Suave Kajko

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Nordost

Cable and accessory manufacturer Nordost is always happy to show off and demonstrate its products at audio shows.  At the Montreal show, the company had a booth right at the entrance of the show, in addition to a demonstration room elsewhere on the show floor.  Above: Meredith Gabor and Micheal Taylor of Nordost stand with big smiles at their booth, where show attendees were given the opportunity to purchase various products at special show prices.

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Nordost ran closed-door seminars during all three days of the show, providing demonstrations and insights on how to improve the sound of your system using its cables and various accessories.  I can’t think of a better way to learn about Nordost products and discover just how much of an impact they can make on system performance.  If you’ve never sat through a Nordost seminar, you absolutely must!  Above:  Bruno de Lorimier of Nordost happily demonstrates two resonance control devices: the Nordost Sort Kones designed for use with audio components and power distributors, as well as Nordost Sort Fut designed to sit under an audio rack.

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I also managed to snap a picture of a familiar product in the system – the QBASE QRT QB8 power distribution unit, which provides a straight-line AC distribution path, combined with star-earthed topology for connection to a clean ground.  I just installed one of these units in my own reference audio system and I’m delighted with the performance boost that my music has gained from this upgrade.  The most noticeable improvement is the soundstage – which went from three-dimensional to almost holographic.  Both the vocals and the instruments have more air around, and the distance the various musical components is now much better defined.  It’s a pretty remarkable sonic treat indeed.  Look out for a closer look / review of the QRT QB8 on www.canadahifi.com in the next couple of months.

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Kimbercan

For a number of years, Kimbercan used to exclusively distribute Kimber Kables in Canada.  More recently however, the company has added Neat Acoustics, PS Audio and Custom Design (audio rack & speakers stands) to its suite of brands.  The statement piece inside this room was the new PS Audio BHK-250 Signature amplifier (250 watts/ch in 8 ohms).  Don Rhule of Kimbercan said that this amp is “more than a prototype and very close to production” and he expects it to begin shipping in June at approx. $10,999. Paul McGowan from PS Audio was kind enough to provide me with some insight about this new amplifier.  The BHK-250 is a hybrid design with vacuum tubes in the front, running with no feedback, that go into 3 pairs of series diff pairs of Mosfets (so it’s fully balanced, fully differential push-pull).  It is equipped with an output stage that uses a unique design of “same-sex” devices (meaning that all output devices are N-channel).  Paul was demoing the new amp with a PS Audio DSD DAC, taking tunes from a MAC mini and controlling it with an iPad mini, playing through a pair of Neat Acoustics Motive SX1 speakers. As you might imagine, the system was wired up with Kimber cables.  In addition to this, the full range of Neat speakers was on static display, lining the walls of the room.

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A secondary system in the same room was also ready for demonstration.  This one consisted of the PS Audio Sprout integrated amp (50 watts / ch, class D), offering Bluetooth, phono, headphone inputs, and digital inputs ($999); along with a turntable source and Neat IOTA speakers.  Topping it all off, Kimbercan also showed a number of beautiful Custom Design stands and audio racks built in the UK.

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Acoustic Technologies / Alpha Design Labs (ADL)

Retailer Acoustic Technologies partnered up with Alpha Design Labs to highlight numerous (mostly personal) audio products and accessories at their show booth.  Starting with the latest, ADL was demonstrating its brand new GT40 Alpha USB DAC (with a built-in phono stage), which is a completely revamped version of the company’s original GT40, offering better quality chips, a better power supply, and now capable of 24-bit/192kbps recording / playback.  Visitors could listen to a personal audio system consisting of the ADL GT40 Alpha ($593) running ADL’s top-range H128 headphones ($513, available in three different colours).  For those on the move, ADL also had its A1 portable DAC capable of DSD audio (made for Andriod devices) available for audition, with H118 headphones (now available for a lower price of $199).  Also at the booth was ADL’s popular X1 portable DAC designed for Apple devices, playing tunes from a MAC laptop through another pair of H118 headphones.  Other portable audio products that attendees could also listen to included the Cruise portable headphone amp / DAC and the EH008 earbuds (dual drivers, carbon fiber finish).  The Cruise portable headphone amp/DAC, offers up to 80 hours of playback from its built-in battery which makes it a great travel companion.  It was playing music from an iPod shuffle, through ADL’s H128 headphones.

In addition to the active demonstrations, ADL also presented its wide range of upgradable headphone cables (designed to interface with all popular headphone brands), interconnect cables, USB cables and HDMI cables. Other products at the booth included Fostex headphones, headphone DACs, JBL Bluetooth headphones, Oppo products, Furutech, and lots of different accessories like the SpinClean record washer.

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Elsewhere at the show, inside a dedicated room, Acoustic Technologies also featured two 2-channel music systems.  The main system was comprised of the Accuphane E-600 Class A integrated amplifier (30 watts per channel) $14,000 approx., the Accuphase DC3-7 DSD DAC $11,000 approx. and Audiophysic Avantera loudspeakers.  This system also had a secondary source – the Canadian made EMM Labs DAC2 $17,700 and the music flowed from a Mini MAC computer.  Everything was wired up with Wireworld cables.

The secondary, smaller system inside this room featured a pair of KEF LS50 speakers ($1,650/pair), a Peachtree Nova 125SE hybrid integrated amplifier ($1,795) and was also wired with Wireworld cables.

Last, but certainly not least, Acoustic Technologies also showed its own Solidrack RB Series racks constructed out of Russian Birch. This is a new entry-level, more affordable rack series from Solidrack. Available in single and double-tier versions, these racks can be ordered in custom sizes to match customer needs. A single tier, 4-shelf unit goes for $1,300, while a double-tier version goes for $1,800.  In addition to the racks, Solidrack now also produces matching speaker stands.  As the brand name implies, all of the racks / stands are solidly built and offer a clean, sophisticated look.

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Tri-cell Enterprises

Tri-cell Enterprises partnered with two local dealers to show some of brands at the Montreal show.  Retailer La Maison Du Son focused on showcasing the Italian-made Chario speakers in various price points and different finishes.  Ready for demoing inside this room were Syntar Series 513 bookshelf speakers (around $700) as well as the Constellation Series Cygnus floor standing model ($2,200), both driver by Marantz electronics.

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Another local retailer called Coup de Foudre was demonstrating a powerful and engaging system consisting of Luxman electronics and the beautiful Vivid OVAL K1 Speakers.  I listed to the system for a few minutes and quickly concluded that it was one of the better sounding systems at the show – a great pairing between the two brands.  The Luxman components included dual M-600A amplifiers, a C-800f preamp, and a DA-06 DAC fed by a laptop computer as the source.  Tri-cell Enterprises brands shown inside this room included Brinkmann, AWS, Clearaudio, and Opera – although they were all on static display so attendees could not audition any of these products.

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Gemsen

Phil Bryant of Gemsen, distributor of Dynaudio, JL Audio, and Wireworld, explained to me that their focus at the show was to demonstrate an audio system that offers exemplary performance for a realistic price, unlike many of the other exhibitors. At the same time, Gemsen was excited to reveal the JL Audio Dominion line of entry-level subwoofers (coming soon) for the first time in Canada. The system on demonstration (approx. $20,000) included Dynaudio Excite X34 speakers, a pair of the soon-to-be-released JL Audio Dominion 8-inch subwoofers and Wireworld cabling. Yes, this was one of the only 2-channel systems at the show that used two subwoofers to supplement the main channels, and did so very well. Phil explained that although the JL Audio subs have excellent crossovers built-in, they choose to use the JL Audio CR-1 external crossover (reviewed last year by CANADA HiFi) as it offered them a completely seamless integration with the main speakers, in an environment that is not well known to them and not perfect (that being the hotel room).

Gemsen also demonstrated the Dynaudio Focus 200 XD ($8,700) – a product that looks like a loudspeaker but is in fact a nearly complete audio system. The 200 XD houses and on-board amplifier and digital sound processor (DSP); all you need to add is your favourite sound. It’s the perfect solution for a small space, like a condo room.

