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Montréal Salon Audio / Montreal Audio Fest 2016 Show Report
Montreal Salon Audio / Montreal Audio Fest 2016 Show Report
Part 3 By Rick Becker

 

 

  Resuming the adventure in the atrium of the Bonaventure, I spotted Todd Garfinkle, who is MA Recordings, offering his splendid recordings captured with minimalist recording technique.  Showing on his own this time, Todd nonetheless had a couple of very fine high end headphones hooked up to very fine high end headphone amps that seemed to be in constant use every time I passed.

I missed the photo op to capture the Clean-Volt table where they offered a whole-house protection device that attaches right before your electric panel box. Not only does it protect against disastrous spikes, but it also cleans up EMI and RFI traveling on the tops of the wave. The price varies depending on the taxes in your particular Province in Canada, but it's around $1000.

In the Le Plateau room, just off the plateau at the bottom of the elevators, was a rig put together by Bit Perfect, the software company that organizes you music on your computer featuring electronics by PS Audio. Sad to say, it didn't sound very good which is very unusual for any rig featuring Focal speakers, particularly the new Sopra No. 2 shown here. I learned that the input tubes on the PS Audio hybrid monoblocks were either lost or damaged and they couldn't find a replacement in all of Montreal. Consequently, they were using amp B, and it didn't sound optimal. Surely, I thought, there must be a pair of 6922 tubes somewhere at the show, and I went for a walk, finally ending up in the  L'Atelier-Audio room where Sam Furon thought for a moment, and then said "Come back in a half hour." Forty minutes later I introduced the gentleman from Bit Perfect to Sam and faded into the show like the Lone Ranger.

 

 

The French Canadian magazine Son et Image at the bottom of the elevators also drew a crowd, but I caught them at a quiet moment and coaxed a smile from both of them.

Up at the top of the elevators, once again the Magazine TED (in French) seemed to always be busy.

Also at the top of the elevators was Christian Fatu, "Enthousiast Audiophile and Collector," otherwise known as VintageChris.com. He buys and sells vintage high-end audio equipment (even if it doesn't work) and Rolex, etc., watches. His table was filled with an eclectic set of gear, including a huge horn for a compression driver that was just begging to be turned into an object d' art.

 

The First Floor

 

Being late in the day, I walked to the far end of the first floor and found my friend Reinhardt Goerner of Goerner Communications in 2326. He treated me to a listen to an LP under a London Jubilee suspension-less cartridge on an Acoustic Signature TA 1000 tonearm mounted on the Acoustic Signature Wow XXL turntable with the brass silencers in the platter. I noted that they were not placed at the periphery of the platter for greater centrifugal effect, but closer to the spindle where it probably had a more beneficial effect for silencing the platter. Another Funk Achromat (5 mm) was in use here, too, as Reinhardt is also a distributor for that brand. I had heard this same basic system with Grandinote electronics, WLM (Wiener Lautsprecher Manufaktur) Rudolf speakers and Nordost cables before, but it was noticeably more engaging at this show than before. That can happen for any number of reasons when going from one show to another, but Reinhardt pointed out the new Funk Boing suspension feet under the WOW turntable. I've always been a fan of suspended turntables and maybe it was this subtle difference that I was picking up on. It could be a great way to convert a VPI or a Rega to a suspended design.

 

 

 

 

The British may have abandoned management of the show, but they sure left behind a garrison full of great British gear. The Son Ideal room 2325/2327 is a prime example with stacks of affordable Rega gear in one room and a live rig in the other. The RP10 turntable with the original Apheta cartridge (not the new Apheta 2) was feeding the Ios phono stage with separate power supply. The integrated amplifier was the flagship of the Rega line, the Osiris, putting out 160 wpc into 8 Ohms, 250 wpc into 4 Ohms. With a passive preamp section and only a single gain stage in the power section, it had very good transparency and dynamics, really bringing the stand mounted Harbeth monitors alive. The integral tonearm lift lever on the Rega arm, shown here, is one of the most sexy available. The phono stage had a lot of user friendly adjustments on its face and the pattern on the glossy inset panel was merely a reflection of the carpet. That the gear in this room was quite dusty is attributable to the high flow of traffic the Son Ideal room traditionally sees at shows, perhaps in combination with the construction that was going on at the hotel.

 

 

The Linn room had a video monitor with a slide show revealing numerous decorative lifestyle socks one could stretch over their loudspeakers. We've seen this idea before from Totem, but Linn seems to have taken it to a broader, more commercial level. The mid-range Linn Sondek LP12 with Akito arm caught my eye on silent display with a Stanley Clark trio LP in place. I was enthralled by his playing, albeit with a new trio, at the Rochester International Jazz Fest last spring, and look forward to hearing him again in the future. The system here was typically Linn with very exacting sound that can be quickly very demanding.

