Toronto Audiofest 2022 - Toronto, Canada
- Written by Doug Schneider Doug Schneider
- Parent Category: Shows-Events Shows-Events
- Created: 23 October 2022 23 October 2022
Here’s the thing about Toronto, Canada: I don’t think it’s all that pleasant or pretty once you get too far from the downtown core. That comment might piss off some people I know, but I also know many others who will agree with me. Toronto, like any large city, has its pros and cons. But what can’t be disputed is that it’s the Canadian city that the world knows well, probably because of its professional sports teams (the Blue Jays, Raptors, and Maple Leafs), finance sector, film industry, and population.
Over 5 million people live in Toronto and the surrounding areas, aka the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). We’ve even got three SoundStage! reviewers—Gordon Brockhouse, Jason Thorpe, and Phillip Beaudette—as well as two copy editors—Jeb Roberts and Graham Browning—who live in the GTA. Numerous audio companies are also in the GTA, including large and well-known ones such as Paradigm, NAD, and PSB.
Given all that, Toronto should be a hotbed of hi-fi action, so you’d think it would be the place to hold a hi-fi show. But it really hasn’t been that kind of place at all. Hi-fi shows seem to struggle in Toronto—and I think part of the problem has to do with the locations they’ve generally been held at.
Around ten years ago, there was a hi-fi show at the King Edward Hotel, which is located in downtown Toronto. People still talk about that show today because they loved being in the heart of the city, one of its best parts. I also think they saw the potential for it. Had it or one of the many hi-fi shows that have passed through the city simply stayed downtown and established itself, I’m sure it could’ve grown into a premier, if not the premier, North American hi-fi event, given that Toronto is an internationally known city that people from all over would visit.
But that’s not what happened. For many years now, the shows haven’t been in downtown Toronto or anywhere close to it. They’ve been in the surrounding areas, and the experience just isn’t as good. Case in point: Toronto Audiofest. It’s put on by the same team that puts on the Montreal Audiofest, which is held annually in March. But while that show is held in downtown Montreal, where people love being, the Toronto version is in Mississauga (part of the GTA, but not actually Toronto), at the Westin Toronto Airport hotel. So it’s out near Pearson Airport, which is quite a drive for most Torontonians. It’s not easily accessible by public transit, it has mostly mediocre restaurants around, and it isn’t that inexpensive to stay at or near (particularly these days, when hotel rooms in that area begin at about $300 per night and hotels like the Westin also charge for parking!). It’s also not a desirable location for people coming from out of town.
As a result, Toronto Audiofest hasn’t appealed to me, so I’ve never gone—until this year. Last week I decided to fly from Ottawa, where I live, to Toronto to drop in on the 2022 version, which was held October 21 to 23. But I just went for the second day, Saturday, to see some people, to witness firsthand what was going on, to determine if it’ll be worth going back next year, and, mostly, to find some new and/or interesting products for our readers.
To the show’s credit, I found more products than I thought I might’ve based on what I’d heard about previous years’ shows, so that was a good thing. Below are those products, with prices in Canadian dollars.
The newest product from a big-league manufacturer that was shown at Toronto Audiofest was the NAD C 3050 LE integrated amplifier, announced just a few days before Toronto Audiofest 2022 began. In fact, this was its worldwide debut.
NAD C 3050 LE integrated amplifier
Designed to celebrate the company’s 50th anniversary, the C 3050 LE, at least on the outside, is a throwback to the brand’s products of the 1970s, when they used to spell out New Acoustic Dimension on the front, which has been done here. There are even meters on the front panel, but like almost all meters, I wonder if they give an accurate power reading or they’re mostly decorative. No matter, the C 3050 LE looks both retro and cool with its matte-black front panel, 1970s-looking typography, and wood-finished sides and top.
Inside, though, it’s modern through and through. According to the company’s website, “The C 3050 LE takes advantage of NAD’s latest and greatest amplification technologies, featuring 100 watts per channel of UcD HybridDigital amplification, a high performance 32-bit/384kHz TI PCM5242 differential DAC, the MDC2 BluOS-D module, BluOS wireless hi-res streaming, Dirac Live Room Correction, and a host of digital and analogue connection options.”
All told, the C 3050 LE successfully mixes something old with something new. It’s priced at $2572 in Canada (but, fittingly, $1972 in the United States) and will be available in November. Apparently, only 1972 of them will be sold.