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Stereo Plus & Design / Totem Acoustic

Local retailer Stereo Plus & Design showcased the pairing of Totem Acoustic speakers and McIntosh electronics.  There were two pairs of Totem Element series speakers ready for audition – the Element Ember bookshelf and the Element Earth floor standers.  The McIntosh components on the other hand included the MAC6700 2-channel stereo receiver and the MCD500 SACD/CD player.  Alternative music sources comprised of the Marantz NA6005 network audio player and the Marantz TT-15S1 turntable.  I have always been very fond of the Element series sound but the small room was too busy and too loud to truly enjoy what these speakers are capable of.

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Grant Fidelity

My final stop at the Montreal show was to the Grant Fidelity room.  This Canadian distributor has earned a great name in the business for offering affordable, high quality audio products and always attracts a good crowd at shows.  The main focal point inside this room was a system that included the Psvane Audio Reference TS845 integrated tube amplifier, Pure Audio Project open-baffle Trio 15TB speakers, Consonance Droplet CDP 3.1, Grant Fidelity TubeDAC-11 DAC as well as a Yulong Audio DA8 DAC.

It is always a great pleasure to head to the Montreal Audio Show and this year was no different.  I hope that you enjoyed my show highlights as much as I enjoyed assembling them together.  Au revoir for now – we’ll be back at the show in 2016!

Next stop for our team is the TAVES Consumer Electronics Show (Oct. 30 – Nov. 2, 2015).   www.taveshow.com.  I leave you with a picture of myself standing beside my “goal” speaker, the rather large Focal Grande Utopia EM… though first I’ll need to move to a bigger house :)

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Every year, the beginning of spring is celebrated by Canadian audio enthusiasts at the Montreal Audio Show / Salon Son & Image. Similarly, every year George de Sa and I (Suave Kajko) embark on the short journey from Toronto to Montreal to explore the show floor in search of the latest audio products and exceptional sonic demonstrations. Shows like this present a wonderful opportunity to see old friends and make exciting new ones. We worked long hours on the show floor during the three day show, and enjoyed ourselves equally well after hours in the seductive culture of the beautiful city of Montreal. Thought this year’s show didn’t feature nearly as many exhibitors as previous shows, we certainly managed to find some pretty attractive exhibits. I hope you enjoy some of my show highlights!

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Plurison

One of the companies generating the biggest buzz at this year’s show was Plurison, one of Canada’s largest audio brand distributors. This company always puts on standout displays at shows and this year was absolutely no different. Michel Plante, Canadian Marketing & Sales Manager, invited me to sit down for a demonstration of something that he was clearly very excited about – the Devialet Phantom speakers. Offering a rather revolutionary design, these speakers feature built-in amplification and produce sound in an omnidirectional pattern that is completely different from a conventional speaker, hence offering uniform sound throughout the listening room. As we’ve come to expect from Devialet, this speaker offers leading edge technology, combining both analog and digital technologies in order to achieve a very high level of performance. Connect the Phantom to your home network (wired or wirelessly or via your power lines) and it’ll allow you to stream music from your smartphone/tablet, computers in your house and most internet music services. Devialet’s Spark app for smartphones and tablets makes playback a snap. You can start with just one or two speakers, and add more to build a multi-room system. Two versions of this speaker will be available – the Phantom (about $2,500 each) and the Phantom Silver (about $3,000 each).

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The demonstration room looked like a scene straight out of a sci-fi movie, as shown in the two pictures above. I sat down for a few minutes to listen to the Devialet Phantom and as soon as the music started played my jaw dropped and remained there for an unreasonably long period of time. These relatively small speakers pack a tremendous amount of musical energy, while playing with a clean, articulated bass that stretched into the lowest frequencies effortlessly. The highs were extended and the mids were luscious. These speakers clearly demanded a longer listening session, so I asked nicely for Plursion to send us a pair for review when they become available.

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In addition to the Devialet demo, Plurison had a ton of other products on static displays, filling the large hotel hallways.  Another big announcement from the company was the release of a new Cambridge Audio CX series, which will be replacing the long-standing Cambridge Audio Azur series.  Expected to begin shipping in June, the CX series will offer all newly designed components: the 851W power amplifier, the 851N and CXN network players, the CXA60 and CXA80 integrated amplifiers, the CXC CD transport (this is a transport only since all new Cambridge components have DACs built-in), as well as the CXR120 and CXR200 AV receivers.

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Another highlight at the Plurison display were two introductory turntable-based systems for those looking for an affordable and simple setup that doesn’t require a large number of components. The first system on display is called the “My First Spin” priced at $699.  It is comprised of the Music Hall USB-1 turntable and the Micromega MyZic headphone amplifier, along with the Focal Spirit One S headphones, and a record brush. The second system accordingly called the “My Second Spin” ($1,199) features a higher performance Music Hall MMF2.2LE turntable, the Kanto YUMI amplified speakers, and the Micromega MyGroov phono section.

Other brands on display from Plurison, on static display, included Focal, Cocktail Audio, Rega, Music Hall, Naim Audio, Pathos, Siltech and Crystal Cable.

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Bryston

Canada’s own Bryston offers one of the most diverse ranges of audio products of any company in the business. At shows, the company tends to stretch its muscles by showcasing its big guns, which is fun to see as most of us don’t have rooms large enough to build such audio systems. Of course Bryston has products suitable for all real-world room sizes too.  This March, Bryston proudly showed the full line-up of Canadian-built Target Audio Products speaker stands, a brand that it recently began distributing, as well as the brand new Bryston BDA-3 DAC which offers DSD decoding and will begin shipping in the late spring / early summer. The Target speaker stands appear to offer a high level of build quality and reasonable price points – ranging from $269/pair to $549/pair. We’ve got the BDA-3 DAC ordered for review when they become available so stay tuned to CANADA HiFi for a complete evaluation.  I personally use the Bryston BDA-1 DAC in my own reference system, as I find it to be one of the best DACs out there in its price range.  Perhaps it’s time for an upgrade to the BDA-3 DAC… 

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The Bryston system on demonstration was the same as the company showed last year at the Montreal show and commented by many as one of the best sounding systems at the show – and for an achievable price. It consisted of a Bryston BP-26 preamp, a pair of 7BSST2 amplifiers, the flagship Model T speakers in a white gloss finish, the BDA-3 DAC, the BDP-2 digital player, along with the new BOT-1 burner (Bryston Optical Transport). The BOT-1 is designed to add ripping and playback capabilities to the company’s BDP-1 and BDP-2 digital players – it allows you to rip your CDs directly to a hard drive connected to your Bryston digital player, cutting the computer completely out of the equation – a worthy system addition for all BDP player owners.  Overall, this was one of the best sounding rooms at the show and one that offered audio gear for just about every wallet.

In addition to the active demo system, the walls of this room were laid out with all kinds of other Bryston products, including the company’s full line-up of loudspeakers and subwoofers, as well as nearly all of the company’s electronics. Notable recently announced speakers showcased here included the Micro A Sub subwoofer and the AC-1 Micro centre channel speaker. On a related note, look out for a Bryston Model A2 loudspeaker review from CANADA HiFi’s contributor Douglas Brown coming up in the next week.  Bryston has already also confirmed its participation in the 2015 edition of the TAVES Consumer Electronics Show (www.taveshow.com) and we can’t wait what they company will show us there!

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Deep Space Audio

It is always a pleasure to discover a brand new company like Deep Space Audio, at an audio show. Although this Montreal-based company was officially established just over six months ago, the roots of its first speaker model, called the Deep Space Audio DS-1, go back almost 10 years. What began as a project between three musician friends has developed into a business of passion. The DS-1 is an attractive looking, full-range (20 Hz – 20 kHz) loudspeaker based on a bass-reflex design and constructed out of 1.5-inch thick Russian plywood. It is equipped with a 10″ paper cone woofer, a 4″ paper cone midrange and a 1″ cloth dome tweeter – all drivers are sourced from Scan-Speak in Denmark. A careful onlooker like myself, will immediately notice that the crossovers are external, mounted at the bottom rear of each speaker. This helps to isolate the crossover components from undesirable mechanical vibrations.  The Deep Space Audio DS-1 speakers retail for $20,000/pair.  Associated gear in this room included an Acoustic Research tube amplifier, an Oracle turntable as well as a preamp and DAC from Conrad Johnson.  Look out for CANADA HiFi’s review of the company’s upcoming Deep Space Audio DS-2 loudspeaker in the next few months.

