[SoundStage!]The Traveler
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November 2001

Toronto's Home Entertainment Show 2001

When I was young, I dreamed of having a job that allowed me to travel. As they say, be careful for what you wish for because you just might get it.

Today I travel more than just about anybody I know. Admittedly, some of it is exciting -- I’ve been to Germany, England, China, Malaysia, and other places within just the last year. However, I’ve been to many other places so often that the novelty of popping away for a few days of work has long since worn off. Toronto is one of those places. SoundStage! work brings me to Toronto at least once, sometimes twice, a month. I feel like I should have a second home there.

So on October 19 I again hopped in my Honda and, as usual, went straight down Highway 416 out of Ottawa to Highway 401. I then headed west on the 401 at 135 kilometers per hour (this is Canada, eh!) and made four rest stops along the way to load up on a total of four Tim Horton's extra-large coffees, which wired me and kept me from dying of boredom -- or worse yet, dying at the wheel from falling asleep on this exceedingly stale trip. The only turn off of the 401 comes when you’re directly north of downtown Toronto. It’s at that point you take a right, then a loop to the left, and you’re suddenly heading south down the Don Valley Parkway (if it’s not closed, that is) to the heart of downtown Toronto. The whole trip with just a modest amount of speeding clocks in at about four and a half hours. If the DVP is clogged (and it usually is), you can be looking at over five hours.

This year’s Toronto Home Entertainment show was held at the Holiday Inn on King Street -- right downtown. This is a considerably higher-priced place to stay compared to other show venues. Sleeping rooms cost more than $200 per night, and really the only thing that differentiates this from any other "nice" hotel is that you get a rubber duckie in the bathtub. It's for that "at home" feeling you pay extra, I guess (although I don't have a rubber duckie in the tub at at home).

Moving the beleaguered Toronto show to the downtown core from the outskirts of town was presumably done to increase the appeal this year and increase traffic. The strategy had some pluses and minuses.

On the down side, the traffic figures seemed about the same as in previous years -- not that great. Do people in Toronto just not care about audio? It’s the opposite of Montreal, where consumers swamp the halls. (The Montreal organizers tell me that they are adding a third hotel next year. That show is now likely the largest consumer-based show in North America). In terms of exhibitors, there appeared to be even fewer here, with some notable, high-profile Toronto-based companies absent. On the plus side, the rooms seemed better suited for audio and allowed those companies in attendance to perhaps show off their products a little better. As a result of this, I enjoyed this show more this year than last.

Fellow writer David Dowdell joined me late in the afternoon, and we headed for the first room on our search for brand-new products. Globe Audio Video, North American importer for the French-made Audio Aero equipment and the US-made Nirvana Audio cable, was showing with ProAc. The always-flamboyant Matt Brazeau gave me the lowdown: Audio Aero will be showing new and updated products at CES 2002. This wasn’t any great shock because Audio Aero always seems to have something new or updated at each show we go to, including here. What they had in Toronto was the first production version of their nifty 40Wpc TransTRAC stereo amplifier. Previous incarnations were prototypes. Matt says the price is to be finalized, but it is about $4600. There is also an integrated-amplifier version of it for about $5100.

Right next door is another company that always seems to have something in the works. Canada’s Blue Circle Audio demonstrated their $6950 BC9 fully balanced preamplifier with separate power supply ($7250 for the tricked-out version with stainless-steel knobs). This does not necessarily replace the highly praised singled-ended BC3000. According to president and designer Gilbert Yeung, the two preamplifiers in single-ended mode are very similar-sounding. If you have the BC3000 in a single-ended system, you probably won’t look to the BC9. But, according to Gilbert, when you use the BC9 balanced, it cleans house. Mike Oddie, whose Dundas, Ontario store co-sponsored the room, has used this product and concurred wholeheartedly with Gilbert. Like all the Blue Circle products, the BC9 is a little esoteric in nature and again uses dual volume-control knobs and has no remote control.


The Audio Aero TransTRAC


Gilbert Yeung with the BC9

Blue Circle wasn’t the only company showing a new balanced preamplifier. Cary Audio of the US showed the $3000 SLP 2002, which uses 6H30 and 5814 tubes. It’s an impressive-looking piece of work and should appeal to those looking for something lower in price and more feature rich. I especially like the tank-like build of the chassis.

And right below the SLP 2002 was the new CD 306/200 CD player. It’s not inexpensive at $5000, but it does boast a plethora of features that include 24-bit/192kHz upsampling, the Pacific Microsonics PMD200 digital filter (HDCD), and inputs for things like DAT and MP3 sources. It appears to be designed to be a statement-type piece.

And on the topic of products that make statements, Tri-Cell, a major distributor in Canada, showed the impressive and gorgeous $8400 Hovland Sapphire stereo amplifier. They were driving Meadowlark Blue Heron speakers. Based on looks alone, this amp is a sure-fire winner.


The new Cary preamp

200111_hovland.jpg (17968 bytes)
Hovland's new amplifier

And for something completely different, a Canadian company I’d never heard of, McSorley Design Services, was playing their new Triode Celebration lineup of electronics. These included the $3950 PA-001 line-stage preamp with separate PS-001 power supply and the $5450 Mode 100S amplifier that can crank out 6-10Wpc into 8 ohms (take the average and call it an 8Wpc amplifier, I guess). They were driving high-efficiency Edgarhorn speakers.

In the high-efficiency world, another unknown-to-me Canadian company called Fab Audio displayed their Stonehenge speakers. They claim 95dB sensitivity and a true 8-ohm impedance. Given the wee-little tube amp driving them to high SPLs, these specs sound true. This largish speaker with big paper-cone woofer retails for $3500 CDN per pair.

Speaking of speakers, Gershman Acoustics impressed us with their new floorstanding Cameleon speaker (that’s spelled correctly, no "h" in that name). Given the large size and real-wood veneer, I was expecting a higher price tag than the $1699 the pair retails for. This speaker shows a lot of promise, and we’re hoping to review a pair soon.


McSorley

Fab Audio

Gershman

Finally, Canada’s GutWire unveiled an impressively finished power conditioner that they call the Maxcon (below right, $1000 CDN). It features a solid-aluminum chassis with impeccable finish, Hubbell receptacles, an IEC connector for any after-market power cord you want to use with it, and a proprietary filtering scheme inside that won’t limit current. Herbert Wong of GutWire says it’s designed for use with "high-quality audio systems." David Dowdell, who recently reviewed a full line of GutWire cables, has one of these now for review.

Overall, this was a small show, but a successful one in terms of unearthing a few new hidden treasures for high-end enthusiasts. Despite the fact that the Toronto show is a fraction of the size of many other trade shows, I hope it continues next year in this same location. Being between CEDIA and CES, this time of the year is somewhat of a dry spell for high-end audio. There's simply not that much going as the summer changes to fall. It's nice that manufacturers and distributors have a useful outlet for giving their new products a pre-big-show debut. I would wager that many of these products will make their "world" debuts at CES 2002, despite being shown here first.

...Doug Schneider
das@soundstage.com

 

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