Here you go. The 2018 Toronto Audiofest show in-depth report by Richard H. Mak & Alex Gorouvein…
Just when we thought there wasn’t going to be an audio show this year, as the organizer of TAVES (Toronto Audio and Video Entertainment Show) decided to cancel the show just a few weeks before kick off, thankfully Sarah Tremblay and Michel Plante stepped into the picture and brought to us the “Toronto Audiofest”. Tremblay and Plante have plenty of experiences under the belt as they are the organizers of the highly acclaimed Salon Audio Montreal.
The Toronto Audio Show focused on two-channel high-end audio and was evenly spread out across four floors. Show visitors and industry veterans alike all praised the organizers’ professionalism and careful attention to details. On the morning of the first day, they went around all the rooms to double check with exhibitors to ensure they had all they needed. They even brought little lunch boxes to some exhibitors which goes to show how much they value their exhibitors.
This year, I invited my audiophile buddy and audio blogger Alex Gorouvein of Hifialex.com to join with me on Mono & Stere’s show coverage, so his notes will be presented in italic and mine in black.
Wynn Wong is a man of exquisite taste, and if you are a friend of his Facebook page you often see it splattered with pictures of him enjoying Michelin starred restaurants over bottles of 1982 Ch. Mouton Rothschild or Chateau Lafite Rothschild. His Steve Wynn like exuberance extends to his show presentation as you would be hard to miss the fancy Wynn Audio display cases right at the show entrance.
Wynn had two rooms at the Toronto Audiofest. At the Carlyle Room, Wynn Wong has put together a system that worked wonderfully together:
Kalista DreamPlay One CD Player: $56,000
Thales TTT-Compact II Turntable: $19,500
Thales Statement Tonearm: $28,000
EMT JSD-VM Cartridge: $6,500
Goldmund Mimesis 22H Preamp: $140,000
Karan Acoustics M 2000 Amp: $78,000 (pair)
Vimberg Tonda Speakers: $43,000
(Wynn Wong of Wynn Audio, Richard H. Mak)
The Karan Acoustic M2000 delivers a whopping 2000W into 8 ohms, yet occupies a very small footprint and weighing in at only 86 kg. The damping factor is 10,000 to 1 which will surely control any speakers with ease. As expected, the sound is fast and transparent, yet they carried no sibilance or edginess.
Shown for the very first time is the Vimberg Tonda loudspeakers. Vimberg is a new brand from the same people behind Tidal Audio. Made in the Tidal factory, Vimberg shares many of the same components such as Accuton drivers, Mundorf, and Duelund capacitors, etc. Instead of polished stainless steel like TIDAL, Vimbert utilizes aluminum hardware (tweeter mounting, feet, etc.) speakers to bring the cost down. They are priced at $ 43,000-, significantly below that of the Tidal Models.
Alex G: The sound of Wynn Audio’s system is transparent, fast, dynamic, and natural. Vimberg Tonda by Tidal not only looked stunning in white but performed beautifully as other Tidal models I have heard. Wynn graciously agreed to play a CD I had with me – “Barcelona, Barcelona, Barcelona” by Hiroshi Someya & Equator. It’s a very rare Japanese CD with Japanese musicians playing flamenco. The quality of the recording is absolutely superb and playing the CD on Wynn’s system was a real pleasure. Acoustic guitar sounds filled the room with every string pluck clearly heard, vocals floating in the air and beautiful melodies grabbing the attention of all attendees.
New from Thales is the Statement Tonearm in the special Gold Anodized finish. The statement carries the same dual arm-wand mechanism which allows the cartridge to track like a linear tracking arm with a tracking error of only 0.006 degrees. It improves upon the mechanism of the Simplicity II by allowing users to adjust Azimuth and VTA angle on the fly. You can choose between the Honda Accord or the Statement tonearm but you can’t have both because it is priced at $ 28,000!
Audio by Mark Jones
Known by many as the friendliest dealer in town Mark Jones showcased a system which many people said it sounded much better than previous year’s. Notably, he did not have the heavy drapes as in previous years, which allowed the sound to come through with more transparency and better top end extension.
