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The Calgary Audio Show

12-21-2019 | By Al Chieng | Issue 106

Playing catch up as we enter into the holiday season, I wanted to highlight something that I have had the pleasure of attending for the past couple of years. The Calgary Market, although vibrant with many audiophiles, has never had the opportunity to have its own audio show. The owners of the Audio Room, a tried and true brick and mortar store, got the idea that Calgary needs its own show! Kurt Villanuea (one of the owners) and his team decided to use the store as a space to attract manufacturers and distributors to showcase new and interesting products. The show happened on October 5 and brought together a number of music enthusiasts.

Although not as expansive as a hotel or convention center, they were able to pull off different sections highlighting different technologies, topologies, and musical genres. Arriving early, I was given a sneak peak into some of the more interesting offerings at the show. Attendees where treated with two channel, multi channel, headphones, live music, and food. Here some of the interesting things I ran into:                                              

Focal Chora 826 Speakers   

When I came up to these speakers at the show, they were every bit what I have come to expect out of the design house in France. Clean and elegant; what I did not expect was the new driver that has come out of meticulous research. The Slatefiber cone, which consists of recycled non woven carbon fiber and thermoplastic polymer promises speed, rigidity, and a dampening factor unheard of in the market at this price point. The speakers were powered by an all in one NAD Masters Series M10, and my short time was characterized by great resolution and pace. "Lost Without You" by Freya Ridings was playing, and a nice way to start out the show. This speaker resides in the more affordable realm of the Focal line up, and will definitely surprise some buyers who would not necessarily shop them in that price bracket.

High-resolution MQA demonstrations and DIRAC from NAD      

NAD had a pretty big presence at the event, showing off a number of offerings. Their continued presence in the market place shows the longevity of the company who pride themselves on excellent engineering techniques. I had a good talk the NAD representative who highlighted the process that went into each product, and marveled at the seamlessness in which amp, preamp, and DAC melded into a complete system. I was very interested in the streaming capabilities of there new C 658 BluOS Streaming DAC, which were hooked up to Focal Scala Utopia speakers and made an interesting match. The utilitarian/simple design of NAD is great in its understated way as it got out of the way when the music was playing.


I stumbled into another room which featured the new Hegel H390 integrated powering Monitor Audio speakers with cabling by Chord. The simplicity and cleanliness of the design in the Hegel unit caught my eye, and I could see it being used in a variety of rooms to power a decent HiFi setup. The marketing of this product was humorous, in a good way, as it is positioned as the "Robin Hood" product. Although not inexpensive, it leans heavily on the reference series to grab unbelievable value. Therefore, according to the marketing material, it is the rebel willing to buck the trend in audio by promising a lot of high end features only found in the most expensive products. Those features include mono amp design, bit perfect DAC, and connection to many streaming services, which really lend a convenient package to most people looking to enjoy the music.

Audio Research

Occupying one of the larger rooms at the show, Audio Research brought out a full assortment of top quality gear. The main attraction for me was the 160m mono blocks. Not svelte in any way, these behemoths looked imposing, but at the same time stylish with its trademarked Ghostmeter giving way to the glowing tubes in the back of the amp. Talking with Audio Research’s distributor, I learned of the two year process that took place to design these amps from the conceptual drawing of a highly regarded Audio Research engineer to the end product.  It is a technical tour-de-force that includes such features as auto biasing, on the fly, switchable triode to ultralinear, output tube monitoring and protection just to name a few. I was drawn to the ingenious cooling system that lets these amp run at optimal temperature. All this was great, but what about the sound? The soundstage was big and the timing and pace were exceptional. I came out of this room hoping for a future review.

In the end the show, for me, was a complete success. The passion for music was very much present, and if I were to summarize what the overall theme I found between all the rooms, music, presenters, and guests was the unifying force it had on people. Music has a way of bringing people together, and the show was one such event where many different people converged to spend a day enjoying and sharing a love for music. Kurt and crew did an excellent job and I cannot wait until next year. Take care.