Part 1

This was the first time that I've attended a show of this size, with my previous experience limited to the Toronto shows which were tiny by comparison. Overall, it was an experience both daunting and exciting. I shall state upfront that this report is not intended to be comprehensive. I just couldn't take in everything over my 2½ day visit. Plus, I was still suffering from the remnants of a particularly stubborn chest cold that did somewhat slow me down. I'd like to thank all those who organized this fine show, as well as applaud the tireless efforts of exhibitors who took time away from their businesses to show off their wares and answer endless questions from inquisitive 'philes. I found most if not all exhibitors extremely enthusiastic and friendly. It was obvious that a great deal of work was involved to bring off this show. It definitely made for a particularly enjoyable experience and I'm sure many visitors would agree.

Friday afternoon, I linked up with fellow mooner Les Turoczi at the Delta Hotel and after a pleasant lunch, we hit the rooms. Later that weekend, we split up to cover more ground individually, Les tending towards the more expensive gear while I was on the hunt for bargains. However, Les and I did meet up on occasion to compare notes. Interestingly, we tended to enjoy the same rooms. You will no doubt note the lack of HT coverage. Neither of us were the least bit interested in big screen TVs or multi-channel. Suffice to say, if I saw a video screen peeking at me from the doorway of a room, I kept walking.

I shall avoid making negative comments about poor-sounding rooms. There are generally far too many variables at work that prevent decent performance at such events. Some of the rooms definitely suffered dreadful acoustics. Some used gear that wasn't completely broken in. Alas, there were many exhibitors who went to great lengths to tame their acoustically challenged environs. Many show participants expressed anxiety over these challenges and were no doubt concerned about members of the press jumping to rash conclusions. Giving everyone the benefit of the doubt, I will highlight the rooms that sounded from decent to even exceptional in certain cases.

Without further ado and in no particular order, my wee little show report:

VMAX had a fine-sounding display consisting of Unison Research's new 50-watt hybrid Unico P integrated amp with onboard MM/MC phono and system remote (CAD $1695), Unico CD (CAD $2795), Thorens TD 850 turntable (CAD $2995), Thorens TD 85 MM-008 MM phono preamp (CAD $399), and Opera Platea loudspeakers (CAD$2595), all hooked up with JPS Labs Ultraconductor cabling. This was a room that I returned to frequently. The sound was exceptionally inviting and seductive regardless of the genre of music played. VMAX also had a static display of the above-mentioned Unico P and Unico CD.

Gingko Audio offered a fascinating demo of the effectiveness of their Cloud 10 platform (US $300) by allowing visitors to switch back and forth between CD players, one on a Cloud 10 platform, the other without. A computer display showed the effectiveness of the Cloud 10. Considering all the background noise and activity during a busy show like this, I found it easy to pick out the differences. I can only imagine what the effect would be in a quieter location such as my living room. Fellow moonie Ken Micallef was bang-on in his review. Divergent's Tash Goka was so impressed with the Cloud 10's performance, he scam'd a few units for his own use next door. In return, he loaned Gingko some of his fine-sounding gear. Kudos to Vinh and Norm for an entertaining demo. Heck, I sat through two of 'em.

Song Audio's Mr. Kim had no less than three rooms to display his affordable yet musical equipment in. I overheard many positive comments from showgoers regarding his marque. Above, the SA-1 preamp (US $3600) and SA-300 MB monoblocks (US $4000) were connected to the Loth-X Troubadour (US $4500). Music playback was coherent and remarkably full-range.

Also on static display were Song's chrome-finished versions of the SA-1 and SA-300 MB mono [lower left]. Surprisingly good sound was obtained in the tiny room with the Vasant_K GA-120S Final Edition integrated (US $1200) and Type I Silk DM loudspeakers (US $1800). Digital source was the Philips DVD 963SA DVD/SACD player ]lower right].

My favorite Song Audio room sported the SA-34 SB EL34 based SET integrated (US $1900) and Loth-X Ambiance ($1500). Digital source was the gorgeous Shanling CD T-100. This was another example of a fine system that would look and sound great in my living room - see below!

Cain & Cain's improved Abby (CAN $2300) and Bailey subwoofer (CAN $2300) below were drop-dead gorgeous in their 50s "Telecaster tobacco juice sunburst" livery and wired up to Cayin tube components. Together, they delivered an immediate and involving presentation. The Abby and Bailey were definitely a loudspeaker team that I'd love to get close up & personal with.

Pro-ject's Canadian distributor, Kurt Martens of
Essential Audio had a wide assortment of affordable analog gear on display. It turned this budget-minded vinylphile into a drooling fool. On active display with Exposure electronics and Magnepan loudspeakers were Pro-ject's top of the line RPM 9 (CAN $1999, sans cartridge), 1 Xpression (CAN $549 w/ Audio Technica AT95E cartridge), Tube Box MM/MC phono stage (CAN $699) and Speed Box SE speed controller (CAN $699). Did I mention the $549 1 Xpression comes with a carbon fiber tone arm usually seen only on far more expensive decks?

In the 1 Xpression photo, you can see the Speed Box (CAN $129) peeking out from under the table. The Speed Box allows for electronic switching between 33 and 45 rpm, thus obviating the need to play with pulleys and belts to change speeds. It is also resistant to line voltage fluctuations and will ensure 0.01% speed variation no matter how flaky your residential AC is.

On static display were all of Pro-ject's offerings including the Debut/Phono SB (CAN $499 w/ Ortofon OM 5E cartridge, Speed Box speed controller, and onboard MM phono stage), and the semi-automatic 1.2 Comfort (CAN $599 w/ Sumiko Oyster cartridge and electronic speed control). Stay tuned for a full review of the 1 Xpression.

In the Meadowlark Audio/Rogue Audio room, both companies showcased new products. Meadowlark displayed their new entry level E-Series with the Eagle floorstander (US$995) wired up to Rogue's new Stereo 90 (US $1995) power amplifier and 99 Magnum preamp (US $2395) via Audience Au24 and powerChord cables. This was an exceptionally sounding setup considering the modest cost. As with all other Meadowlarks, the Eagles are 1st-order, time-aligned, true transmission-line designs. The Eagles differ from other Meadowlarks by using stepped MDF baffles rather than sloped solid-wood front baffles to ensure time-aligned wave launch. I had a couple of terrific and humorous conversations with Meadowlark's Pat McGinty who educated me in the finer points of loudspeaker design as well as the importance of preserving the original waveform. Pat is definitely a bird of a different feather! These new floorstanders indeed exhibited the same coherent, clear and utterly non- fatiguing sound that I've grown accustomed to hearing from Pat's other loudspeakers. Elsewhere at the show and with only a few exceptions, I preferred loudspeakers that stressed simplicity, timing and coherency - think Reference 3A Dulcet, Omega's Super 3bpc, Lam Mk1, Loth-X and Cain & Cain Abby. Stay tuned for a review of Meadowlark's new inexpensive dual-woofer tower.

Although I was familiar with Rogue Audio, I had not yet actually heard any of their products - as far as I know, there isn't a Rogue dealer in the Toronto area. The Stereo 90 replaces Rogue's 88 and utilizes trickle-down technology from the flagship Zeus. Four KT88/6550s are used to kick out 90 watts of tube power. Together with the Magnum Tempest integrated (US $2695) on static display, Rogue Audio is definitely worth further investigation by those seeking attractive, well-built yet affordable tube equipment. And, there was a distinct synergy evident with the Meadowlark speakers. I own Meadowlark's Kestrel 2. Might there be a Rogue review in my future? Hmm...

Coming up: Aurum Acoustics, Charisma Audio, Brinkmann and more.