Suave Kajko

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After completing a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science in 2002, Suave turned his attention to his passion for audio, video and technology in general. Through hands on experience with an extensive number of audio video products, Suave provides a real world, expert perspective on the latest products and the technology surrounding them. As an enthusiast, he shows a true passion in his writing that is easy to understand by all consumers. Aside from contributing to NOVO, Suave has also written about audio for special sections of The Toronto Star, Son et Image Magazine (FSI Guide) and appeared several times on television. More recently Suave was interviewed and quoted in articles for the Globe and Mail and MSNBC.com. In 2010, Suave launched the Toronto Audio Video Entertainment Show (TAVES), an annual consumer trade show that has witnessed tremendous growth year after year.  In 2014, the show was expanded to include a new technology & innovation pavilion and rebranded as the TAVES Consumer Electronics Show.  As of 2016, the show attracts over 7,600 attendees and exhibitors from around the globe.  TAVES showcases cutting-edge technology and innovation in the most exciting categories: virtual reality, drones, wearables, health & fitness, gaming, audio, home theater, robotics, 3D printing, personal transportation, smart devices and electric vehicles.  For more info, please visit www.taveshow.com.

Unison Research Unico 90 Integrated Amplifier and CD Due CD Player Review 01

Founded in 1987, Unison Research is an Italian manufacturer of exquisitely designed hifi products. Much like Christopher Columbus explored the waters of the world, Unison Research has been allowing music lovers to explore the sonic landscapes of their favourite music for many years. Today, the company’s portfolio of products is divided into three categories: valve (tube) amps and preamps; the Unico series which offers amps, preamps and digital sources; as well as loudspeakers. I am quite familiar with the company’s range of valve amplifiers, having the opportunity to hear many of them at audio shows but my hands-on experience comes from reviewing a couple of models in the last few years. In fact, the excellent sounding Unison Research Sinfonia integrated tube amp has been one of the staples of my personal hifi system for the last four years.

In this article, I’m happy with the chance to explore two of the latest additions to the company’s Unico range – the Unico 90 integrated amp ($5,000 US; silver finish) and the CD Due CD player / DAC ($4,500 US; silver finish).

Unison Research Unico 90 Integrated Amplifier and CD Due CD Player Review 02

The Unico 90 is a solid-built, traditionally styled integrated amplifier. Its three-piece front panel is constructed out of machined aluminum, available in silver or black finishes, and features two large dials: one for input selection and the other for volume. Placed between the dials are two rows of LEDs that show the selected input. At the heart of the Unico 90 lies a dual-mono hybrid design, which offers valves in the input and driver stages, and MOSFETs (transistors) in the output stage. Combining tube and transistor technologies is no easy feat yet if done properly can offer incredible sonic potential. Many hifi manufacturers have attempted this in the past with varying degrees of success. Backed by 30 years of engineering, Unison Research is considered an expert in hybrid designs. The Unico 90’s output stage delivers 100 watts per channel into 8 ohms, and 160 wpc into 4 ohms. The rear panel offers a great selection of inputs, including 4 line level RCA inputs and 2 balanced XLR inputs. There is also a bypass input which allows the Unico 90 to be used as a standalone amplifier or in a multi-channel system. Two pairs of speaker binding posts round out the back panel, which allow true bi-wiring.

The matching Unico CD Due is a highly versatile machine, which merges a high-end CD transport with a top-notch digital-to-analog converter (DAC) to enhance the playback from digital sources like your home network, laptop or multi-room system like Sonos. The DAC relies on the high-end ESS Sabre ES9018K2M chip. The CD Due will happily play just about any audio format available, including PCM signals up to 32-bit/384kHz and DSD256. Thanks to its built-in Bluetooth aptX, it’ll also wirelessly stream CD-quality music from your phone, tablet or laptop. As with the Unico 90 amp, the CD Due combines a hybrid value / solid-state design (with valves in the output stage) to serve up the very best benefits of both worlds. On the rear panel, you’ll find a great wealth of digital inputs, including USB, optical, coaxial and balanced XLR. Digital outputs include balanced XLR, coaxial and optical, while analog outputs are offered in RCA and XLR styles.

