Gershman / Mastersound / April Music
At the 2011 TAVES, the Toronto Home of Audiophiles had a pair of Gershman Black Swans on display, and it was one of the nicest sounding room of the show. Once again, the Black Swans did not disappoint. Paired with the April Music Stello CDA500 CD player ($3,799), and a Mastersound Evolution 845 Integrated amplifier ($16,900), the sound was coherent and pleasant.
Tricell Enterprises / Joseph Audio
Toronto-based distributor Tricell Enterprises showcased the Perspective speakers by Joseph Audio. At $12,500 the Perspective is a 3-way compact floor stander with a nominal 8 ohm impedance rating, in other words they present an easy load for tube amps. The stand mounted Pular ($7,500) stood beside the Perspective in an equally elegant manner. Both speakers come in five available finishes: Piano Black, Maple, Cherry, Rosewood and Sapeli. The rosewood pair on display were stunningly beautiful.
Electronics consisted of a Macbook as the musical source, feeding into a Brinkmann Audio Vollverstärker integrated amplifier ($7,200), and a Brinkmann Brado turntable which was on static display.
You can usually tell whether the room is good sounding or not by the number of people you have to elbow out of the way in order to get to the front, in the case of the Joseph Audio room, my hard work paid off. I told Jeff Joseph I’m not leaving until I hear both the Pulsar and the Perspective. The two speakers were remarkably similar in tonality, with the Perspective had a more prominent bass presentation. Despite sitting only five feet away from the speakers, the Perspective sounded remarkably coherent with no apparent gaps between the frequency notes. The sound was not overly relaxed or aggressive; they gave a neutral and realistic presentation.
Downstairs in Tricell’s main exhibit room, I saw the Perspective once again but this time they were driven by the powerful Accustic Arts AMP II. The sonic image was not as solid as some of the bigger speakers at the show such as the ELAC 509 or the Magico Q3. This is understandable and expected given it is only a compact floor stander asked to do the job of a full sized speaker. But despite being small, the Perspective sounded much bigger than they appear, music filled the room and bass was adequate although not prodigious.
Overall an excellent speaker for the money, and they will definitely rival some speakers costing many times over.
Magico / CH Precision / Constellation
One of the main reasons why I write for Dagogo is because of the degree of freedom bestowed upon me by our publisher, Constantine Soo. He has always encouraged me to remain truthful as a reviewer, and has never been pressured me into writing something against my wishes. As a regular reader of numerous audio publications across many continents, my conviction is that the freedom of expression is not a privilege granted to reviewers with some publications.
Some speaker brands have reached almost iconic status on the market, with almost universal praise from every print publication under the sun. Every subsequent model release is met with yet another slurry of “ground breaking” comments from reviewers. Predictably, the speaker will be yet the best speakers he or she has ever heard, even though they may only have very small changes to the previous model, but it will still be significantly better than all previous models combined. And of course, you will see a full-page ad within the first few pages of the publication.
I have been an audiophile for more than 30 years, and have attended over 30 audio shows within the last 5 years. Pardon my ignorance, but I cannot recall too many occasions where I have been absolutely shocked by a new model from a particular brand over and over again with every subsequent model being released, albeit even from small crossover changes. More often than not, the amount of myth and buzz surrounding a particular brand is so intense that a preconceived notion would be etched into my brain that it is impossible for it not to sound good.
Fortunately, unlike certain iconic brand names, Magico products do consistently live up to their hype at every audio show which I have attended. Having heard the $165,000 Magic Q7 at the 2012 CES, I was very happy to see the friendlier priced model Q3 ($38,500) at the SSI.
I will not go so far as to say the Q3 is yet the best speaker I have ever heard, but it does carry the same magical Magico house sound. The sonic characteristic is very similar to the Q7, and the Q5. They have a unique lively and immediate presence to the sound which truly sets them apart from other speaker brands on the market.
A member of our audiophile group described them as “something very special, instruments were floating in the air with effortless dynamics with any kind of music, the overall sonic imagery was visually stunning with pinpoint precision to instrument locations. The Q3 seemed to have achieved the seemingly single point source presentation which was being sought after.”
Just like the Q7 and the Q5, the Q3’s cabinet is constructed from a truly innovative design versus mere market hype. In fact, it should not be called a cabinet but a matrix of internal bracing made of hundreds of aluminum rods, nuts and bolts. It is a complex construct of an aluminum frame similar to the skeletal frame of a metal frame building.
