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September 30th to October 2nd 2011 will likely remain a key milestone in Canadian hifi history as the weekend when a major audio show resurrected in Toronto after a decade of absence. It took almost two years for the team in charge of the now well-known and appreciated Montreal Salon Son et Image to assess the market and decide to bring their expertise to Ontario’s largest city. Yet if the crowds walking the hallways of the luxurious Méridien King Edward hotel on Saturday were any indication, many audiophiles in the Toronto area as one of the liveliest most dynamic Canadian cities agreed that it had been way too long of a wait.

Saturday October 1st will also mark a special moment in 6moons history as the four writers in Toronto gathered for the first time ready to swarm the place and provide coverage for readers around the world. Nobody though was as ready as Glen who had come the day before to gather over 400 shots and was ready for an even fuller round two on Saturday. Seeing such dedication I gladly put my own camera away and opened up my ears, taking in as much as possible. Keeping up with our four musketeers theme, Glen as self-nominated Portos reported on the positives while I would happily take on the role of black-hat Artemis - with the truth as always residing somewhere in the middle.

The show took up two floors of the luxurious hotel including large ball rooms and meeting rooms as well as variously sized bedrooms. Quite a number of rooms were actually fairly good sized for this kind of event with high ceilings in many locations although a few exhibitors were still relegated to smaller spaces. Overall the acoustics were far from bad. That aside, the almost total absence of video and multi-channel audio was probably the strongest sign that one attended a very specialized hifi show where stereo, vinyl and CD players were equally present as were computers and various forms of DACs - refreshing in many ways.

I don’t intend to report on every room primarily because not every room was worth reporting on. To tell the truth, I stepped into and walked out of a number within seconds not because the gear was not interesting—in more cases than not it was—but because of either insane playing levels (I don’t intend to lose my hearing to please exhibitors who confuse noise with music) or bombastic bass. I know the disco years are back in fashion but disco bass is definitely not one of the finest qualities of that era many strove to emulate again. That said smart exhibitors and manufacturers were able to put together some spectacular systems and very often for reasonable prices. I can’t count the number of shows I have attended over the years but one thing is certain - sizing the system to suit the occasion is 90% of the final result. The rest is fine-tuning which sets apart spectacular systems from the merely good ones.

So with no further ado let’s start with my favorite room of the show put together by Coherent Speakers with McAlister tube amplifier and Unison Research CD player. Coherent first made it on my radar a few years ago as one of the few companies using the PHY driver of Ocellia fame but the Model 12 speaker presented ($8500/pair I believe) actually used a coaxial widebander and horn-loaded tweeter of different origins in a multi-faceted enclosure.

Granted the Coherent room was one of the more spacious ones. This allowed the music to fully develop in space but the fact remains, this was the most fluid, organic and natural sounding of all the rooms at the show. In contrast with many other rooms, the music here was played at almost subdued levels—not really but simply not ear-bleeding and as such a welcome equalizer for many others—yet the dynamics felt completely unrestrained and the flow unhindered. What struck me was just how right the music sounded tonally and how spacious the sound was, tribute perhaps to a very well implemented point-source speaker.

Designer Frank Fazzalari gave his speaker extension to 30Hz capable of sustaining 400 watt RMS (one of the reasons he walked away from PHY as being too fragile for his taste) yet the high-efficiency speaker truly sang with the very high quality ten watts the McAlister amplifier delivered. I don’t know how these speakers would behave in a smaller room placed closer to the boundaries. With space to breathe these Coherent speakers to me were the stars of the show. I suspect I wasn't the only one to think so. Entirely unplanned Glen, Paul and I actually ended up here at the same time commenting on just how this room stood out from the pack for its completely involving and stress-free sound.

A few runner-ups came close although involving very different technologies. First, Samuel Furon of Ocellia now living in Quebec and Robert Neil of Worldwide Wholesales paired up to present Zu Audio's latest with Ocellia electronics. The result was truly excellent but this Zu Essence owner may have been biased. The demonstration was purely vinyl relying on a new-to-me Rossner & Sohn KLM 15 turntable and an Ocellia Quaero phono preamplifier with Ocellia phono cable. The real surprise was the use of the champion of cheap MC pickups, a Denon DLl03 the motor of which had simply been transferred to a wooden body. The combination was superb, dynamic, rich and detailed. I suspect the Quaero all-silver phono preamp had a lot to do with it.

The Quaero phono was connected directly to a pair of Ocellia Quaero 300B SET amplifiers. Those monos come with a volume pot to allow for source-direct connection in a single-source system. Samuel Furon can tailor his monoblocks not only to budget by varying the parts quality and amount of silver wiring but more importantly, he winds his own output transformers to adapt them to the impedance curve of your speakers for the most perfect possible match. It makes his Quaero amplifiers a very unique proposition. With them you probably won’t want to change speakers on a regular basis but based on the result these valve amps seem well worth the price once your speaker choice has settled down. If you know the typical 300B sound, you don’t know the Quaero 300B SETs. They are fast, tight and not overtly euphonic yet have the tremendous tonal beauty of triodes with their famed spaciousness and 3D presentation. Samuel Furon puts it all down to his work on controlling MDI (Micro Discharge Interface distortion) in both electronics and cables. My only regret here—and that of many people I talked to—was that Ocellia did not bring their much praised speakers this time around. Not surprisingly all those people were 6moons readers who had been impressed by Srajan’s coverage of Samuel’s work when he still lived in the south west of France.

In the absence of Calliope speakers the system relied very successfully on a pair of the brand new Zu Audio Omen Def as the final link to musical bliss. At $3.875 a pair in the US, the Omen Def takes the sound of my Essence a bit further, primarily by adding more bass whilst refining resolution in the midrange—often the brand's weakness—and reducing box coloration even further. I know the Zu sound inside out because I live with it. I heard no loss of treble despite moving away from the ribbon tweeter. And I certainly heard a touch more clarity and detail in the midrange and far more weight in the bass.

The latter is actually the only reason why I did not give this room my top mention. At less than half the price of the Coherent speakers, the Omen Def did everything just as well and actually bested them on dynamics yet the bass was somewhat overblown. It was nothing dramatic and quite discreet compared to many other rooms. Still I know that Zu speakers can perform even better on bass tightness and resolution. Whether a triode effect or the contribution of the Kubala-Sosna speaker cables—notoriously ripe in the bottom end—were responsible I won’t know until I get a chance to test the association at home. What remained striking with this room was the combination of speed, dynamics, full texture and body. It was a balance even more impressive than the Coherents had it not been for the low-bass bloominess.