Made in Canada! Part 2 of 3

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Part one of our survey of Canadian manufacturers covered Anthem, Axiom Audio, Bryston, Classé Audio, Gutwire, Magnum Dynalab, Paradigm, Totem and SimAudio. There’s at least twenty left to cover. Part two will concentrate on speaker manufacturers. It’s no accident there are so many fine speakers hailing from Canada, since much research into the secrets of speaker design has revolved around the National Research Council’s Acoustic Testing Laboratories in Ottawa. The National Research Council (NRC) has achieved recognition around the world for its state-of-the-art testing facilities and ongoing research into loudspeaker evaluations. Numerous world class designers and their companies have used these facilities for some of their most successful and respected designs. The test facilities include anechoic environments and listening rooms that replicate home listening situations. Every facet of loudspeaker performance and its effect on human listening can be quantified and validated at the NRC.

Hansen Audio www.hansenaudio.com

Topping the list is Toronto’s Hansen Audio, brainchild of Lars Hansen. These speakers challenge the world’s best and to do this Hansen makes its own bass and midrange drivers, to a standard no one else can touch, and combine them with Europe’s best tweeters in cabinets that eschew the traditional wooden construction in favour of a molded Hansen Composite Matrix material. This reduces or eliminates the normal resonances and standing waves that can afflict large speakers. Hansen offers four floor standing speakers, from The Knight ($24,000) to The King ($89,000), The Elixir ($18,000) bookshelf speaker, plus The Dragonslayer subwoofer and The Wizard centre channel speaker. These speakers are ruthlessly revealing and should be paired only with the highest caliber electronics. You will also need to pay particular attention to the cabling for the best effect. They work best in large rooms with a good distance between you and the speakers. Once properly set up they will work well with every type of music you can throw at them. I’m a big fan.

Reference 3A www.reference3a.com

At a much more affordable price point Waterloo’s Reference 3A, under the leadership of Tash Goka, make a range of superb loudspeakers. They also incorporate bass and midrange drivers of their own design and feature rear sloping cabinets designed to be phase coherent. Unusually the midrange drivers are connected directly to the speaker terminals without going through a crossover, and this removes a major contributor to distortion that most speakers have to contend with. I have particular admiration for their top of the line Grand Veena which will take on all comers in large listening rooms and represents an audiophile bargain at $7,990 for the maple finish or $8,800 for a high gloss black piano finish. Their new Episode ($5,500 for natural maple or red cherry, $6,050 for black piano) brings many of the same qualities to smaller rooms at a more attractive price. There are also bookshelf speakers, such as the MM de Capo I, which features an 8.25-inch carbon fiber main driver and a custom designed textile domed fabric tweeter. Reference 3A’s particular claim to fame is their ability to achieve high end performance using less expensive components than many rivals, through meticulous refinement of in-house technology.

Gershman Acoustics www.gershmanacoustics.com

Gershman Acoustics is another Toronto area manufacturer with a high reputation among audiophiles. Designer Eli Gershman has developed a pyramid style for the elimination of resonances and sonic refractions. Besides using the NRC facilities, extensive computerized test equipment is also used to ensure optimum performance. Perhaps best known for the statement Black Swan speakers ($36,000) with their nested cabinet design, Gershman has recently made a big splash with the inexpensive and more traditionally shaped Sonogram ($3,695) which represents an amazing value proposition. We hope to make this the subject of a future review. It features a Gershman designed woofer good down to 28 Hz. One of the most highly regarded models is the AvantGarde, a 3-way speaker whose 36-inch tall cabinet is constructed from 1-inch HDF fortified with internal bracing and containing a compartment that can be filled with lead shot for added dampening. An 8-inch high-excursion woofer with fiberglass cone and rubber surround loaded into an exclusive regulation line produces stunning bass extension and control. A woven carbon-fiber midrange with a non-resonant die-cast chassis and high-loss rubber surround provides the all important midrange, while transparent highs and accurate imaging details are provided by a 1-inch tweeter with Ferro-fluid cooling, flexible voice coil braids and a double chamber. All Gershman cabinets are glue-joined and clamped the old-fashioned way to ensure rock-solid construction while multi-layer MDF construction eliminates common joint seams. This attention to cabinet quality permeates all Gershman Acoustics designs. This allows big speaker performance from speakers whose physical size is surprisingly compact. Gershman will provide any custom lacquer finish on their AvantGarde and GAP-828 models. The company offers several stereo speakers in between and a range of A/V speakers built to the same high standards.

