Please forgive the dearth of photos as I was unable to charge my still camera batteries on Saturday night. Some of my best experiences were in the upcoming rooms, and fortunately my video notes help me to share them with you.
On The Lower Level
Active speakers are far more popular on the Pro Audio and recording studio side of the music equation. And while active speakers can dramatically reduce the equipment necessary in a rig, they still require a cable for power. In fact, (not an alternative fact), I recall seeing a demonstration of the Goldmund Logos Tower where music was sent wirelessly to the active speakers from a laptop to an active speaker with no traditional system involved at all. This concept fits right in with todayís younger generations who prefer to own less "stuff".
The active ATC speaker was $14,000 while the passive version was $7600, but when you add the cost of the ATC integrated amplifier at $6500, it brings the combination back up to just over $14,000. As Bryan Taylor of The Gramophone Distribution Co. said, you could go with a less expensive amplifier if you were satisfied with the quality. So what were the audible differences? With the active I heard better soundstaging, more presence, better separation of the multiple singersí voices, and clearer upper mids and high frequencies. Thatís what individual amplifiers on each of the three drivers get you in this instance with amps optimized for the drivers they power, and having the amps in very close proximity to the drivers. There are other ways to achieve similar results, of course. Thatís what makes the hobby so interesting and expensive ó and keeps us buying more equipment in our quest for hearing music that really moves us.
Bryan Taylor did an excellent job here repeating the comparison over and over as the crowd in the room continuously evolved because of their open door policy. Often times at shows the presenter will use a closed door policy, forcing people to wait outside for the next scripted presentation. This was certainly a lot more work for Bryan, and he handled it masterfully. This was another of the Most Fun Rooms at the show. While it wasnít a double blind comparison, I think his method educated people on the differences and sped up the learning curve for those who might be less experienced critical listeners.
Also in the Longueuil room was Marten Mingus speakers ($65,000) driven by a high end Luxman rig resting on a very nice looking metal and wood series of racks. This too, was a rare opportunity. It featured a D-06u SACD player with USB and DSD ($8495), a C-700u Control Pre-Amplifier ($8995) and on a separate amp stand, an M-700u Stereo power amp (120 Wpc, Class AB), also $8995. The Perpetuum Ebneer PE 4040 belt drive turntable from Germany is unusual in that the gloss black armboard seems to be separated from the platter and plinth, but a hinged dust cover covers both parts. Iím told this was a brand that was somewhat popular back in the 1960ís, though I donít remember it at all. It was equipped with a modest Hana cartridge and was connected with a Luxman EQ-500 Vacuum Tube Phono Equalizer Amplifier ($6495) capable of handling three tonearms with full adjustment for each cartridge. There are not many phono stages out there that can do this.
Not present was their E-250 Phono Stage for $2295. And on silent display when I was in the room, was their L-550AX Mk II integrated amp ($6495) that puts out 20 Wpc in pure Class A. Cabling, I believe was by Luna Cables. This was a wonderful combination that brought the Marten speaker into a warmer and more inviting sound than Iíve heard in the past from other models. The Gramophone is the Canadian importer for Marten and ATC, as well as being a high-end retailer for many top brands in their store in Alberta. They also specialize in high end musical instruments, shown by appointment only at their Studio location. These folks are really into music!
Next door in the Pointe aux Trembles room was retailer Audiophile Experts driving what looked like Focal Sopra 2 floorstanders with Esoteric components and a VPI Prime as another front end. Descriptions for the Purist Audio Design Poseidon cable on a table were in French, so I didnít get any details here, other than noticing that they looked expensive. They sell in the US for $1240.
