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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 3
Report By Rick Becker


Audio Excellence is one of the top retailers in the Toronto area and they took two rooms at the show, 7107 & 7111. In this first room they showed a deceptively simple system with a Naim UnitiServe music server ($5495), Naim NA 272 preamp with upgraded power supply ($15,490), Naim NAP 250 DR power amp (80 wpc, $7495) all on a Naim Fraim rack that will jump up and bite your wallet at $4385. It was all strung together with Super Lumina interconnects at $3495 (each?) and 5 meter speaker cables at $6995 – driving Audio Physics Avanti speakers at $11,000, all prices CAD. That adds up quickly, doesn't it? This was the Canadian debut of the new Avanti, which was first introduced at RMAF a few weeks earlier. Emmanuel LeQuerre of Naim informed me that Naim is exiting the speaker building business and from what I heard in this room, that's a great idea. Music here was excellent and I've often thought Naim's rooms in the past have struggled when limited by having to use their own speakers. Not that their speakers were bad, just that the electronics were so much better. This room confirmed my suspicion and I expect the company will see a lot of growth as more people are exposed to their gear driving a multitude of other speaker brands. I'm normally a tube guy, but this solid state gear was one of the Best Rooms at the show.


The other Audio Excellence room was like déjà vu as Yogi would say. More Naim gear, but not on a Naim rack, and topped by a tall stack of MSB digital gear with fancy footers that let the chassis jiggle as I've said in previous reports. Oh, and there was a little digital recorder on the top shelf, too, which was part of Peter McGrath's personal gear along with an Apple full of music that he's recorded and collected over the centuries. And where there's Peter, there's bound to be a Wilson speaker. In this case it was the new Sabrina, Wilson's smallest and least expensive floor stander in the smallest room I've ever heard a Wilson speaker. Peter had them in front of the long wall with a row of armless steel office chairs up against the opposite wall for a few lucky people to sit in. From what I could tell, there were always more than a few people squeezing in to get a listen. Peter had his hands full with the crowd but asked me to come back at the end of the day. It wasn't until 5 o'clock Sunday that I walked in again, battle weary. The chairs were still all taken, but there was room to breathe so I stood along the short wall and listened to Peter addressing questions about how he set up this small room for optimum bass response. When Peter talks, I listen. He is a wealth of knowledge and experience. Finally, the others left and we talked some more – about the Sabrina and bass quality.

I observed some black cloth behind the speaker that covered some absorptive material he used to tame the bass. The speakers were angled in toward the central listening chair, crossing just behind my head to minimize side wall reflections and keep tonal balance correct. Every instance in recent memory the Wilsons have been angled in toward the listener – sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on the room and the distance to the chair. Even sitting off to the side, the sound was excellent. Moving to the sweet spot made it even better than that. It was not too dry, not too wet. It presented the room tone of the recording without being bloomy or euphonic. Articulate, but not edgy; always sounding just like music. And sounding like a much bigger speaker in a bigger room than we were in. Technically, the Sabrina uses a silk dome tweeter similar to what is now used on all Wilson speakers. Peter feels the Sabrina is superior to the Sophia III which is the model immediately above it in their hierarchy. I've heard both speakers, though in vastly different size rooms with vastly different electronics, but I'm inclined to agree. Given the price difference, the new Sabrina ($15,900 USD) is a much better value, and is said to be able to perform in much larger rooms than we were in at the show.

Peter claimed not to have the actual numbers, but thought the speaker's sensitivity was about 89dB/W/m. He's used the Sabrina "with an incredibly wide range of amplifiers in different shows, and in different stores, and in different installations. And it seems to thrive on anything you connect it to, whether it be solid state or vacuum tube. The smallest VTL, the smallest Prima Luna amps, the smallest Audio Research amps do extremely well with this, all the way to behemoth tube and solid state amps." While the published specs for the Sabrina are a little scary for lower powered tube amplifiers, I'd be inclined to take Peter for his word. It certainly sounded very good in the "then and there" with the Naim pre and power amps, adding credence to my speculation that Naim will do very well by giving up their loudspeaker efforts and pairing their electronics with a multitude of speaker manufacturers. What they lose in speaker sales they will more than gain in sales of electronics.

The Sabrina is the first speaker Dave Wilson has offered that was designed in collaboration with his son, Darrel. Like VPI and PS Audio which are also bringing the next generation into the forefront, this bodes well not only for Wilson Audio, but for the industry as a whole. As the third generation owner of my business, I know how hard it can be to mentor the next generation and ultimately hand over the reins. If you haven't figured out by now, this was one of the Best Rooms at the show. At one point, in a fit of enthusiasm, I blurted out "Send me a pair!" but Peter deflected my interest. Since the Sabrina was introduced very early in the year, we are probably on the brink of several reviews being published, if they haven't already. With its compact size, attractive style and larger than life capabilities, the Sabrina will win a large following. Of course, it doesn't hurt to have Peter McGrath set them up for you, if you can make that happen, too. The MSB Analog DAC was $16,985 CAD, (starting from $9,450) and the MSB Universal Media Transport with Dual Transport Power base and two Signature Power cables was $16,185 (starting from $10,250 CAD). The Naim NAC 282 preamp with HiCap was $11,990 and the Naim NAP 259 Power Amp with 80 wpc, as in the previous room, was $6500, all CAD. The power conditioner that was actually in use was a McIntosh unit, not a Torus as posted in the room.


In 7103, which was either the first or the last room on the hallway, I was delighted to see and hear the gear presented by Jeff Dimock and Brian Smith of ANK Kits, also, or formerly known as Audio Note Kits. Their designs are evolving away (beyond) the original Audio Note designs and I like what I've seen and heard in their rooms over the past couple of years. Also in action here was the new Mundorf Anniversary MA30 kit speaker that Mr. Mundorf had told me about in the Grant Fidelity room at the Montreal show earlier this year. I saw him in the hall at TAVES at one point, but didn't get a chance to talk with him. (He walks fast.) It will sell for $3000 to $3500 CAD including the finished cabinet and be available in the Toronto area through AuDIYo.com and Audio Sensibility. Steven Huang of Audio Sensibility tells me he will be offering hot-rod step-ups to this speaker kit as well as build service for those of us with a fear of soldering irons. He claims his upgrades will greatly improve on the hardness heard at the show and he will have detailed information about it up on his website very shortly. To me, the MA30 sounded like it has great potential, but I suspect the sample playing in this room did not have a lot of time on it.

The next visual goody here was one of the new Zavfino turntables with the fancy paint jobs that I mentioned earlier in this report. While it was playing with a Dynavector Karat 17D3 cartridge, a cartridge I've used as my reference for a couple of years in the past, I can't say the music here was really great. It kind of sounded like everything was brand new and not yet broken in. Maybe it was simply that the Mundorf speaker with its Air Motion Transducer tweeter and Accuton ceramic mid/woofer had just been assembled. I don't know, but I expect the room would sound better with some more time on the clock... or maybe just a lower volume setting. The music was focused, but kind of aggressive, and unfamiliar to me, so maybe that was part of the problem. The L4 Phono Stage was a new kit for them and will sell for about $3000 CAD. The line stage was a very special limited edition model. The speakers were driven by EL34 tube Level 1 monoblocks putting out 35 watts. Unfortunately the music drowned out much of my conversation and I missed a lot of the details in this room on my video notes. Suffice it to say that I've previously heard ANK Kit gear sound a lot better than what I experienced at this show.


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