Coincident Speaker Technology www.coincidentspeaker.com

Coincident Speaker Technology (Toronto area again) will be happy to sell you speakers, but they also have a range of tube based amplification and cables to go with them, all of the components working together very effectively at the Festival Son et Image in Montreal earlier this year. Coincident’s Israel Blume has been perfecting his designs over the last fifteen years. Features common to all Coincident speakers include 1-inch hardwood MDF cabinets tuned to an unusually high resonance frequency of 350 Hz, which renders resonances sonically inaudible, the finest furniture grade cherry wood, veneered inside and outside to eliminate peeling or bubbling, and the finest European drivers, modified and matched to close tolerances in-house. All speaker models also have an elaborate computer-designed bracing scheme which minimizes any cabinet flexing that might create excessive storage and release of energy, first order crossovers and 6N copper wiring hardwired to the driver crossovers and binding posts. Top of the line is the Pure Reference ($22,000 US), a high sensitivity speaker suitable even for low powered SET tube amplification. Pure Reference weighs in at 190 lbs and its drivers are an Accuton 1.2-inch ceramic tweeter, an Accuton 6.5-inch ceramic midrange and two side mounted 12-inch Nomex fiber cone woofers giving a full range response from 20 Hz to 27 kHz. Total Victory 4 ($14,999 US) takes a different approach, using the same woofers but twin 7-inch midrange drivers above and below a new planar isodynamic ribbon tweeter mounted on a solid aluminum face plate. Although 3 inches shorter at 52-inches high, the Total Victory 4 outweighs the Pure Reference by 10 lbs. Super Victory ($9,499 US) is essentially a smaller version of the Total Victory 4, five inches shorter and uses one Nomex driver and one midrange driver instead of the paired drivers of its big brother. Filling out the range are the Partial Eclipse 2 ($4,499 US) and a bookshelf model, the Triumph Signature Extreme ($2,599 US). Coincident amplifiers include the M300B Frankenstein Mk II ($5,499 US a pair) and the 211PP Dragon Mon amplifiers ($8,999 US a pair).

Gemme Audio www.gemmeaudio.com

Montreal’s Gemme Audio, as regular readers will know, have been making a big impact lately using horn loaded speakers in their intricate VFlex cabinets. Following last year’s single driver Vivace and dual driver Tanto speakers comes the range topping Katana with its very expensive Accuton ceramic dome drivers in a shapely box weighing 90 lbs. Its crossover features exotic Mundorf Supreme capacitors and copper foil inductors to optimize speed, precision and resolution. Completing the package are custom binding posts with high frequencies contour selection, a die-cut aluminum bass port, plus an exquisite black piano gloss finish. The Katana looks like a certain winner. At Montreal’s 2008 Festival Son et Image, Gemme also showed the miniature Ania speaker, which was still in development but showed great promise. I predict a great success for both these new speakers which score high for sound quality, value and looks. Gemme has just introduced a new version of the Tanto and will release a new version of the Vivace soon. These new versions use a revised internal structure with tighter and more rigid mortise and tenon construction filtering down from the new Katana. On the outside, these models take their visual cues from the sleek lines of the Katana and are available in a new black piano finish as well as the traditional rosewood and ebony veneers. The Tanto v2 is a 1.5-way speaker which means the 6.5-inch mid/bass driver is connected directly to the amplifier and just a single capacitor shapes the output from the 0.75-inch ring radiator tweeter, a topology similar to the Reference 3A designs. The Vivace v2 uses just one driver, a 4-inch Fostex FE108 Sigma driver which provides a coherent point source image. Leave it to the VFlex cabinet to provide bass output from this driver down to 20 Hz. While the Tanto is best suited to muscular transistor amps, the Vivace is happy to partner with low powered SET tube amplifiers.