PSB Passif 50 loudspeaker
Did you know NAD and PSB are sister brands? They are both owned by Lenbrook Industries. And did you know that PSB was also founded in 1972? PSB’s celebrations were held earlier this year and included a documentary that Gordon Brockhouse, who accompanied me to Toronto Audiofest 2022, and I were in. To celebrate its 50 years, PSB released the Passif 50 loudspeaker on July 1, which is Canada Day. It’s priced at $3299 per pair, with the first 500 pairs sold also containing a handwritten note from designer Paul Barton and a gift pack.
Modeled after the 1970s-era PSB Passif I and Passif II loudspeakers, the Passif 50 is a two-way design finished in a walnut-type veneer. It sports a 1″ titanium-dome tweeter with felt surrounding it, a 6.5″ midrange-woofer, and an 8″ passive radiator, used to augment the bass. The tweeter is offset to one side, but unlike PSB’s speakers of the 1970s, which often had tweeters offset to the same side for both the left and right speakers—something that drives me nuts—the 50 is sold in mirror-imaged pairs, so you get one speaker with the tweeter offset right, the other offset left.
The 50 continues its retro vibe by having the same 1970s-era PSB logo that was used at that time, incorporating a beige-colored grille with a pull-tab to take it off, and including short stands like PSB used to produce more than 40 years ago with each pair.
DALI Kore loudspeakers
I’m not going to spill much ink on the DALI Kore loudspeaker, which is priced at $150,000 per pair, but it’s not because it’s not worth the words or because I already wrote something about it earlier this year after it was shown to the world for the first time in May in Munich at High End 2022. It’s because Jason Thorpe, who also joined me at Toronto Audiofest 2022, went to Denmark in August to visit DALI’s headquarters. While there, Jason wrote exhaustively about the Kore and included listening impressions, and then wrote another article about the factory. So read those articles to know more.
But I did want to make sure to include it here because the pair, driven by NAD electronics, sounded great in the very large room that they were set up in—absolutely effortless and astoundingly clear. I also included it because I wanted to say that I thought that it was pretty cool to see Lenbrook Industries (North America’s DALI distributor) going all out to display this new Danish superspeaker on North American soil for the first time.
Focal Utopia headphones
Speaking of statement-type designs, this year saw France’s Focal update its flagship Utopia headphones, which originally debuted in 2016. Focal claims that this new version is the “fruit of over 40 years of sound innovation.”
Priced at $6499 and made in Focal’s factory in France—I know, because I saw the company’s headphones being made when I visited in November 2021—the Utopia headphones are a “completely open at the back” design using a single driver with a “pure Beryllium ‘M’-shaped dome” in each earcup. They’re more stunning in person than the pictures make them look. As far as the sound goes, I want Brent Butterworth to weigh in on that if he gets a review pair for SoundStage! Solo, which I understand is going to happen. But I will say that if you can afford headphones of this price and you value products with true luxury appeal, the new Utopia headphones could be for you.
I also want to point out that it wasn’t Focal directly showing the Utopias or any of the other Focal products at Toronto Audiofest 2022. It was EQ Audio Video, a store located about an hour north of Toronto in Barrie, which has a Focal Powered by Naim section within it. Focal Powered by Naim retail locations are popping up all over the world, but this Barrie location is the only one around this part of Canada. I visited EQ Audio Video in June and wrote about it—it’s a pretty cool place that’s worth dropping by if you’re in the neighborhood.
Monitor Audio Platinum 200 3G loudspeakers
Monitor Audio is yet another company founded in 1972, and to celebrate, it showed the Bronze 100 Limited Edition and prototype Concept 50 loudspeakers in Munich in May. So those two speakers were all I expected from the brand in 2022.
As a result, I was shocked in late September when the company announced the Platinum Series 3G, the third generation of its flagship Platinum loudspeaker lineup. I never saw the launch coming, but I’m glad it happened. Comprised of the Platinum 100 3G bookshelf ($8500 per pair), Platinum 200 3G and 300 3G floorstanders ($17,500 and $22,000 per pair, respectively), and C250 3G center speaker ($7500 each), the series features a host of bespoke parts and cutting-edge technologies created by Monitor Audio’s team. All models come in three attractive finishes: Piano Black, Piano Ebony, and my favorite, Pure Satin White.
Kevro International, which is Monitor Audio’s North American distributor, had the 100 and 200 3Gs on display at the back end of the EQ Audio Video room, since the store is also a dealer for Kevro’s products. When I visited the display, the 100 3Gs were off to the side and the 200 G3s were playing with Rotel Michi-series electronics, a brand Kevro also distributes. To say the compact floorstanders sounded exceptional would be an understatement—they sounded unbelievably good, displaying ultra-powerful bass that belied the speakers’ modest size, along with midrange purity that was uncanny. It was the most impressive sound that I heard at Toronto Audiofest 2022.
