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TAVES 2013 (Toronto Audio Video Entertainment Show) Report Coverage
TAVES 2013 (Toronto Audio Video Entertainment Show) Repor
Part 3 By Rick Becker


  Walking into the Euphoria Speaker Design room was a trip and a half. Speaking with William (Bill) Laleff, it was difficult to distinguish whether he works with passion or from obsession. His speaker, The Bullet II ($47,600, show special $35,700) looks like a cross between a Von Schweikert VR-4 and a Marten, utilizing an Accuton diamond tweeter and 5.5" ceramic midrange in the upper module, and a large 15" side-firing woofer in the lower bass module. But it goes far beyond that. There is an infinite slope crossover @ 3000 Hz between the tweeter and midrange utilizing Duelund CAST PIO and Mundorf parts. He uses the slightly smaller 5.5" midrange which has a longer excursion and vented pole pieces that allow it to play a little louder than normal (which tells you a bit about his listening preference). There is no capacitor before the midrange, but for the high pass he uses a notch filter. The woofer is DSP controlled and powered with a 1500 Watt amplifier using a very tight Q (below .5) in order to keep up with the speed of the midrange and tweeter. A 10 pound piece of marble and some Sorbothane between the modules keeps the bass from impinging upon the clarity of the mid/tweeter module. The room rocked with ZZ Top's "Cheap Sunglasses" spinning on a Jean Nantais Reference Lenco rebuilt turntable with a gorgeous spalted, book-matched veneer chassis and a Kuzma tonearm. It uses a Lenco 75 with an idler drive from the 1960s, all tweaked out. (Search "Jean Nantais Reference Lenco" for an interesting history on this table.) An EMM Labs CD player was used for digital. The preamp was an Atmosphere and the monoblocks were Atmosphere MA-1 putting out 140 watts each from their OTL (output-transformer-less) design. The efficiency of the speaker is 87dB/W/m, down a couple of dB due to the high pass notch filter which was introduced to lower the bottom octave. Did I say these speakers rocked? And sounded mighty good with all that tube power. I stopped back at this room more than once over the weekend.


The presentation in the Muraudio room was so stunning and loud that I pulled Murray Harman out into the hall for a rundown on his phenomenal Domain Omni ESL speakers ($48,000/$42,000 show special). The sealed cast aluminum base housed three triangulated woofers which cancel out their back waves. The woofers cross over to the ESL top end at 400 to 500 Hz. The top is a screened in structure concealing a continuous curve Mylar electrostatic transducer that reproduces the midrange and treble in a 360 degree array, acting in effect as a point source.  Walking around in the room, the soundstage did not collapse. They played with amazing transparency, focus and dynamics, sounding an awful lot like the much more expensive MBL 101E Radialstrahler speakers. They are said to be capable of 103dB SPL output. Louis Armstrong's trumpet sounded about that loud, and it felt like he was right in the room. And this was with the much more affordable (than mbl) Moon Neo 260D CD player with 32 bit DAC and preamp. The speakers are active, with 700 watts of Class D amplification built into the base of the speaker which will accept both digital and analog inputs. A less expensive non-active version of the speaker is planned for the future.  Weighing 140 pounds each, they are on sliders — not spikes. Cabling was Nordost Norse 2, I believe, and the electronics were on Nordost Sort Kones. The speakers were designed and manufactured in Ottawa, Ontario. A digital front end was obviously chosen to show off the excellent upper and lower extension of the speaker, but good as it was, I couldn't help but wonder what they might sound like with an analog front end and some tube electronics. Ever the dreamer....


Speaking of Nordost, once again they were putting on a mini-clinic/demonstration for those who think that cables don't make a difference. I've seen them compare power cords, interconnects, Sort Kones and their QRT filters before so I didn't stick around for the obvious conclusion. I don't recall exactly what they were comparing this time around, but I highly recommend you partake of their presentation at least once to experience the degree of difference cables and footers can make, regardless of your favorite brand. It will also help you determine the cost level at which you are most comfortable.


Sony is building on its success with high end speakers at $20,000 and $10,000 to re-enter the high end electronics arena. Using the SS-NA2ES speaker ($10,000) driven by ModWright 36.5 tube preamp and 450 watt monoblocks, they were premiering their HAP-Z1ES Hi-Res Music Player ($2000), a Hi-Res audio compatible (DSD 5.6MHz, 192kHz/24-bit) DAC that converts all audio data into DSD with their DSD Re-Mastering Engine for optimum playback. It also includes Wi-Fi and a 1TB HDD to store your music files, as well as a cool 4.3" color LCD display that will show album cover art. Transparency and focus were in the same league as the Muraudio room above, but required sitting in the traditional sweet spot and the soundscape was not as holographic, at least on the couple of cuts I heard. At the price, the Sony HAP-Z1ES could be a benchmark product for a very fine system. A press release indicated a handful of other new products coming from Sony that were not yet available, but probably will debut at CES.