Focus Audio www.focusaudio.com

Toronto-based Focus Audio has been developing hifi speakers for 15 years. At the 2008 CES in Vegas, Focus introduced several new models in their Signature range and a whole new range of speakers – the Classic series. If you’ve got the money and a big enough room, they’d be happy to interest you in their high-end Master series, topped by the Master 2. This 6 foot tall speaker has two Revelator tweeters in a central compartment flanked top and bottom by symmetrical flared compartments each housing a 5.5-inch Nomex/Kevlar hexacone midrange with a heat pipe and an 11-inch woofer of the same material. Good luck lifting these babies – they weight 220 lbs apiece. The Master 3 is a slightly smaller variant (64 inches tall), substituting 9-inch woofers. The Master 2.5 is a more conventional design with one tweeter above a 5.5-inch midrange above an 11-inch woofer, and measures just 43-inch in height. The Classic series is geared to the high value end of the market and features sculptured cabinets, custom Danish drivers and high quality crossovers. Cabinets are constructed from 1-inch MDF with 2-inch MDF used in the baffle. The Signature speakers come in between and offer exquisite cabinetry, a specially coated 1-inch ring tweeter with low compression chamber damping, and Nomex woofers in a two-way configuration. Dual 7-inch woofers are used for the top model FS-8, a single 7-inch woofer in the FS-7 and a 5.5-inch woofer in the bookshelf FS-6, all available in gorgeous Piano Walnut. You can also get the matching FSC1 centre channel speaker to complete your AC system. Also new from Focus is the 3-way floor-standing FP90, the first member of the Prestige series.

Newform Research www.newformresearch.com

Newform Research must take the prize for the most unusual looking speaker among today’s batch. Their R630v3 ($2,590) and R645v3 ($3,484) look like conventional boxes to which someone has attached a tall black ruler sticking up vertically from the front of the cabinet. Well that ruler is in fact a ribbon tweeter which Newform claims will provide the transparency, detail and soundstaging of expensive flat panel electrostatic or ribbon speakers, while being easier to set up and drive with modest amplifiers. Newform also claims a very wide dispersion pattern for their ribbons, which set them apart from other planar speakers. The challenge with exotic ribbon tweeters used in a good number of new speakers, or with electrostatic panels, is to find a way to provide bass performance to match the speed of response achieved in the top octaves. Some will claim there is really no way to do so, and these guys will favour either very large panels to cover the bass with the same technology, or accept a limited bass response. Others are taking advantage of new materials to incorporate conventional bass drivers that are built for speed, such as the 7-inch ScanSpeak carbon fiber drivers used here, one in the R630 and two in the R645. Newform sells factory direct to clients all over the world from their base in Midland, Ontario. I should have paid them a visit on my recent yoga retreat in Midland.

PSB Speakers www.psbspeakers.com

Pickering, Ontario is represented here by PSB Speakers. PSB stands for Paul and Sue Barton or – if you prefer – People / Sound / Business. PSB has concentrated its efforts in the high value area, although they have taken a crack at a cost-no-object range recently with their Platinum Series. Even there, the emphasis is on value for every penny spent. At the top of the range is the T8 ($6,999 US), successor to the well known and much admired PSB Stratus Gold. Offering a frequency response form 25 Hz to 30 kHz, the T8 uses aluminum dome tweeters front and rear facing, two 4.5-inch woven fiberglass midrange drivers and three 8-inch woven fiberglass woofers in an attractive 49-inch floor-standing chassis. The slimmer T6 ($4,999 US) uses a similar configuration with two 3.5-inch midrange drivers and three 6.5-inch woofers, and drops the rear facing tweeter. The stand mounted M2s ($1,999 US) are a two-way design with a 1-inch tweeter and a 6.5-inch woofer mounted (unusually) above the tweeter. The C2 and C4 centre channel speakers and the S2 surround speaker round out the range for home theatre enthusiasts. The new Imagine range meets the needs of the “affordable high end” customer, from the Imagine T Tower ($2,000 US) to the Imagine B bookshelf ($1,000), the Image C Centre ($800 US) and the Imagine S Surround ($1,200 US). Imagine speakers are available in Black Ash or Dark Cherry wood veneer. But PSB has ranges for listeners at many price points, including the Image series, the Synchrony series, the Alpha series, G Design and VisionSound, not to mention a wide range of in-wall speakers and a range of powerful subwoofers.