Monitor Audio Platinum 100 3G loudspeakers
It should be no surprise that we’re hoping to get at least one of the new Platinum models in for review. But while the speakers have been announced and are now showing—and sound spectacular judging by the 200 3Gs I heard—none of the models will be available until early 2023, so we’ll get back to you on that.
Audio Note Ongaku integrated amplifier
If you ask around the industry, you’ll often hear comments like “the distributor-and-dealer model is crumbling.” That’s because with the increasing importance of online shopping, bricks-and-mortar retailing is having a tougher and tougher time. But one of the shining stars of distribution in Canada has been Motet Distribution, which, up till now, has grown rapidly with brands such as Accuphase, PMC, iFi Audio, Lumin, and Zidoo, which were on display at Toronto Audiofest 2022. Founder Lily Luo is showing that the distribution model can still work.
Newest under the Motet umbrella is the UK’s Audio Note, which, as far as I can tell, has had a tough time getting established in both Canada and the United States, perhaps because of the super-esoteric nature of the products—as well as some of the products’ high prices. Yet Luo sounded as confident as ever when she told me she thinks that the brand can grow big on this side of the Atlantic—and that she’s putting money and effort behind it.
Audio Note AN-E/SPx SE loudspeakers
On display at Toronto Audiofest 2022 were several Audio Note products, but what caught my eyes first were the Ongaku integrated amplifier and a pair of AN-E/SPx SE speakers, which were on static display at the front of the main Motet room. The company describes the amp as a “Pure Class A Singled Ended valve amplifier that uses the highly regarded 211 / VT-4C triode valve, producing a level of performance that is radically superior to any other current designs.” It sells for—hold your hats—$220,000, so it’s not for the faint of pocketbook. The AN-E/SPx SE is a two-way design with a 1″ tweeter and an 8″ midrange-woofer in a sizeable wood cabinet. It also has an external crossover with super-expensive parts. Like all Audio Note speakers, the AN-E/SPx SE is designed to be propped up on a short stand in a corner to maximize room gain through boundary reinforcement. Priced at $72,000 per pair, the AN-E/SPx SE isn’t cheap either.
Audio Note Cobra integrated amplifier
On the other hand, not all the Audio Note products are that expensive. Hooked up to a pair of PMC Twenty5.23i speakers, but not making sound when I was there, was the Cobra integrated amplifier-DAC, which is one of the company’s newer designs and costs only $8000. According to Audio Note’s website, the Cobra is capable of “producing 28 watts per channel from a pair of EL34 valves operating in Class A push-pull. It is capable of driving a wide variety of speakers thanks to its exceptional double C-core output transformers, which are custom designed and manufactured by Audio Note (UK).” The literature goes on to state that the Cobra is “equipped with three analogue stereo inputs, and an additional three digital inputs, via the onboard DAC. The digital coax inputs can accept signals up to 24-bit/176.4kHz (native bit-depth for the Philips TDA1543 D/A converter chip is 16bit, so anything above this is truncated down). The Optical SPDIF input can accept signals up to 24-bit/96kHz.”
Without question, Audio Note’s products aren’t like anything else in hi-fi, with styling and tech that give them retro appeal. But can they sell well in North America? Like I said, there’s money in Toronto, so it is the place to be for equipment like that—and if anyone stands a chance to make it happen, Luo’s Motet Distribution has the best shot.
Dave Frost and Lily Luo with the PMC MB2 XBD
Motet also showed a pair of PMC MB2 XBD se loudspeakers with Accuphase, iFi Audio, Zidoo electronics, and XLO cabling, a brand Luo owns. But my focus was squarely on the speakers because of something I recently experienced that I have a story about. Dave Frost, PMC’s export business development manager, came up to demonstrate the pair personally.
Priced at $80,000 per pair in Canada, the MB2 XBD se is a three-way speaker with a 27mm (1.1″) soft-dome tweeter, a 75mm (2.95″) soft-dome midrange, and two 310mm (12.2″) Radial woofers. These drivers are PMC designs. A dome midrange isn’t seen all that often anymore, but the woofers are the most interesting to me, mostly because their cast-aluminum baskets are in front of the cones, not behind them, purportedly for better cooling. It might have been done for function, but it looks damn cool. Furthermore, there are two transmission lines to augment the bass, with one snaking its way through the upper cabinet and the other nestled into the lower one.