Both the Unico 90 and the CD Due come with what look to be identical remotes, but a closer inspection shows a few differing buttons. The remotes are constructed out of wood and feature aluminium front panels. They are among the prettiest remotes you’ll find supplied with a hifi component (I love the fact that you can stand them up-right) but at the same time the supplied remote could benefit from a redesign. The buttons are tiny, all of the same shape, made out of hard plastic, not organized well and uncomfortable to press.
Together, the Unico 90 integrated amp and the CD Due CD player / DAC make up an almost complete system – all you need to add is a pair of speakers. In my case, I added the outstanding Raidho C 1.1 loudspeakers and wired everything up with Nordost Tyr 2 cables. I also connected my Gold Note Giglio turntable and the Sonos system into the Unison Research duo.

I kicked off my listening sessions with a glass of fine Italian wine in hand and digital music fed by Sonos, listening to my favourite tracks from the Sons of Anarchy soundtrack, like “Son of a Preacher Man” and “House of the Rising Sun”. What impressed me right away was the musicality and energetic nature of the Unico 90 amp. The liveliness and smoothness of the sound managed to suck me right into the music. There was something “fun” about listening to this system and I became deeply engaged by every track on this album.

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Danilo Ursini VR Artist TAVES 02

This fall, the TAVES Consumer Electronics Show will unleash numerous, very exciting special show features.  Among these, will be a live painting in Virtual Reality exhibit featuring award-winning artist Danilo Ursini.  Watch as Danilo creates art live on the show floor and then strap on a VR headset and experience his masterpieces in a three dimensional space!

This exhibit will be part of the growing JOLT! Art Gallery installation set up throughout the TAVES show floor, which will showcase digital, traditional and virtual reality artwork.  Danilo will also showcase some of his fine traditional art as part of JOLT!

For more info about Danilo and his art, jump to www.ursiniart.com or www.vrvision.ca

You can also see a couple of videos here:

https://www.instagram.com/p/BVPLxIVg4-K/?taken-by=vrvisioninc

https://www.instagram.com/p/BVSzcLGgJaK/?taken-by=vrvisioninc

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Facebook Graphic VRPlayin

 

That’s right gaming fans – arcades are coming back with a vengeance!  But this time in VR!  VRPlayin invites you to celebrate the grand opening of Canada’s most diverse virtual reality experience centre.  VRPlayin offers 18 gaming stations that can be shared with up to three people and offers a diverse selection of gaming choices that includes genres such as sports, adventure, action, car racing and passive experiences that allow you to explore faraway countries and cosmic destinations.  You have to see it to believe it!

The Grand Opening party will take place on Wednesday, June 14th, from 11am-4pm.

Following this, from 6pm-9pm, an invite-only function will take place, hosted by Amber Mac.  If you are interested in attending the evening function, please RSVP to lisa@herscugoldsilver.com by Tuesday, June 13th.

NOVO magazine recently got a behind the scenes look at VRPlayin – check out the full story here: http://novo.press/vrplayin-torontos-latest-virtual-reality-arcade-is-now-open/

VRPlayin VR Arcade

 

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VRPlayin 01 NOVO

“Good news everyone!”, as Professor Farnsworth of Futurama would say, arcades are coming back!  But this time… in VR!  VRPlayin is the latest VR arcade experience centre to open its doors in downtown Toronto and today I got a chance to visit this new location and meet the team.

