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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 5: Report By Rick Becker

Continuing On The 4th Floor...

In the Leaside conference room I dropped down to much more affordable gear with SVS speakers presenting a surround sound home theater with their new Prime series stand mounted monitors. I'm not an opera person. Think of me what you like. But I really had no point of reference to judge this surround sound audio gear. At the other end of the room, set back in an alcove, not the best choice in my opinion, was a very modest rig comprised of Marantz CD player, an Emotiva EXP-1preamp and Emotiva XPA-1 monoblocks driving SVS Prime tower speakers—two different sizes. The side firing woofer of the larger was only a couple of inches from the side of the smaller one. Again, not optimal, but the larger one produced a fuller sound than the smaller one in direct comparison. SVS is probably best known for their subwoofers. Since they sell direct and through few retailers, they can keep the cost way down, putting them at very popular price points.

After doing a little zig-zag through the elbow of the 4th floor, the hallway switched from conference rooms to much smaller guest rooms. The first three were taken by Sony of Canada. In one room I was treated to a Sony Hi-Res Walkman ($700) cobbled to a portable PHA-3 headphone amp/DAC ($1000) with heavy rubber bands. The unit upsamples to Hi-Res and is capable of handling DSD signals. In addition to a normal headphone jack it also features balanced outputs which allow it to take full advantage of the new Sony MDR-Z7 headphones ($700) with balanced inputs. Of course this requires more expensive balanced cables--$300 in this case, bringing the total price for the portable rig up to $2700. The headphones feature magnetic fluid drive and a 70mm driver that fits into a conventional size cup for over-the-ear fit. The driver is supposed to act more like a planar driver providing a wall of sound rather than what you would expect from a smaller cone driver. Its large size is said to provide wider frequency response, particularly improving the low end. It sounded pretty good to me on this portable rig, but none of the usual suspects were available for direct comparison.

In another Sony room the HAP-Z1ES HDD Hi-Res player ($1999) was playing a DSD track of Three Dog Night singing "Spinning Wheel", perhaps not the highest quality recording they might have selected. The server fed into their TA-A1ES integrated amp which drove SS-NA2ES speakers ($11,000). While the speakers have received high praise elsewhere, I didn't hear praiseworthy sound here, due either to the recording, and/or possibly the amplifier. The song was more highly resolved, qualifying for the 'Hi-Res' they are promoting, but resolution isn't everything when it comes to enjoying the music.

In the third Sony room they had a couple of very cool video projectors. The coolest was their VPL-GTz1 ultra-short throw projector for floor or ceiling mounting. Place 5" out from the wall, it can produce a 130" image, or move it out a little further for a maximum of 147". And did I mention it does 4K video? The image was pretty stunning and looked like it was very close to a perfect rectangle. Priced at $55,000, they claim 20,000 hours of maintenance-free operation. With three SXRD panels (for red, green and blue) and laser lighting they are able to recreate exact colors for each individual pixel. Standing four feet in front of the large screen, I could detect no pixels in the image. Did I say the image was stunning? Unfortunately, with a 130" screen size you will be forced to relocate a couple of your Monet and Renoirs to other walls in your mansion. Actually, they consider the primary market to be business, industrial and educational settings. For those of us slightly, or even considerably below the top 1%, they also had on display the brand new VPL-300ES, their most affordable 4k video projector at $10,000. Using XSRD panels, this too was excellent, though not as impressive as their larger display when viewed in the very dark room with light only coming in from the doorway to the hall.

 

Dale Mackintosh (note the spelling) was very helpful in the McIntosh room where a full-Mac rig was first driving their XR-50 stand mounted monitors ($4,000US). He quickly switched over to give me a listen to their XR-100 towers ($10,000US) to convince me once again that their speakers deserve exposure to a larger audience. And that seems to be happening with regularity at shows in recent years. New products included the MC 301 quad balanced 300 watt monoblocks ($5000, each), and the MC 152 stereo amp with 150 wpc and their Auto-former technology ($4500). Unfortunately, these new products were also stand mounted, and not playing. Also off to the side was a stack of very handsome Wadia products that are now made in Binghamton, NY, in the McIntosh facility. Both McIntosh and Wadia, as well as Sonus Faber, Sumiko and Audio Research, are owned by the Fine Sounds Group, Hence the close bonding of manufacturing and distribution of McIntosh and Wadia. Wadia does all things digital, including the amplifiers and media server seen here, and will be coming out with a new midi-series between now and March of next year. It's always been an enjoyable visit to the Mac room in recent years and I find myself drawn to their gear more each time.

 

In the first of four consecutive rooms sponsored by Tri-Cell Enterprises I came across a very fine sounding room with a very expensive, but minimal system. An Aesthetics Romulus CD player was sitting on a set of three Krolo Design footers ($250), along with an Acapella LaMusica integrated amplifier, identified by the smallest logo on a full-size component I've ever seen. LaMusica is a hybrid amp with tube input stage and a MOSFET output with zero feedback. Output is 160 Amperes, presumably on instantaneous peaks. The logo is dwarfed by the two large knobs. I couldn't resist giving the volume control on the right a small twist to test its smoothness. Very smooth, indeed! In fact, it is probably the smoothest knob I've ever twisted! It felt kind of like it must have been an air bearing. These two components were sitting on the new HRS RXR component rack, a maple/metal/polymer composite structure which frames the vibration absorbing structural components with beautiful clear maple. The double-wide frame only shown here has an MSRP of $7790 USD. A single wide frame would be half that price. The frame takes a variety of shelves ranging from $495 per shelf to $2895 per shelf, depending on your needs for specific components. You can change locations of the shelves and upgrade them at any time. Being that I'm in the furniture business, this wood faced stand is the most appealing of the HRS stands to me. While the HRS stands are certainly pricey, there is a lot of technology buried within. The speakers were Acapella Violoncello II with a horn midrange and an ion gas tweeter, both of which are adjustable to compensate for your listening room. I heard "White Rabbit" being sung in a way I've never heard it. If this was the Jefferson Airplane recording, it was certainly stripped of the usual colorations we all knew and loved. It was crystal clear, for sure. At 308 lbs. per speaker you will want to be sure the price includes delivery and set-up. Hermann Winters, the Acapella rep who originally came from Germany, told me the LaMusica cost $120,000 CDN and the speakers were $45,000.

 

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