Suave Kajko

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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.

Paradigm Prestige Series 2015 (Custom)

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.

Sofa in Modern Interior design living room

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.

Axiom Audio ADA 1500 Multichannel Amplifier 02 web

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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Building an Affordable Multi-room Audio System 01

Have you ever played air guitar to Guns’n’Roses’ “Sweet Child of Mine”?  Or perhaps air drummed Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” like that infamous Cadbury gorilla?  Better still, maybe you’ve used the shampoo bottle in the shower as a microphone.  My friend – I’m afraid you’ve got the bug.  The music bug that is!  But don’t worry, all this means is that you’ve got passion for music and we’ve got just the fix you need.
It wasn’t so long ago that multi-room audio systems were the dreams of music listeners but attainable only by those with deep pockets.  Even today many audio companies demand a lot of your hard earned money for such systems.  Luckily there is one company that believes that multi-room audio should be available to just about all music fans, even those with relatively small budgets.  Which company am I referring to?  I’m glad you asked.  But first, let’s take a look at what’s involved in building a multi-room audio system.

What is a Multi-room Audio System?
The term ‘multi-room audio system’ refers to a music system which allows you to listen to your entire music collection, stored in one or more locations, in different rooms in your home.  The different rooms, also referred to as zones, can literally include every room in your home and even spaces like your patio, balcony or garage.  Multi-room audio systems have been around for many years, in one form or another.  So why haven’t they become more popular with consumers over the years?  In the past, multi-channel audio components were expensive and required you to cut into the drywall to run wires.  Not to mention the expensive, large and awkward remotes that had to be programmed.  Often times, setting up a multi-room audio system meant having to hire a custom installer which further increased the price.  But all of this has been slowly changing over the last few years thanks to advancements in digital, wireless, touchscreen and smartphone technologies.  Together these technologies have provided a backbone for the modern multi-room audio system, while at the same time bringing the price down to a level that’s affordable to the masses.

Introducing Sonos
Enter Sonos, a company that’s exclusively in the multi-room audio business.  Since Sonos launched its first products in 2005, the company has continued to redesign and refine its products to keep them up to date with the latest market trends.  The current Sonos family of products consists of six components.  There is the CONNECT module ($399), which allows you to stream audio to any existing audio system; the CONNECT: AMP ($599), with built-in amplifiers, which lets you stream audio to any pair of speakers; and the BRIDGE ($59) which connects to your internet router and uses it to create a wireless Sonos network.  There are also two all-in-one wireless music systems, the PLAY:3 ($329) and PLAY:5 ($449), which feature built-in amplifiers and speakers.  Rounding out the line is the SUB, a wireless subwoofer that retails for $749.

Building an Affordable Multi-room Audio System 02

As you can see then, the Sonos components are priced very reasonably.  The other beautiful thing, which further reduces the total cost of the system, is the fact that you can use any Apple or Andriod smartphone or tablet to control the system.  Just download the free Sonos control app for your device.  And who doesn’t already have one or two of these devices at home?  Sonos does offer its own dedicated touchscreen remote ($399), although if you don’t already have an Apple or Android device you might as well get one because it offers much more functionality than the Sonos remote.  In addition to all of this, the Sonos system can also be controlled by any PC or Mac computer.  So in the simplest form, a three room Sonos system can be set up utilizing three PLAY:3 all-in-one music systems plus the BRIDGE for just over $1,000.  That’s remarkable!

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Meet the Sonos Family: An Overview of Each Component

BRIDGE
This device is designed to connect to your home network router.  It allows other Sonos components to access online music services.  It is necessary to use only if your router is located in a room in which you won’t be setting up an audio zone in, for example the electrical room in your basement.

