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Toronto Audio Fest 2023

11-06-2023 | By Douglas Seth Brown | Issue 130

Toronto (pronounced: Tir-ran-Nah) is a Native Canadian word for "place of high taxation." It was also the city where TAF 2023 (the Toronto Audio Fest) was held at the Westin Toronto Airport Hotel from Friday 20 October to Sunday 22 October 2023. The Westin is located right next door to Hell…er, ehm…the Lester B. Pearson International Airport. If you possess the tenured skills of a Shaman voodoo priest and can somehow magically get the ArriveCAN™ app on your smart-phone to work, it's fairly easy to fly into Toronto to attend the annual TAF extravaganza.

For audio journalists, trying to cover three day weekend audio trade shows is like living through a surreal fever dream of caffeine-driven excitement, seizure inducing sonic sticker shock, and chaotic stress. Blitzkreiging from room to room to room three days in a row, in a seemingly endless full-frontal assault to hear as many systems as possible, is an enormously stressful thing to undertake. By the third day of TAF 2023, I was moving like a concussed parallelogram with all the grace, subtlety, and co-ordination of a pregnant yak on stilts trying to cross a frozen cobblestone pathway.

At the Toronto Audio Fest 2023 (image by Renato Rossi)

None-the-less, I must thank Michel LePlante and his battle-savvy crew of sterling organizers for all their hard work. Each year, they go above and beyond the call of duty to make TAF happen. As well, to every one of the exhibitors who attended this year, I offer a sincere "Thank You" for all of your efforts that make TAF one of the world's most vibrant consumer electronics trade shows.

It would be impossible for one audio journalist to try to cover all of the rooms at TAF 2023. The show is way too big to provide comprehensive coverage of all the exhibitors, live music performances, and lectures on all things to do with audio. Instead, Positive Feedback asked that I write up descriptions for six to eight of the rooms where the sound appealed to me.

TAF 2023 was Kray-Zee busy. In fact, I missed a few of the rooms on the 3rd and 4th floors simply because I could not physically get into them. There were so many audio-nutters jammed into the smallish hotel-sized rooms that I wasn't able to squeeze into some of them.

The rooms were crowded at TAF 2023! (Image by Renato Rossi)

What follows is my coverage of the rooms where the gear made me drool and/or the sound gave me some new insight/perspective into how good stereo reproduction music systems can potentially sound.

Artist Cloner

Based out of Québéc, Canada, Artist Cloner (pronounced 'Ar-tease-te Cloo-nay') has a unique vision for their gear and cabling. AC custom fabricates ALL of their gear—including their loudspeakers and cables—in house. They design, build, and engineer entire systems under one roof. The result is a sonic synergy with their components, cables, and speakers that few (if any) other companies in the high-end audio industry can match… let alone beat.

For TAF 2023, president and CEO Sylvio Comtois had Artist Cloner's Pteros A/C power distributor ($2800 CAD), a Luceo 6V6-based tube preamplifier ($7000 CAD), and a pair of Coleo mono-block power amps ($8000 CAD per each amplifier). These amps drove a pair of Ether 2.5 floorstanding speakers ($22,000 CAD). They also brought a smaller/thinner pair of Ether Mini 2.5 floorstanding speakers ($9000 CAD) to the show.

In the Artist Cloner room... 

Cabled-up with Artist Cloner's own OCC Cross Phase interconnects (from $400 CAD… depending on length) and speaker cables (from $800 CAD… depending on length), the system synergy achieved by this system was impressive.

A closer look at the Artist Cloner components rack

The cabinetry of the Ether loudspeakers utilizes a 4-layer dampening system that's comprised of an outer layer of slate-like stone, then layers of acrylic, Russian birch plywood, and an elastomer to absorb internal vibrations. The exterior layer can be custom finished in a variety of different exotic stone finishes, which add an irrationally beautiful look to them. These speakers can, therefore, deliver an uncommonly high WAF factor and a unique aesthetic presence. Although they didn't bring any speakers with these exotic stone finishes to TAF, Sylvio's elegantly dressed wife did show me a half-dozen smaller tiles of the different types of stone that can be used.

Slate stone finish on Artist Cloner Ether speakers (image by Renato Rossi)

Also remember that the US dollar is currently trading high against the Canadian dollar. Accordingly, all of Artist Cloner's products offer incredible sound at, by audiophile standards, sensible prices. As I mentioned out in the hallway to a co-worker, to achieve such a high sound quality at such a reasonable price from any system is something of a minor miracle.

ArtistCloner - ArtistCloner home page


More Canadian than the Montreal Canadienes' legendary goaltender Ken Dryden calmly sipping a Timmy's double-double dark roast while piloting a zamboni down St. Catherines Street in downtown Montréal, based just west of Toronto in north Mississauga, Paradigm have been in business for…well…almost as long as the poor, sad, hopeless Toronto Maple Leafs have gone without being anywhere near Le Coupe Stanley. Unlike the Leafs, who've invented new and exciting ways to lose during the playoffs, Paradigm keep engineering winning sound at affordable prices.

