Toronto Audiofest 2022 Show
Report Part 1
That the front end was a Jean Nantais Ultimate Slimline turntable ($33,125) equipped with a Bird of Prey tonearm ($14,500) and headshell ($520), and a Tzar DST v2 cartridge ($16k) probably didn't hurt. An assortment of Combak Harmonix record weight, record mat, and footers bumped the cost up even more. An Innuos streamer ($7200) and Aqua La Scala DAC ($10k) were on the digital side. Amplification was provided by a Miyajima OTL amplifier ($23,500) and preamp ($8650). And lastly, I spotted the elegant Audience Jewel cable risers ($60 each).
While this was a very high-priced rig, the sound quality was also very high. Yet it was also somewhat unusual, perhaps owing to the unique drivers in the Ilumnia Magister speakers or the somewhat boomy sound in this particular room. The speaker itself seemed to have a strong bass. Perhaps it had something to do with driving the 86dB efficient speaker with an 8 Wpc tube amp, albeit a very good one. Sorting that out would require more time in a familiar setting.
The next room, 450, was sponsored by Magnepan and this was one I was particularly interested in experiencing because they are seldom seen at shows. Unfortunately, the hallway was clogged with people waiting for the next formal presentation.
I proceeded on to 452 hosted by Gramophone Audio Distributions, the distributors of Fyne Audio loudspeakers. I sensed Fyne would become a great line when they were first seen at Axpona a few years ago, and my suspicion seems to be bearing out. The F1-5 monitors pictured above caught my eye, but my ear was treated to very good sound from the Fyne Audio Vintage Classic 10 model ($11,800) featuring a coaxial 10" driver seen below.
A Melco N100 2TB server/streamer ($3295) fed an Aqua Formula DAC ($20k) that drove an Audia Flight integrated amp ($12,500). There was also a very nice-looking Audia Flight transport ($3950) under the DAC. A Puritan Audio Labs PSM 156 power conditioner ($2700) and Puritan Ultimate power cords ($1200/2m) kept the rig sounding very good. With their high efficiency, the Fyne speakers were also very dynamic. Transparency was also a big plus, here.
Bryan Taylor of Gramophone Distribution was a familiar face, but the father & son were a delightful distraction. In twenty years the kid will likely be back on his own.
On my final sweep of the show, I returned to this room to find the Fyne Audio Vintage 12 speaker ($38,950) playing. As the price would suggest, it is superior in every way to the smaller Vintage Classic 10. Visually and audibly, it is in a league above. Maybe two leagues.
To finish up on the Fourth Floor, I doubled back to the Magnepan room and the cheerful woman at the door let me slip in a few moments late when someone else left. I took a seat and began listening to Wendell Diller who has been doing presentations for Magnepan for fifty years. It seems this was not a simple presentation of the LRS+ speakers we were looking at, but a demonstration of a radical approach to subwoofers that Magnepan has been developing. Just like amplifiers are said to sound better when they extend far beyond the range of human hearing, say to 100kHz, Magnepan is finding that subwoofers sound better when they extend far up into the treble region, duplicating most of what is presented by the traditional Magnepan speakers.
To demonstrate this, they had a pair of triangular tower subwoofers, each with eight full-range dynamic drivers that extended into the deep bass. We weren't told how deep they go, but when playing a cut from a Chinese drum CD with which I am very familiar, it easily handled the largest, deepest, meanest drumbeats on that recording — and at a very loud volume. I'd say it was peaking at just over 100dB SPL at the listening position. They were driven by a pair of Schiit Vidar amps ($699 each) that run 3Hz to 500kHz (-3dB). Each amp puts out 100 Wpc into 8 Ohms, and 200 Watts into the 4 Ohm subs.
I heard no trace of clipping with the Chinese drums in this hotel room. The sound was rich with timbre, full-bodied, holographic, extremely dynamic, and exhibited no overshoot, which is to say attack and decay were spot on. Of course, these drums do not reach as high as violins, except perhaps in subliminal overtones. In this relatively live room, it sounded as if the drums were in the room with us.
I would have sworn Wendell had played another piece of music on the LRS+ on this first visit. On what I thought was the Magnepan, the music sounded pretty good as you would expect, but it lacked the presence, dynamics, and holographic imagery displayed by just the subwoofers. When I revisited the room on Sunday, he swore he did not play the LRS+, but I remain skeptical about that.
The subwoofers are designed to be inconspicuous and were largely hidden behind a small table and a floral display. The idea is that they can be hidden somewhere in the room for the wife and decorator's approval. To get them to work with the Magnepan, however, it is necessary to incorporate time correction and DSP for room correction — a technology they are working on but don't have quite ready for prime time. Hopefully, within a year I was told with a wink. There will also be different model subwoofers for different models in the Magnepan line. It is not a one-size-fits-all concept. And a concept is all it is at this point, Wendell repeated many times.
As it turned out, Saturday evening I ended up sitting next to Wendell and his wife at the industry banquet. We had a delightful time, in my estimation. His presentation was one of the absolute highlights of the show. It was likely frustrating for people who wanted to hear the Magnepan speaker, but for anyone seeking to extend their system to a truly full-range presentation — and Magnepan owners in particular, who feel their speakers lack realistic dynamics, it looks like help is on the way. And not in the traditional form of subwoofers that crossover in the mid-bass.
Stay tuned for my exploration of the third floor in a few more days!