This year's coverage will trickle in over the course of a month due to unusually heavy demands on my time this year. Please check back frequently for additional coverage. All prices are CDN dollars ($1 CDN = $0.75 US) unless otherwise specified…or unless I've made a mistake. Loudspeakers are priced per pair.
Covering the Montreal show is almost always an adventure prone experience. Back in the 1990's it was held earlier in the month of March at the Delta Hotel. My late night trips to the show included blinding snow storms and camping out in my Tracker in sub-zero weather. This year, with winter hanging in later, was no exception. The chaos of life made matters worse. As I was about to leave, I realized I had left my video camera back at work, so I had to cross town to pick it up. Then, as I approached Syracuse, almost an hour into my trip, I realized my still camera was in my business briefcase back at home. I had to double back for it. As I burst into my home my wife was by the fireside watching movies on her laptop. All I could say was "Don't ask, just make me coffee!" At 11pm, I was finally underway and kept to my original plan to cut through the Adirondacks.
The drizzle in the mountains didn't turn to snow, but salt trucks kept passing in the other direction. Twice I felt the rear tires spin free for an instant, but didn't shift into 4WD. The third time the car drifted to the side of the road. The front tire caught the snowbank and the car did a 180, coming into the snow bank on the driver's side. My guardian angel gave a quick push to keep me from rolling over and the right front tire slammed into the pavement. I figured it was time to put it in 4WD and continued on at a slower speed until I reached Interstate 87. I pulled into the rest area just south of Plattsburg at 5am and caught 3Z's before continuing on at 8am. Breakfast at McDonalds before crossing the border and pulled into the parking garage at the Hotel Bonaventure, as usual, for the start of Saturday.
The show was free to the public this year, but there was a front desk for buying tickets for a chance to win one of several prizes. The barrel seemed to be pretty well stuffed. Glancing at the floor plan in the show program it looked like the small rooms on the upper level were located only in the shaded section to the left, so that's where I began.
In the hallway leading to the rooms were racks of CDs and LPs on one side and vintage audio gear on the other. Later, I would discover an entire room on the lower level filled with vendors of vintage LPs.
The first room I entered (2427) featured the new Martin Logan Expression ESL 13A speakers ($20,000 CDN) driven by a Moon integrated amp (175 Wpc, dual-mono construction) fed by a Moon DAC/Transport (CD player) with lots of digital inputs on the back and Moon 210LP phono stage that was fronted by Oracle's new, more affordable turntable that I saw at TAVES 2016 last October. Here it was featuring a red translucent line that worked very nicely with the red read-outs on the Moon gear. Since these speakers are dependent upon sitting directly between them, there were only a few chairs lined up one behind the other. While I'm a self-proclaimed tube guy, the very high quality and resolution of the sound here was undeniable with the Moon amplifier partnering with the 300 Watt amplifiers driving two 10" drivers below the ESL panels. Cabling was by Nordost.
In 2425, Atoll IN300 integrated amp, top loading CD400 player and an ST100 streamer fronted Davis Cezanne floorstanders ($12,500) from the Champagne region of France. I met Olivier Visan, owner of Davis who explained they offer the Cezanne in conventional box cabinets as shown here, and in a more elaborate cabinet with curved sides as shown in a banner in the room. Both a cherry and piano gloss black are offered, and both models are similar in price. I've heard Davis speakers before and always thought they were a good value. These were easily the best I've heard so far and they put the Atoll Electronique line in very favorable light as well. As I recall, Davis makes drivers from more well-known brands, but they certainly stand tall in their own cabinets, too.
When I first entered 2422 some loud, brash rock 'n roll was exposing the bright tweeter and the host quickly shut it down. A Unison Research Due tube hybrid CD player and a Unison 150 tube integrated hybrid amplifier ($6300 in silver, black a little more), both with tube input stages and solid state output transformers were driving the speakers. Both of these Italian beauties run in Class A, with the amp bridging to Class A/B when the music demands more power. The DAC in the Due has USB, Optical, Coax and Balanced inputs as well as Balanced, Coaxial and Optical digital outputs. Analog outputs were both balanced and RCA.
They were driving the simply stunning looking Opera Grand Callas ($13,500) that sounded superb with a better recording of less abrasive music. Two of the three ports on the back of the speaker were fitted with foam plugs to tune the sound to the room. A Pro Design Audio diffuser/absorber was placed behind the speaker to control reflections in the corner. Holes in the top of this speaker-high diffuser revealed foam inside partially filling the cabinet behind the off-set strips of solid wood on the façade. Below the Due and 150 were the more modest Unison Primo CD player and Primo integrated amp that others might have heard at a different time during the show. Kudos to David Geist from Tri-Cell Enterprises who hosted this room.