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TAVES Consumer Electronics Show 2015 (Toronto Audio Video Entertainment Show) Report
TAVES Consumer Electronics Show 2015 Show Report
Toronto Audio Video Entertainment Show Part 2
Report By Rick Becker

 

 

  Entering the Charisma Audio room (7221) that Bernard Li shared with one of his local dealers in, Update TV & Stereo I immediately found the winner of the "My tonearm is bigger than your tonearm" contest. The award goes to the Well-Tempered Royale 400 turntable with its 16" (400mm) golf ball suspended unipivot tonearm ($14,990 for both). The visual simplicity of the design was self-explanatory, immediately revealing its iconic stature. You could land a small drone on the plinth. We're talking about constrained layer damping with four layers of Baltic birch plywood sandwiched between thick plates of anodized aluminum, separated with proprietary rubber damping compound that also isolated the motor and tonearm. Equally elegant in its rugged simplicity was the new Charisma Reference Two moving coil cartridge ($3500), an addition to the growing stable of Charisma phono cartridges, not a replacement for the Reference One that I currently use. Bernard Li was using his new Charisma Audio Musiko phono stage (~$1950) to handle the low output moving coil cartridge, feeding the signal to a beautiful Unison Research Sinfonia Anniversary integrated tube amplifier ($7050 CAD) with an elegant combination of glass, wood and a copper top plate.

The bi-wired speakers were floor standing Opera Seconda models ($4400 CAD) with leather front and back. A handsome new Codia Acoustic equipment rack capable of supporting the 95 pound turntable completed the ensemble. These racks are sold direct from Charisma Audio and are in the $5000 range. This was one of the Best Rooms at the show again this year, but its euphonic tube sound was a vastly different than the CH Precision gear in the previous room. Also of great interest here was another new turntable, the Pre-Audio BT-1301G, also sold direct from Charisma Audio with a linear tracking tonearm ($2800 CAD for both) and another new cartridge, the Charisma Audio 103 MC ($975 CAD), based on the Denon 103 design, but incorporating a maple wood body, line contact stylus and a ruby cantilever. The signal from this table was run through the Audio Exklusiv P 0.2 phono stage ($1375 CAD) and PS 0.2 premium power supply ($1055 CAD). Bernard treated me to a comparison of the two phono front ends. The Well-Tempered/Charisma combination was creamy and very refined, appealing perhaps more to the classical music fan. The Pre-Audio / Audio Exklusiv / Charisma 103MC combination was detailed, transparent and punchier, perhaps appealing more to rock n roll fans. But these are broad generalizations based on listening to a single cut. Considering the wide disparity in cost, these rigs both appear to be winners.

 

In the room of Canadian distributor Audio Alliance (7224) I heard a cut from the classic Muddy Waters "Folk Singer" album played on the KuzmaStabi S PS turntable with Stogi tonearm ($6999 CAD). The cartridge was a Koetsu Black Goldline MC ($3249 CAD). It's been many years since I've seen this turntable in action, yet it is another of the iconic turntable designs in production today. Power came from an Accuphase E-470 integrated amplifier ($13,499 CAD), another venerable company. The speakers were Harbeth 30.1 stand mounted monitors ($5299 CAD), another iconic design that gave a very musical presentation, as always. Cabling was with reasonably priced Oyaide cables. With a classic recording and classic gear, this was a very fine sounding room that would satisfy most music lovers for a lifetime. On a table full of iFi gear the USB 3.0 unit was new, designed to purify the sound between your computer and your DAC. One USB port was for power only; the other for both power and music signal. They couldn't come up with the cost for me, but figure a couple to several hundred dollars, US or CAD.

 

 

In the Toronto Home of Audiophile room (7225), Francis Chung, a proprietor with both an MBA and engineering degree, had a coherent presentation with a price list of all the gear in the room prominently displayed. Using an Esoteric K-03X SACD/CD player ($15,600) as a transport and a Pass Labs INT-60 integrated ($12,200 CAD) as amplification, Francis gave me a demonstration comparing the highly acclaimed Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC Reference ($21,600) with the highly acclaimed PS Audio Direct Stream DAC ($7999 USD). The Berkeley was extremely well focused and neutral, bordering on the analytical, making it the better choice for a recording studio, or someone who treasures accuracy and whose listening time is limited. The PS Direct Stream was more relaxing, fuller, with a touch of warmth, but the better choice for someone who listens for long periods of time, and listens for pleasure. The speakers were the Grande Avant Garde by Gershman Acoustics ($13,000 CAD), which have impressed me at a previous show and like that experience, this was another of the Best Rooms at the show. Interconnects were from Siltech, power cords were from Gutwire and power conditioning was by PS Audio P10 Power Plant ($6650 CAD).

 

I've been writing and mostly raving about Focus Audio speakers since the mid-1990's when I started covering the Montreal show at the Delta Hotel. The high gloss finish and spectacular veneers have become their trademark. In recent years, perhaps dictated by the Great Recession, Kam Leung has shown moderately sized speakers often powered by his Focus integrated amplifier. This year, in a smaller room than usual, he brought in his Master 3 BE speaker ($35,000 CAD), each tower comprised of three pieces and powered them with the Focus Audio Concerto Mono tube amps (also $35,000/pr), putting out 70 watts each in Class A. The amps were driven directly from a gorgeous Metronome Technologie Kalista CD transport and Nausicaa DAC from France ($88,000/set) which Kam prefers to the dCs gear. The cabling was all by Absolute Creation, totaling $25,000, bringing the system cost to $183,000 USD. The system revealed its excellence in the midrange and highs (courtesy of a new beryllium tweeter, but predictably the large speaker, which is the middle model in his Master Series, suffered from a somewhat muddied deep bass in this size room. Fear not, if this speaker seems out of your size or price range. The Master Series is the highest of four series of speakers made by Focus so there is an excellent chance they've got a speaker to fit your needs, including home theater. This is not a boutique manufacturer with just a few models in a narrow price range. Put the rig shown here in a larger room and I'm sure I would be singing much higher praise.

 

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