2023 Toronto Audiofest  – PART 1

For audio enthusiasts as well as audiophiles, an audio show is an opportunity to get to see and hear a broad array of audio products from several manufacturers. To coin a well-known phrase there is always – something old, something new, something borrowed and yes, something blue. Patrons are not only those who are specifically shopping for a product but include those who might seek an opportunity to hear something they would not typically get a chance to hear. These shows are a smorgasbord of audio paraphernalia, a buffet of for those who want to get a taste of different audio gear. Always appreciated is a dabble of live music, as well as the recorded kind…vinyl anyone? And then there is of course, the opportunity to schmooze with some ‘audio celebrity’ types as well as just chit-chat music and audio with others who share this hobby or pastime in common. On all these marks this year’s Toronto Audiofest delivered and for that, I was very happy to walk the hallways of the Westin Toronto Airport hotel, for the Friday and Saturday of the show, held Oct. 20 to 22, 2023.

My friend and peer contributor, Anthony Signorotti and I attended the show together and my coverage is infused with some of his experience as well. With that, let me take you through some of what I saw and heard at this year’s Toronto Audiofest:

Tri-Cell Enterprises Inc. – Audio Physic, AlsyVox, Synergistic Research:
The distributor Tri-Cell Enterprises Inc. had a large room on the main level of the show in which many products were on display, while two main systems were on rotating demonstration.

System 1 :

The first system in the room seemed to be garnering all the attention in the room, making it difficult to get a good seat for a listen. Here making its North American debut was the AlsyVox Botticelli full range ribbon loudspeaker ($120,000). The Botticelli ribbon speakers were being driven by a Vinnie Rossi Brama Power amplifier ($43,000) with matching Brama preamplifier ($43,000). An Ediscreation Bach music server with built-in CD ripper was there to provide a digital source, running into a Playback Designs MPS 8 DAC $36,000. On the analog side was a TW Acustic Raven GT2 turntable ($12,500) with Raven arm ($5,300) playing into a ModWright PH9.0x phonostage ($6,450). The cables were Synergistic Research Galileo interconnects and power cables with SRX speaker cables with power via a Synergistic Research PowerCell SX ($11,250).

I got to hear Chris Stapleton’s Death Row and the sound was immediately transparent, open and clear with a tactile bass that had impressively solid impact. The weight of the bass was surprising given there were no dynamic drivers – just ribbons involved. The high frequencies were sweet yet svelte with no bite and the overall presentation was effortless. Anthony shared with me his perspective, to paraphrase ‘playing Birds by Dominique Fils-Aime provided a captivating and immersive sonic experience. Incredible presence, rock solid bass. Very open and lifelike.’

System 2 :

The second system was fronting a pair of gorgeous Audio Physic Aventera loudspeakers in a premium ebony finish ($33,500/pr standard finish). The system was sitting on a Rogoz rack ($3,575), with an Acoustic Solid 113 Bubinga with 370 Arm and armboard ($4860 + $1130) on the top shelf beside a Lab 12 Suara Class A tube power amplifier $6,150. On the shelves below included several other Lab 12 components, including: Melto 2 streamer ($4800), a Pre 1 preamplifier ($2,350) and a Dac 1 Reference DAC ($3,750) and finally a COS Enginering D10 DAC with streaming module ($8,400). The system was also receiving conditioned power via a Synergistic Research PowerCell SX ($11,250). Unfortunately, as much as I’m a big fan of Audio Physic loudspeakers, this system did not get played while I was visiting the Tri-Cell room.

In addition to the two demonstration systems – a line-up of Harbeth and Audio Physic loudspeakers were in the room standing in orderly fashion. I could have spent much of the day in just this room rolling through the different speaker models and other gear selections but it was time to move on.

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EQ Audio Video – Monitor Audio, Michi, Musical Fidelity, Focal Naim :
EQ Audio Video is a high-end product dealer that operates from north of Toronto, in Barrie, Ontario. Along with being a dealer for Monitor Audio and Michi by Rotel, they are also a Focal Powered by Naim store and so had the latest and greatest of all these brands on demonstration in a massive room. In fact, there were a total of five complete system on play in rotation, and the space was not only quite effectively separated into a handful of different listening spaces but there was also an abundance of room treatment from Viacoustics, all  strategically placed.

System 1 :

The first system was the most modest but only in a relative sense, as it was nothing else by high-end, comprised of the latest flagship line of Monitor Audio, the Platinum PL 200 G3 ($17,500 / pr), mated to the Michi X5 integrated amplifier ($10,000) and being fed music via a Musical Fidelity MX-Stream streamer. Cables in use were all Audience with an Audience adept Response conditioner in play. Anthony and I agreed on the sound of this system – that it portrayed fabulous dynamics, while being balanced.

System 2 :

The second system, at the entrance to the room, comprised a pair of Focal Sopra No. 3 ($16,899 each) sitting atop IsoAcoustic Gaia 1 ($649 4-pack) and driven by a full Naim stack that included: NAC 332 preamp ($13,999), NAP 350 mono amplifiers ($10,999/each), NPX 300 power supply ($11,999) and NSS 333 streamer ($13,999). The new 350 series amplifiers were able to drive these speakers to deliver nothing less than a bodacious bottom end that was well in control paired with a silky but present top end. From my memory of last year’s similar pairing, the new 350 series amplifiers from Naim sound to be a tremendous achievement given the step up in sound. Finally, the rack used was a Quadraspire SVT, which I must mention, as it’s the same brand and model that I myself use. I  just love the sleek and contemporary look of the Quadraspire SVT.