CONNECT
The CONNECT is a digital music player which can be connected to any existing music or home theatre system and allows you to stream music via a wired or wireless connection.  It can stream music from your home network computers (with or without iTunes), smartphones, tablets and Internet Radio stations.  It also offer access to a wide variety of online music services including AUPEO!, Deezer, iHeartRadio, JB Hi-Fi NOW, JUKE, Last.fm, MOG, Pandora, Rdio, Rhapsody, SiriusXM, Slacker Radio, Songl, Songza, Spotify, Stitcher SmartRadio, TuneIn, Wolfgang’s Vault and WiMP.  When streaming music from the home network it supports all popular files formats including MP3, WAV, Apple Lossless, FLAC and Ogg Vorbis.  The CONNECT offers both analog (RCA) and digital (coax and optical) outputs.  The digital outputs are included for those who wish to connect this device to an external DAC (digital to analog converter) and achieve a higher quality of sound.  There is also an analog (RCA) input if you would like to feed it another music source.  Two Ethernet jacks round out the rear panel.

CONNECT: AMP

Sonos Connect AMP
The CONNECT: AMP is basically the same device as the CONNECT but comes with a built-in 2-channel digital amplifier, rated at 55 watts per channel.  It offers all of the same inputs/outputs as the CONNET plus speaker binding posts.

PLAY: 3
The PLAY: 3 is an all-in-one player with a built-in tweeter, two mid-range drivers and a bass radiator, powered by three class D amplifiers.  Just like the CONNECT components, it can stream music through a wired or wireless connection from your home network, smartphone, tablet, Internet radio and online music services.  Its playback and volume can be controlled independently (or together as part of a multi-room system) by a smarphone or tablet.  Two PLAY: 3 players can be set up as a stereo pair in the same room for improved stereo separation.

PLAY: 5

Sonos Play 5
The PLAY: 5 is the bigger brother to the PLAY: 3, producing a larger, room-filling sound that’s suitable for larger rooms. This all-in-one player offers two tweeters, two mid-range drivers and a subwoofer, powered by five class D amplifiers.  The PLAY: 5 offers all the same functionality as the PLAY: 3 with the addition of a headphone jack, a second Ethernet port, as well as a 3.5 mm audio line-in which allows for connecting of an auxiliary audio source.  The PLAY: 5 can be set up as a stereo pair in the same room, just like its little brother.

SUB
The SUB is a subwoofer designed to fill in the bottom end of your music and works with all of the Sonos amplified components including the CONNECT: AMP and the PLAY:3 and PLAY: 5 all-in-one players, as well as older Sonos devices.  It has two built-in force-cancelling speakers powered by two class D amplifiers.  It offers ultimate subwoofer flexibility thanks to the fact that it is wireless and can be positioned vertically or horizontally – which allows you to slide it under the couch.

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Features of the Sonos System
The Sonos system can be used to build an incredibly flexible multi-room system, and you don’t have to decide how many zones you’ll be setting up right at the beginning.  You can always add new components in the future – without affecting the rest of the system.  Want to start with 2 audio zones, that’s fine.  Budget allows you to start with 4 zones?  That’s even better.  The beauty of this system lies in the fact that you can mix and match any of the Sonos components to create a multi-room system that suits your specific needs.  Take for example a two bedroom condo.  You could set up two all-in-one PLAY:3 systems in each bedroom, a CONNECT: AMP in the kitchen with two in-ceiling speakers, a CONNECT in the living room that connects to your home theatre system and another CONNECT: AMP to run your outdoor speakers on the balcony.  Each of the components can play the same music or something completely different.  You can also adjust the volume of all the components at once, or individually in each zone.  Better still, all of the playback can be controlled by your smartphone or tablet.  How neat is that?