VRPlayin is all about creating a high quality, out-of-this-world experience that is completely seamless for its customers.  The company has gone through all the trouble of selecting the equipment and setting it up in a comfortable, lounge-like environment.  All you have to do is show up and play.  The space consists of four separate areas and offers 18 HTC Vive VR headsets, each headset housed in a “station” able to accommodate a group of three (one person playing and two sitting at a bar that overlooks the action on a big screen TV).  If you’re a car racing fan, there is also a VR racing station equipped with a racing seat, as well as a Thrustmaster steering wheel and pedals.  Prices range between $29 and $39 per hour, and currently 30 games are available, spanning a number of different genres.

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Of course it wouldn’t be much of a tour if I didn’t try a few of the gaming experiences first-hand.  VRPlayin offers everything from sports games to puzzle solvers, first person shooters and passive cinematic experiences.  I’m a seasoned VR gamer so I jumped right into playing games but beginners will get a tutorial before starting from the friendly team at VRPlayin.

Raw Data NOVO (Custom)

I started with first person sci-fi shooter Raw Data and immediately fell in love with the game.  This game places you in the middle of a futuristic environment and sends wave after wave of hostile humanoid robots and drones at you.  With two guns in your hands, the game is an absolute blast as you eliminate the enemies and duck their gunfire.  The level of entertainment and immersion with this title is absolutely spectacular.

Next, I stepped into a completely different world with QuiVr, a game that puts you in control of a bow and arrow.  In this game, you are in charge of defending your keep as waves of enemies attempt to break in. Much like Raw Data, this game is a full-body experience that you have to try to believe.  I had a thrill paying it!

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Lastly, I also got to do some driving in Project Cars – my first car racing VR experience.  This gaming station offered a racing seat, steering wheel and pedals.  I’ve been a casual car racing gamer ever since I was a little kid but this was unlike any other racing game I’ve played.  Racing in VR added a staggering level of realism and near real-life immersion of driving a sports car.  The game was easy to pick up and I managed to come in first place in a Porsche race on my second attempt.  With a big grin on my face, I put the VR headset down… realizing that I could easily spend the rest of my day here.

VRPlayin is a wicked experience to try with friends, something cool to try on a date-night and a perfect spot to host a corporate function.  The fun, laid-back atmosphere and super friendly staff make this an ideal place for those trying VR for the first time, and seasoned gamers alike.

Check them out today!  VRPlayin is located at 294 College St, Toronto, ON.

Although VRPlayin is already open, they will be hosting an official launch party on Wednesday, June 14th.  Everyone’s invite!

For more info, jump to www.vrplayin.ca

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Nex Evolution Wearable Band 01 web

Montreal technology company Mighty Cast has began taking orders for its second-generation wearable, called the Nex Evolution. Unlike other single-use wearables on the market, the Nex Evolution gives users the creative control to adapt their wearables to their changing interests and create a new smartband whenever they like.

Users can turn the Nex Evolution into smart home switches, gaming controllers, or any other use they can imagine by using the accompanying iOS and Android smartphone app,. Aimed primarily at Gen  Z and millennials, the Nex Evolution pairs with any Bluetooth or IoT device in the user’s vicinity and enables the creation of “hacks”.

Nex Band 01 720

The band also comes with ready-to-go quick hacks, including a camera and music controller, geo-fenced notifications, location pin dropping and exclusive mini-games. Traditional offerings such as phone notifications and step-counting are also embedded into the Nex Evolution.

Order yours for $79 US at www.thenexband.com

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In 2008, Sony became the first TV maker to retail an OLED TV – it was the Sony XEL-1.  Offering a screen size of just 11 inches and a staggering price of $2,499, this TV was a foresight into future display technology.  Scaling the technology up to size that we are happy to place in our living proved to be a massive challenge however and took 10 years.

Now, finally Sony OLED TVs are available in large screen sizes!  The new series called the Sony A1E offers three choices: 55-inch (model XBR-55A1E; $3,999 US), 65-inch (model XBR-65A1E; $5,499 US) and 77-inch (coming soon; price TBA).