For TAF 2023, Paradigm had a simple but decent sounding system set-up. Their system included a laptop-based streamer, their STR integrated amplifier ($5999 CAD), a pair of floorstanding Founder 80F loudspeakers ($4799 CAD), and an XR-11 subwoofer ($4999 CAD). This rig was cabled-up with various AudioQuest interconnects, power cords, and speaker wires.

The Paradigm/Anthem room

I had a lengthy chat with Paradigm's energetic Canadian sales manager Frank Pugliano about the vast array of engineering that's gone into improving Paradigm's patented ARC™ (Anthem Room Correction) system. The ARC solution to dialing-in difficult room acoustics is a highly intelligent one.

Contrary to the depressing number of wallet-imploding six-figure and multi-million dollar level systems on display at TAF 2023, it brought a tiny bit of warmth to my cold, black, and jaded heart to see—and hear—Anthem's sensibly priced gear. Paradigm's products are tangible proof that you don't need to win the lottery to put a decent sounding stereo system or multi-channel home theatre system together.

Paradigm® | High Performance Audio - Crafted in Canada

Audio Group Denmark

Showcasing Danish gear and cabling, Audio Group Denmark had a simple system set-up that included an exquisite pair of Børresen X2 loudspeakers ($8800 CAD). In comparison to the X3 and X6 loudspeaker models, the X2 is a smaller and more sensibly priced floorstander. Using drivers made of Nomex™ and multiple layers of carbon-fibre, the X2 brings a drool-inducing aesthetic beauty which most other loudspeakers will be extremely jealous of.

Combined with an Axxess Forté 1 ($5500 CAD) solid-state integrated amplifier, an Ansuz X-TC3 ($2600 CAD) power distribution box, and an Ansuz Mainz8 X-TC3 ($1800 CAD), this simple system had surprisingly deep resolution. Although I didn't think the hotel room (Room 426) did anything to help the sonics of this system, the quality of the gear and cabling was self-evident.

Sorry for the lack of photographs here; my images here didn't turn out.

Hi-Fi | Amplifiers, Loudspeakers & Accessories - Audio Group DenmarkAudio Group Denmark

Audio Sensibility

Located in central Toronto, audiophile cable manufacturer Audio Sensibility was selling a wide range of cables, tweaks, and audiophile-grade vinyl records. CEO and head cable maker Steven Huang prides himself on his company's ability to quickly fabricate specialty cables, custom connectors, and unique power supply tweaks for all of his customers.

The Audio Sensibility group (image by Renato Rossi)

Following upon strong sales of their Signature OCC silver (Ag) speaker cables, Signature 75 Ohm single-ended plus 110 Ohm AES/EBU digital OCC silver cables, and Signature power cords, Audio Sensibility has recently released a re-engineered Signature Special Edition (SE) version of their top-of-the-line Signature A/C power cord. Please find a recent review of this power cable on Positive Feedback HERE.

OCC Silver / Copper Audio Cables - Audio Sensibility

Naim-Focal/EQ Audio

Venerable British OEM Naim began making components waaaay back in 1973. If you're counting, that means that Naim has now been in business (admittedly under different ownership groups) for 50 years! In an industry that weeds out incompetence and stupidity with a ruthless vengeance, making a successful 'go' of any consumer electronics firm for 50+ years is something to celebrate.

In the Focal/Naim room

Located in the large Sutton B room on the Lobby level, EQ Audio/Video had a full complement of Naim gear on display. Hailing out of Pennsylvania, Tom Graham is a "Product Specialist and Trainer" for Focal/Naim America. I had a short chat with him about Naim's lengthy success in the CE industry and their incessant pursuit of better sound.

I listened to a Naim/Focal system which used a Naim NNS-333 digital streamer ($11,000 USD) as a source. The preamp in this system was a solid-state Naim NAC-332 ($11,000 USD). A pair of Focal Sopra No.3 floorstanders ($26,000 USD per pair) were driven by a mono-block pair of 175w/ch @ 8 Ohms Naim NAP-350 solid-state amps ($17,000 USD per pair).

The Naim NNS-333 streamer and NAC-332 pre-amp BOTH had Naim's NPX-300 outboard power supplies feeding them purified electricity. The speaker cables for this impressive sounding system were Naim's Super Lumina ($5000 USD for a 3.5m pair) cords. Interconnects were also from Naim.

Even in a large but crowded room with high ceilings and an open concept floor plan, the sound quality of this rig still sticks out in my memory. This system had impressive PRaT and dynamics to die for, while concurrently delivering a musical cohesiveness that sounded natural and unforced.

HiFi Audio & Home Theater - EQ Audio Video

Charisma Audio

Set-up in Room 363, Bernard Li of Charisma Audio brought an array of brand new products to TAF 2023.