One more interesting thing about the MB2 XBD se, besides its very British and brutish appearance, is that its basic design dates back 28 years. Yes, two years shy of three decades. Yet it still sounds amazing, which is where the story I have comes in.
We have a new video series out called SoundStage! Travelers. So far we’ve produced two episodes. At about the 7:50 mark in the second episode, titled “The Beatles + UK Hi-Fi at iFi Audio and PMC,” which was shot in July, you can see UK-based writer Jonathan Gorse listening to a pair of PMC MB2 XBD se speakers at PMC’s headquarters. As he was listening, I snuck in, listened, and was blown away by how clear and lifelike the pair sounded at very low to extremely high volume levels. Later, videographers Chris Chitaroni and Jeremy Prudhomme really got into listening to them as well. We all loved the sound—and the appearance.
I’m pleased to say that our experience at PMC wasn’t a one-off affair. The pair in Toronto sounded just as impressive in the exact same ways, and the people there seemed to like the sound and look, too, so I’m glad Motet had the guts to bring a pair in and display them so prominently. After all, this speaker is hardly new—but it’s a classic design that deserves to be seen and heard by as many people as possible.
Karan Acoustics Master Collection POWERa mono amplifier
Speaking of being seen and heard—Karan Acoustics, which is based in Serbia and is distributed in North America by Wynn Audio, deserves more of that. In early 2021, I reviewed the company’s Master Collection LINEb preamplifier, which, although expensive, has the build, parts, and sound quality to warrant the price. And on the test bench, it performed superbly. It proved to me that the company might not be that well known, but when it comes to quality, it can compete head-on with the better-known boutique makers of big, brawny solid-state electronics such as Boulder Amplifiers, MSB Technology, D’Agostino Master Audio Systems, etc.
At the time of my review, however, Karan Acoustics didn’t have any Master Collection power amps. Now the company does, with Wynn Audio showing Karan’s best, the POWERa monaural amplifier, which claims to output a whopping 2100W into 8 ohms, 3600W into 4 ohms, or 6000W into 2 ohms, all continuous. Peak power into 8 ohms is rated at 2400W (no 4- or 2-ohm peak power ratings are given). With that high power comes quite a high price, mind you: $145,000 per pair. If you’re a person who can afford that, you might be able to own a pair of the finest mono amplifiers in existence.
But if you can’t stretch your wallet that far, there’s a stereo version of the POWERa priced at $72,000 capable of outputting 650Wpc into 8 ohms (800Wpc peak), 1100Wpc into 4 ohms, or 1800Wpc into 2 ohms. If that’s still too much money, Wynn Audio’s Wynn Wong told me that there’s a POWERb stereo version for $58,000, though I couldn’t find the power output for it. That’s still not chump change, but given how well that LINEb preamplifier performed in my system and on the test bench, there’s a good chance that even Karan’s lowest-priced Master Collection amplifier is as good as pretty much anything else out there. So for those into super-high-end boutique-type brands, the Karan Acoustics name is a good one to know.
Heretic AD614 loudspeakers
Now for something different—a speaker that can easily be mistaken for a subwoofer or guitar amp. I’m talking about the Heretic AD614, which stands only 25.5″ high and is 18.75″ wide and 14.5″ deep. It sells for $7999 per pair. It’s made by Heretic Loudspeaker Company, which is based in Montreal. I believe this is a fairly new brand, though its owner, Robert Gaboury, has been involved in various other speaker companies, including another Montreal-based brand currently in existence called Arteluthe.
Although short, the AD614 is not intended to be put on stands, surprisingly. According to the company’s literature, the AD614 is “built from premium, no void, 12 ply birch plywood, which preserves the natural tone of instruments.” It comes painted black or white, but is also available in a “clear, 100% vegan linseed oil and beeswax finish,” which lets the natural look of the wood flow through.
Set back into a recess in the front baffle is a coaxial driver with a 14″ midrange-woofer and a 1″ compression driver. Below the driver is a rectangular port. The crossover, which uses second-order slopes, is set around 1700Hz. Claimed frequency response is said to be 45Hz to 22kHz, though without deviations given.
The overriding goal of this design seems to be to offer high sensitivity, which is claimed to be 97dB (2.83V/m), mixed with a very retro-looking design. According to the company: “Heretic loudspeakers are engineered to work with all amplifiers, including high quality, low power ‘tube’ amplifiers. Sensitivity rating of 97 dB at 2,83V and non-inductive tuning means that most of the time, your Heretics will be perfectly happy with less than 1 watt of power.” Simplicity and longevity also seemed to be selling points, evidenced by these words: “No software updates, no drop outs, no electronics to fail, no tracking software or DSPs . . . Nothing can be simpler: hook your amplifier, play record, that’s it, and backed by a 10-years warranty.”