The system consists of a pair of Magico A3 speakers ($9800 USD), driven by Luxman L-509X ($10,000 USD) integrated amplifier. Analog sources were a Luxman turntable and an AMG Viella V12 turntable. Although I’ve heard this combination before and enjoyed the Luxman integrated with my system for over a month, it was still great to hear it again. Mark never bores the attendees with “audiophile music” in his room, instead of playing interesting and unusual tracks, like Thomas Dolby’s “I Scare Myself” or Johnny Cash’s cover of Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus”.
The Magico A3 is a trickled down version of their expensive models. Instead of using the intricate internal framework, the A3 is made of CNC’d solid aluminum and painted over a brush aluminum surface. As can be expected, bass energy is not as solid or “chest pounding” as the Q models, yet they are tuneful and toe-tappingly good. Combined with the relatively softer sounding attributes of the Luxman Integrated amplifier, makes for a fantastic sounding system which excelled with all types of music.
Luxman Integrated Amplifier
Audio Excellence Canada
Alex G: Audio Excellence Canada showcased a full McIntosh system with the MC1.25KW driving the amazing Sonus faber Aida loudspeakers ($130,000 USD). I really enjoyed various acoustic tracks being played on the system. Imaging and instrument separation were spot on with deep and wide soundstage.
Also on display was a wall of McIntosh Equipment
I always enjoy seeing Mike Tang of Tang Audio as he is truly a man of passion in Analog. Although he didn’t have a system to show, with much enthusiasm he showed me his pivotless tonearm made with a choice of glass, bamboo or aluminum arm-wand. The design is similar to the Musicalife tonearm of many years back, as well as Tom Vu’s Triangle Art tonearm where the arm is held in place by very strong magnets. If you can get tonearm pivot to stabilize (without falling off… ….ouch to the cartridge), pivotless tonearm has the most effective anti-skating control. On my AnalogMagik software, tonearms with frictionless bearings, such as the Schroder Tonearm, often yield the most responsive Anti-skating measurements.
MSRP for the Glass Tonearm with magnetic suspension? Just $ 1,000. The gimbal bearing version is $ 750.
Another interesting item on display was a funky looking turntable which I initially thought was a display rack. The honeycomb plinth is made of exotic wood, supported by 3 inverted wooden cones. The platter resembles that of the Michell Gyrodec, except it is a half size smaller! Combined with his bamboo tonearm, this is the perfect turntable for the tree hugger. Price for the table with the bamboo tonearm is listed at $ 2,400.
LEMAY AUDIO: TENOR AUDIO & KEF
This Montreal dealer occupied one of the biggest rooms at the show. Their system featured full Tenor Audio tube gear driving KEF Blade 2 speakers with Kronos Audio Pro turntable complete with SCPS power supply as the analog source. Digital front consisted of Merging+Nadac Network Attached DAC. Cabling was provided by Inakustik cables from Germany.
I have had the Tenor Audio Amplifier and Pre-amp before in my own system. Jim Fairhead and David Johann had brought them over to my house after the TAVES 2016 show. To this day, they have been the finest sounding amp and preamp to have powered by the system.
Yet, the sound of the Tenor system power the KEFs did not impress me as much as Tenor did in my own system. Here is a case where the finest sounding equipment can underperform at shows, probably taxed by the ginormous room which proved to be a little difficult for the KEF Blades.
The Kef Blades, however, did not curb my enthusiasm about Tenor equipment. I’m still shaking the piggy bank daily to see if the Tenor fund is full. Caveat Emptor, the piggy has to be very big fat one because Tenor prices are eye-popping. Here’s the price of the whole system:
Kronos Pro Turntable: $ 49,500
Kronos SCPS-1 PSU Power Supply $ 13,500
Black Beauty Tonearm: $ 12,500
ZYX Omega Premium Cartridge: $ 9,700
Baetis Audio Reference X Server: $ 12,900
Merging – Nadac ST2 Stereo DAC: $ 12,900
Tenor Audio Phono 1 Preamp: $ 65,000
Tenor Audio Line 1 Preamp: $ 126,500
Tenor Audio 350M HP Amp Pair: $ 165,500
Kef Blade Loudspeaker: $ 40,000
Total: $ 508,100
If you add on the cables and racks, you will need to add another $ 80,000 to the price.