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Evolution Home Corp – Dolby Atmos Demo

Have you heard about Dolby Atmos?  It’s a brand new audio format that’s bringing more immersive, three-dimensional sound than ever before to movie theatres and homes.  Specifically, this new format introduces four overhead speakers that allow you to experience elevated sound.  You have to hear it to believe it!  Of course the challenge for most consumer is cutting holes, running wires and installing speakers in the ceiling, which can be a troublesome and expensive affair.  But there is an easier solution in the form a new type of speaker called a Dolby Atmos enabled speaker – it’s basically a speaker that’s designed to radiate upwards and reflect sound off the ceiling and back to the listening position.

Saxe Brickenden of Evolution Home Corp, ran a very immersive demonstration of Dolby Atmos at this year’s show in a home theatre that consisted of Definitive Technology speakers, a SIM2 projector and a Marantz AV receiver.  Definitive Technology’s solution to installing Dolby Atmos in a home theatre is the A60 Elevation Module speaker ($350 each, approx.) which mounts on top of the company’s most popular floor standing speaker called the BP-8060ST ($1,400 each). This low profile speaker measures just 4-inches tall and elegantly clips on top of the BP-8060ST – all you have to do is run one of the Atmos “elevation” channels to it via a speaker wire from your AV receiver. In order to enjoy Dolby Atmos you will of course need an AV receiver that offers Atmos processing, like the Marantz that was featured inside this room, as well as content that’s encoded with Atmos. The system on demonstration consisted of four BP-8060ST floor standing speakers (a bipolar design with a built-in powered subwoofer). The picture was provided by a SIM2 Nero 3D-1 projector ($19,995) from the company’s Domino line. The Nero 3D-1 is a single-chip DLP design, offering 1080p resolution. I sat down for a demonstration of the system with Atmos encoded content and was very pleased with the experience.  The Definitive Technology BP-8060ST and A60 Elevation Module (attached to the top of the speaker) are shown below.  You can expect to see a number of companies demonstrating Dolby Atmos at the TAVES Consumer Electronics Show this Oct. 30 to Nov. 1 (www.taveshow.com).

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In an adjoining room, Evolution Home Corp also demonstrated a 2-channel system comprised of Definitive Technology Mythos ST-L SuperTower speakers, and AudioControl Rialto amplifier and a Mass Fidelity Relay source.

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Skogrand Cables / Audiopathways

Skogrand Cables from Norway partnered with distributor Audiopathways to assemble what I thought was one of best sounding systems at the show.  Skogrand also took the opportunity to reveal its complete range of audio cables to the Canadian consumers / industry for the very first time. What makes the products from this company special? Skogrand has managed to develop solid core cables that float completely in the air through the whole length of the cable (i.e. without using any kinds of supports or ever coming into contact with the cable jacket). This technology allows the cables to achieve the absolute highest level of performance and can be found in the company’s top four cable series: the Vivaldi, Ravel, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven. Something else that makes this company’s cables unique and instantly recognizable are the silk sheet cable jackets. Company founder Knut Skogrand joked saying that his cables are “dressed for the occasion” when listening to grand recordings. Skogrand Cables currently produces speaker cables, interconnects, power cables, digital cables and speaker jumpers.

The audio system in this room consisted of Raidho speakers paired with VAC electronics and played with liquid fluidity, making me fall in love with the combination. If you read CANADA HiFi regularly, you may know that I consider Raidho speakers to be one of the best speaker brands in the world, and listening to them here with VAC electronics inspired me to take a closer look at VAC as well.  The HRS audio rack contained a VAC Statement 450S amplifier, a new VAC Master preamplifier, a Brinkmann Sindre turntable with a Triangle Art Apollo cartridge, a Sutherland Duo phono stage, and a full loom of Skogrand cables.  The speakers on demo were the Raidho D-3 models.  Keep an eye out for our take on Skogrand cables, as well as a Raidho review, in an upcoming issue of CANADA HiFi.

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Skogrand Cables focused on demonstrating its Tchaikovsky cable series in the system, while showing the company’s full range of cables in various displays on the perimeter of the room. We expect Skogrand Cables to demonstrate its cables for the first time at the TAVES Consumer Electronics Show this fall (Oct. 30 – Nov. 1, 2015, www.taveshow.com).

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Audiopathways

As if the system above wasn’t enough, distributor Audiopathways offered show visitors two additional rooms of audio bliss.  The first of these rooms was centred around the Bel Canto Black System, one of the highest performance audio systems I have personally ever listened to.  The price of $70,000 for this system however is a little hard to swallow for most… but it’s nice to dream.  The other components in the system included the Raidho D-2 speakers, a Brinkmann Magne turntable with the Kiseki PurpleHeart cartridge, and a Sutherland Insight phono stage.  Standing off to the side, and also ready for demoing, were the Raidho C 1.1 bookshelf speakers as well as the tiny and unreasonably mighty Raidho X1 speakers. The sources included a Bel Canto CD3t CD transport and a REFlink USB converter used to stream music from the TIDAL online music service.

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In another room, Audiopathways demonstrated the very special pairing of Jeff Rowland electronics and Raidho speakers. I am currently working on a review of the Jeff Rowland Continuum S2 integrated amplifier (possibly the highest performing integrated I’ve ever reviewed) and hope to get my hands on a pair of Raido D-1 stand-mount speakers for review very soon.  In play, in this system was the Jeff Rowland 625 power amplifier, the Jeff Rowland Aeris DAC, the Jeff Rowland Corus preamp, and Raidho D-1 speakers.  The sources were a MAC computer and the Bel Canto CD2 CD player.  Audiopathways also introduced Ansuz cables (a parent company of Raidho) for the very first time in Canada in this room.  Finally, also shown in this room were two new Triangle Art turntables – the Reference and the Symphony (with 2 arms), as well as US-made Acurus amps and preamps.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this article in the next couple of days…

Samsung HU9000 Series LED UHD Curved Screen TV Review (Model UN65HU9000)

Television technology has been advancing at a rapid pace over the last several years and there are no signs of slowing down. It never ceases to amaze me that every year a new generation of sets raises the bar on picture quality and at the same time improves on the features of previous year’s models. And I’m not talking about slight improvements in picture quality – the improvements have been quite dramatic from one generation to the next. Well-equipped TVs of today also come jam-packed with features such as smart TV functionality, 3D picture capability, downloadable apps, built-in internet browsers, motion/voice control and curved screens. And let’s not forget about 4K resolution.

Samsung is one of the small group of companies at the forefront of television design and offers one of the most diverse TV line-ups of any manufacturer. Samsung’s HU9000 Series LED TVs, introduced in 2014, represent the company’s highest performance sets, promising the ultimate picture quality and most immersive experience to date. In the fall of 2014, Samsung sent me the 65-inch curved screen UHD TV (UN65HU9000 model, priced at $4,499) for evaluation and I began enjoying it immediately. The HU9000 Series offers two other screen sizes – 55 (UN55HU9000) and 78-inches (UN78HU9000).

The UN65HU9000 is so rich with technology and features, that it might make your head spin. First, it offers the pinnacle of picture resolution – 4K or 3,840 x 2,160 pixels. That’s well over 8,000,000 pixels, or four times the pixel count of 1080p TVs. This amazingly high resolution allows for finer details, greater texture and an almost photographic picture. 4K content is still very limited at this time, but Samsung did supply me with the UHD Video Pack (CY-SUC10SH1), a 1TB hard drive loaded with 10 movies and even more documentaries.

This Samsung’s curved screen promises mesmerizing immersion and a palpable presence not felt on flat screens. The curvature of the screen also offers a wider field of view, compared to the same sized flat screen, resulting in a panoramic effect that makes it seem larger.

The UN65HU9000 comes supplied with four pairs of active 3D glasses. The glasses are lightweight, but not terribly comfortable to wear. Since they are of the active-type, they won’t cut down the resolution of the 3D picture as passive 3D glasses would (you’ll get the full 1080p picture) but some viewers may experience headaches and dizziness when using the glasses. This TV will also up-convert 2D content to 3D, though I personally find this to be a complete gimmick.

