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This show report will of necessity be a running if not galloping overview. In that process many superb products will get shorter shrift than deserved and in some cases be missed altogether. No slights intended. Prices will only occasionally be mentioned. The show was intended to intrigue, entice and excite into the world of well-reproduced music. These are some of the best of the best audio toys brought to us by people with incredible passion. TAVES was our opportunity to listen to their work and share their joy.

There was a full crowd of people ahead of me waiting for the Friday morning opening of TAVES 2012, a good sign that there would be strong attendance. Although most displays were up and running, a few rooms were late out of the gate, promising music either later in the day or for the Saturday crowd. Sadly a number of exhibitors who had made strong impressions in 2011—Woo Audio, Grant Fidelity, Monarchy Audio, Brentwood—were absent but if the ranks were a little thinner, the quality of the available offerings was nothing short of top notch. Based on the variety of displays there were some interesting trends afoot.

Personal audio was definitely on the rise with headphones, dedicated amps and DACs moving further onto centre stage. The HiFiMan planar magnetic headphones saw wide use. The Audio Note kits table demonstrated a massive headphone amp dedicated to the HE-6 along with its extensive lineup.

Todd Garfinkle was offering listening demonstrations of his wonderful purist recordings via the HE-400 at the m.a. recordings table.

George Klissarov of exaSound was showing his passion for high-resolution music with his superb 32/384 DAC with a pair of Sennheiser HD 800. His ability to successfully demonstrate the differences in recording resolution under the rigors of show traffic made the product worthy of some strong attention. Besides displaying their parts and modification services, the Audio Connexion table also had a full complement of Burson product opened for perusal and looking very solidly built.

In the Bryston suite the company’s auspicious entry into the world of headphone amps was adorned by different models from the Grado line. In the L’Atelier Audio room a pair of Grado 80s was paired with a Yamamoto SoundCraft YDA USB DAC whilst Tri-cell was offering Sennheisers with a Cary Audio tube headphone amp. Although Mike Tang decided to not to bring out his wonderful Feastrex speakers this year, his tiny Italian Carrot One tube/Class D products were sprouting up everywhere, operating either as headphone amps or in integrated configuration driving speakers with cables as big as the little amp itself.

It was amazing to see how lifestyle components have evolved. From desktop component to full-fledged high-end offering they showed a new level of sophistication. Venerable brands like King Rex, NuForce and Audio Engine were on display. Paradigm was showing powered mini monitors and a hefty-looking 3 piece sat/sub setup. 

Atelier Audio was playing their Elipson sound in the round components which looked and sounded slick and polished. For those looking for even more exotic wares...

... their Ocellia reference cables and 300B tube amp as well as Metrum Acoustic NOS mini DAC, Yamamoto AT-03-3A attenuator and YDA-02 USB DAC with line and headphone out were also on display.

At the upper end of the scale at about $15.000 was Totem Acoustics with their on-wall series of speakers and subwoofer. They used small overbuilt widebanders with machined aircraft aluminium baskets and a very simple crossover to bring the tweeter in low and with sufficient low-end response and dynamics to achieve a very low crossover to the sub at 40 cycles. These sounded cohesive, quick and enveloping in a 7.1 multichannel music setup and evidenced no sign of serious compromise between unobtrusive aesthetic and performance.

Tim Ryan of SimpliFi had a host of interesting speakers including the unusual Gradient Helsinki but his argument about the virtues and necessity of electronic room correction was driven home with a pair of inexpensive $499/pr on-wall speakers and $799 sub from DLS. Paired with his little $1.099 DSPeaker automatic room correction box this little combo played with dynamics, warmth, detail and expansive soundstage befitting pricier fare, a real-world testament to the high level of quality afforded by following this route. Yes, the much higher-priced Gradients outperformed them on all fronts but both proved equally influenced and improved with the use of room correction. A worthwhile demonstration.

Those used to seeing statement pieces from Dynaudio would have been surprised by their showpieces here. Their XEO 3 and XEO 5 were deceptively small and simple with a lot happening under the hoods. These were powered and wireless with a transmitter for the motto unplug and play. No DAC required, no preamp, no software, no plug-in, no IP address. They receive music digitally via USB or Toslink cable or analogue via RCA stereo or 3.5mm mini. The speakers not only proved musically capable but the sonic signatures of the two models were near identical with the larger XEO 5 having an advantage in bass extension. These were more examples of lifestyle hitting high-end territory in the $2.300 and $.4500 'hoods.

Plurison was showcasing the Naim line. This well established company has long been ahead of the curve in electronic advancement and had their considerable product line on display and running. Life-style components? Bigger lifestyles. For those who demanded heavyweight contenders, there was of course considerable eye and ear candy to tantalize the attendee audiophiles.