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2011 TAVES – Coverage II

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My first day at TAVES began with a rather interesting encounter with an attendee. He was giving me the evil eyes and asked me to refrain from taking pictures of gears. Given the number of audio knockoffs from the Far East, he probably thought that I was a spy trying to steal designs. Thankfully, he was fine after I flashed him my press batch.

Exhibit rooms at audio shows are usually pretty crowded, TAVES was no exception. The Sigma Wide Angle lens which I brought with me to the show saved the day. I did not have to wait for the crowd to disperse before taking full a panoramic photo of a full system. The only downside of these wide angle shots is the apparent barrel distortion which will be obvious in the photos you see below. Nevertheless, we are not in a photography class, so let’s get right down to business.…….
Part 1 of my report will be focused on the systems which aroused the most interest in me.

Room 610: Blueberry Hill Audio / Audio Zone

Marlen Mogilever of Blueberry Hill Audio was sharing the room with George Tordai of Audio Zone. Marlon is an industry veteran with over 30 years of experience under his belt. He was the Director of R&D at Sound Fusion for many years. On display at the show was his newest creation: The Rhapsody in 3D speakers (MSRP $ 15,000), a unique looking beast which combines a super tweeter, a full range Fostex driver and an active subwoofer. The setup was powered by a digital source and a pair of Art Audio 300B amplifiers.

Marlen used a good number of bass heavy music tracks to demonstrate his unusual 300B based tube setups to good effect. Talk about having the best of both worlds, it combined the extended top end of 300B tube amps, with the thundering dynamics of two active subs. Bass definition was never lacking, and was downright earth shaking.

If room occupancy was an indicator of public response, Marlen certainly had a positive one. The room was always packed with people.

Unfortunately, the Audio Zone D-2 Monoblock amplifier was not connected and it was for display only. I was hoping to hear how they would sound with the Blueberry Hill speakers.

Room 612: Sutherland’s new N1, All-In-One line stage, and phono preamp

Ron Sutherland has always been friendly and passionate about his products. At TAVES, he greeted everyone with lots of enthusiasm. Ron spent a fair amount of time explaining to me the design concept behind his new line stage and phono preamp dubbed “N1”. It carries a price tag of $ 10,000 USD and should be available for delivery in 3-4 weeks. I would love to get my hands on one of these to test when it comes out.

The technology behind the phono stage modules in the N1 is derived from Sutherland’s Hubbel unit. It features a dual mono design with user adjustable gain and loading. The PCBs are completely separate and are stacked on top of each other.

A cool feature of the N1 is the use of Nixie tubes from the 50s which drew much attention from the crowd. Nixie tubes are made of multiple layers of wire mesh letterings which will light up depending which grid electricity is being sent to. They are the “LED” display of the 50s.

In the same room where the N1 was displayed, was a stunningly beautiful pair of Sonus Faber Amati Futuras. They were paired up with the NBS Universal preamp, Universal power amps, and a Basis turntable. This was the first time I heard Sonus Fabers with NBS equipment, they had lots of body and power, delivering plenty of bass definition at the same time. I was very impressed.

In my book, the Amati Futura is one of the most beautiful speakers on the planet. It is a work of art and will blend in nicely with virtually any decor. With its elegant design and the glorious sound, I would be proud to have a pair of these beauties in my own living room.

I could not recall a single occasion when I attended an audio show by myself. I was always with a large group of friends, and TAVES was no exception. Eleven of us from our local audiophile group, the Audiophile Club of Toronto, attended the TAVES together and we turned the event into a night out for the boys.

We always enjoy ourselves as a group, but unanimous agreement on a piece of audio gear is a rare occurrence amongst us, given the diverse background and musical preferences. But on this rare occasion, we all agreed that the sound coming out of the Ataman speakers in the Reeve Designs room was very musical.

I was pleased to learn from the owner and designer Jugveer Randhawa that the speakers were designed and manufactured right here in our home town of Toronto.