My verdict on the Q3 at the SSI? The Q3 is a clear winner from their look to the way they sound. It is a product generated from a unique combination of art and science, resulting in sonic presentation which is immediate, lively, holographic and yet without listener fatique. I’m sold!
Before we get too carried away giving all the credits to the Magico Q3 speakers, keep in mind that the Q3s were driven by some equally impressive and expensive equipment which are beyond the reach of a lot of people.
Ricardo Reyes, CEO of Musical Artisan (distributor), gave me a detailed walkthrough of the D1 CD/SACD player ($40,000, before optional add-ons), and the C1 DAC Controller ($33,000). The designers of CH Precision are the same folks who were involved with Goldmund, Orpheus Labs, and Anagram Technologies.
The D1 is a reference grade CD/SACD player build around the Esoteric VMK-5 VRDS transport mechanism, which can function as a standalone CD player with analog output or as a transport only with digital outputs. A Dual Mono output is a $6,000 option, whereas the stereo output sells for $ 3,000, both are card slot based. The C1 DAC Controller has the capability of upsampling incoming signals up to 705.6/768kHz. Optional boards include: USB in, Ethernet in, and Analog in.
Both the C1 and D1 comes in an aluminum chassis with a built-in adjustable isolation mechanism. The unit has no Play or Stop button, everything is controlled by the 2-layered turn dial mechanism. The color display is customizable to provide for an infinite choice of colors. The remote control is magnetic and can be attached to the chassis.
Amplification equipment were from California based Constellation audio. The Virgo Preamplifier sells for $19,000, and the 250W/ch Centaur amplifier sells for $24,000.
Bryston / Axiom Home Theatre
Bryston occupies a large room packed with a near complete lineup of their products on display. This year, they unveiled their Model T speakers ($10,000/pr) made by Canadian manufacturer Axiom audio, which includes the Bryston BDX-1 digital crossover.
What caught my attention, however, is a pair of remarkably similar looking speakers on display in the same room by Axiom audio, dubbed LFR-1100. The LFR-1000 is priced at $3,760 per pair and includes Axiom Audio’s four-channel balanced DSP unit which sits between the preamp and the amplifier. The DSP unit controls the phase and frequency response of the speakers supposedly to deliver uncompromising imagery and tonal balance.
The LFR-100 houses an additional 4 drivers at the back of the speaker, giving you a total of 11 drivers. You certainly get a lot of drivers for the money. The best part is you can even pre-order these online for only $2,790 until April 15th, 2012.
Mike Tang Audio
At the 2012 TAVES, Mike Tang Audio was my favorite room of the entire show. Once again, Mike has won my vote as the most unique dealer/distributor/manufacturer/audiophile just by doing nothing other than being himself. He is exactly the type of exhibitor which does not always receive media coverage.
Mike’s room was a true candy store for all type of audiophiles. There are toys which will intrigue all types of audiophiles, be it the single-driver SET crowd, the DIY crowd, the nostalgic vintage crowd, or the Voodoo tweaking crowd. For 2012, he even had a cute Italian tube amp which may even attract the SANRIO Hello Kitty Crowd.
The Carrot One Ernestolo is Class D amplifier with a tube preamp stage which outputs 6 watts per channel. The 6922 tube which comes with the amp can be substituted with a 6DJ8 or 12AU7. It even comes with a headphone output jack. MSRP is $350.
The main system Mike had on display featured his very own highly modified Thorens TD124 turntable, with a plinth build directly into his custom-built audio rack. The tonearm is his invention designed specifically for the DECCA cantileverless cartridge. The Preamp is a vintage Marantz 7 which was being used as a phono stage and a switching device only, the preamp stage had been bypassed. Digital source was a modified vintage first-generation Meridian MCD CD player. Mike also had two different versions of the exact same player on display, one by Magnavox and the other by Luxman.
The speakers were Mike Tang’s very own design utilizing the Feastrex NF-5 drivers ($2,000 each). The Feastrex driver employ a large alnico magnet, combined with paper cones made of Washi paper, and surrounds made from soft lightweight natural leather. The speakers retail for $7,000 with a choice of different veneer finishes.
The DIY-like amplifier is actually a product made by Feastrex called the CV4055 amplifier. According to Mike, the amp employs the newest Finemet Transformers. Output is rated at 8W per channel, and retails for $5,500.00.
When Mike played Suzanne Vega’s Solitude Standing LP for us, although not the most accurate and probably colored, her voice was sweet and organic nonetheless. All of us in the room agreed that the setup gave the most seductive and euphonic presentation we heard in the entire show.
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