TAVES 2013 (Toronto Audio Video Entertainment Show)
Part 3 By Rick Becker
Stereo presented a Moon
Neo 380D DAC/preamp/streamer ranging in price from $4350 to $6050
depending on options, and a Neo 350P preamp priced from $3600 to $4400, again
depending on options. The speakers were Vandersteen
Treo in wood veneer for $6600, though other finishes are available. They were
driven by Moon Neo 400M monoblocks putting out — you guessed it, 400 watts,
at $4300 each. A Moon 810LP reference phono stage ($12,000) handled the signal
from a Clearaudio Ovation
turntable ($5990, without cartridge). I recognized that I liked the Moon Neo
series electronics far more than previous efforts from Moon, which is saying a
lot since I am pretty much a tube guy. And it was a real treat to hear the
Vandersteen Treo, too. In general, the rooms presented more affordable
speakers at this show, rather than flagship, cost-no-problem designs.
Moving in an even more affordable direction, Mike
Manousselis of Dynaudio played 96kHz/24-bit high rez files from iTunes through
a Moon Neo 260D for $3000 as
configured with a DAC and four digital inputs. It also plays 192kHz/24-bit
files and starts at $2000 as a CD transport. Power was supplied by the Neo
250i integrated putting out 50 wpc for $2300 which drove a pair of Dynaudio
Excite 14 stand mounted monitors (I believe $1400 for the speakers
and $250 for the stands). Nordost
cables and Sort Kones no doubt made serious contributions to the fine sound
that was transparent, focused and dynamic all for a price under $10,000. Very
nice, but I'm going to be in trouble with Mike for missing the photo op here,
too. It was getting late in the afternoon at this point, but I kept pushing
The last room of the afternoon was a delightful surprise as
my reference speakers are vintage Kharma that keep getting better as I upgrade
everything upstream from them. But Kharma
has new models which abandon the ceramic drivers and carry forward with
drivers of their own design. The cabinets are virtually the same, save for the
nameplate bling on the sides and the newly remodeled spikes and stand. Shown
here was their entry level Elegance series S7 with a beryllium tweeter and 7"
mid-woofer driver with their own composite cone. Frequency range is 29 Hz to
30 kHz and it was evident that the music was more refined and went deeper that
my older Ceramique model. The price however, is higher — up around $29,000
in the US, I'm told. Efficiency has dropped to 86dB/W/m and maximum and SPL is
rated at 106dB. I thought the bass was a little boomy in the lowest octave,
but that may have been the room and/or the classical music recording. Overall,
I'd say this new design puts them back at the world class level they occupied
before they exited the US market a few years ago. Each of several times I
stopped back at this room they were playing classical music, but at the end of
the day on Sunday the room was empty and they let me rock with my compilation
CD, proving that the bass is satisfyingly tight. With the right gear, these
speakers will play in a much larger room than you would expect, and if they
are like their predecessors, they will sound even better with tubes. Here at
the show, they were driven by what looked to be higher line Moon
monoblocks, and a complete Moon rig upstream from that including an 850P
preamp with separate power supply. The turntable in residence was a Brinkman
and a Torus power conditioner was
also clearly in evidence as it was in many other rooms at the show. Canadian
Down in the lobby, a biker babe was familiarizing her
children with the largest Harley Davidson. I made my way to the industry party
in the Sovereign Ballroom and quickly traded my ticket for a Sleeman cream
ale, something that is not readily available at my local Wegmans grocery
store. Tasty, after a long day on the audio trail. It was a welcome
opportunity to chat with manufacturers without having to gather data for the
show report. Nonetheless I couldn't help but snap a few photos.
Tweaker extraordinaire Mike Tang couldn't resist amusing me
with the iSeismometer app on their smart phone. Note how the needle jumped
when I slammed my beer bottle down on the table.
Another app records my subsequent belch.
George Papadimitriou of DaGoGo puts his move on a young lady
while I capture a photo of her hot pants to see if my new camera gives an
accurate rendition of pink.
Mike Latvis of HRS and Jeff Joseph of Joseph Audio discover
they are long lost twins, separated at birth.
Listening in to their conversation enhanced my deep respect
for Mike's scientific knowledge of resonance control. It was interesting to
learn of his consulting work with speaker manufacturers. And of course, I've
revered Joseph's speakers since like, forever. Unfortunately, his speakers are
so good that he rarely comes out with new models; hence opportunities for
reviews are seldom available.