Right next door to Lemay, Canadian distributor Plurison showcased multiple systems and brands, including Focal, Clearaudio, Cambridge Audio, Cocktail Audio, SPL and Naim.
The system that impressed me the most consisted of brand new SPL Performer s800 Stereo Power Amplifier ($4,300 USD), SPL Director DA Converter and Preamplifier ($4,200 USD) driving a pair of Focal Kanta No.2 speakers ($10,000 USD) with a laptop and a streaming service as the digital source.
Compact in size, SPL amplification provided sound that was anything but compact. It was big and bold, with detailed mids, crystal clear highs and tight and textured bass that reached down quite a bit. This system proved that you don’t have to spend large amounts of money to achieve great sounds.
Jonathan and Ed of Sonic Artistry featured two rooms. The first one had the new Audio Solutions Figaro M loudspeakers ($7,500 USD), which I had the pleasure of enjoying in my system for 3 months this past summer, driven by Soulution 311 stereo power amp ($20,570 USD) and The Bespoke Audio Company passive preamplifier ($15,000 USD with silver wiring option). Analog source was TechDAS AirForce V turntable ($20,000 USD) equipped with Swedish Audio Technology LM-09 tonearm ($25,400 USD) and DS Audio Master 1 optical cartridge ($20,000 USD) with its own phono stage.
Racks and amp stands were by our local master carpenter Massif Audio Design and cabling was by Synergistic Research. This is another room where you will never hear “audiophile music”. Jonathan plays music he loves and plays at home, such as Neil Young, The Who, Gentle Giant and Xiu Xiu. The Figaro may not be the last word on delivering ultra fine details or frequency extremes, but they have a warm and welcoming character which allows you to listen to the speakers for hours without any fatigue.
The second Sonic Artistry room showcased relatively unknown brands distributed by Audio Skies out of Los Angeles. Strange looking but amazingly sounding Larsen speakers from Sweden (Models 8, 6 and 4) were driven by Pear Audio Blue (Slovenia) amplifiers and turntables – Kid Thomas with Coronet 2 tonearm and DS Audio 002 optical cartridge; Little John with Coronet 1 tonearm and Hana EH MM cartridge.
Larsen speakers seemed to have earned the praise of many, as I overheard many visitors commenting on how wonderful they sounded. What surprised everyone who visited this room was the amount and the quality of low frequencies they produce and the fact that the sound does not change as you move in the room. Essentially the proverbial sweet spot is much wider than usual.
AUDIOGEN HIGH END CANADA
Toronto’s newest high-end audio dealer, originally out of Istanbul Turkey. They have picked up a number of expensive lines in a relatively short period of time, planting their flag firmly in Toronto as an ultra high-end dealer. They showcased a number of systems in two rooms. The first room featured Verity Audio Amadis Speakers and NAGRA electronics as well as a pair of DeVore Fidelity O/93 speakers driven by a Wavac tube amp, in the reverse direction of the room.
The Amadis reminds me of the old Verity Parsifal which was my favorite mid-size floor-standers for many years. The price tag, however, has gone up a lot ($30,000 USD).
The second room showcased the amazing EgglestonWorks Viginti speakers driven by Lamm Industries amplifiers and NAGRA digital front end. Easily one of the best systems of the entire show with the Viginti flexing their muscles and providing powerful and detailed sonic performance in the entire frequency range.
Apple-Tree Home Automation Sound & Cinema: Kirmuss Audio
When ultrasound record cleaners first hit the market a few year back, audiophiles were buying them in droves, many of them paying over $ 4,000 dollars for an Audiodesk Cleaner or a KL Audio Cleaner.
Now, they have met its match, and this one only cost $ 1,100 CAD ($ 875 USD).