The Charisma Audio room system

As a source, Bernard's system had a Well Tempered Lab Amadeus Junior turntable ($5230 CAD) with a new Charisma Audio Charm Low Output Moving Coil (LOM/C) cartridge ($700 CAD) mounted to the Amadeus Junior's tonearm.

Mister Li also brought a Charisma Musiko Junior turntable ($3550 CAD), with a Musiko tonearm ($3750 CAD), and a new top-of-the-line Signature Two LOM/C cartridge ($7435 CAD).

(Image by Renato Rossi)

These two turntable rigs pushed analog signal through a Well Tempered Lab Bill's Phono MM/MC phono stage ($3680 CAD). The system also had an Audio Space PRE-2 tube preamplifier ($5410 CAD) and a pair of Audio Space NOVA M-34 Mk2 tube mono-block amplifiers ($6070 CAD per pair).

(Image by Renato Rossi)

The speakers were Capriccio Continuo Admonitor 311 bookshelf monitors ($8890 CAD) that were mounted on a pair of Charisma Audio's Cabriolet speaker stands ($1570 CAD per pair). Cabling in the system was a full loom of Acustica Legato interconnects ($2800 CAD for a 1.5m pair of ICs) and Legato speaker cables ($4180 CAD for a 2.5m length pair).

To my ears, Charisma Audio's stereo offered the best price/performance ratio at the entire TAF 2023 show. You could spend more—a LOT more, in fact—to try to achieve this level of sound quality. But…why bother emptying your wallet? Isn't life expensive enough? While I did hear a few systems at TAF 2023 that sounded better than the one Charisma had playing, most of those systems came with $500,000+ price tags.

CHARISMA AUDIO | HOME | Charisma Audio

Acora Acoustics/Sonic Artistry

The Acora Acoustics/Sonic Artistry room (image by Renato Rossi)

Displaying an array of components, Acora Acoustics and Sonic Artistry had a beautiful sounding stereo set-up. Gear in this system included a D'Agostino Momentum HD preamp ($58,650 CAD), a pair of D'Agostino Momentum M400 MxV mono-block amplifiers ($115,850 CAD), and a D'Agostino Momentum phono stage ($44,850 CAD).

Source components were a SAT XD-1 record player system with a SAT CF1-09Ti tonearm (total system price $415,000). This analog front end had a Lyra Atlas (Lambda) Reference phono cartridge ($16,500 CAD). Speakers were Acora's top-of-the-line VRC floorstanders ($295,000 CAD). Cabling was a full loom from Cardas Audio.

Acora Acoustics | High End Granite Speakers

Sonic Artistry | Sonic Artistry

Wynn Audio

Wynn Audio (image by Renato Rossi)

Headquartered in Richmond Hill (north Toronto) Ontario, Wynn Audio brought a 'State of the Art' reference system to the 2023 TAF. This system showcased Karan Acoustics components, Tidal loudspeakers, a full complement of Spanish Fono Acustica cabling, and Critical Mass Systems equipment racks.

Source components in Wynn's reference system were a top-of-the-line Kalista DreamPlay XC CD/SACD player that features DSD-streaming and a digital preamplifier ($100,000 CDN), a Thiele TT01/X turntable with a matching Thiele tonearm ($41,500 CDN), an X-Quisite GT cartridge ($20,000 CDN), and a Karan Acoustics LINEa preamplifier with external power supply ($55,000 CAD). The phono preamp was a Karan Acoustics PHONOa ($51,000 CAD).

TIDAL Loudspeaker in the Wynn Audio room (image by Renato Rossi)

A pair of Karan Acoustics POWERa mono-block amplifiers ($145,000 CAD) drove a pair of Tidal Audio Akira floorstanding speakers ($358,000 CAD). Combined with Critical Mass Systems' awe-inspiring Olympus Ultra equipment racks ($16,500 CAD per rack), an Entreq Pluton grounding box ($15,000 CAD), and a full loom of Fono Acustica cables, this system represented an all-out assault at achieving 'state-of-the-art' sound quality.

The Wynn Audio system rig (image by Renato Rossi)

Wynn's system had a relaxed, organic, and natural 'feel' that was a joy to listen to. THIS is the sound quality that all serious audiophiles dream about hearing and owning. Even though the Tidal speakers only had two weeks of burn-time before the TAF 2023 show, Wynn Audio's careful component matching, speaker selection, and expertise at room tuning is what made this stereo system sound so special.

I tend not to evaluate the sound quality of specific gear or cables at CE trade shows because hotel room acoustics are about as predictable as playing 'rock, paper, scissors' with a drunken moose while you're on a four day P2P biker crank bender. None-the-less, if I ever win the lottery, Wynn Audio would be on my 'short list' of audio retailers to visit. Their TAF 2023 system was the stuff that gives audiophiles wet dreams.

Wynn Audio

All photographs by Douglas Seth Brown, unless otherwise noted.