In 2014, Samsung introduced something called the One Connect box with the Evolution Kit built in. This box contains Samsung’s Smart engine processor and video processor enhancements as well as all of the video and audio inputs. As a result, there are no inputs on the TV panel itself, but rather a single cable connection that runs between the box and the TV. In the future you will be able to replace the One Connect box with a newer version, rather than replacing your entire TV, to enjoy new features. The One Connect box supplied with this TV includes a host of video inputs, including 4 HDMI, 3 USB, 1 component and 2 composite (1 is shared with the component input). There is also an Ethernet jack and built-in WiFi, as well as an RF antenna connector for OTA (over-the-air) signals.

This Samsung also comes equipped with a feature called Multi-Link Screen which can break the screen up into four quadrants – allowing you to watch different content in each quadrant. This means that you can watch live TV in one quadrant, while browsing the web in another, while having YouTube clips playing and the Facebook app open in the other two quadrants.

The supplied remote is small, stylish and thanks to its curve and rounded edges, it fit comfortably in my hand. Its clutter-free face includes only the most essential buttons such as volume, channel buttons, voice control, search, source, Smart Hub, menu and a few buttons to control a video playback. There is also a touch pad with directional keys that works quite well for selecting keys on the on-screen keyboard. I can say with confidence that this is the best, compact remote I have used, provided with any TV I’ve reviewed.

This HU9000 series screen offers a native resolution of 3,840 x 2,160 pixels, and as it is common these days, very few other technical specifications are shared. Its LCD screen uses an edge-lit LED backlight with local dimming, although Samsung does not specify the actual number of local dimming zones. What we do know is that this HU9000 set sports more local dimming zones that its flat-screen HU8550 brethren. Like most other TVs in the market today, this Samsung offers a 120 Hz refresh rate (Samsung calls this feature “Clear Motion Rate 1440″). The HU9000 series introduces a couple more picture enhancements: Auto Depth Enhancer (which offers a greater picture depth by adjusting the contrast of different parts of the picture) and Wide Color Enhancer Plus (which promises to deliver picture color the way the director originally intended, although Samsung does not explain how it works on their website). A built-in camera, housed on top of the screen, rounds out the feature list, and allows motion control of the TV (with finger and hand gestures) and is used for apps such as Skype.

Visually, this HU9000 series TV is drop-dead gorgeous, and probably the best looking TV that’s ever sat in my living room. It looks just as pretty whether it’s on or off. The minimal bezel virtually disappears into the screen, and the silver stand follows the curvature of the screen gracefully.

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Paradigm Speakers / Anthem Electronics Factory Tour, Paradigm Prestige Series Review

During its 30 year plus history Paradigm has given music listeners and movie buffs a lot of products to be very happy about.  Appealing to audiences both experienced and young, Paradigm has long offered products for all sonic needs and budget sizes.  From speakers and subwoofers to soundbars and headphones this company makes it all.  And now Paradigm brings us another brand new product range to get excited about – it goes by the name of Prestige Series. This elegantly crafted new series marries some gorgeous new cabinet work, along with new and trickle-down technology originally developed for higher-end Paradigm products. Like the majority of Paradigm products, the Prestige Series is proudly manufactured in the Great White North.

This fall, I had the pleasure of touring the Paradigm / Anthem manufacturing facility based in Mississauga, Ontario to witness the making of the Paradigm Prestige Series speakers.  This state-of-the-art plant is absolutely enormous, spanning some 230,000 square feet and employing about 150 individuals.  But then again that shouldn’t be a surprise from a company that exports its products all over the world.  About 70 percent of all Paradigm and Anthem products are manufactured at this facility, the Paradigm Prestige Series being the very latest addition.

The development of the Prestige Series was a unique undertaking, initiated with a process that Paradigm calls “addressing the voice of the customer” which captured a significant amount of feedback from end users and dealers.  The Prestige Series is therefore a range of speakers that was designed based on the values and ideas presented by music listeners and dealers in numerous local and international markets.

The Prestige Series was initially envisioned to fit between the company’s Monitor Series and Studio Series speaker ranges but quickly ended up taking a life of its own.  The feedback collected by Paradigm indicated that consumers were actually interested in a new speaker series that would sit somewhere above the Studio Series.  The research also showed that consumers had a strong preference for this new series be manufactured in Canada.

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Paradigm sees the Prestige Series as a rebirth of the brand in essence.  The company has always offered a really high value performance stance in the marketplace but left a little to be desired in the aesthetic design of its products.  Rather than the mechanical, testosterone-driven designs of its traditional speaker series, the Prestige Series offers a gorgeous industrial design with much more refined cosmetics that fits well into the living space but also transcends the listening experience.

There is no question that Paradigm is exceedingly proud that the new Prestige Series is crafted in Canada.  Developing a new speaker range that offers the same amount of visual value and the same amount of performance, if not better, than competing brands that are made in China was quite difficult but the Paradigm engineering team rose up to the occasion.  Paradigm estimates that its cost to produce the speakers locally is somewhere between 20 and 30 more than it would be compared to manufacturing in China.  Manufacturing the speakers locally however allows Paradigm to achieve the same level of finish and sonic performance that you would expect from some of the best European made loudspeakers.  Closely monitored quality control and ability to make instant adjustments to the production process are vital to attaining such a high level of quality – something that simply is not realistic when manufacturing over seas.

Paradigm Prestige Series Family Shot

The new Paradigm Prestige Series consists of seven loudspeaker models.  There are three floor standers – the Prestige 95F, the Prestige 85F and the Prestige 75F; the Prestige 15B bookshelf; two centre channels – the Prestige 55C and the Prestige 45C; as well as the Prestige 25S surround channel speaker.  Subwoofers will complete this series in early 2015 (scheduled to be shown for the first time at the 2015 CES).

Zoltan Balla, Brand Manager for Paradigm & Anthem, discusses the development of the Paradigm Prestige Series in this video (filmed beside the Prestige 85F floorstanding speaker, inside Paradigm’s special blind test listening room).

 

In order to produce the Prestige Series in Canada, Paradigm made a tremendous financial investment in its Mississauga manufacturing facility, specifically in the wood working and paint shops.  A brand new wood finishing machine allows for automated sanding of speaker cabinets, achieving a perfectly consistent finish.  Rob Armstrong, National Sales Manager, standing proudly beside the new machine explained exactly how it operates during our tour.

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A speaker cabinet is loaded by hand into the jig on the bottom left, which then moves the cabinet inside the large sanding cage.  A robotic arm sands the cabinet with great precision and consistency, while the jig rotates around.  The machine returns the sanded cabinet in the bottom right of the image.  The Prestige Series may be the first speaker range to utilize this machine, but Paradigm already has plans for other products coming down the line to be manufactured here too.

To achieve an exemplary finish like the Midnight Cherry offered by the Prestige Series (or Paradigm’s 30th Anniversary Edition Series speakers), spraying, sanding and buffing has to be performed up to 7 times.  This state-of-the-art robotic sanding machine plays a great role in simplifying this process.

Another recent investment in the manufacturing facility was a new paint booth which allows Paradigm to achieve automotive paint quality finishing.

Young happy girl with headphone listening to music

This October 31st to November 2nd, the TAVES Consumer Electronics Show is set to become the ultimate event for Canadians who are passionate about technology.  The show will astound visitors with the latest and greatest technology, home audio, home theatre, electronics gadgets, digital photography, and a preview of many prototype products not yet available for purchase.  New for 2014, the show will feature a “New Technology Arena”, the “Jolt Art Gallery”, a “Digital Photography / Imaging” area as well as a dedicated “Headphone / Portable Audio” section.  Hosted at a brand new venue – the Sheraton Centre Hotel, in downtown Toronto – the show floor will greatly expand this year, featuring a significantly larger number of exhibitors than ever before who will showcase many previously unseen product categories.  As the trend continues for consumers to purchase an increasing number of products online, TAVES is the definitive place to see these products with your own eyes – especially since many of these products are not even available at brick-and-mortar stores.

