Gaelen Andrews

3 POSTS COMMENTS

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In November 2014, TAVES offered a sneak preview into the future of electronics. Since TAVES started four years ago, the variety of technology displayed at the show has expanded every year, and 2014 was a significant leap forward. To accommodate a larger show, the latest edition of the show was hosted at the Sheraton Centre Hotel. Naturally the audio portion of the show is a focus and still growing. This year’s audio section featured a dedicated Portable Audio / Headphone Zone, and had audio demonstrations ranging from personal media all the way up to exotic high fidelity systems. The visual side of electronics offered a look at the latest TVs, projectors, cameras, virtual reality goggles and glasses, and even a life-sized holographic display. An exciting addition was the New Technology portion of the show, covering 3D printing and scanning, artificial intelligence, and wearable devices. Spectators could also attend seminars led by industry professionals, who were demonstrating the latest advancements in technology, and how to get the most performance out of your equipment. There was also an expansive art show & sale scattered throughout the show floor.  Seeing art at the show made it feel welcoming and added ambiance to areas that would otherwise have been unused. Viewing the art also heightened my attention to the design of equipment and instances of art and technology colliding.

The art collection was presented by OCAD U, York University, Centennial College and Brockton Collective, a Toronto based organization that supports a variety of artists at all stages in their careers. The Brockton Collective showcases art at interesting local events, like TAVES, which makes engaging with high quality art less intimidating, and without the associated costs of an art gallery.

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A bear’s peaceful sleep.

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The motion, colour, and textures here look to me like a painting of music.

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Another example of art and audio colliding – Rega’s limited edition RP1 or RP3 turntables with art by Canadian artist Zilon. Distributed by Plurison, the additional cost over each turntable’s MSRP goes entirely to the artist.

Audio Alliance:

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Michael Billington and his team had an easy-going vibe in their room, which complemented their audio system. Implementing both digital and analog sources, the warm sounding tube amplifiers meshed nicely with the signature sound of Harbeth speakers. Debuting at TAVES were the Harbeth Super HL5plus speakers ($6299 in Cherry), sitting alongside their siblings in the Harbeth range, the 30.1 ($4,999) and the P3ESR ($2,299). Powering the system were two integrated amps: an Acuphase E-360 ($10,499) and a very impressive Air Tight ATM-4 ($5,995). Spinning records was a Kuzma Stabi PS turn table with a Stogi S Arm ($5,898), and for a digital audio source they were using a Weiss DAC 202 ($6,599) fed via Firewire from a Macbook laptop.

Bryston:

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Bryston has been making great strides in computer audio, and at TAVES they revealed their third generation Digital to Analog Converter, the BDA-3 ($3,295). This latest model now offers the ability to play audio formats up to 32bit/384kHz, and the wonderful capability of playing native DSDx4! It has 10 inputs in total: 4 HDMI, 2 Asynchronous USB, AES/EBU, BNC, RCA, and Toslink, and outputs through RCA and XLR.

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A captive audience in Bryston’s room, especially when James Tanner (Vice President) was the DJ. Although they were using the top-of-the-line Bryston Signature Model T’s priced at $7,395, the total system was priced around $22,000. Given how good it sounded, Bryston’s system was a comparative bargain at TAVES considering there were single components at the show with much higher price tags.

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A new feature on Bryston amplifiers is an Ethernet connection for remote diagnostics.

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Brand new from Bryston is the BOT-1 (Bryston Optical Transport $TBA), which offers a computer-less way to rip, organize, and listen to your CD collection in conjunction with the BDP-2 (Bryston Digital Player, $2,995). The CD data is seamlessly transferred onto the BDP-2’s internal storage, or to an attached external hard drive.

Canada Computers:

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Michael Lau (Store Manager) had a wide offering for bridging the gap between a typical computer audio experience, and a high fidelity experience. Canada Computers brought some of their wide range of headphones and stereo speakers to this year’s show for the first time. The products here were high quality and good sounding, such as the Focal Spirit One Classic headphones ($399), and the eye-catching neon green AKG signature Quincy Jones Q701 ($279).