In another Sony of Canada room there was home theater rig showing clips from a popular movie. The video displays kind of merge in my memory, but I recall noting an incredible improvement in resolution in one of the 4K Ultra HD video presentations. The fascinating feature of 4K is that you can sit fairly close to the screen without seeing the pixels, thus creating a greater immersion in the movie as it stretches out into your peripheral vision. While the THX standards recommend a seating distance of 1.5 to 1.9 times the diagonal of the screen, when I visit my furniture customers' homes the couch is often completely across the room from the screen, at a distance of maybe four to five times the screen size. Such are the interior decorating customs of our culture.


Here was yet another room where people were soaking up useful information about home theater. These rooms always seemed to be well packed as I retraced my steps in the hallways.


Up to the 9th Floor


In the Gramophone Company Distribution room I encountered Garth Leer of Musical Surroundings whom I first met 17 years ago in The Analog Shop in Victor, NY, when he was selling Basis turntables. Now, he has added Clearaudio and AMG turntables from Germany and products with a wide variety of price points. Garth lifted the 12" tonearm right off the AMG Viella 12 turntable to demonstrate its bearings which have technological roots in the design of helicopter rotors. Two new 9" versions of this arm are soon to be introduced that will be direct drop-ins for the Linn LP12 at an effective length of 217mm and another at 223mm that will be direct drop-ins for the SME and Rega tonearms. The arm is very light weight and low mass so it will work with a lot of cartridges, and will not disturb the balance of the Linn suspension. The target price for the 9" arms is $3500, while the 12" arm is $5500. If you think I'd like to try one out on my tricked-out LP12, you'd be right. Also in the room were Marten Django XL speakers in silver ($15,000 in USA, $16,000 in Canada), connected with AudioQuest (Castle Rockspeakercables and Niagara interconnects)  and sounding very fine driven by a Luxman integrated (30 wpc, Class A) with phono stage, headphone amp and tone controls (about $10,000). The front end I heard was the AMG turntable ($17,500 in Canada) with a Benz SLR cartridge (about $3000) feeding a Musical Surroundings Nova II phono stage ($1200). The digital front end in the rig was an Esoteric K 05 CD/SACD player feeding a 6 month old Luxman DSD capable DAC. In spite of the many conversations going on in the room, it was apparent this was a very fine sounding rig. Across the room a Fosgate tubed headphone amplifier that was very smooth and easy to listen to. On silent display was a very nice looking Roma 510AC 80 watt integrated stereo amplifier with KT88 tubes.


Going from a very high end room to a lifestyle room hosted by Audio Basics I met the charming Flo Palillo who showed me a variety of speakers costing only a few hundred dollars, most of which do not look like speakers. One that did, for $1299 was the Libratone Lounge horizontal speaker designed in Denmark and manufactured in Indonesia with cashmere grill cloth from Italy that come in many different colors. Two ribbon tweeters, two 4" mids and an 8" subwoofer that is built into the speaker. Amazingly, each driver has its own individual built-in amplifier. It was connected with AirPlay and network connected with an iPad and yielded very clear, pleasant music. Another circular speaker was designed to by table or wall mounted at a much lower price. The line is designed to bridge between technology and interior design and it puts out music for people who want ambient music without all the pretense of what the high end delivers. At a reasonable price, it was far superior to what I used before, during and after college for many years.

Moving back to the high end, there was very good music coming from B&W 802D (with diamond tweeter, and 88dB/W/m efficiency) speakers driven by a 60 wpc Cary CAD 120S MK II stereo amplifier playing in the triode mode. (It also plays in ultralinear if you need more power.) The source was a Cary CD 303T tubed SACD player (Professional Version) playing a 44.1 kHz blues recording at the time. A Cary SLP 98 preamp looked to be in service, too. Very lovely warm music, if slightly bass heavy, from this system making it easy to see why B&W has been one of the pillars of the high end. Apologies for missing the photo opportunity here as it was a very nicely laid out rig.


A Nola KO ($9800) from their Boxer Series sounded very fine with mirror-imaged short line source open baffle array of the mids and tweeters supplemented with enclosed bass drivers. Four grills for the front, sides and back convert the speaker to a more normal looking shape. With 90dB/W/m efficiency and 8 Ohm (4 Ohm minimum) impedance, they were driven by ASL (Antique Sound Labs) 60 Watt tube monoblocks. They also had the Announcer, Boxer and Contender models in the room which others might have heard. Open, spacious and detailed describes the sound and the prices of the Boxer series make them far more accessible than their reference speakers, giving up very little quality that would only be determined by direct comparison. It was a rare treat to hear these as they don't often show up at shows in Canada.


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