Building an Affordable Multi-room Audio System 03

The Sonos system can be set up as a wired or wireless system, or a mix of the two.  Each of the components is capable of streaming CD quality audio, 44 kHz/16-bit.  High resolution audio playback is not supported which is unfortunate but won’t impact most of the target audience.  To unlock the world of Sonos, one of the components needs to be connected to your home network.  Sonos says that its system will let you “stream all the music on Earth” and while that’s a grand claim, it’s actually not far from the truth.   The Sonos system can play music from all the computers in your home, or a Network Attached Storage (NAS) drive, and stream it wirelessly from your smartphones and tablets.  It can also play music from various online services such as Songza, Last.fm, Rdio, Slacker and many more.  Like Internet radio?  It does that too, offering access to over 100,000 free stations.  It even plays downloaded Podcasts.  It’s not a stretch to say that it can play more music than you can listen to in a lifetime.  Check out the “Meet the Sonos Family” box on the previous page for detailed info about each of the Sonos components.

Setting Up the Sonos System – Is It Really This Easy?
For the purpose of this article, I set up a three zone Sonos system in my house, spanning my living/dining room, home office and outdoor patio.  If your network router sits in the electrical room in the basement, like it does in my house, you’ll need to start by connecting the BRIDGE there with an Ethernet cable.  The remainder of the system can be set up wired or wirelessly – I chose to go with the wireless option.  Next, I set up the CONNECT with my reference 2-channel music system (ModWright Instruments amp and preamp, Bryston DAC, Focal speakers); the CONNECT:AMP in my home office connected to Totem speakers; and another CONNECT: AMP in my kitchen which feeds speakers on my patio.  With all the components in place, I installed the free Sonos control app on my iPhone, iPad and iPad mini.  Finally, I let the app know which and how many Sonos components are in my house – by pressing a button on each component and a few screen taps on the app.  And voila – I had a wireless multi-room system set up and ready to play.  It’s that simple.

Performance of the Sonos System
Since the initial setup of the Sonos system was so easy, I was ready to listen to tunes all over my house in about half an hour.  Equipped with an iPad in my hands, I began exploring the Sonos universe.  The home screen of the Sonos app greeted me with a clean menu offering quick access to my home network music library, music on my iPhone, Internet radio, Songza, playlists and various online music streaming services.  The home screen also offers the option to play music from any source connected to the line-in on any of the Sonos components.  I started with my own music library, stored on one of my home PCs.  The Sonos system automatically accessed all the music from the shared folders on my PC and allowed me to select it in a variety of ways – by artist, album, composer, genre, song name, playlist and even folder.  All of my music is stored in the lossless FLAC format.

I began by listening to the CONNECT: AMP module connected to my Totem Rainmaker speakers, and for no specific reason, the first album to hit the speakers was Social Distortion’s “Greatest Hits”.  I was instantly presented with some high energy guitar licks and vigorous drumming.  The CONNECT: AMP offered a very nice stereo separation and great dynamics, making it easy to get right into the music.  I’m particularly fond of the track Ball and Chain and its effective combination of a highly distorted electric guitar in the left channel with an acoustic guitar in the right channel.  The CONNECT: AMP ensured clean delivery of each of the channels, with the distorted guitar never concealing the acoustic strumming.  All the while, the vocals were presented with clarity, perfectly in the middle of the soundstage.   Switching gears, I listened to Air French Band’s Moon Safari album.  The CONNECT: AMP put forth a fluid, natural sound with a good amount of detail, although not quite as good as I’ve come to expect from these tracks when playing on my reference 2-channel system.  One of the more notable differences was the rain in the opening of La Femme D’Argent, which simply didn’t sound as realistic.  The bass on the other hand was danced around tunefully and with good note definition.  Of course it wouldn’t be a proper listening session if I didn’t queue up some Beatles.  With every track I listened to from the Fab Four, the CONNECT: AMP delivered a lively, consistent performance, with a good tonal balance.  Overall, I’m confident in saying that the CONNECT: AMP offered an excellent, well balanced sound that many listeners should enjoy, when paired with a good set of speakers like my Totem Rainmakers.

