with their actual real world performance. The Monitor Audio speakers danced beautifully with the Cyrus Audio Components to fill this room with sound quality that blew away most of the visitors to this room. In the under C$30,000 system price range, this is the room that had the best sound at TAVES.

For me, no coverage of TAVES is complete without meeting Anne Bisson, the diva whose incredible voice helps me evaluate high-end audio components and systems. Anne very graciously signed her CDs and Vinyl records that were sold to her fans at TAVES. She also introduced her newest album titled "Tales from the Treetops" which sold so briskly at the Show, when I met Anne, she was down to her last 10 vinyl records of this album.

Audio Eden is a regular at TAVES and for this year, Mike Hamelin had the Kharma DB9S speakers (C$40,000 a pair) paired up with an LFD – DLS line stage preamp (C$5700) and Anniversary monoblock power amps (C$12,900 a pair) and all the interconnects and cables were Nordost Valhalla 2. The sound was typical of Kharma, superb midrange, treble that was clear as a bell and bass that is deep and incredibly tuneful.

Kennedy Hi-Fi used TAVES to introduce the new line of Paradigm Speakers, the Prestige line, which replaces their Studio line from November 2014 onwards. The new line offers six new transducers including three floor standers, two center channel speakers, one model of surround channel speakers and one bookshelf speaker. Pricing has still not been finalized but the estimated prices are as follows. The floor standers are 95F (C$5000), 85F (C$4300) and 75F (C$3000). The center channel speakers are 55C (C$1700) and 45C (C$1300). The bookshelf is 15B (C$1600). All prices are approximate and are for a pair except for the center speakers. On the technology front the new line of speakers feature a Perforated Phase Aligning (PPA) Tweeter Lens, which protects the fragile S-PAL tweeter dome and serves as the phase plug that blocks out of phase frequencies for a smoother and more extended high frequency performance. The finishes include walnut, black walnut and piano black. A 'Midnight Cherry' finish will also be offered for an extra C$450 to C$700 (approximately) depending on the model.

I then visited was Erikson Consumer Room. Here Mario Cadoret, the Brand Manager took me thorough their line-up of Arcam gear, which is due for release in December 2014. He started off with the C49 preamp (C$5000), which has balanced and single ended inputs and outputs and dual mono volume controls. The power amp that goes with it is the P49, which has Arcam's G topology and delivers 200wpc into 8 ohms (400 watts into 4 ohms) with the first 50 watts in pure class A. The new CD/SACD player goes by CDS27 ($1,600) and offers network streaming and UPnP and CIFS audio streaming up to 24/192 resolution. The outputs include both balanced and single ended options as well as USB and Ethernet. Another new offering by Arcam is their Solo Bar/Sub where the price is still to be determined. This combo offers Bluetooth connectivity with aptX streaming technology. The bar incorporates six driver units and 100 watts of amplification in an aluminum enclosure. The bar comes with a remote control as well as a microphone to help in the setup using equalization. The sub has 300 watts of amplification and has a 10-inch downward firing long-throw driver unit. The speakers in this room were the Revel Studio 2 (C$20,100). There was good synergy between the Arcam components and the Revel speakers. Female vocals in particular, came through with a lot of presence, palpability and emotion.

My final stop was the Bryston Room. James Tanner, the VP of Sales gave me the rundown on what is new. These include the BDA-3 DAC (C$3195) and BOT-1 optical transport ($850). The BDA-3 offers decoding up to 32/384 in PCM and quad DSD natively. It has 10 inputs including 4 HDMI, 2 USB, and S/PDIF over BNC, RCA and Toslink. Bryston has not released jitter figures but claims that it is at near immeasurable levels in the BDA-3. The analog section is completely free of integrated circuits which Bryston claims limits dynamic range and bandwidth. Because of the HDMI inputs you can connect Blu-ray players to this DAC and enjoy superior 2-channel playback. The BOT-1 is designed to let you attach it to the Bryston BDP-1 or 2 and rip or playback your CDs with bit-perfect results.

Attendance and participation at TAVES continues to grow quite exponentially which now makes it the #1 high-end audio show in Canada. The fact that this year, the organizers expanded the Show to include photography as well shows their ambitious goals. For North American high-end audio manufacturers who find that there is a certain amount of duplication amongst the visitors to the multitude of audio shows in America, TAVES offers a fresh audience where the vast majority of the visitors have not attended any of the shows in the United States.