In the corner room, Jacques Cartier, hosted by Zidel Marketing I encountered Iso-Max black boxes with RCA inputs and outputs that break the ground, shifting the signal from electrical to magnetic, thus eliminating ground loop hum. They start at $70 USD and range up to $300, depending on your needs. I believe these were handled by Son Ultime. Sounds like a solution to somebodyís problem. The main attraction here was the huge and very efficient Tannoy Kingdom Royal speakers ($90,000) that did a very chesty version of someone covering Dylanís "Man With A Long Black Coat". Surprisingly, these efficient speakers were driven by Krell electronics with a powerful amplifier sitting on its own amp stand. No clipping was heard and the sound was very well resolved and dynamic with a low noise floor, likely helped by a Bryston power conditioner in the bottom of the rack. The rig was laced together with WireWorld cables. While some might say the sound was not accurate, for me, it was very inviting ó and Iím not a solid state kind of guy.
On my way out the door of Jacques Cartier my eye caught site of this large, but not too large, Tannoy speaker that pressed a button reminding me of my early Altec Voice of the Theater days. It is Tannoyís Arden, a new and not yet released dual concentric model, named after a similar model from many years ago (1970ís?), and the only one in North America. I told them I only needed one for my dedicated mono rig but they still wouldnít let me take it home for review. The Arden is the first model of a new Legacy series with two smaller versions coming afterward. (Stay tuned ó this could be very interesting!) Price for the Arden is guesstimated at $10,000 to 12,000 USD. The gold plate below the drivers is a crossover trim plate and contains slight adjustments for the tweeter and the roll-off. Iím not sure if that is a 15" or an 18" cone, but it is big. If it could transport me back to my youth, it would be worth the price of admission.
In the outer corner of the hall in Fontaine G I came across the very High-End retailer Wynn Audio with what seemed like a replay of their TAVES presentation with the tall Tidal Audio Sunray speakers ($185,000) but closer inspection revealed Wynn has brought in a new line that competes with the more expensive Goldmund line he showed at TAVES, but at a lower price point. Karan Acoustics were sourced from Serbia and included their L Mk3 preamp ($13,000), Ph1 Phonostage ($20,000) and S 600 stereo amplifier ($40,000). The S 600 puts out 600 Wpc in Class A, but still runs very cool to the touch. Wynn explained that the bias level is set very low on the output transistors for normal listening, but it adjusts the bias in real time to the music so when a lot of current is needed, the amp ramps up the bias to a higher level. And yes, I touched it, and it does run cool.
The literature talks of gold plated circuit boards and at 176 lbs., you will need help to move it. The digital front end from Switzerland was a Goldmund Eidos 36U+ CD player ($48,000) and the analog front end, also from Switzerland, was the Thales TTT-Compact II Turntable ($18,800) with a very exclusive gold plated Thales Simplicity II Tonearm ($12,500). Also on the racks was a pair of Entreq grounding boxes: the Olympus Tellus ($12,000) and the Poseidon ($6500). Wynn carried the Entreq years ago, but got away from it. This grounding box has seen a surge of interest in recent years and Entreq contacted Wynn again and asked him to be their Canadian distributor. Cabling in the rig was probably from ZenSati, a jewelry-line cable line he carries.
In one of the display cases a Karan i180 Mk II integrated amplifier ($10,000) putting out 180 Wpc into 8 Ohms caught my attention, looking low and lean like my late, lamented Tandberg, but also looking a lot cleaner in style. The display cases had a wide assortment of interesting pieces on display. Acoustic Revive power box and USB noise filter were among the goodies I saw. Flux HiFi had an interesting hand-held LP brush with a built-in vacuum cleaner and an ultrasonic stylus cleaner.
Fontaine G is a tough room to show in. It does a zig-zag as you walk in and it is long and narrow. Wynn divided the space with a curtain behind the speakers, but the sound here was not up to his usual standard. Iíve never heard really great sound in this room, so the fact that Wynn could generate the level of quality he did and attract an attentive crowd is very much to his credit. Every other place Iíve heard his presentation has been of the highest quality, but here he had an uphill battle. If you liked it here, you will probably like it even more when you get it home.