The Aatma book shelf speakers carry a price tag of $ 6950.00 CDN. The piano lacquer finished cabinet is made entirely of MDF. The tweeter and woofer are both made by Scanspeak. According to Jugveer, the solid cherry bracing on the sides are not simply there for cosmetic purposes, they add structural rigidity by providing lateral support. Supposedly, a floor standing model will be coming down the pipe very soon.

Room 671: Charisma Audio

Benard Li of Charisma Audio (Canadian distributor for Audio Space, Audio Exklusiv, Shangling, Scheu Analog and Well Tempered Labs) had several interesting products on display. What caught my attention was the German made Audio Exklusive phono stage and preamplifier.

Priced at $ 7,500.00, the P2 phono stage is certainly not an entry level product, and will be competing in the upper echelon with several other analog titans such as the ASR Exclusive ($ 6,500.00), Rossner & Sohn Canofer-S ($ 7,200.00), Ensemble Fonobrio ($ 6,500.00), or the Manley Steelhead ($ 7,300.00). There is certainly no shortage of competition in that crowded space, even though the word “budget” isn’t exactly the first word that comes to mind in that price category.

According to Benard, this is the first unit to enter into North American soil. The Audio Exklusiv P2 appeared to have all the key features I look for in a phono stage. Front panel access to gain, loading, and capacitance adjustments, all of which are basic requirements for a high end phono stage in my book. It claimed to have a 71 db at the maximum setting which would mean I can drive very low output cartridges. The specs are equally impressive, it has an S/R Ratio of 106 dB, and a Total Harmonic Distortion of only 0.0074%. The finishing on the unit is top notch.

Initial impressions from my brief encounter is a positive one, I was mesmerized by the sound. If I was to think of one word to describe the sound I heard in the room, it would be “SILKINESS”. There is a smooth seductiveness to the sound coming out of the setup which is distinctly “analog” sounding. I am just dying to get my hands on one of these to try out in my own system.

Room 673: American Sound of Canada – Vienna Acoustics, Esoteric, Oracle

The American Sound of Canada is probably one of the biggest retail names in Toronto. Angie, owner of American Sound and Audio Pathways (Room 612 & 631), is one of the very few females in the Canadian audio industry.

On display in the American Sound room were the Vienna Acoustic KLIMT series speakers, called “THE MUSIC”. They were powered by an all Esoteric electronics system. On display were the Esoteric K-01, C-03, A-03 and E-03 combo. You have to give credit to Esoteric for the way they build their products, beautiful finishes and they are all build like tanks!

If this is not the best sounding room, it is probably one of my favourites at the show. It certainly stood tall amongst its peers.

The second pair of Vienna Acoustic speakers was found in the Kimber Kable / Oracle room (Room 634). These are one model down from THE MUSIC in the KLIMT series, named THE KISS. The cabinet of THE KISS is divided into two sections, the tweeter section is pivoted and it can be adjusted vertically as well as horizontally.

Again, I’ll say that they sounded as good as they looked. Only if I could put a pair of these in my office, then I would be a much happier man.

Room: Toronto Home of Audiophiles – Gershman Acoustics, Pass Labs, PS Audio

While sitting in Toronto Home of Audiophile’s room (retailer in Toronto), I overheard a comment from a fellow audiophile that “Francis Chung (owner), is one of the few dealers in town to actually get the concept of system construction, synergy and sonic integrity.” It was the first time I heard a comment which was directed toward a dealer and not on a piece of equipment. Judging from the sound coming out of his room, I may have to agree with him.

The Gershman Black Swans were placed well into the room, giving more depth perception to the stereo image. Very few exhibitors were willing to sacrifice the much needed space to accommodate the sonic image rather than traffic. The room was indeed crowded at the back, but I supposed it was well worth the sacrifice.

The Pass Lab XA-30 Preamp was on display for the first time in Canada. The XP-30 is a triple chassis design, combining a controller unit with two separate dedicated power supply units for each channel. The Plitron transformer inside is big enough to power a small amplifier. The price tag? $17,000.00 Canadian dollars.