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For a 2-channel application Canada Computers was demonstrating the TEAC AI-301DA integrated amplifier (with Bluetooth) and a DSD capable DAC ($625), mated nicely with KEF Q300 speakers ($699) for a small, but versatile stereo that sounded big and impressive. Canada Computers had some amazing TAVES specials too.

Reference 3A / ExaSound:

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Both Reference 3A and exaSound are Canadian companies based in Ontario, and were demonstrating similar philosophies on how to get out of the way of the music, allowing it speak for itself. Sharing a room this year with speaker company Reference 3A, exaSound really got to demonstrate the musicality of their new e22 Digital to Analog Converter ($3,499). The small chassis of exaSound’s e22 and Reference 3A’s tiny Dulcet BE speaker ($1,999) seemed unassuming, yet created an enormous sound with retrieval of the finest details; a stunningly revealing duo. Mated up with Copland’s CTA 405A Integrated tube amplifier ($5,990), the whole system cost around $11,000, and delivered incredible sound for the money. Look out for a review on exaSound’s e22 in the current issue of CANADA HiFi.

Focus Audio:

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Focus Audio FP90 SE ($9,500) speakers pack a lot of technology into a small piano black package. Though reasonably simple looking, this floor-stander sounded amazing. The 9” bass drivers had weight and articulation that seemed impossible just by looking at them. The 5.5” mid-range drivers were expressive, and the 1” tweeters struck a magical balance between having sparkle and being soft.

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The full setup from Focus Audio included a Metronome Technologies CD8T CD player ($12,800). The foundation of the system was the Focus Audio Liszt Sonata Integrated Amplifier ($12,000), which was a big sounding 35W Class A amplifier. Despite the FP90 SE being relatively inefficient speakers at 87dB, powered by an amplifier with “only” 35W, regardless of the volume level the combination had surprising bottom end weight, excellent top end finesse, and great tonal balance.

Headphone Zone:
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CANADA HiFi’s Director of Marketing/Senior Editor George de Sa in the Headphone Zone thoughtfully taking in the sound of a one-off test version of Audeze LCD-3 headphones (in black brushed aluminum).

Hafler:

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Peter Janis – President of Radial Engineering and Primacoustic presented his selection of products in the Headphone Zone. Among them was this studio-grade Hafler tube-based headphone amplifier, the PH75 ($999). This unit featured a variable focus point and variable negative feedback with selectable XLR and RCA inputs.

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The lineup of Hafler equipment included a series of phono preamps optimized for specific impedances. Pictured above is the PH60 ($499), which allows for adjusting the impedance in 6 steps from 50-500 ohms. The adjustable cut-off is useful for reducing noise and low end feedback.

HEADFONEshop:

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Charles is the owner of a Toronto based retail store called HEADFONEshop, and he is one of those super friendly, patient guys who truly cares about customer service. He’s very knowledgeable and his shop carries almost every kind of headphone, headphone amp, and headphone accessory that one could ask for. He’s happy to let you try combinations of gear until you’re happy with the sound.

picture 023If you aren’t already proud to know, Canada produces some of the finest audio components on the planet. Bryston is one such Canadian company who sold their first amp to a studio over 40 years ago, and has since built their reputation by creating excellent sounding gear with bulletproof reliability and a 20 year warranty. And yes, the 20 year warranty applies to their speakers too.

Bryston made their debut into the speaker world in 2013. As a company that previously only made electronic components, their first speaker was obviously met with a bit of skepticism, and a lot of curiosity. Bryston is well respected partly because of a guy named James Tanner – a face of Bryston and their VP. For fun, he decided to build himself a speaker a little while back. This speaker was to be used in his home to assess Bryston’s electronic components. It wasn’t intended to be a new direction for the company, but as James let people listen to them, they asked, “How much?”

James sought out the help of Axiom Audio to turn his acoustic vision into reality. As a fellow Canadian company, and basically local to James, he was able to access a wealth of knowledge from Axiom’s speaker designers, and their expansive testing facility including an anechoic chamber. The original creation was not intended to be for sale, and would have been too expensive if it had. So again, Bryston teamed up with Axiom to produce a consumer line of speakers. This is intended to be a completely transparent relationship. I see it as a win for both companies: Axiom gets to build more speakers, and Bryston is able to offer a speaker that’s in line with their sonic character and value proposition.