The picture quality of these TVs is simply jaw dropping.

For more info, jump to www.sony.com

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Record Store Day 2017

Celebrate this year’s Record Store Day this Saturday, April 22, 2017 by taking a stroll to a couple of your favourite record shops.  Most shops offer special vinyl and CD releases and various promotional products made exclusively for Record Store Day.  Many stores also feature live performances, cook-outs, body painting, meet & greets with artists, parades, DJs spinning records,  and other cool activities.

For a list of participating stores, jump to www.recordstoreday.com

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Music Technology Meetup

Good news everyone!  The TAVES Consumer Electronics Show is delighted to welcome the Music Technology Meetup as one of its partners for 2017.

The Music Technology Meetup is a monthly event (in Toronto, Ontario) for those interested in connecting with veterans in the music and technology industries and those who simply love music and want to learn more about how technology has shaped the way we consume, create, and monetize music. Whether you are a software developer working on a music-related project, someone interested in working in the music industry, or a musician seeking to learn more about how technology can help record and promote your band, this it the Meetup group for you.

This meetup is co-founded by Alan Cross, one of Canada’s most prestigious and experienced broadcasters, as well as Nathalia Ribeiro and Andrew Dick.  Together the team has a long history of working in the technology and music industries and facilitates networking and partnership opportunities at the Meetup.  Alan Cross is a regular speaker at the monthly event.

We are thrilled to announce that the October 2017 edition of the Music Technology Meetup will be hosted on the TAVES Consumer Electronics Show floor and led by a talk by Alan Cross.

For more info, please jump to www.meetup.com

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Torontos First Virtual Reality Lounge and Play-Lab

Imagine touring the Eiffel Tower in Paris, meditating on the beaches of Hawaii, or sitting front row in an NHL or NBA arena. Now imagine experiencing it in a VR viewing pod in a cool futuristic lounge on Queen Street West.

Launching in mid-April, House of VR is Toronto’s First Virtual Reality Lounge. A futuristic arcade, gallery and event space, House of VR is located in the historic Burroughes Building at 639 Queen Street West (at Bathurst).

House of VR is a new entrant into the “adult play experience” category, made popular by escape rooms, axe throwing and board game cafés. With successful VR lounges in New York, Vancouver and many other cities in North America, House of VR is leading the charge in the Toronto market.

House of VR will feature 10 “View” units (360˚ cinematic films) and 13 “Play” units (games and experiences in 1st person Virtual Reality and 3rd person Mixed Reality where players are green-screened into the game). Licensed content will cover everything: popular VR games, VR experiences in art and design, tourism, entertainment, education, meditation, kids-focused content and live sports. For example, imagine being in the middle of a Cirque du Soleil show, shooting cardboard zombies or walking the plank off a tall building all in the course of an hour. House of VR will be curating and updating content on a weekly basis so every visit will have some fresh new experiences.

House of VR will also feature an interactive pillow lounge with hand-gesture controlled lighting, colour-changing murals and a galaxy installation that will make even your bathroom visit Instagrammable.

House of VR is the fourth business for serial entrepreneur Jonah Brotman (Operation Groundswell, StashBelt, SokoText) but the first in which he teamed up with his techie brother, Noah Brotman, and artist/muralist and long-time girlfriend Stephanie Payne. “House of VR is absolutely a team effort – a family business in the loosest sense of the word. Yes, family is involved but my “chosen family” that of amazing builders, artists, and techie brains from my extended community, has been instrumental in bringing this project to life. I couldn’t be prouder of what we’ve accomplished.” After scoring a deal on Dragon’s Den with StashBelt, Jonah plans to return to the Den with House of VR once he can show strong sales in the first few months.

