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TAVES Consumer Electronics Show 2014 (Toronto Audio Video Entertainment Show) Report
TAVES Consumer Electronics Show 2014 Show Report (Toronto Audio Video Entertainment Show)
Part 2: Report By Rick Becker

Continuing On The 2nd Floor…

  

Focus Audio from Ontario, Canada, is a brand I've held in high esteem since my earliest visits to the Montreal show back in the ‘90s. Their speakers were often clad in exotic burl and birds-eye veneers, but in this modern era they seem to stick with piano gloss black—probably because of its more universal appeal. Kam tells me they can still do veneer on request. At my previous exposure to their rig I was astounded at the combination of high degree of focus with ease of listening that came from the 35 Wpc from a quartet of EL34 tubes in their Liszt Sonata integrated amp. This amp should be legendary by this time, yet at 60 pound weight and its $12,000 price tag make it an exclusive proposition. Perhaps the trend toward integrated amps will change that. It should because it was pretty much the same degree of excellence here, without the astonishment since I had heard it all before. Chalk one up for consistency. The CD player was a top-loading Metronome Technologie CD8T from France with a USB input, though I was listening to CD at this visit. Playing CDs at shows these days is bordering on "retro," but there are probably billions of them still out there. A drum cut amply displayed the quickness of these speakers and the very large sound stage they achieved in this room. This three-way design with a Beryllium tweeter has only 87dB/W/m efficiency, but apparently very tube-friendly impedance. The woofer, I noted, has a very long throw and is very nimble. Bass was tactile. The tweeter was sweet, smooth and extended, but the speaker played as a whole with seamless continuity.  At $13,000/pr, the FP-90Be is expensive, but equally impressive, if not more so. I'll call this one of the Best Rooms of the show.

 

 

Phil Bryant, from Canadian distributor Gemsen, ran down Dynaudio's (Denmark) most recent adventures in powered loudspeakers. It looks like a simple stand mounted monitor, doesn't it? Except for a couple of Texas Instruments Class D amplifiers in each speaker with 150 Watts each for the tweeter and mid/woofer. Since the input is a direct digital input there are no expensive interconnects or speaker cables involved. The DAC, preamp (with DSP, time alignment and volume control) and power amp are all inside the box. You will need a power cord, of course, and a digital cable coming from your transport, unless you are using their wireless system. The Focus series 200 XD system-in-a-speaker is pegged at $8500, but all you have to do is add a source, which in this case was a computer. Nordost Blue Heaven digital cable was used from the computer, and to loop from the right to left speaker. A small floorstander with twin mid/bass drivers at $13,500 and an even larger floorstander at about $17,000 will be available in the next month. Analog is not overlooked either as there is an analog input on the speakers. A turntable will require a phono stage for phono equalization, but that's it—you're still vinyl capable. You can also go wireless with Dynaudio's Xeo Hub transmitter/receiver system to accommodate additional sources. I don't normally approve of blinking lights, but I positively loved the stack of blue LEDs in the upper left corner of the baffle indicating signal strength as the music played. Very cool, yet unobtrusive—until you want to check the playback level. A duet of Leonard Cohen and a female vocalist was utterly transparent, but the treble was a bit hot for my taste. Perhaps that is one of the adjustments available in the internal preamp stage.

 

Audio Note's David Cope was in a time warp, having exhibited at both the Brooklyn and Rocky Mountain shows. David said something was special about the 2.1x DAC on the bottom of the rack, but it slipped by me. The black Oto Phono SE Signature Class A tube integrated amp was the heart of this analog system and the music was warm and inviting as it always is with Audio Note gear. The cartridge, as I mentioned in the Brooklyn coverage is an outstanding moving magnet design for less than $1000 that puts many moving coils to shame. Keep in mind that this is the original Audio Note gear, completely assembled, not to be confused with the Audio Note kit company (ANK) which is evolving the circuitry in different directions. Don't buy from one, expecting it to sound like the other.

 

The distributor Audio Alliance had a variety of excellent brands on hand but I didn't get a sense that their components were synergistic with each other. Among the active components I heard were the Accuphase E-360 integrated amp ($10,499) that puts out 100 wpc, complete with power meters and headphone amplifier. It was apparently fed from a Weiss DAC 202 ($6599). I also heard vinyl on a Kuzma Stabi PS turntable with separate power supply and Stogi S arm ($5898 for both) fitted with an Ortofon Kontrapunkt A moving coil cartridge. This was the first time in quite a while that I've heard the Kuzma, but this design clearly has staying power. On silent display were some phono stages from Whest at $1599 and $4999. But what really popped out at me was a modest size Mies I100 integrated amp with 40 Wpc and built-in phono stage for only $399. It also included a headphone input and a 3.5mm input on the faceplate. Out back were two line inputs, a Tape Out, and Preamp Out, red and black plastic binding posts and an IEC power cord receptacle. This Class AB amp manufactured in Taiwan looked very substantial with a large toroidal transformer visible through the heat slots on top—I would have guessed $1000. Unfortunately, I missed the photo op. The big news in this room, however, was the new and improved Harbeth Super HL5 plus speaker ($6299). Next to it was the larger 40.1, which are a classic speaker and one of my favorites for totally relaxing music. Other reports raved about the new Harbeth, but it was the 40.1 that was hooked up when I visited. Maybe it was the Steely Dan music in digital form, but I didn't get very involved with the music. When they switched to vinyl with Muddy Waters on the Kuzma things got a bit better, but the music was still not drawing me in. Perhaps it was just that it was more tightly focused than I'm used to hearing with Harbeth. I've heard most of this gear sound pretty good, if not great, in the past in other systems. Who knows why, but system synergy can certainly be important. Or maybe the rig was just dialed in to preferences other than my own. Remember, I'm a tube guy.

 

By this time it was well past noon. Breakfast was at 7am before Tom arrived. Down on the street, forty feet below and beyond a glass wall I could see Mr. Tasty Fries "Serving Toronto for over 30 years!" "How cruel is that?" I ask, at several levels. (Editor Steven says "You reeeeeally missed it. Had the fries 'n' burger combo and they were yummm and tasty too!" :)  ).

 

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