The flagship Model T’s technology has trickled down into a full range of speakers – 15 in total. Only one step down from the top, the Middle T has taken a simpler approach. Compared to the Model T’s many drivers, the Middle T’s have a more traditional 3-range design. At the rear there are two fluted ports, and bi-wire connecting posts.

All of the speakers in the Model T range have a 1 ½” thick MDF front baffle for maximum rigidity, and strategically placed bracing for sonic neutrality. The speaker cabinet is mostly comprised of ¾” thick MDF which helps in keeping the price down. There is a finishing wrap of vinyl ($4,700), real wood ($5,300), Rosewood ($6,200), or custom finishes. From un-boxing to finally resting on their optional extra-wide spiked feet called “outriggers” ($600), I was impressed with their quality feel and finish.

In terms of aesthetics, I think the Middle T is a good looking speaker, especially in the wood finishes – mine came in a Natural Cherry. The cabinet itself narrows as you move backwards from the faceplate, diffusing the sound waves within the speaker. I am primarily interested in a speakers drivers, and I wouldn’t spend extra money on a fancy cabinet unless it was stunningly gorgeous. I think Bryston has hit the cabinet price versus performance versus beauty ratio right on the head.

The Middle T’s came with modular magnetic speaker covers with opposing magnets underneath the finishing layer, so there’s no unsightly holes when not in use. The grills were never a consideration for me because I think these speakers look sexy naked.

The Middle T sports a three-way design, in a ported enclosure, which houses one 1” titanium dome tweeter, one 5.25” polypropylene midrange and two 8” polypropylene woofers. It has a frequency response rated from 33 Hz – 22 kHz (+/- 3 dB), a nominal impedance of 4 Ohms, and a sensitivity of 88 dB. It is crossed-over at 160 Hz and 2.3 kHz. Bryston recommends pairing it with amplifiers rated at 10 watts to 250 watts RMS. The Middle T has dimensions of 39.5” H x 10.5” W x 16.5” D, and tips the scale at 81 pounds/each.

I connected the Middle T’s to my Simaudio Moon i-5 integrated amplifier and used my PC as the music source.

In typical Bryston fashion, the Middle T’s play any kind of music well, and were very revealing while remaining neutral. The Middle T’s are relaxed and forgiving of recording flaws, which made them fun and easy to listen to. The bass from the Middle T’s was particularly hilarious – I’m not ashamed to admit that some heavy bass lines made me giggle.

One of the more surprising things the Middle T’s were able to do is present both a very forward, and very laid back soundstage, depending on the recording. On Mumford and Sons “I gave you all”, Marcus Mumford starts out singing seemingly very close to the front, then recedes back into the band as the song builds.

The overall coherence of the Middle T’s is impressive. The crossover points for the speaker are at 160 Hz, and 2.3 kHz, and the crossovers and drivers seamlessly integrate with each other giving a relaxed tonal balance. The best part is that they did it at all volumes. Partial credit has to be given to the control of my Simaudio Moon i-5 integrated amplifier, but nonetheless these speakers possess the delicacy to quietly express opera, and could easily host a dance party.

I was surprised at the size of the soundstage the Middle T’s cast. Closing my eyes, locating the band just using my ears gave a sense of the original recording space, and sometimes gave the illusion my room was larger than it actually is, which is always a neat and slightly bizarre experience. On good recordings, the soundstage extended noticeably beyond my front walls in depth and width, and a couple feet above the top of the speakers. On a few very good recordings, I felt immersed in the soundstage. I have only heard much more expensive speakers do this.

Happily, my review pair of Middle T’s came with the new version of the tweeter. I found the highs to be very clean without being harsh. The tweeters are still a 1” titanium design, but compared to the old tweeter, there is a new housing, and new slightly horn shaped aluminum faceplate, which makes the sweet-spot larger. I can attest to the sweet spot being large. The new tweeter is available as an upgrade if you currently own any Bryston speaker.

The highs were a highlight of the Middle T’s. I’m a big fan of City and Colour, and on the track “Fragile Bird” I find the cymbals to be a bit glaring, yet I was impressed at how relaxed those symbols sounded through the Middle T’s. I’d honestly expected more coldness from Bryston’s tweeters, but I find them to be more on the relaxed end of the spectrum. I could wish for more sparkle at lower volumes, but I wouldn’t trade it for their overall softness and sweetness.