While some audiophiles might balk at this rather oddball design, particularly if they’re used to multi-driver floorstanders—and believe me; it is odd—there’s a coolness that a speaker like this has that many lack, which is why I took note of it at Toronto Audiofest and included it here. This was not the best-sounding speaker I heard at Toronto Audiofest 2022—the sound in the room was only all right—but it was still one of the most intriguing and memorable.
Angela Yeung-Gilbert Yeung C318 preamplifier
This final product write-up is about a comeback and a demo unlike I’ve ever seen.
In 1995, I founded the SoundStage! Network. A year or two before that, Gilbert Yeung founded Blue Circle Audio and ran it successfully for over 20 years. I purchased several Blue Circle Audio products back in the day—BC3 and BC3000 preamplifiers, as well as BC2 mono and BC204 stereo amplifiers—but several years ago, Yeung simply closed Blue Circle Audio. He told me he didn’t go out of business; rather, he said he got tired of dealing with customers. Following the closure, he designed products for several companies, including Saturn Audio, which has a phono stage that Jason Thorpe reviewed recently on SoundStage! Hi-Fi.
Well, Yeung is back in business, but with a new brand name: Angela Yeung-Gilbert Yeung. The company makes a wide range of products, like Blue Circle Audio did, such as phono preamplifiers, integrated amplifiers, preamplifiers, power amplifiers, power conditioners, and DACs. What’s more, they all feature the logo Blue Circle Audio products had, which, of course, is a blue circle.
Angela Yeung-Gilbert Yeung C318 preamplifier power supply
Via Entracte Audio, a Toronto-area dealer, numerous Angela Yeung-Gilbert Yeung products were showing at Toronto Audiofest 2022, including the C318 preamplifier seen in the accompanying photos above. It comes with an external power supply and sells for $15,800. But Yeung and Entracte Audio’s George Taylor weren’t that interested in showing me the products as much as they were in demonstrating the AG2022, a contraption of an integrated amplifier coated in multi-colored goop. It’s an experimental design piece that Yeung uses to test concepts for “real” products, so it’s not for sale.
While some might look at the AG2022 as an art piece gone wrong, I immediately identified what it really is—basically a grab bag of boards and parts that were once on Yeung’s design desk that would look rather messy and boring if Yeung hadn’t coated them with the colorful mess, which is probably silicone, since he has always had a penchant for using copious amounts in products.
The latest experiment Yeung’s been conducting has to do with figuring out how much capacitance could be added to the power supply before diminishing returns set in. He believes it’s a lot more than most people realize.
To illustrate where Yeung’s at right now, Taylor began by playing music through a pair of Fyne Audio standmounted speakers. Then, with music playing, he added more and more capacitance by simply plugging in wires. Taylor began at 1.2 farads of capacitance and, through multiple steps, ended up at 37.75 farads, which he said is about 75 times the amount of capacitance an average power amplifier has. (Note that with amplifier specs, microfarads are usually stated; 37.75 farads is the same as 37,750,000 microfarads.)
Doing the demo this way was interesting, because there was no starting and stopping of the music like in so many demos. As the music played, another cable was plugged in and you could hear a change or not. To my ears, the increases in capacitance improved the music’s smoothness. Jason Thorpe was right beside me for the whole thing, and he thought the decays of the notes lingered longer as the capacitance increased. What was beyond dispute was that there was a change in sound each time, with Taylor at the end saying that he and Yeung are going to push the amount of capacitance even higher, because although they believe they’re close to pushing to the point where there’s no benefit in going further, they want to experiment with more just to see what happens.
It’s good to see Yeung, who’s always been a wild and eccentric designer, back in business doing outrageously innovative things, just like with Blue Circle Audio.
My one day at Toronto Audiofest 2022 was worthwhile. But by the end of the day, I felt I’d seen all I needed to see, so I didn’t need to be there for two. I also talked with various exhibitors who felt satisfied enough with what they’d experienced. Therefore, I’d rate this as a decent audio show to attend for consumers and press.
But as I flew home that night, I still couldn’t help wondering what a Toronto-based show could really become if located in the downtown core and promoted internationally. With the stature Toronto has on the world stage, my gut tells me that with a truly international event, the world might take notice, and people from across Canada and from other countries would likely travel to it. Though for this to happen, I firmly believe it has to be right in the city, right in the downtown core. Let’s see what the future brings.
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