Room 211: Trigon Audio, Acoustic Signature, and Audio Physic Loudspeakers

Goerner Communication based in Quebec, is the distributor and retailer for this German made line up:

Speakers: Audio Physic, Avantera ($ 24,000 ~ $ 26,000 CDN)

Turnrtable: Acoustic Signature Storm ($ 7,500 CDN)

CD/DVD Player, Music Server: Trigon Chronolog ( $ 8,995 CDN)

Preamp: Trigon Dialog ($ 9,495)

Amplifier: Trigon Monolog Monoblock Amplifiers ($ 9,495 CDN ea.)

Audio Rack: Creativ Reference Plus CI²P ($10,500 CDN)

Amp Stands: Creaktiv Audio ($1,000 CDN ea.)

I could not recall whether I heard Trigon equipment before at previous shows such as the CES, but they certainly left a good impression with me at TAVES. I thought the 89 dB Audio Physic Avantera was gracefully driven by the 400W Trigon Monolog amplifiers. Audio Physic’s sale slogan says “No loss of fine detail”. Indeed, there was no loss of fine detail in this setup, with a distinctively clean and accurate presentation.

Remember to shake the piggy bank before you pull trigger, with Canadian taxes one would be looking at approximately $100,000.00 for this setup which is no chump change in today’s economy.

Room: Parklane – Zu Audio, Ocellia, Kubala Sosna, Rossner & Sohn

I probably spent more time in the Parklane room than any other room at TAVES. The room is jointly hosted by Samuel Furon (designer and owner of Ocellia), and Robert Neil of Worldwide Wholesale (distributor of Zu Audio, Volent Speaker and Kubala-Sosna Cables). Why did I stay that long? If for no other reasons, the Ocellia room caused a bit of controversy at the last two shows in Montreal. Some people loved the Ocellia speakers, while some others did not care for them at all. I wanted to hear for myself if things would be different this time around, especially with Zu speakers.

I belong to the camp who respect Ocellia for what it stands for because it makes a product which has a strong personality and character. Samuel has stood by his principles regardless of the market’s reception. Samuel Furon emphasised to me that people who buy into the Ocellia name truly understand its character and its personality. In other words, Samuel will continue to make Ocellia the way he thinks they should be made and he does not give a rat’s rear end to what the distractors think. I actually think this is a good thing.

Ocellia looks distinctly original and elegant with their white chassis and wooden control knobs, separating itself from the plethora of CNC’d aluminum chassis out in the market. I love it so much that I may buy Ocellia products based on looks alone.

Ocellia amps

Zu Speakers

Previously I had heard Ocellia twice at the Montreal show where they were paired up with Ocilla’s speakers on both occasions. At TAVES, Samuel paired up Ocellia’s single ended Quaero Monoblocks ($ 9000 ea.) with the Zu Oman Definition speakers ($ 3,500 pr). The turntable was the Rossner & Sohn KLM-15 with a Jelco arm, combined with a Yamamoto wooden headshell and an Ocellia Quaero Phono Stage ($ 9,000 signature version). Cables were all Kubala Sosna’s Emotion line in its entirely (Interconnects $ 3000/m, Speaker cables $ 3000/m, Power Cords $ 1100/m, all in Canadian dollars).
I spent a good 20 minutes listening to various tunes, including Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata performed by Ashkenazy in its entirety. The presentation was not forceful or forward, the lower notes did not have the transient attacks which I was accustomed to. But taken as a whole, I liked the sound of the system. It is unique and distinctive, and this gave Ocellia an identity unlike anything else in the market.

I would love to try out each of the components in my own system should the opportunity arise.

Emilie was graceful and beautiful, and she frequently stole attention away from the room. But you can forget about asking her out because she is happily married to Robert Neil.

The Rossner & Sohn KLM-15 turntable ($ 6,500) looked much bigger than its actual size in the photo. The DC motor is completely isolated from the platter, which is driven by a fishing line.


The Yamamoto HS-3 headshell from Japan, made from “Boxwood”.

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