Sinclair Audio www.sinclairaudio.com

Sinclair Audio hails from the Baie d’Urfé in Quebec. They offer two ranges of speakers, the slim elegant Sculptura Series and the more muscular Brighton Series, both aimed at the AV crowd but perfectly capable of music only listening. The 53-inch Sculptura ST6 tower speaker sports a circular glass footing with engraved logo and a high gloss kick plate – very unusual touches. The slim rounded cabinet houses four 4-inch bass drivers stacked vertically from the bottom, then two 4-inch midrange drivers above and below the 1-inch polymer soft dome tweeter. The bass and midrange drivers feature injection molded polypropylene cones injected with graphite, carbon and mica. The 47.5-inch ST4 tower is a two-way design that uses four 4-inch bass/midrange drivers with the same tweeter, while the ST2 tower uses just two 4-inch drivers and the tweeter in a 39.5-inch tall cabinet. The range is completed by the SC4 and SC2 centre channel speakers, the SS1 satellite speaker and the LS10 subwoofer with a 10-inch front facing woofer beside a 10-inch passive radiator. The Brighton speakers have a wider cross section and use 6.5-inch woofers and midrange drivers featuring woven fiberglass hybrid cones and aluminum phase plugs. The BT36 tower uses two bass drivers, below a midrange driver and tweeter in a sculpted cabinet 46-inch tall, 9 inches wide and 17 inches deep. The SW10.3 subwoofer features a front firing 10-inch woofer and two side firing passive radiators in a sealed cube enclosure with a black gloss finish to match the rest of the range. The Brighton Series offers great performance and value – we currently use them as our reference 5.1 speaker system in one of our test labs.

Tetra Speakers www.tetraspeakers.com

Ottawa’s Tetra Speakers espouse an interesting philosophy. “Our view is that a speaker must have emotive power even when not playing music – just like the sight of a 1931 Martin guitar impacts us even before a note is played. To us, Tetras are not simply speakers but true listening instruments.” The Tetra 506 ($9,750 US) takes the tetrahedron shape as a starting point and elevates it on a column to the appropriate height for the drivers – an 8-inch Morel bass/midrange and a 1-inch ScanSpeak fabric dome tweeter. The speaker has a very attractive art deco look to it and is designed to suit medium to large rooms. Internal wiring and dual gold/rhodium binding posts are made by Cardas and the crossovers are designed using a minimum number of high quality parts, including custom Clarity capacitors and Hepta-Litz air-cored inductors, connected point to point. Magnetically attached dust covers for the baffles are included. Tetra is proud of the many musicians who use their speakers and like to involve their feedback into the design process. This list includes Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Keith Richards, Dave Holland and Robert Silverman. Herbie and Ron have both taken delivery of Tetra’s top of the line 606. This is the only three-way speaker in the line and incorporates a number of new design elements. These include a dipole air motion transformer for the highest octaves offering lower distortion and faster response than conventional tweeters even at peak listening levels. The midrange is an expensive 3-inch driver from ATC which weighs 32 lbs and the bass driver is a 12-inch model of the company’s own design. Like all Tetras, this speaker is efficient and represents an easy amplifier load. Tetra has models to fit many budgets including a centre channel speaker, the four driver 505C.

Verity Audio www.verityaudio.com

Verity Audio, a Quebec manufacturer, rounds out part 2 of our survey. I have been very impressed with the sound quality they have achieved year after year at the Montreal Festival Son et Image. They aim to produce the world’s finest speakers and to my mind they are certainly competitive in that illustrious arena. The top of the line Lohengrin II ($80k US) claims an amazing bandwidth of 15 to 60,000 Hz (±3 dB), stand 60 inches tall and weighs 500 lbs. The speaker comes in two parts separated by a suspended platform. The top houses a 9-inch lower midrange driver, a 5-inch midrange driver and a 2-inch pure aluminum tweeter of Verity’s own design in an isolated chamber, while the foundation houses a 15-inch rear facing woofer, all the cones being doped polypropylene designs. You need very fine amplification to drive the Lohengrin II, but you don’t need a zillion watts – quality not quantity. They will be happy to make recommendations. The Lohengrin II comes in piano black, metallic silver, and many choices of exotic wood veneers. It is finished with a long-lasting high-gloss polyester lacquer specially imported from Italy. Verity claims the Lohengrin II is the only loudspeaker to ever reproduce faithfully the full dynamic scale of voice or instrument while maintaining realistic dimensions. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Sarastro II, which starts at $40k US, brings much of the same technology to a less imposing double chassis, this one a mere 300 lbs and 48 inches tall. The lower box houses an 11-inch rear facing woofer and port, while the top half houses a 6-inch woofer and the same 2-inch ribbon tweeter. Frequency response is 20 to 60,000 Hz (±3 dB). Verity Audio offers several less expensive models down to the entry level Tamino X2 which runs around $5000 US.

Keep your eyes peeled for the final part of our series on great Canadian manufacturers coming up soon on the website.

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