System 3 :

Sitting midway in the cavernous space was nothing less than an ultra-high-end system which combined the stupendous Focal Grande Utopia EM EVO ($359,988 / pr) sitting atop IsoAcoustic Gaia Titan Cronos feet ($1,799 4-pack). The system supported by a Naim Fraim rack was comprised of the no-holds-barred Naim Statement Series amplification ($129,999 / unit), while the system was wired with Naim’s own Super Lumina cables. The system portrayed larger than life images at orchestral volumes and with mountain moving dynamics and weight. Anthony noted on the track ‘Sixteen Tons’ by Geoff Castellucci that the images were gigantic with a totally immersive soundstage and rich, impactful bass notes. It was truly a jaw dropping experience to sit in front of such a high achieving system.

System 4 :

Despite the ominous and awesome composure of the Focal Grand Utopia EVO EM with Naim Statement amplification; it was the all-new top-of-the-line new loudspeaker from Monitor Audio that I was greatly anticipating hearing. To introduce this speaker, I’ll take the words from Monitor Audio’s own mouth, as found on their website:

Hyphn is a peerless, definitive, uncompromising demonstration of the Monitor Audio Group’s current design, engineering and manufacturing capabilities, and its future ambitions. It is unlike anything Monitor Audio, or anyone else, has ever created: the most creatively ambitious, technically advanced and powerful loudspeaker in the company’s history. It delivers a dramatically enhanced listening experience, with a visually striking presence.”

Yes the Hyphn loudspeaker ($120,000 / pair) was in play, driven by the top components from Michi, including the Michi P5 Series 2 preamplifier ($6,499) with M8 power amplifier ($9,999). Serving up digital was a Roon Nucleus+ 8 Gb / 128 Gb SSD ($3,800), while the analog source was a Roksan Radius 7 ($3,699). System cabling was by Audience with an Adept Response AR6 ($4,500 to $8,500) ensuring clean power to this system.

Listening to the Hyphn loudspeakers play the track ‘Bungee Jump’ by Captain Hook & Astrix proved this loudspeakers prowess with bass, as it delivered it with amazing density, tight, and vividly dynamic. Moving to ‘These Bones’ from The Fairfield Four, the music sounded out of the box, absent of any cabinet artifacts and exceptionally clear and open. I was just blown away by GOJIRA’s ‘Drum Solo’ track on this system, with the drums portrayed with exceptionally true timbre and tone and amazing dynamic impact – nothing short of a live performance here!

System 5 :

The final system in the room combined a pair of Focal Kanta No. 3 ($9,799 / each) with a full Musical Fidelity Stack including Nu-Vista Pre-PSU ($32,499); Nu-Vista PAS Power and PSU ($35,099); MX Stream ($1,429) M6X DAC ($3,249) and MCX Vinyl phono stage ($2,859). The turntable was an AVID HiFi Ingenium ($3,509) and the system employed an Audience Adept Response AR12 ($7k to $15k). Unfortunately, this system did not get played throughout our almost one-hour room visit. I’ve heard the Musical Fidelity pairing with Focal at EQ Audio Video this summer, so this was a missed opportunity for us.

Headphone Bar:

Out in front of the EQ Audio Video room was a headphone bar, providing an opportunity to listen to both the wireless and wired headphones from Focal. The headphones were being driven by Naim Uniti Atom Headphone Edition amplifiers. The Focal headphones available for demonstration included: Bathys ($999); Celestee ($1,299); Clear MG ($1,599); Stellia ($3999) and the flagship Utopia ($6499). I did some listening from bottom to top and with each incremental price jump there was a noticeable improvement in the transparency, imaging and lifelike qualities of the sound. The top Utopia was my favourite and it had me thinking how nice it would be to have in my home office, though I’d doubt I’d even get any work done.

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American Sound of Canada – Audio Research, RETHM, dCS :

One of my favourite distributors to visit is American Sound of Canada, as I can always trust they will pull together a curated system that will provide soothing and engaging sound and this year kept up to that promise with a simple system that was playing out of an austere and unique pair of RETHM Maarga loudspeakers ($12,999/pr).

The amplification role was being played by a delightfully attractive Audio Research I/50 Integrated ($7,500), which comes in a number of lovely colours that should please any décor and expression of fashion. The digital source was an exotic dCS Bartók APEX Ring DAC music streamer ($30k) with all cabling from Transparent, the Transparent Reference line.

Listening to a track by the legendary Sinatra, I was swooned by natural and lifelike vocal rendition, and noted the tactile nature of the percussion, vibrancy of the horns and gentle delicate qualities of the cymbal strikes. The music in this room was so relaxing I would have loved to stay for a longer stint, but duty called. No worries, there is always an opportunity to go visit Angie in Richmond Hill at Angie’s Audio Corner and get a second listen to RETHM, Audio Research and dCS.

Coming soon – watch for Wynn Audio (Tidal; KARAN Acoustics; Kalista, Goldmund; foNO Acustica etc.)