 

 

It was a real treat in the next room to hear Emotiva gear driving the new Elac F6 towers. When my wife was working in Nashville a few years ago I visited the Emotiva headquarters just south of there and was very impressed with their energy, drive and optimism. At that time they were primarily a direct marketer of their products in the States, and maybe still are today. I've written very positively about Elac speakers in the past with their ribbon or folded ribbon tweeters, but they've simultaneously taken their speakers to a new high in quality with a new low in price with the F6 floor stander ($1139/pr. CDN)  and B6 "bookshelf" models ($419/pr CDN). On this first visit I thought the sound was quite decent, but my enthusiasm didn't seem to match the bravado of Emotiva's advertising nor the buzz I have heard and read about the new Elac speakers. I thought "Oh, well" and moved on.

 

 

Fortunately, on Sunday I dropped in for a second visit when the B6 monitors were playing and my response was like Katy Couric: "Now I get it!" Was it just a case of the monitors sounding that much better than the floorstanders? Hasan Shirazi of Summit Hi-Fi suggested that it was probably due to hasty swapping of speakers on Saturday resulting in not quite proper positioning. Normally, when you add the cost of good stands to the price of the monitors you come within striking distance of the floorstanders. In this case, because the bass of the monitors is so good and the price difference so large, you might consider that you don't need the floorstanders for the few extra Hz at all. Or, you could put the difference in price towards a nice subwoofer that would handle the bass even better than the floorstanders. If I had heard the floorstanders properly positioned, I might have a different suggestion for you. But in any case, these speakers are real contenders, worthy of fine electronics — not that the Emotiva were not good, but you probably don't need megawatt monoblocks for a small (or even medium size) room. It would be really interesting to mate them up with some of my tube amps for a very high value entry level price. And if you do need the power for your large room or masochistic listening behavior, the Emotiva gear will leave you with some extra money for hearing aids when you get older. Summit Hi-Fi is a young mail order company distributing both the Emotiva and Elac lines in Canada, as well as handling Tekton Designs speakers for Canada, another very high value, award winning line from the US which I have reviewed very favorably on several occasions.

 

With an expensive front end in the Aurender N10 Network Music Player and electronics by Jeff Rowland, the Scansonic MB-1 stand mounted monitors (~$2300 US) fooled me into thinking they were actually Raidho monitors. The floorstanding MB-2 were on silent display as were some authentic Raidhos, so who knows what you might have heard when you were visiting? Whatever it might have been, it was undoubtedly very, very articulate, accurate and engaging. On Sunday morning I dropped into this room again and heard the Raidho X1 speakers ($10,000 CDN) with the same electronics... and they are good. The debate now becomes: Can I afford the Raidhos, or are the Scansonic such an incredible value I can't pass them up? Your wallet will answer that question if you can't. It was good to see Leyland Adams from Audio Pathways again, and gaze upon the gorgeous Bergman turntable on silent display. Unfortunately, I was so smitten by the music here that I missed the photo op. Sorry, guys.

 

 

I've included a lot of space surrounding the German Avantgarde Acoustic Zero 1XB in the photo here because it is a lifestyle speaker created for the very wealthy who want high quality music reproduction without the usual audiophile "system" cluttering up their environment. Going for about $30,000 the Zero 1XB includes digital amplification for the woofer (400 wpc) and 50 wpc for the horn (with 104 dB sensitivity) which should be good for even large rooms. There are digital inputs, but they can also be run wirelessly with something like AirPlay. You say you have a turntable? No problem; an AD card can be installed. The Zero is much larger in person than previous photos have led me to believe, but the design is so pure (even with the horn protruding out the back somewhat) that it becomes like a marble statue of a loudspeaker rather than the speaker itself. Acoustically, I'd put it in the same league as the Goldmund wireless rig mentioned above, but with the very high efficiency, it might be even more dynamic.  And like the Goldmund, there is not much opportunity for tweaking here, unless you wish to employ your local Left Bank artist to use the Zero 1 as a canvas. Gorgeous, both visually and aurally. Since it was closing time for the show a can of cold beer slid into my hand as we sat around listening Eric Clapton and BB King do Three O'clock Blues (talk about dynamics!) and a duet of Judy Collins with Willie Nelson until it was time to adjourn to the Industry Gathering at the bottom of the escalators. A tip of the hat to Jody Hickson and the rest of the folks at Audio Pathways, here.  

 

 

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