But what if you already have a 2-channel music or home theatre system set up in your home and just want to connect it to your Sonos system?  That’s exactly what the CONNECT component is for.  I set up the CONNECT with my 2-channel system, which consists of a ModWright Instruments KWA 100 amp and LS 100 tube preamp, and Focal Electra 1008 Be II speakers.  At first, I used the CONNECT’s analog outputs to feed my preamp, in other words utilizing the CONNECT’s built-in DAC.  The internal DAC’s performance was very decent and should serve most listeners well.  The detail extraction was good and the soundstage offered a respectable width and depth.  However those with higher quality audio systems will definitely observe a significant jump in performance by utilizing an external DAC.  With my

Bryston BDA-1 DAC in place, the soundstage opened noticeably, offering a far greater width and depth.  This translated into a much more three-dimensional soundstage, in which instruments and voices had distinct locations in space.  Both the highest and lowest frequencies also benefited.  The highs shimmered, offering greater detail, while the bass notes played lower and exhibited better articulation.

User Friendliness and Reliability
With the Sonos system having spent over two months in my house, I had switched between the various music sources dozens of times and chosen hundreds of different songs.  There was virtually no learning curve with this system.  The Sonos app is very cleanly laid out and very straight forward to use.  I often entertain family and friends at my place and those that are music buffs instantly felt in love with the Sonos system – some even installed the app on their smartphones so they could also control music playback.  And let’s not forget that by installing the app, they were also able to stream music from their phone to my Sonos system.  How amazing is that?

The Sonos system allows you to play the same music in your entire home, or choose different music in each zone.  It also lets you control the volume of the system as a whole or independently for each zone.  This flexibility works wonderfully well in practice.  For instance, on at least a few occasions I’ve listened to different music with the guys on my patio, while my girlfriend listened to something entirely different with her friends in the dining room.

When I first set up the Sonos system, I set up all three zones wirelessly and I was pleasantly surprised by just how reliable the playback was from my home network.  During the several weeks I spent testing the system, it did not fail once while listening to music stored on my home office PC.  I did however experience a drop out (signal loss) a number of times while listening to Internet radio and the online Songza music service.  This issue was rectified by wiring up the CONNECT: AMP in my 2-channel system with a cable to my home network.

As I tested the system, I did experience a few other small quirks.  For example, when I added a new album to the shared network folder on my PC, the Sonos app would not always pick it up after refreshing its music index.  The solution was to close the app completely and restart it.  On a few occasions when I woke up my iPhone or iPad from sleep mode, Sonos app took a little while to reconnect with the wireless network, before I could control playback again.  Sometimes after waking up from sleep mode, the app would display an entirely different song than the one that was currently playing.  These quirks happened rarely enough that they certainly change my overall opinion of the system.  Plus all streaming devices experience these issues one way or another.  The Sonos devices were actually the most reliable streaming devices I’ve had the pleasure of playing with to date.

One of the things that I truly love about the Sonos system is that it offers a means of discovering new and old music that you may have not heard of otherwise, thanks to its ability to play Internet radio and online music services like Songza (free and commercial free).  Forget listening to local radio stations that play the same songs over and over.  I’ve discovered tons of music over the last few months by listening to British radio stations and Songza.  A couple of years ago I would have been hesitant to recommend listening to streaming music services and Internet radio stations to anyone because of their low streaming bit-rates but things have improved significantly since then.  Many of these services and stations now offer reasonably good quality – certainly good enough for music discovery and casual background listening.

One other important item to note about the Sonos system is that the company is actively releasing new updates for its smartphone/tablet app which fix certain issues and unlock new functionality.  For instance, during my review a new update was released that now allows all Sonos components to stream music directly from all Apple devices.

Finally…
If you love listening to music as much as we do at the CANADA HiFi magazine, I strongly urge you to explore the Sonos range of products.  You’ll enjoy the number of component choices, the flexibility of the system and its functionality.  Kudos to Sonos for offering music buffs such an awesome multi-room system!