The midrange driver of the Middle T is a 5-1/4” speaker that sits in an isolated enclosure within the cabinet. Although this small driver looks unassuming next to the beefy bass drivers, its job is very important as our ears are so attuned to the midrange that is has to be correct, and I think the Middle T’s midrange is just that. Vocals sounded just as I know they should, and I detected no coloration on any of the artist’s voices that I’ve come to know.

To be critical, I have heard more expressive vocals, and feel that this is the only area that the Middle T’s could improve on, but they are relaxed in character and I don’t expect more at this price for a full range speaker. I learned that the Middle T’s are forgiving of lesser equipment, but certainly reveal better equipment.

While conducting this review, the Canadian-made exaSound e22 DAC (DSD capable) arrived at my place. This gave me a chance to send much higher quality audio from my computer to the Simaudio integrated amplifier, and showed that using a quality source will help the Middle T’s really shine. The e22 has so much finesse, it especially helped to open up the midrange, giving vocals a lot more texture. On Nina Simone’s “He Needs Me”, the low level details were much more palpable as she sings with some light vibrato and soft changes in breath. Look out for an evaluation of the exaSound e22 for the next edition of CANADA HiFi.

It is unwise to judge a speaker by its cover, but one look and you can tell that the Middle T’s bass drivers like to party.

For sake of full disclosure, I am a bit of a bass-head. That being said, I am only excited by accurate bass. To put it simply – these bass drivers are the most articulate I’ve ever heard. It has been revelatory to explore my reference bass songs and hear notes with precisely the weight and speed they were meant to have.

The speed at which bass from the Middle T’s can bloom and then disappear is astonishing. This is partly due to the woofers being relatively small, as far as bass drivers go. In designing a speaker, speed is usually balanced with ability to produce the lowest frequencies, yet somehow these 8” drivers hit the lowest octave like they have no sympathy for it. They made me laugh and shake my head in amazement. James Blake’s cover of Feist’s “Limit To Your Love” is a great example of both the speed and depth of these drivers.

I think Bryston has developed a speaker that aligns with their brand of reliable and transparent audio gear that is long on sound quality and comparatively short on price. I believe that most fans of Bryston electronics will enjoy their speakers, and I suspect their speakers will also attract many new customers.

While doing critical listening, I often got distracted and too lost into the music, which is an important characteristic I look for in audio components. But when I could remain focused on the Middle T’s, they impressed me with every song I sent their way.

Bryston Ltd.
www.bryston.com
1-800-632-8217
1-705-742-5325

Bryston Middle T Loudspeakers
Price: $5,300/pair CAD; Black Ash, Natural Cherry, Boston Cherry Wood Veneer, $6,200/pair Rosewood Veneer; $4,700/pair in Vinyl

Monitor Audio Climate CL80 Outdoor Speakers 04

Finally summer has returned up here in the northern hemisphere! We want you to have the best time while you’re outside this summer, so we’ve put together some great sounding ways to bring your music with you. This guide will take you on an exploration of everything that you’ll want to consider so you can experience quality sound outside, anywhere you’ll be this sunny season.

A speaker isn’t just a speaker, especially when we’re outside. An outdoor speaker is significantly different than an indoor one, as a lot goes into ensuring it is weatherproof, and making it sound good in open air. When choosing an outdoor speaker, how much you spend dictates how weatherproof they are, what the speakers connect to, and obviously how good they sound. The range is from a small portable speaker with a headphone jack, to a solar powered Bluetooth speaker you can basically take swimming, to a multi-channel system that wirelessly integrates with your home and can withstand a hurricane. Whatever your situation, this guide will help you find enhanced ways to enjoy your music outside.

The most important factors in choosing an outdoor speaker:

  • How big is the space?
  • What is your music source?
  • How much exposure to the elements?
  • Permanent or portable?

