2023 Toronto Audio Fest – Anthony’s take

Artist Cloner
This is a unique brand that brings an entire system made by themselves, from electronics, to loudspeakers, to cabling – even power distribution and cable risers! Meeting you outside the door of their suite is the lovely and welcoming Isabelle, who ushers you inside to a surprisingly excellent sounding room. Featuring their Ether 2.5 floor standing loudspeakers ($21,999) with a stunning stone (actually, a grounded slate mixture) finish, a set of Coleo mono blocks ($8,000 each), a tubed Luceo preamplifier ($6,999), Pteros power distributer ($2,800) and a mix of A / C tables, interconnects and cable risers, all made by Artist Cloner.

Manning the music controls was Artist Cloner’s President and CEO, Silvio Comtois. Sound in the room was excellent and a real argument for Artist Cloner’s design ethos – the entire system voiced to work together and therefore greater than the sum of its parts. On David Garrett’s Dualling Banjos, the sound was delightfully peppy and upbeat with a clear top end. Yo-Yo Ma playing a Bach cello concerto was achingly beautiful and detailed. One could easily picture Yo-Yo’s bow move across the cello strings right there in the room with us.

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Corby’s Audio, Baetis Audio, Saturn Audio
No visit to the 2023 Toronto Audio Fest is complete without a visit to Don Corby’s rooms. When we visited, late on Saturday afternoon, the Saturn Audio / Baetis Audio room was miraculously empty, which gave us a great opportunity to visit with René Evans of Saturn Audio. René showed us the brand new Sbooster power supply upgrade for the Bluesound Node (Saturn Audio is Sbooster’s Canadian distributer) which looked super easy to install (no soldering required). We then listened to a full stack of Saturn Audio components: their 701 Integrated Amplifier ($6,500), 401 Phonostage ($4,500) and 201 DAC ($2,800), all running through their non-current limiting 103C MKII Powerline Filter ($2,800).

Sources were a stunning Triangle Art Anubis ($25,200) turntable, complete with a Kuzma 4 Point 14 ($19,200) tonearm and a TA Apollo Onyx Stone Body ($12,600) cartridge. Streaming was handled by a Baetis Audio streamer. Loudspeakers were a set of 91 dB sensitive Alta Audio Adam’s ($22,000) and a set of Coherent Model 18’s ($18,200). The 701 Integrated amplifier by Saturn Audio drove the 4 Ohm Alta loudspeakers with ease. Sound from the Alta Audio loudspeakers was buttery smooth and holographic, with a wide, deep soundstage, excellent leading-edge fidelity, wonderful micro dynamics and clear extended highs.

Along for the ride, but not listened to during our visit was a Tektron Neptune ($24,000) integrated amp, Tom Evans Mastergroove ($24,000) phono stage and Triangle Art Crystal Phono Controller ($6,800). All cables by Allnic.

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Paradigm / Anthem
A refreshingly simple set up from the folks at Paradigm and Anthem. Featuring a lovely set of Founder 80F ($4,799 / pair) floor standing loudspeakers driven by the Anthem STR integrated amplifier ($5,999) with bass duties enhanced by the XR 11 subwoofer ($4,999).

Not afraid to stray from the typical audiophile fare favoured by many rooms, we listened to Make us Stronger by Ghost Rider and a track by Bjork. This was an extremely muscular system with deep, powerful yet articulate bass and excellent dynamics. Proof positive that one doesn’t need a complex multi component system to achieve truly excellent sonics. I was particularly taken with the Founder 80’s – although diminutive in size, their sound was anything but.

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Erikson Consumer
Erikson came to the party with 3 amazing systems across two rooms this year. Their first room featured two systems from Mission, Audiolab, Revel and Arcam. The Mission system totally rocked with a set of Mission 770’s ($6,500) looking retro cool, driven by a lovely stack of Audiolab gear: the 9000A integrated amp ($3,499), the 9000CDT CD transport ($1,749) and the 9000N network streamer ($4,449) which allows immediate access to Qobuz, Tidal, Spotify, Airplay 2 and other streaming services. On Sara K’s I Can’t Stand the Rain, the sounds from this system were thoroughly enjoyable with clean, uncluttered top end, rich, lifelike midrange and a super solid bottom end.

The second system featured a beautiful set of Revel F228BE floor standing loudspeakers ($16,000), driven by an Arcam A25 integrated amplifier, CDS50 SACD / CD player ($1,899) and ST5 streamer ($1,199) with low bass duties handled by a Velodyne DW10 subwoofer. Playing Livingston Taylor’s wonderful cover of Isn’t She Lovely? showed off the system’s flair for immediacy and delicacy, with lifelike images and soundstage.

Erikson’s final system featured a set of Spendor Classic ½ stand mounted loudspeakers ($12,500) on matching stands ($3,000), powered by a Chord Ultima integrated amplifier ($15,500) and Cyrus Stream-XR streamer ($4,550). A quick listen to Royals by Lord rewarded us with truly massive sound in a relatively small room, rich tonality and impressive imaging for such large boxes.

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Kennedy Hi-Fi
Kennedy Hi-Fi brought two interesting systems to the show this year. The first was a Focal / Naim system featuring two sets of Focal Vestia No.2 floor standing loudspeakers. Why two sets of the same speaker? Because the focus of the room wasn’t so much about the system, but about the footers. One set of the Focals had a set of Isoacoustic Gaia footers installed, and the other set had stock shoes. As the music flowed, a little green sign sitting on the electronics stack lit up to indicate when we were listening to the set of loudspeakers shod with the Gaia footers. The differences between the two systems were easily heard. Even with one’s eyes closed, it was like we were listening to two different systems! More openness, more clarity and cleaner. Everything we listen for sonically was improved: better bass weight and texture, more coherent midrange and clearer, smoother highs.

Aside from the Focal speakers, the Naim stack powering the system was a Naim Nait XS 3 integrated amplifier ($5,200), Nait 5SI integrated amplifier ($2,600), and NDX 2 streaming network player ($11,439).

Kennedy’s second room was significantly more high-end. Listening to several tracks through a system powered by an Accuphase A80 class A amplifier ($28,000), C2300 balanced preamp ($15,000), and a Lumin T3 streamer ($7,500), with power conditioning from PS Audio’s P20 power conditioner ($14,700), all playing through PS Audio’s Aspen FR20 floor standing loudspeakers ($26,000) was a sonic treat. Very balanced, with a surprising amount of warmth and detail, gorgeous imaging, and a wide, detailed soundstage. This was one of the very last rooms we visited, and I literally had to tear myself away.