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I couldn’t believe it. There it was time already for the second edition of the Toronto Audio Show. So I had moved to Toronto over a year and half ago, eh? It certainly didn’t feel like it had been that long. Last year's show was a surprise to everybody. Low expectations were met with overall good sounding rooms—and a few exceptional ones—plus a far more important crowd than expected. This led to a promise to meet again in 2012 in the same luxurious Royal Meridien downtown Toronto. Unlike last year though, the four 6moons writers in the area went their separate ways. The four musketeers did not reunite. I attended the show on Saturday and Sunday. To me it seemed attendance was similar to last year but such impressions can be misleading. We'll have to wait for the final tally to be sure. I was disappointed that a number of exhibitors I’d enjoyed so much last year did not make it in 2012. Whether a sign of the weakened economy or simply the fact that RMAF was only two weeks away, Zu, Grant Audio, Tannoy and Monarchy were nowhere to be heard and those were amongst my top auditions last year.

I suspect the organizers of the show also expected a higher exhibitor head count after last year's overwhelmingly positive feedback. The 8th floor felt quite lonely with a few occupied rooms and many empty ones. On the other hand 8th floor exhibitors did not have to worry much about noisy neighbors unlike their colleagues on the second and 7th floors. To all negatives there is often a positive. The great news was that despite the fact that the organizing team had heavily advertised an increased audio/video presence (which might have actually scared away a few manufacturers who favor finesse over bombastic explosions) it did not really happen. Yes a number of rooms on the 2nd floor did focus on video (one projecting a ridiculously reframed and deformed version of Avatar - way to go to get new customers!) but overall it was still first and foremost a two-channel audio show with vinyl, CD, SACD and even a reel-to-reel player in a room. That may not have been the organizers’ intention but it suited me just fine.

With this well-controlled presence of video systems, I will commend most exhibitors also for a better restraint from ear-bleeding demos. Obviously obnoxious folks are everywhere but I found the overall quality of demos higher than last year. Very few rooms required immediate evacuation. Surprisingly one of them was Audio Note where Skinny Puppy was screaming at unbearable levels. I guess the Canadian Audio Note distributor wanted to prove me wrong as I said last year that Audio Note rooms were one of the most consistently good-sounding demos across all the shows I had attended so far. Well I stand corrected. When playing aggressive music at very high levels, Audio Note systems suck just as bad as anything else.

This sour lemon out of the way and without further delay, here comes my crop of TAVES 2012. My favorite of show was completely unexpected and goes to Canadian speaker manufacturer Gershman Acoustics not for their excellent Black Swan, Pass amplifier and PS Audio player system which I found more coherent than last year but for their slender new budget speaker, the $3000/pair Idol matched to a Cambridge Audio integrated.

Eli Gershman’s newly designed bass loading allowed this tiny tower to deliver well-controlled bass, dynamics and authority that clearly went far beyond its size but did so without a grain of strain in the midrange and a lovely yet non-intrusive treble.

At this price I was simply blown away by this intense sound without rough edges or bloating and the fact that the speakers delivered such thrilling music coupled with an integrated most audiophiles would not even sneeze at. You can color me not only impressed but genuinely conquered. The only thing I can hope for now is to eventually get a pair for review.

Similarly Avatar Acoustics, one of my top picks last year, presented the new Rosso Fiorentino Certaldo, a $6000/pair floorstander that paired elegance with acoustic qualities I did not quite expect at this price and size.

I can't trust memory from a year ago but stepping into the Avatar room, I felt I was back in 2011 with the same bamboo-clad T amps by Tri Art Audio—but with new gain chips moving away from Tripath—and the same AMR 777 player now fuelling the more affordable Certaldo to similar heights. I heard the same highly resolved midrange, the same dynamics, the same richness of tone. It would require a direct comparison to identify what if anything the Certaldo gives up to the costlier Rosso Fiorentino options but my Saturday impression was of a slightly less refined treble and not quite as full lower midrange.

As I revisited on Sunday those small reserves had all but vanished and I learnt that the brand-new amplifiers had finally settled-in after 3 days of non-stop playing. Overall I found the Certaldo to be one of the most engaging speakers at the show with the right balance of tonal accuracy and dynamics.

Avatar also presented the very first components in AMR's low-budget iFi series. Those small silver boxes which should eventually count ten different components are packed full with circuits and solutions developed for AMR's costlier products in no-frills enclosures at very soft budgets. The first four elements comprise a phono preamp, headphone amp, USB DAC and USB ‘filter’ meant to sit between computer and DAC to filter out the noisy power sent along the USB cable Later this line should add power amplifiers and preamplifier as well as a digital lens—whatever that’s supposed to do—and a much needed external linear power to replace the switching power supplies coming standard with the iFi gear.

To finish my top three picks of the show, I have to tip my hat again to Coherent speakers. They were my top pick last year and in 2012 their room sounded excellent again despite very challenging boxy dimensions. The slightly modified speakers sounded a little richer and their bass more potent thanks to a redesigned crossover. With sensitivities in the high 90s they sang beautifully from an entry-level Audio Note kit. This level of sound quality and finish below $6.000 is stunning especially considering that the electronics cost even less. I know a few high-sensitivity speakers that are better, more natural and transparent - but they cost significantly more.

One of the big surprises though this year was the introduction of the Bryston line of speakers. No need to introduce the Canadian manufacturer and its no-nonsense balls-to-the-wall electronics pairing finesse with huge muscle at prices mere mortals can hope to be able to afford one day. They took the same approach to speaker design. To my complete and utter disbelief it worked. I said disbelief because nothing could be further away from what I usually enjoy than a large tower with two dome tweeters, two dome midrange drivers and three woofers per side. The off-chance that such a conglomerate could actually sound coherent, nimble and fun baffled me but the fact was, this system with a bdp2 file player and bda2 DAC driving a pair of massive BSST2 power amps into the $6.495/pair Model T speakers sounded pretty good, engaging and lively without harsh edges.

I am not about to renounce high-efficiency widebanders or simple two-ways. If I did though, the Bryston Model T would mandate further careful listening. Compared to the similarly priced Rosso Fiorentino the Bryston packed far more bass power and slam but gave up on midrange resolution and tonal accuracy. For a first attempt and at this price, color me impressed.