Your Outdoor Space

There are unique challenges to designing a speaker to be used in open air. The main challenge is volume. Outside, sound waves can spread their wings and fly away, as opposed to bouncing around inside of a room. For the same reason, bass feels especially light when you’re outside. The main rule about volume is if you need more of it, you need more speakers. For the majority of settings, a single speaker can provide enough volume for a small group of people. In a bigger space, it’s best to have speakers on multiple sides of you so one area won’t be deafening while another area is too quiet, making it easier on your ears and your gear.

Outdoor Speaker Placement Tips

Keeping in mind how open air affects the volume and quality, where you place the speaker(s) can have a surprising impact on their performance. To prove this to yourself, play music straight from your phone’s tiny speakers and then put your phone into an empty glass or bowl. See how much louder your music gets?

The basic rules of outdoor speaker placement are to put your speakers above you, and against something. Height is important as focusing a speaker down, towards your listening area will give you better sound and more volume than if the speaker is facing the sky (you can also try this with your phone). If you’re installing speakers on a wall, they should be mounted about 10 feet high, and angled down toward the listening area. Even if you’re listening to a portable speaker, giving it a bit of height and angle will help, and some portable speakers have built-in straps for mounting. If you’re mounting speakers try to do so under a roof overhang, placed close to the wall, or best, in a corner – remember the bowl. This will help with weather protection, sound quality, volume, and bass response. Thankfully, outdoor subwoofers are also available. Even ones that shake the earth, literally – you bury them.

Braven-BrvX-Outdoor-Speaker-1

The Music Source and Portable Outdoor Speakers

Now it’s time to think about how you’ll get your music to the speaker. If you’re listening to AM/FM radio, CDs, or the TV, you’ll likely have to connect your outdoor speakers to your existing AV receiver. Nowadays, most people have music stored digitally on their smart phones and tablets, so naturally the producers of outdoor speakers have developed slick ways of integrating with your device. Most wireless speakers available today allow you to stream music from you device of choice through a Bluetooth or NFC (Near Field Communication) connection.  Some wireless speaker can also stream music from your home network.  With older portable speakers that don’t offer wireless connectivity, you’ll have to connect the headphone output of your device to the speaker using a 3.5mm cable.

Some portable speakers offer a voice-activated noise-cancelling microphone, effectively turning the speaker into a speaker phone.  This can be very handy if someone calls your phone while you’re listening to music.

To enjoy music outside, the most cost effective option is to use a portable speaker. While there are many portable speakers on the market, going for one that is built for outdoor use is recommended since they will inevitably get dropped, dirty, or wet. Portable speakers range from about $100 to over $400, with the sweet spot landing somewhere around $150. For this you should get a decent sounding Bluetooth speaker that’ll survive being outside. Your main consideration should be space. There are some very small and light weight speakers available, the trade-off is sound quality and battery life.

You’ll likely come across an IPX rating, which is worth paying attention to as it describes how resistant the device is to water and dust. Basically, you’ll want IPX4 or higher for outdoor use. The rating goes from 0-8 for waterproofing, and 0-6 for dustproofing.

Two examples of what you can get in the $100-$250 range for portable outdoor speakers come from Braven and Eton. Eton makes a speaker with a sustainable design element, as their competitive advantage is that they are solar powered.  Eton makes solar powered models starting with a small and lightweight portable model called the Rugged Rukus, ranging to the company’s flagship model the Rukus Xtreme. Perhaps the most highly awarded outdoor portable speaker as of this writing comes from a company called Braven. The Braven BRV-1 and is rugged, sounds good, allows you to stream wirelessly from your smart phone / tablet, and is light and small. The newest addition is the BRV-X and is the big brother to the BRV-1, with drivers are twice the size and they’ve added a subwoofer. Both are IPX5 rated, and come with a nylon strap to mount the speaker to things. Cool! Check out our preview of the BRV-1 and two other products from Braven HERE.

If you lead a more active lifestyle, exercise can now usually be accompanied with your music (even while swimming). One of the more innovative outdoor speakers is made to go in the water bottle holder of your bicycle. The Scosche boomBOTTLE ($149.99 CAD) will also work very well as a speaker to take anywhere. Being light and compact with a speaker at either end of the “bottle”, and a ported subwoofer in the middle, it pumps the volume loud enough to keep you rockin’ out, and pedaling hard.