More info over at www.HouseofVR.ca

Montreal Audio Fest 2017 01

Although the Montreal Audio show has been running continuously for 30 years, this March marked the second edition of the show under its new banner – Montreal Audio Fest. Spearheaded by Michel Plante and Sarah Trembley, the show made a big comeback this year, offering a larger number of exhibitors compared to 2015 and a greater sense of energy. This year’s show also appeared to be very well attended. George de Sa and I [Suave Kajko] spent three days in Montreal browsing the show floor for interesting products and new launches. Here are some of the more exciting exhibitors and products I came across.

Totem SKY tower speaker 2017

Totem Tribe Tower Speaker

Totem Acoustic
Returning to the show in a bigger role this year, Totem celebrated its 30 year anniversary by assembling a display that showcased all of the company’s speaker designs since the very beginning. Totem also introduced two brand new products – the Totem SKY tower speaker and the Totem Tribe tower speaker. The theme shared by both speakers was big sound from small speakers. The SKY tower joins the SKY monitor (launched at the TAVES Consumer Electronics Show last fall) and features the same technology but this time around in a compact floor standing design. A quick listen to the SKY tower revealed a sweet, natural midrange and an impressively large, dynamic sound. The amount of bass from these speakers is sure to surprise just about everyone. The Tribe tower on the other hand is based on the superb technology found in the Tribe series of products and includes Totem’s exclusive Torrent drivers. The sound here was even bigger and more dynamic, while offering a luscious midrange and excellent low frequency punch. It’s design lines and white glossy finish make it one gorgeous looking speaker.  I smell a review of one (or both) of these speakers coming up in NOVO :-)

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Bryston Limited
While Bryston didn’t launch any new products at the show, it’s always a pleasure to listen to their gear. The all-Bryston demo system here included the Model T active towers powered by 7B Cubed amps (powering bass drivers), 3B Cubed amps (mids and highs) and the BP-26 preamp. The source was the BDP-2 music player connected to a BDA-3 DAC. A custom designed crossover allowed James Tanner to fine tune the setup to achieve a perfectly flat frequency response in the room. As I’ve come to expect from Bryston, the system played with incredible energy and real world dynamics but also offered great precision and finesse with more delicate music.  This was one of my favorite sounding setups at the show.

In addition to the demo system, Bryston also showed a prototype 21B Cubed series 3-channel amp (on static display). The single chassis of this upcoming amp will house the circuitry of the 7B Cubed amp (single channel) and a 4B Cubed amp (two channels).

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Nordost
Nordost did what they do best at hifi shows – the company ran seminars all weekend showing visitors just how dramatic an improvement high quality cables and clean power delivery can make on a music system.

When I walked in the room, Michael Taylor was doing a seminar about power cords, revealing the improvement in sound when you step up the ladder from the company’s affordable Leif series all the way up to the reference Valhalla 2 series. In this particular demo, Michael was changing the cables on a CD transport but in my experience the improvement in sound is far greater when you upgrade the power cords on your amp and preamp.  Nevertheless, this was an eye-opening seminar for all participants – that’s for sure.

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Kevro International
Sheldon Ginn of Kevro International, the distributor for Monitor Audio, Cyrus Audio and Tributaries, was delighted to introduce a new brand to his company’s portfolio – the U.K.-based Roksan Audio (recently acquired by Monitor Audio).

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Not surprising then, at the center of the demo system was the new Roksan Blak integrated amp ($5,699) and the Roksan Blak CD Player ($4,999). The source was a Cyrus Stream XP2-QX all-in-one streamer/DAC. Flanking the electronics were the awesome Monitor Audio PL300 II loudspeakers (see our review here). This Roksan / Monitor Audio combo produced a highly detailed sound, with fantastic soundstaging and an articulate bass. The highs played with a airiness and great extension, offering all the micro details of the high frequencies.  I have long loved the sound of Monitor Audio and these speakers paired with Roksan gear sounded fantastic.

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Plurison
Montreal-based Plurison is a distributor of some of the finest hifi brands in the business and this year the company assembled a massive showcase highlighting nearly all of its brands. In my opinion, this was the greatest Plurison display I’ve seen to date at the Montreal show.  2017 marks the 35th anniversary for Plurison.