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Introduced for the first time in 2014, the “New Technology Arena” will enable visitors to see groundbreaking technology products and prototypes – many funded by Kickstarter and Indigogo crowd-funding campaigns.  This portion of TAVES will showcase innovative, futuristic technology products that consumers only ever read about online.  Spearheading this new section will be a holographic display company from Montreal called Moon Media.  Yes, you read that correctly, holographic displays are coming to TAVES this year!  Our long-time dreams of playing ‘holochess’, just like Chewbacca and C3PO did aboard the Millennium Falcon, aren’t as far away as you might think.  Moon Media is actually bringing much more than this to the show, but we don’t want to spoil all the surprises.  Some of the other highlights of this section will include 3D printers, 3D replicators, an Oculus Rift virtual reality area with prototype video games being shown, the Tesla full-electric vehicle and even mind control devices that let you control your smartphone and tablet just by thinking about it.  The Oculus Rift is bound to be a huge hit with technology and video game fans.  This is one of the first times anyone will have the chance to experience first-hand what the media and insiders have been raving about for months. If you’ve ever wondered what the future looks like, the “New Technology Arena” at TAVES is something you simply can’t miss!

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Also brand new for 2014 is the “Jolt! Art Gallery”, presented and curated by OCAD U, York University, Centennial College and the Brockton Collective.  The gallery will feature over 120 original pieces of artwork from top local artists, spread throughout the entire TAVES show floor, and draw a connection between consumer electronic designs and various forms of art.  All of the artwork will be available for purchase at the show.  A photography competition between students from the presenting schools will be held prior to the show using Sony cameras.  The winning photographs will be displayed at TAVES on Sony’s 4K UltraHD TVs in their full glory.  And if all of this wasn’t enough, TAVES will also include a “Body Painting To Music” area, where visitors 19+ will be able to look at live body painting, inspired by music.  This section will feature a talented local artist named MagicFinnga Wong (www.magicfinngawong.ca). Wong will perform live painting on various canvasses, body painting as well as mural painting, in this special section of TAVES.  The audience will be able to interact and paint together with Wong on certain canvasses. The atmosphere inside this room will be enhanced by a live DJ and body painted models.  This “Body Painting To Music” area will present rare and exciting photo opportunities for all TAVES visitors who bring their cameras to the show.

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Another new addition to TAVES 2014 is the “Digital Photography / Imaging” area, where visitors will be able to discover some of the latest digital photography products and accessories, and speak to experts about brands including Sony, Canon and Nikon.  Since TAVES will connect many of the consumer electronics categories this year and show you how they integrate together, this will be your chance to see how incredibly sharp and detailed images taken by a high quality camera look on a gorgeous big screen 4K UltraHD TV.  Numerous free digital photography seminars will be offered to show visitors, focusing on how to choose the best camera for your needs and how to improve your photo taking skills.  TAVES encourages all visitors to bring their own camera to the show and take pictures!

Rounding out the new additions to TAVES this year will be a dedicated “Headphone / Portable Audio” section.  Inside this section, visitors will be able to discover what it means to listen to their portable devices, like smart phones and tablets, through a higher quality pair of headphones or earphones.  With dozens of different headphones to try, we encourage music lovers to try their own portable devices loaded with music.

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As visitors have come to expect from past editions of TAVES, this year’s show will showcase the latest and greatest innovations in audio technology, home theatre and television that let you experience the full glory of music, movies and video gaming. TAVES is specifically designed to give consumers a sneak peak at the hottest products coming out for the holiday season and many product that won’t be hitting store shelves until the new year.  This year’s show will offer the largest-to-date show floor, spanning four floors of the Sheraton hotel, where products from many of the major brands will be demonstrated.  In addition to visual entertainment, many high quality audio brands that are well known among true music lovers will be demonstrated from companies including: Sony, Bryston, Paradigm, Anthem, NAD Electronics, ARCAM, Mark Levinson, Monitor Audio, Cambridge Audio, Focal Speakers and SVS Sound.  We are delighted that Sonic Boom, one of Canada’s largest music retailers, will be participating for the first time at TAVES – offering a high quality selection of new and previously enjoyed LPs, CDs as well as accessories.

Retailer Canada Computers will also play a big role in this year’s TAVES, showcasing cutting edge innovations such as LG’s surprisingly affordable OLED curved screen TVs, a car racing game simulator frame that immerses the player with a panoramic view of three screens, Canon and Nikon digital cameras, as well as all sorts of other amazing audio and video products.

TAVES offers visitors insight from some of the best tech gurus in the business including broadcaster Marc Saltzman who will be delivering a seminar on the “Top 10 Tech Trends Worth Getting Excited About”.  Other seminars from industry experts will showcase the latest ideas and technologies for wireless integration from mobile devices; and home theatre that will let you take your favourite mobile experience and integrate it seamlessly into a state of the art home theatre environment.

For more information about TAVES or to purchase tickets, please visit www.taveshow.com.  Tickets are $22 for a one-day pass and $30 for a three-day pass.TAVES runs from Friday, October 31st to Sunday, November 2nd.  You can save $4 off admission (until offer expires) here: http://canadahifi.com/save-4-off-taves-admission/

TAVES 2014 Show Highlights
–          Explore a show floor of nearly 300 brands of consumer electronics products
–          Enjoy a great selection of free seminars – covering topics of audio, video and digital photography
–          New Technology Arena  (3D Printing, Replicating, Oculus Rift, Tesla, Mind Control Devices + more)
–          Jolt! Art Gallery curated by OCAD U, York University, Centennial College and the Brockton Collective
–          Body Painting Area with Music
–          Dedicated Digital Photography area
–          Dedicated Portable Audio / Headphone section
–          Meet distinguished tech expert Marc Saltzman
–          and So Much More!

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Helping You Realize the Full Potential of Your Audio System

If you have upgraded some of the cables in your audio system than you are already aware of the difference that high quality cables can make.  If on the other hand, you’ve never tried higher quality cables in your system, we encourage you to give it a try and discover the improvements for yourself.  Many music lovers are astonished to discover how significantly better and more realistic music sounds with good cables and accessories in their system.  So what’s the best approach to upgrading the performance of your system?  Start by doing some research on the topic because not all cables and audio accessories are made equally.  While there are a number of very well regarded cable and accessory manufacturers, there are also plenty of manufacturers that make unjustified claims about their products.  Before upgrading any parts of your system, we recommend reading articles and reviews from a few reputable sources.

Just as with loudspeakers and audio components, it is always best to audition cables and accessories if possible.  Nothing compares to hearing with your own ears whether an audio product or accessory improves the sound of a system.  In some cases, certain components and accessories change the sound of a system, rather than improving it, which isn’t necessarily a good thing.  In the worst cases, some products actually degrade the sound.  A regional show, where dozens of companies showcase their latest gear, is a great place to hear demonstrations of various audio components and cable products.  Most audio video retailers will also gladly demonstrate the sonic improvements that a well matched cable can bring to an audio system.
In this feature article, we would like to expand your knowledge on the subjects of cables, power products and resonance control devices.  We would like to also introduce you to Nordost, one of the most respected audio and video cable makers in the world, and its wide range of products.  Finally we also address some of the common questions that you might have as a music listener and reader of this magazine.

Meet Nordost
Nordost’s humble beginning dates back to 1991 in Massachusetts, as a cable manufacturer specializing in the audio field, utilizing precision conductor solutions first developed for the aerospace industry.  All Nordost product designs have a firm foundation that starts with scientific research and development, and finishes with extremely precise building techniques.  The company’s design philosophy is to produce cables that have a low mass design, with an optimal signal transfer and perfect impedance matching. The company understands that cables, by nature are filters. It is therefore their goal to filter the sound as little as possible so that you are left with an impression of the music, not of the cabling.  Its first product, the Flatline Gold speaker cable introduced in 1992, is a perfect example of this, deriving technology originally used by NASA for their space shuttle program which resulted in a cable that was extremely durable with a geometry that offered impressively low capacitance and inductance while achieving very high signal speeds.  For more than two decades now, Nordost has continued to push the envelope of cable design and technology, in turn improving the performance of audio systems around the world.  Today, Nordost offers a full range of analog and digital audio and video cables, as well as numerous power products and resonance control devices designed to improve the sound of audio systems.  Nordost proudly designs and manufactures all of its products in Massachusetts, USA.
Now let’s take a look at some of the common questions and concerns that audio and video enthusiasts might have about cables.  The topics below are explained thanks to insights and answers provided by Nordost.Nordost Purple Flare Power Cord (Custom)

What benefits can you expect by upgrading the cables in your system?
Swapping the OEM cables that came inside the box with your component with upgraded cables can go a long way to unleashing the true power of your audio or home theatre system.  In a music system, you can expect a number of improvements in the overall level of performance.  Nordost cables typically offer a much lower noise floor, allowing you to hear significantly more musical details and a soundstage that stretches wider, deeper and taller – in addition to having a better definition.  This means that instruments and voices will sound richer and more accurate.  The soundstage will offer more air and you’ll be able to distinguish the placement of the vocals and various instruments within the soundstage as you would in a live performance.  Nordost cables also offer an increased coherency in the timing, and dimension.