Isik Kayhan, owner of www.Apple-Tree.ca gave us a live demonstration of the all new Kirmuss Audio “In The Groove” ultra-sonic record cleaner in one of the display rooms upstairs. I then saw the demo once again on the main floor, this time by Jerome Fragman of Kirmuss’ Canadian distributor “One Good Ear”.
The Kirmuss Audio claims to not only clean your record, but to restore them to almost “new” condition. They go into great lengths about the frequency at which it cleans and what actually happens at the microscopic level. To me, all roads lead to Rome and it is just a matter of taking long route or the short route, in horse wagon or a Ferrari.
The Kirmuss does ultra-sound cleaning, but does not do any drying. You will have to use a cloth or to hang your records dry. For a limited time, www.Apple-Tree.ca will honor the show special price for just $ 900 CAD. It most certainly deserves to be called the Best Accessories of the Show.
(Inside of the Kirmuss Audio Ultrasonic Cleaner)
L’Atelier Audio and its proprietor Samuel Furon featured a very interesting system in their room. Open baffle ALTEC 604E speakers were driven by Ocellia 300B tube amp with Ocellia phono and Micro-Seiki turntable with Thomas Schick 12” tonearm and headshell and Miyajima Saboten L cartridge.
The sound was the most unique, and it sounded like nothing else in the show. Furon played for us “Alone Together” in Chet Baker’s “Chet” Album. The trumpet sounded lifelike, soothing and warm.
We didn’t stay long enough to listen to orchestral or rock music, but for the few pieces of jazz music we heard, the system performed exceedingly well.
This new dealer’s room featured Accuphase E-650 Pure Class A Integrated Amplifier ($16,500 CAD) and two models of Harbeth – 40.2 ($18,999) and SHL5 Plus ($6,699).
Kuzma Stabi S was the analog source. Although I would have preferred for the E-650 to be paired with different speakers, I did enjoy it with the Harbeth. With the Accuphase providing 30 watts of pure Class A power per channel, the sound was very clear and detailed and with plenty of tight bass. But between two Harbeth models, I enjoyed the SHL5 Plus sound more, most likely because of the speaker placement, with 40.2 being placed closer together, while SHL5 Plus were further apart and created a better soundstage.
Toronto based distributor Tri-Cell Enterprises occupied 5 rooms showcasing many of their brands, such as Transrotor, Acoustic Solid, Gold Note, Aesthetix, ModWright, Estelon, Soulution, Cardas, HRS and others.
The one room that really captured my attention featured Estelon YB speakers ($19,000 USD) driven by Aesthetix Mimas Black integrated amplifier ($8,000 USD). Very elegant looking speakers that produced a natural sound that was very pleasant to listen to without being ever harsh or fatiguing.
Reed has truly been innovative in recent years as they are coming up with new models at a pace which the shows have a hard time keeping up with. The 1X is the newest edition to the Reed line up of tonearms.
The 1X is a gimbal design with the pivot placed at exactly 45 degrees to the vertical and horizontal axis. The 45 degrees angled axis is said to balance the different load encountered by the horizontal vs the vertical bearings, it will also extend bearing life.
Toronto Home of Audiophiles
Francis Chung, CEO of Toronto Home of Audiophiles, has a habit of playing the most ear-catching audiophile music to show off his system’s abilities, and he certainly did so very well this year with his GoldenEar Technology Triton One Loudspeaker powered by a Pass Labs system.
The Triton One ($ 6,400) was being debuted and played for the very first time in North America. It is a 3-way floor stander with a High Velocity Folded Ribbon (HVFR), 2x 5.25” mid-range woofer and 3x 5”x9” rectangular side firing woofers powered by an internal 1600W Class D Amplifier.
Looks can be deceiving because the Pass Labs X30.8 placed in the front is only on display. The system is actually powered by the new First Watt SIT-3 ($5,799) Pure Class A Amplifier. The SIT-3 utilizes “Static Induction Transistors” (VFET), and despite being solid state, it behaves and sounds very much like tubes. The SIT-3 is a push-pull design which pumps out 18 watts at 8 ohms, and 30 watts at 4 ohms. This may be your ticket if you want the sound of a tube amp but without all the fuss and headaches associated with tube equipment.