Borrowing a page from the Montreal showand, before that, from the shows sponsored by StereophileToronto Audiofest presented some live performances of music. One of the performers was the gifted cellist, Vincent Bélangersee photo abovefamiliar to audiophiles from his recordings and appearances at audio shows. I was at one of these performances at the Toronto show, which served to demonstrate music played by a great performer. I was so enthralled that I failed to get a list of the equipment used in this live-plus-recorded (not live vs recorded) presentation. Suffice it to say that the speakers were Audio Note (and so, I would guess, were the electronics). Although the room was arguably too small, and the sound of the cello was sometimes overwhelmed by the bass from the speakers, the power of the music always came through.
Located in Aurora, about a half-hour’s drive north of Toronto, Audio Eden is a small store that, through careful selection of equipment and a consumer-oriented attitude, has become something of a “destination” for Toronto-area audiophiles. The system they demoed at Toronto audiofest (see photo above) was centered around Kharma S7 signature loudspeakers ($27,000/pair; all prices in Canadian dollars), with Nagra electronics (Classic preamp, $19,995; Classic Mono amps, $38,000/pair; UPS Phono stage, $9500; MPS power supply, $7995) SME 15 turntable and Series V tonearm ($18,00), and Bryston digital front end (BCD-3, $3795; BDA-3 $3795; BDP-3, $3995), and Nordost cables. The speakers are actually pretty reasonably priced given their appearance and the performance they offer, but I would have trouble getting past the prices of the Nagra products, even though they’re beautifully made (in Switzerland), and I couldn’t argue with their contribution to the sound, which was truly excellent.
The GershmansEli (Chief Designer) and Ofra (Director of International Marketing)are familiar sights at audio shows (see photo above), and it seems that at every such show they have some new model, or modification of an existing model to demonstrate. At Toronto Audiofest, the product introduced was the Grand Studio, a stand-mounted speaker of substantial size, which sells for $6500/pair, stands included. The in-room frequency-response of the Grand Studio is claimed to extend to 25Hz, and while I can’t confirm this exact claim, the bass of the pair of Grand Studioswith Krell electronicssuggested full-sized, full-range speakers. And, in fact, putting aside the US$129,000/pair Gershman Posh (which I’ve heard only very briefly), and all things considered, including price/performance ratio, I’d say that the Grand Studio is my favorite Gershman speaker.
The emphasis at audio shows is usually on speakers. When audiophiles meet in the corridors, the question they ask each other is likely to be, “Have you heard the X?” or “What did you think of the X?”X being the speaker du jour. Of course, we know that every part of an audio system has the potential to influence the sound, but we still tend to focus on speakers (myself included).
And so, when I visited the Toronto Home of Audiophile room at the show), I immediately focused on the GoldenEar Triton One towers, which I had reviewed. “Hello, old friend!” It was rewarding to hear the Triton Ones sounding so good. In fact, they sounded better than I had heard them sound in Toronto Home of Audiophile’s store, and maybe better than they sounded in my own listening room. There were, of course, a number of differences in the various setups, including room acoustics, but was there any difference in the associated components that was a likely cause of the sonic differences? I addressed this question to Wallace Poon, Toronto Home of Audiophile’s technician and technical guru, who is very familiar with the speaker. His answer: “We’re using the new SIT-3, the latest in the First Watt series from Nelson Pass.”
Aha! This is the successoror at least relatedto the FirstWatt J2, given a rave review by Herb Reichert in Stereophile, and a winner of Stereophile‘s 2016 Component of the Year competition. I wonder what my Monitor Audio Platinum 300 IIs would sound like with this amp . . .
Are you looking for a speaker that offers the most bang for the buck? I haven’t heard all the potential contenders at Toronto Audiofest; however, based on what I did hear, I would be inclined to go with the Totem KIN Play ($1250/pair). This is a powered speaker, with an array of inputs: Bluetooth, optical digital, analog line-level, phono (yes!), and subwoofer outputs. And it sounded really good, with the kind of dynamics that Totem is known for, and overall at least as good as you would expect from a similarly-priced speaker that was not powered and didn’t have all those inputs. Yup, a great bang for the buck.
I found this one almost by accident: the Audio by di Tomasso room was two doors down from the Saturn room, and I read in the show program that the di Tomasso room had PMC speakers, which had impressed me in the Saturn room. And the Audio by di Tomasso room turned out to be something of a find. The speakers were indeed PMCs, but stand-mounted 25/22s ($5200/pair) rather than the floorstanders in the Saturn room.
I don’t know whether it was the speakers, electronics (Lumin V1 mini digital transport/streamer, $3000; SPL Director Pre/DAC, $4200, SPL Performer S800 amp, $4300) or some fortuitous combination of equipment and room acoustics, but the result was a kind of magic: music presented with natural sweetness and a minimum of artifacts, lacking only, as the speakers’ size would dictate, low bass. This was one of my favorite rooms at the show, regardless of price (the total here being $17,500.)
No doubt about it: Toronto Audiofest was a great success. The people I talked toattendees and exhibitorswere uniformly enthusiastic about the show and the venue. One attendee I talked to said that the Westin Toronto Airport reminded him of the King Edward hotel, site of the original TAVES. Unlike the recent TAVES venues, the rooms at the Westin allowed for good sound without extensive acoustical treatment. The Toronto show staffsome of them veterans of Montreal showswere pleasant and helpful. The hotel offered a $10 discount on the $25 parking feefree would have been better, but given that attending the show was free, this did not seem too onerous. The food at the on-site restaurant was good, and reasonably priced.
Saturday evening, after the show closed for the day, there was a party for exhibitors and media, at which there were presentations of Lifetime Achievement Awards (originally established by Sarah and Michel at the Montreal show). The awards were given to Lily Luo of Motet Distribution, Paul Barton of PSB Speakers, Terry Richardson of Plurison, andaccepted posthumously by Peter McGrathDave Wilson of Wilson Audio. Peter spoke eloquentlyand a little tearfullyabout his association with Dave Wilson over the years.
What next? All the rooms for 2018 Toronto Audiofest were sold out, and there are apparently no additional spaces available for next year. Michel Plante told me that they want to stay at the Westin, but they may have to use the Holiday Inn next door as an overflow.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Toronto showthe people and the music I had a particularly memorable conversation with one of the attendees, who told me that a while ago he won a car in a raffle, and instead of taking the car, he spent the money on a pair of MBL speakers. Whenever people visiting him ask where the new car is, he points to the speakers.
That’s my kind of audiophile!
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