In a home theatre system, you can expect the same kind of sonic improvements.  Additionally when using Nordost’s American-made HDMI cables, there will be less of a delay when switching speaker channels, as well as increased picture depth and dimensionality. As a result you will find yourself more immersed sonically and visually in your movies and TV programming, making the experience more realistic.

Which cables should I upgrade first in my system?  A recommended cable upgrade path
Nordost recommends upgrading cables in the following order – power cables, interconnects (digital and/or analog) and speaker cables.  Following this upgrade path will help to establish a firm foundation on which you can build your audio or video system.  Proper distribution of AC power and ground has the greatest effect on your system’s performance and sets the sonic signature of the system. Your upgrades should follow the flow of the audio signal.

Power lines run for hundreds of miles before reaching your home, and then all throughout your home before they reach your audio equipment.  How can the last 6 feet of the power delivery system (the power cable) make a difference in your system?
A better way to think about this, is that the power cable that comes out of your wall is actually the first 6 feet of your audio or video system.  The sound that reaches your ears is in fact AC power that has been sculpted by your audio components into musical frequencies.  If you feed your system with unclean power what you’ll end up with is sound performance that lacks in many areas.  Therefore, feeding clean power to your components is critical and starts with the power cord of your power strip or conditioner.

So how can a Nordost power cable improve the performance of your system?
Our homes are filled with RF interference which can be easily picked up by inadequately designed power cables, which in turn introduces grain and pollution, and raises the source impedance of the AC power.  Nordost cables are designed to avoid these specific issues.

At CANADA HiFi we always recommend connecting your audio or video system to a dedicated power outlet in your home.  This will provide a clean power foundation for your system, by ensuring that home appliances, lights and other devices don’t share the same power circuits and pollute the AC that you feed into your system.

What is better – a balanced (XLR) or unbalanced (RCA) connection?
There are different ways of implementing balanced connections in audio components and as a result the balanced output performance of one component can vary significantly compared to another.  Balanced connections are typically used in sound studios that are often electrically congested environments and where long cable runs are required.  In home audio systems we normally use much shorter cables.  If you’re not sure what connection to choose, the best thing to do is to let your ears be the judge.

Does the length of a power cable, interconnect or speaker cable matter?
Within reason according to Nordost, the longer the cable run, the better.  That’s because Nordost carefully constructs its cables in specific lengths that offer optimal performance.  The optimal length of each cable is defined by how a particular cable is constructed, and hence varies by type and model of cable.  The exact cable lengths in your system will be dictated by the placement of your components and the size of your listening space.

Does Nordost have a trade up program?
Yes, Nordost dealers do offer a trade up program across its range of products.  Please contact your local Nordost dealer for details.

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If you’re a music lover that lives in the Toronto area and you haven’t been to Angie’s Audio Corner yet, I encourage you to jump in your car this weekend and check it out.  It is truly one of the greatest audio stores in Canada and an amazing playground for those passionate about music.  Angie’s Audio Corner is a gorgeous historic house that’s been converted into a high-end audio store.  Every room in the house features a dedicated audio system, some feature more than one system, consisting of different components and there are lots of rooms to explore.  The store is located at 12261 Yonge Street in Richmond Hill, ON (905-773-7810).

This week I had the opportunity to spend a little time at Angie’s Audio Corner and discover what new products are on demonstration.  One of the beautiful aspects of this store is that nearly every time I visit it, there is something new to see and listen to.

This time around I had the pleasure of sitting down to listen to a 2-channel system consisting of Bel Canto Black components and Focal’s magnificent Stella Utopia EM speakers ($95,000).  The Bel Canto Black is a brand new high-end audio system that strives to achieve the highest level of audio performance, while offering connection and control simplicity.  A prototype of this system was shown at TAVES 2013 and now the production version is available for demonstration at Angie’s Audio Corner.  The new Black range contains only two components – the ASC1 Asynchronous Stream Controller and the MPS1 Mono Block PowerStream (amplifier).  A complete audio system, consisting of the ASC1 controller and two MPS1 amplifiers retails for $55,000.  The music source was a Sooloos music server system ($8,000 approx.), along with a Network Attached Storage (NAS) drive.  Music selection here can be performed using the Sooloos touch screen interface or a smart phone/table app.  The Bel Canto Black controller can also be controlled by your smart phone or tablet.  And there was no shortage of music for me to choose from – Angie’s got every genre of music on offer – from the Dire Straits to Elvis to Tchaikovsky, and everything in-between.

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The ASC1 Asynchronous Stream Controller features a number of proprietary technologies that Bel Canto has been developing for many years.  Its rear panel offers a bank of mostly digital inputs, but it will also accept a single analog source.  The MPS1 Mono Block PowerStream (amplifier) pumps out a jaw-dropping 1200 watts and is stable down to 2 ohms.  It is not only capable of producing the cleanest possible amplification that money can buy, but it’ll also power pretty well any speaker on the market.  The ASC1 and the dual MPS1’s are wired together with supplied fiber optic cables.

I started my listening with one of my favourite bands Air and their “Moon Safari” album, then transitioned to the Dire Straits, Tom Petty and others.  I was immediately sucked into the music by this system’s transparency and incredible clarity.  There were absolutely no hints of noise or distortion.  The background of clean recordings was completely black – perhaps this is exactly where the name Bel Canto Black comes from.  When a music system reproduces audio with such a quite background and accuracy, the end product is simply music nirvana.  The most subtle instrument and vocal details emanated from the music.  Tom Petty has never sounds better, or truer to life.  The blackness of the background also allowed for amazing separation between various parts of the soundstage, which was vast in its 3-dimensionality.  I could have sat there for many hours listening to music, with a big grin on my face.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – and if you don’t have quite enough 100 dollar bills in your wallet for this system, Bel Canto offers numerous, more approachable components.  Of course the Bel Canto Black is just one of the many different systems that you can listen to at this store.

So if you have time this weekend or the next, go listen to some music at Angie’s Audio Corner.  Trust me, you’ll have lots of fun.  – Suave Kajko –

For more info about the Bel Canto Black music system, please go to www.belcantoblack.com.

Now let me leave you with a few images I took during my visit.

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UFi Speakers and a USub by Ultralink (Custom)

We love great tunes but we hate bad sound.  That’s why decided to outfit one of our lucky readers with a pair of UFi computer speakers and a subwoofer by Ultralink!  These speakers may be very compact but they offer a far more accurate sound than typical computer speakers.  At just three-inches squared these powered speakers are personal and portable, ideal for your computer desk or on the go – they are small enough to fit in your luggage while travelling.  The USub on the other hand adds a great bottom end to the music.  To qualify for the giveaway just ‘Like’ CANADA HiFi on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.  Then simply tell us how often you listen to music on your computer (on our Facebook or Twitter page)!  The winner will be announced on February 7th, 2014.  All of our existing social media fans will also qualify for this giveaway by answering the question.  Enter below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Axiom Audio ADA 1500 Multichannel Amplifier web

An audio amplifier can easily be compared to a car engine.  You may not always need its full power but you’ll be glad to have it when the situation calls for it. When listening to music or watching a movie, there are plenty of occasions that rely on the amplifier to occasionally deliver a copious amount of power.  A good dedicated amplifier shouldn’t be all about brute force of course, its job is equally important in providing superior musical details and clarity.  While an AV receiver may be good enough for most home theatres, there is no question that if you desire the most accurate sound from your music or movies, you should look to a powerful, high quality dedicated amplifier.  Axiom Audio aims to fulfill this need with its ADA 1000, ADA 1250 and ADA 1500 series amplifiers. The higher the series number, the more power the amplifier offers and the more it is capable of driving lower impedance speakers. Each amplifier series can be ordered in two to eight channel configurations.