Likewise, I've had a very favorable reaction to the new tube
electronics of George Counnas of Zesto. It was not surprising to learn that
his wife, Carolyn, who has a background in architecture and interior design,
is responsible for the physical design of their products. In reviewing the
photo of their phono stage, preamp and power amp in Part 1, it occurred to me
what a crime it is to stack them in a rack. Ideally they should be placed side
by side on a unique wood table to offset the play of light and metal, and
allow the sculptural wave forms to carry over from one piece to the next.
Gracious words of appreciation for support for TAVES were
spoken by Suave Kajko, President of the show, and heartfelt applause for their
hard work was returned to Suave, Simon Au and Raymond Li who brought it all
together for the third year in a row.
The party after the party was even more relaxing as Bruno,
the local Nordost rep also with Rutherford Audio whom I had been talking with
earlier, got up on stage to play drums with the duo GIVE with singer Carol and
guitarist Stephan who have appeared at this show (and Montreal) in previous
years. A very nice treat, for sure.
The harsh light of day was a welcome sight
after the previous day of clouds and rain. I packed my bags, hurried through
banana, granola bar, V8 juice and a couple of French Roast Keurig cups before
downloading my gear to the Tracker and returning to the show.
Up on the 9th floor again, in the Crown
Mountain Imports room (907) files from a laptop were fed into a Rowland Aeris DAC running proprietary algorithms then up to a Mimetism
15.2 amplifier driving the Kudos Super
20 speaker dressed in a gorgeous flat Tineo wood veneer that is a 10% upcharge
over the $8500 base price. It is seen here next to an RJH
speaker with concentric drivers and a super tweeter on top, also
featuring beautiful woodwork. Everything was connected with Kimber
Select cables and the sound confirmed the rave review of the Kudos speaker in
the current issue. I've heard both these speakers in the past, and loved them
each time. Note the speaker footers and speaker stand beneath the Kudos. Ron
Harper and Alex Tiefenboeck were on hand to show me these sharps from Track
Audio ($160 for 8) as well as the more massive coupling and de-coupling
footers in stainless steel with a variety of threads that go for $800/4 or
$600/3. A Mastersound Evolution
845 integrated amp ($8000) on silent display.
Moving on to the ANKits room (911) I met Brian Smith who ran
me through their rig of completed kits, all on display with open chassis so
you can see the complexity and quality of the parts. My friend Tom had
expressed an interest in their DAC 2.1 kit that goes for $1525. I was
personally interested in their Inter-Stage monoblock kit with parallel 300B
tubes with C-core transformers as shown for $6850 or for $4500 for the EI-core
version. The wiring is all pre-constructed to make it easy for the first time
builder and everything is grounded. Just before I left, Kit Fung of ANKits
entered and he explained that he had designed all the C-core transformers in
their transformer shop in Ottawa. This brings me back to the note of caution
expressed during my visit to the Audio Note room earlier. The ANKits seem to
be using the basic Audio Note designs, but evolving them with their own
expertise. I know from my own transformation of the Linn LP12 that this can
sometimes be a very good thing, but it is then no longer possible to equate
the two as they are no longer both apples. And likewise, you may well prefer
one over the other. Personally, I think it is really healthy for the industry
to have such kit manufacturers for those people who want a higher degree of
involvement than merely paying for a finished product. Like the sign my wife
has in the kitchen for all the grandpups to read: Play in the Dirt.
This year I had a chance to make amends to the McIntosh
folks, whose room was on a hallway that I totally missed at last year's show.
Here I had a chance to listen to a Mac rig driving Magnapan's 1.7 speakers and
it was an absolutely delightful experience. I didn't realize how tall the 1.7
was; somehow thinking it was only slightly larger than their MMG. Coupled with
Nordost cable, it was a very satisfying combination with transparency and
delicacy, yet without any grossly tube coloration. In speaking with Jack
Bakerjian of Audio Excellence, the hosts, I was introduced to the new Ayre
KX-5 preamp priced at $8500, way below their reference model. A new Ayre KV5
(?) putting out 180 wpc into 8 Ohms, 360 wpc into 4 Ohms is a fully balanced
design also $8500. In reviewing my notes now, I'm not sure just what was
driving the Maggie 1.7s. Regardless, the confusion was a delightful
experience. On a return visit to the room near the end of the show I had a
rare opportunity to hear a McIntosh stand mounted monitor that was equally
fine sounding, yet less prominent size-wise, but equally imposing, visually,
with its aluminum surround of the two small midrange drivers and the tweeter.
I've said it before — McIntosh speakers deserve much greater exposure than
the company and retailers give them.
With a little luck I should be able to finish up in Part 4
reveal my list of the rooms and gear that left me with the greatest
impressions. Stay tuned!
---> Click here for part 4 of our
TAVES 2013 report.