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Whether money grows on trees in your garden or you earn it more traditionally, you would have been excited to listen to the exotic system anchoring this room. It was comprised of the Focal Grand Utopia speakers ($200K), the Naim Statement mono blocks and preamp ($300K), and the Clearaudio Statement turntable ($229K). The turntable design is unlike any other I’ve seen to date. The stand is a part of the turntable system and features a 98kg pendulum weight. When vibrations are introduced into the system, the pendulum allows the cartridge to track perfectly on the record. The platter also levitates in the air, thanks to its magnetic suspension. The sound of this system was musically stunning in every sense. The good news is that each of the three brands featured in this system offers components at real world price points that everyone that afford.

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In the “down to earth” category, Plurison introduced a few new products at this year’s show. Here are two new entry level turntables from Music Hall, the MMF-1.3 ($399, with built-in phono stage) and the MMF-2.3 ($749).

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This is a new compact sized Cocktail Audio N15 network music player / server with a built-in high quality DAC. You can outfit it with a 2.5″ hard drive up to 6GB in size. Control is provided via an attractive Cocktail Audio app for your phone or tablet.

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Also shown was a new high-end Crystal Cable Cube integrated amp (with built-in DAC, Bluetooth, $15K). On the right is a brand new Slitech Triple Crown power cord ($15K), constructed with silver and gold conductors.

In addition to the new introductions, Plurison offered a station devoted to each of the brands the company imports. Check out the pictures below:

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In another large room, Plurison not only showcased some of its professional audio products but also gave show attendees a chance to witness a few live recording sessions with local artists.

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Acoustic Technologies
Montreal retailer Acoustic Technologies partnered with distributor Tri-cell Enterprises to demo a Unison Research / Opera Loudspeakers system. Inside this room, the new Opera Grand Callas tower speakers were introduced ($13,500). The electronics in play while I visited the room included the Unison Research Unico 150 integrated amp ($6,300) as well as the Unison Research Unico CD Due CD player ($6,000). The rack also displayed the Unico Primo integrated amp and the Unico CD Primo. Everything was wired up with Furutech NFC series cables. The system here painted a great big sound, with powerful dynamics, and an excellent true-to-life midrange that was perfectly blended with the highs and lows. A classical recording I heard offered a massive soundstage, while recordings with vocals were filled with emotion. I’m currently reviewing the Unico 90 integrated amp and CD Due – and loving what I’m hearing – stay tuned!

Acoustic Technologies also introduced a new Lumin server / streamer and now carries Primaluna electronics, including the Dialogue Premiere HP integrated valve amp ($5,600).

Elsewhere in the hotel, Acoustic Technologies also offered show visitors a chance to discover and purchase many other audio products and accessories from their booth.

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Among these was a new brand of cables called Cyr Audio made just outside of Montreal (cables range from $800-$1,400).

Montreal Audio Fest 2017 01

Solid Rack also introduced a gorgeous new solid walnut wood hifi stand (26″ x 18″), middle of above picture, which retails for $1,500.

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Audio Sensibility
Steven Huang of Audio Sensibility was excited to introduce a modified version of the Mundorf MA30 SG speaker (recently reviewed by NOVO) at the show. This Audio Sensibility version includes many upgrades: new cabinets, aluminum front baffles, cryogenically treated OCC copper or silver wiring, cabinet damping material, and WBT speaker posts, among others.

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Playing together with the Mundorf speakers was an ANK Mentor amp, ANK EL34 mono blocks and ANK DAC5.1, running with a Mac mini. I had a chance to listen to a recording with acoustic guitars and vocals and found the system to produce a lush and detailed midrange.

That’s it from me for this year!  Highlights from George de Sa will be posted on our site in the next few days.

Cheers – Suave Kajko –