For this review we asked Axiom Audio to provide us with its top of the line ADA 1500 amplifier in a seven channel configuration, priced at $3,630.  For comparison, a seven channel ADA 1000 model goes for a very reasonable $1,580.  The ADA 1500 may not be the biggest, nor the baddest looking amplifier but don’t be fooled by its appearance, this is one mighty amplifier.  Its design combines a class-D amplifier with a massive toroidal transformer and a large storage capacitance of 144,000 uf.  When driving two channels simultaneously this amplifier is capable of outputting a whopping 325 watts per channel into an 8 ohm load, and doubling that into 650 watts with a 4 ohm load.  My seven channel review model is rated at a remarkable 214 watts per channel with both 8 and 4 ohm loads, with all channels driven.  These power ratings are achieved with less than 1% distortion and measured from 20 Hz to 20 kHz. The rear panel of the amplifier offers both single ended RCA and balanced XLR inputs, along with gold plated multi-way speaker binding posts.  The ADA 1000 series amplifiers offer just the RCA inputs.  A 12 volt trigger allows this amplifier to be powered on automatically by a preamp, while the removable power cord means you can try an upgraded cord.  The flat black chassis is constructed out of heavy gauge steel and finished with a 10mm machine aluminium faceplate. At 28 kg (58 lbs), the ADA 1500 is a hefty component and built like a tank.

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While you might consider connecting the ADA 1500 to an AV receiver as an intermediate upgrade of your home theatre, to fully realize its potential it should be set up with a dedicated preamplifier/processor.  I connected it to the incredible Anthem Statement D2v 3D A/V processor, which was awarded the Editor’s Choice in the previous issue of the magazine.  The speakers I used were my reference Monitor Audio GX Gold series.

So the ADA 1500 certainly looks good on paper but how does it sound?  Well, now came the fun part of the review.  I spun up Star Trek Into Darkness on Blu-ray in my Cambridge Audio 751BD player and planted myself on the couch. This highly dynamic soundtrack would be an excellent tool for testing this amplifier’s capabilities.  From the get go, this film served up a mix of scenes ranging from the whisper-quiet to ones that shook my room.  The ADA 1500 delivered the quieter scenes with amazing resolution and clarity.  When the onscreen action suddenly demanded a beefed up audio presentation the amplifier offered plenty of power, giving proper weight to the instrumental movie score, character voices and sound effects.  When asked to reproduce louder film passages that consist of many audio layers,  a lower quality amplifier, or a typical AV receiver, will often mash all the layers together, making the individual components tough to distinguish.  This can result in audio that sounds harsh.  But that was far from the case here.  The ADA 1500 resolved all of the various layers with ease, even during the most demanding scenes. The excellent dynamics, power and control translated into an experience that was more realistic and vibrant than you could ever experience from an AV receiver.

My Monitor Audio Gold GX speakers are relatively easy to drive (the GX 200 fronts have a sensitivity of89 dB and the GXFX surrounds are rated at 87 dB) and so they didn’t pose much of a challenge for this amplifier.  But the beauty of an amplifier like the ADA 1500 is that it is designed to power far less efficient speakers, like many of Axiom’s own 4 ohm models.
The action sequence at the beginning of World War Z on Blu-ray instantly put the ADA 1500 through the ringer.  As the garbage truck plowed through the street jam-packed with cars, this powerful scene was filled with smashing metal, breaking glass, screeching tires and dozens of horns, among other sounds.  The ADA 1500 easily sorted through all these sounds and reproduced them with a frightening realism.  In many other parts of the movie, the sound of people screaming and gunshots were chillingly real.  With the  volume turned up, I was getting a true movie theatre experience from the comfort of my couch.  I have to admit, I don’t normally watch zombie-type movies and the combination of the picture and the aggressive soundtrack had me freaked right out.
With the Axiom Audio ADA-1500 amplifier and the Anthem Statement D2v 3D A/V processor spending a good deal of time in my home theatre I was able to watch many different movies, and enjoyed the audio with great pleasure from every single film.  This wonderful duo of components also significantly raised my gaming experience on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.  But movies and games are only a part of the performance equation here, as I had more rigorous music tests scheduled on the way.

Toronto’s own Ray Montford’s “A Fragile Balance” CD (2-channel) played with great fluidity and richness. The musical details and clarity achieved when listening to theses tracks through the ADA 1500 reached an excellent level of immersion and engagement. Thanks to the fact that the Anthem A/V processor was so transparent I could effortlessly identify the tones of different guitars and the various effects applied, from one track to the next.  Drums and bass notes played with speed and tightness, while high hats and cymbals sounded crisp and sparkly.  The performance had a great sense of presence, I felt almost as if the performers where playing their instruments right in front of me.

While listening to Florence + the Machine “MTV Unplugged” album, the ADA 1500 once again showed its ability to clearly resolve the various musical layers and lay out a wide, deep soundstage.  Florence Welch’s voice was directly in the centre, with backup vocals further back and to the right, the string instruments to the left and the drums deeper on the stage.  All of the nuances of Welch’s distinct voice were reproduced with amazing clarity and the acoustic reflections helped to visualize the atmosphere of the original recording venue.

Two- channel classical recordings sounded just as impressive here as I would expect them to on a high-end two-channel system.  With Holst “The Planets” performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra, the ADA 1500 laid out a very wide, deep soundstage that even offered a good amount of height. The various parts of the orchestra were clearly positioned within the soundstage, yet they played with perfect harmony. Every individual component of the orchestra played with the richness of a real instrument.  Percussion instruments had fast attacks and realistic decays.  Strings sounded woody and organic.  Woodwind instruments sounded light and airy, offering fine details.  What I was hearing here in my home theatre approached my 2-channel system’s dangerously close, although there were a few observable differences.  My 2-channel system did offer slightly improved soundstaging and a greater amount of air around voices and instruments.  The overall tonality was a little warmer and the high frequencies sounded just a tad more neutral, both of these factors likely thanks to the tube-based ModWright Instruments LS 100 preamp.  But this is really just nitpicking.

Delighted with the 2-channel performance, I decided to switch gears and listen to some music that employs the surround channels.   Nine Inch Nails’ “With Teeth” DVD-Audio sounded just wicked in surround.  Regardless of how high I turned up the volume, the soundstage always kept its composure and I never detected any strain – I believe me, at times I like to listen very loud.  Another indication of the quality I was getting here was that I listened to track after track at high levels, yet my ears didn’t seem to mind at all.

Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” SACD was nothing shy of spectacular.  The alarm bells at the beginning of “Time” rang with the realism and veracity of dozens of clocks.  The mid-bass and bass played tunefully with precise articulation. Smooth highs and deep but very tight bass.

Collective Soul “Home” Blu-ray is no ordinary rock concert.  The combination of the rock band with the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra is simply intoxicating and makes for a fantastic disc to test an audio system.  The ADA 1500 provided more than enough power for the highly dynamic passages and allowed me to crack the volume up to real rock concert levels.  The audio reproduction was so very realistic, I got goose bumps when familiar songs came up.  As requested by Ed Roland, I joined in for a sing along with some of the tracks.  Despite the loud distorted guitars, the most delicate of instruments like harps and flutes were always clearly audible.  Before I knew it, I was about 30 minutes into the performance and didn’t take any notes for this review. The sound was so engaging I simply got completely lost in the performance.

Some class D amplifiers can sound a little harsh and ‘digital’ so I listened very closely for any signs of this when auditioning this amplifier.  Believe me, I tried pretty hard but I really can’t say that I detected any hard edges or harshness.

Evaluating this amplifier turned out to be genuinely fun.  The Axiom Audio ADA 1500 is a solid performer and a clear winner in my books.  It has the power to drive just about any speakers and offers dynamics, sonic precision, clarity and transparency that only a standalone amplifier is capable of.  The ADA 1500 is designed to offer a clean, detailed sound at high volume levels in the largest of rooms.  Sonically it offer the delicate qualities of a new-born puppy and raw energy of hungry lion.  If you’re working with a tighter budget and a medium or smaller room, you might want to consider the ADA 1250 or ADA 1000 series.  As with Axiom Audio speakers, these amplifiers can only be purchased directly from the company’s website, come with a 30 day home-trial, and a five year warranty.  Once you discover what it means to have a dedicated amplifier for your music and home theatre needs, there is just no going back.