Naim Audio Launches New Products at Bay Bloor Radio 01

If someone asked you to predict the future of hi-fi a few years ago, would you be able to guess exactly what we would have today?  You might be able to predict some things but probably not everything.  Technology continues to advance at such a staggering pace that often it’s difficult to foresee what’s around the corner, never mind a few years later.  Luckily for music listeners, there are a few forward thinking audio companies that apply the latest technology and continue to transform the way we listen to music.  One of those companies is UK’s Naim Audio.

Yesterday evening I had the pleasure of attending a Naim Audio product launch, open to public and media, at Bay Bloor Radio, in Toronto, Ontario.  Doug Graham, product specialist from Naim’s Salisbury headquarters in the UK, led a one hour presentation during which attendees had the opportunity to discover how a Naim Audio system can revolutionize the way we listen to music at home.  During the presentation, two new Naim Audio products were also introduced – the DAC-V1 digital to analog converter and the NAP 100 power amplifier.

The music system on demonstration consisted of the Naim Audio NAC-N 172 XS preamplifier ($3,400), the NAP 200 2-channel, 80 watt-per-channel amplifier ($3,500) and the NS01 music server (a custom installer equivalent of the consumer UnitiServe music server).  The speakers used were the Sonus Faber Cremona ($11,000).  Doug started by explaining how the Naim system works, allowing you to rip CDs to the music server’s hard disk at the highest possible quality and then playing them back using a tablet or smartphone (the Naim app is available for iOS devices, an Android version is in the works).  Once your music is stored on the Naim music server it is delightfully easy to access and control using the Naim app.  The app allows you to select music by artist, song title and album, and it lets you create playlists just like you would when using a computer, except all from the comfort of a tablet or smartphone.  It displays album art and record-style liner notes which include artist information, lyrics, pictures, etc.  One of my favourite features of the app is that it can help to expand your music horizons by suggesting other similar artists to the ones that are already in your music collection.  During the presentation Doug also played various music selections and allowed the audience to make comparisons between various qualities of digital music files, ripped in various formats/bit rates.   The sound from the Naim Audio components, combined with the Sonus Faber speakers, was amazingly engaging – offering a tremendously large soundstage, micro details, a full bodied bass, and a wonderfully balanced sound across all the frequencies.Naim Audio DAC-V1

Toward the end of the session, Doug introduced us to the two new components from Naim Audio.  The big news about the DAC-V1 digital to analog converter ($2,400) is that it offers an asynchronous USB input which means that it is capable of taking the digital audio signal from the connected computer and re-clocking it to make it sound the very best that it can (computers inherently have a terrible clocking inconsistency when it comes to sending audio via USB).  The DAC-V1 uses the same Burr Brown PCM1791A DACs found in the company’s NDX and SuperUniti components.  It can playback files with a resolution of up to 384 kHz/24-bit from both MAC and PC computers.  The DAC-V1 has a very high quality Class-A headphone amp built-in, capable of driving the most demanding of headphones, and offers a high quality volume dial.  In addition to the USB input, the DAC-V1 offers five other digital inputs, all of which can be custom-named by the user.  Outputs include one Naim proprietary DIN and one pair of unbalanced RCA.  The DAC-V1’s OLED display allows for adjusting settings and checking of incoming bit-rates.Naim Audio NAP 100

The NAP 100 ($1,200) is a matching 2-channel, discrete power amplifier offering 50 watts of power per channel.  It features a dual mono design, audiophile grade components we’ve come to expect from Naim and a linear power supply with a large toroidal transformer.  It is Naim Audio’s most affordable amplifier to date.  In addition to Naim’s proprietary DIN input, it also offers an unbalanced RCA input which allows for the connection of other brands of preamps.

I enjoyed myself very much at this event – thanks to the engaging demonstration and the laid back atmosphere.  I was glad to learn when Danu Mandlsohn and Richard Bowden of Bay Bloor Radio said that they plan to hold more events such as this at the store in the next few months.

For more info, please visit www.naimaudio.com and www.baybloorradio.com.