Axiom Audio
www.axiomaudio.com
1-866-244-8796

Axiom Audio ADA 1500 Multichannel Amplifier
Price: $3,630 CAD

Serene Audio Talisman Active Speakers

If you’re an avid music listener than you probably have tons of great music caged up inside your computer, smart phone or tablet.  And if you care at all about sound quality, the last thing you want to do is play your music through a lousy pair of speakers.  Serene Audio is a relatively young Canadian speaker maker that would like to unleash your favourite artists through its range of high-quality compact powered speakers.

Some music listeners care strictly about a speaker’s sound quality and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but I’m not one of them.  I agree that performance is paramount but I value aesthetic appeal nearly as much.  To truly enjoy my audio gear, I prefer for it to look as good as it sounds.  When Serene Audio asked us to review a pair of their speakers, I took a quick look at the company’s website and something became immediately apparent: Serene Audio’s top priority is quality of sound but the company also places a big emphasis on creative design.  And so, without hesitation we asked them to send us a sample pair for review.

Serene Audio offers three speaker models designed and manufactured in Canada.  Its product line-up consists of the Pebble, the Talisman and the Paisley models – each offering a strikingly beautiful and distinctive look.  All three models are rear-ported and available in an active (powered) version for $495 or passive (non-powered) version for $395.  The active models are designed for use with computers, smart phones, tablets and Apple’s Airport, if you desire wireless playback.  The passive models on the other hand are intended for use with TVs and in home theatre environments.  Besides their unique enclosure designs, these speakers use materials you wouldn’t normally expect to find in a typical speaker – the cabinets are constructed out of bamboo and partially wrapped in high-grade leather.  You get a choice of caramel or natural bamboo, and black or white leather.  My active Talisman review pair, measuring 8” high x 5” wide x 6” deep, came in a natural bamboo and white leather configuration and looked decidedly beautiful on my computer desk.

A nice, attractive enclosure is of course only a part of the equation here.  If you’re observant, you’ll notice from the picture that these speakers utilize a single, 3 inch full-range, long-throw drive unit that’s lightweight and quick.  A single, compact driver like this isn’t capable of reaching the same frequency extremes as a driver/tweeter combo but it does come with its own major advantage – it does not require a crossover network.  Serene Audio uses only a minimalistic baffle step compensation filter in its design.  The absence of a crossover translates into a seamless, less distorted sound across its frequency range capability, rated from 70Hz to 20kHz (+/-3 dB).    Power for the Talisman comes courtesy of a 2 x 20 watt digital amplifier with a dedicated DSP chip, housed inside the right channel speaker.  In addition to the amplifier, the rear panel of this speaker offers a volume knob (which also serves the on/off function), a subwoofer output, output to the left speaker, a mini-jack input, a headphone output and a power jack.  The headphone output utilizes an internal class-AB amplifier.  If you listen to the Talisman while sitting at a computer desk, as I did for most of this review, you will of course get the benefit of near-field listening.  With your ears this close to the speakers the sound will reach your ears before it bounces off any walls, resulting in a cleaner audio presentation without the negative effects of a room’s acoustics – which can be a great advantage.

Unpacking the Talisman was nothing short of a pleasure.  These speakers were not only very well packed, the manufacturer cleverly uses the bamboo left over from cutting of the speaker panels inside the box.  Right off the bat, potential buyers should feel a pride of ownership.  Unlike other speaker manufacturers, Serene Audio says that its speakers require only a few hours to break-in properly.  The Talisman can be connected directly to a computer’s soundcard using a 3.5 mm mini-jack cable, but if you really want to hear the full quality that these speakers are capable of, you’ll definitely want to connect them to a decent external digital to analog converter (DAC).  I setup my review pair with the ADL GT40 USB DAC, capable of 24-bit/96KHz playback and listened to a wide array of music, ranging from classical to live performances to rock.  This DAC not only hugely improves the playback quality from the computer, it also offered the convenience of a front-mounted volume dial, so I didn’t have to reach for the volume dial on the back of the right speaker.

I launched my music listening session with a number of familiar recordings that I’ve been listening to lately including Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill Acoustic”, Florence + the Machine’s “MTV Unplugged”, Air French Band’s “Moon Safari”, Led Zeppelin’s “Mothership” and various Best Audiophile Voices albums.  The Talisman quickly had my head bopping and my body doing a chair-dance, thanks to their sweet sounding and engaging midrange.  Voices and instruments sounded natural, the tonal accuracy was excellent and my ears could not detect any colouration or distortion.  The Talisman produced a slightly laid-back perspective, with voices and instruments emanating from just behind the speakers.  I was delighted to hear that these speakers were also capable of laying out a respectable soundstage that offered great imaging.  When listening to the “Jagged Little Pill Acoustic” and “MTV Unplugged” albums, the instruments and voices were placed accurately within a three dimensional space, making these albums a joy to listen to.  I found that both the perspective and the soundstage deepened even further as I leaned back in my chair.

As I was writing this review, Serene Audio realized that my Talisman review pair does not have the latest version of the firmware installed, which offers a better overall tonal balance.  This agreed with my review notes, as I found that my initial review pair did not extend particularly high in the treble region and didn’t offer the same richness and level of detail as I’ve come to expect from familiar recordings.  I also found that the initial pair lacked a little in the lower frequencies.  Serene Audio expedited another pair of the Talisman speakers to me with the latest firmware version installed and I’m glad to report that the new firmware fully addressed the tonal balance.  The replacement pair offered a wonderfully clean high frequency extension, which translated into a higher extraction of details, with a slightly increased amount of air between voices and instruments.  Many small speakers produce a rather tizzy, unnatural sounding top-end that can quickly become tiring but I’m glad to say that I didn’t hear any of that with these speakers.  Low level, high level and extended listening sessions all brought pleasure to my ears, without ever fatiguing me.  The updated Talisman pair also offered a noticeable improvement in the mid-bass and lower frequencies.  The bass notes sounded cleaner, fuller and tighter, offering a great foundation for most tracks that I listened to.  Serene Audio of course realizes the limitation of compact enclosures and hence provides a subwoofer output for those who desire to extend the bottom-end response even further.

While spinning up Rebecca Pidgeon’s Spanish Harlem from the “Best Audiophile Voices Volume 6”, the Talisman once again delivered a clean, musical midrange with great coherency and offered a nice sense of presence of the recording space.   Pidgeon’s voice echoed realistically, exposing the size of the space, with a good amount of air around the vocals and the instruments.  The violins played smoothly with a gentle treble that rolled off pleasantly at the top.

Switching grooves, I listened to some rock selections including City and Colour’s “Little Hell”, Social Distortion’s “Greatest Hits” and Johnny Cash’s “American IV: The Man Comes Around”.  All of tracks I listened to from these albums again demonstrated the Talisman’s remarkable tonal accuracy.  They conveyed the energy of harder rock tracks well and were able to play quite loud.  I also appreciated their large sweet spot and ability to maintain imaging when I moved off to the sides.

There aren’t many competitors in the $500 powered speaker space but there is one that should be mentioned – the Audioengine 5+, especially since I own its original brother, the Audioengine 5 which normally sits on my computer desk.  The biggest advantage this speaker offers is its tight, deep bass extension.  But it does come at a cost of desk space as these speakers have a far larger footprint and overall dimensions than the Talisman.  Also, the Audioengine 5+’s conventional design can’t compete at all with the styling of the Serene Audio speakers.

The Serene Audio Talisman is a powered speaker that brought me lots of listening pleasure during the time it spent on my computer desk.  It performed very well with a mix of musical genres including acoustic, vocal, live, rock and jazz.  The only area in which the Talisman lacked was with highly dynamic and bass heavy music.  If you’re looking to purchase a compact speaker to seriously enhance the music from your computer, smart phone or tablet, this is certainly one speaker you should listen to.  The fluidity and accuracy of its mid-range can easily be compared to larger, more expensive speakers.  And if you desire more bass energy, you could always supplement them with a little subwoofer.  Serene Audio offers a 30 day in-home trial, so there’s absolutely no risk if you choose to purchase them online.

Serene Audio
www.sereneaudio.com
1 (888) 697-8592

Serene Audio Talisman Active Speakers
Price: $495 CAD/pair

Take your pick – Serene Audio offers the same sonic characteristics from three distinct models: the Talisman (pictured at the top of this review), as well as the Pebble and the Paisley (pictured below).

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