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Montréal Salon Audio / Montreal Audio Fest 2017 Show Report
Montreal Salon Audio / Montreal Audio Fest 2017 Show Report
Part 2 Show Report By Rick Becker



  Stepping into the large Bonaventure room that featured the Personal Audio Fest with a lot of headphone activity, I stumbled onto this little BlueWave Audio unit that has one of the first 24-bit receivers built in to convert your rig to a wireless setup. No shortage of creative thinking from Canadian start-ups. I believe they were working on a transmitter that should be out by the end of the year.



Questyle had a wall of headphone gear set up, complete with cans to evaluate the gear. In particular, they featured their Reference System Gold Edition with current mode amplification and true DSD playback. (CMA800, CAS192D, 2*CMA800R). I've raved about a wireless rig they presented at TAVES a couple of years ago. They do much more than just headphone gear so I urge you to explore their offerings. Their gear is designed in the USA and built in China and represents a trend toward downsizing of premium quality gear.



Audioquest had a table with a variety of stations to sample their new NightOwl Carbon headphones that offered noticeable isolation from the noisy room. I could actually hear the music!  Also new (to me, anyway) was the NightHawk Carbon, a second generation of their NightHawk which was their entry into the headphone foray. There was a considerable difference between the open and closed back versions, as you would expect, but both are serious contenders in their price range. While I'm not a headphone geek, I've at least been paying enough attention to the category over the past couple of years to make such a statement.



In addition to running the Montreal Audio Fest, Sarah Tremblay is also the Canadian distributor for Grado headphones and FiiO personal music devices in at least the Province of Quebec. A trusted assistant let me kick tires with some of the top models including the RS2e from the Reference Series with mahogany ($650), and the GS1000e from the Statement Series with maple wood inside to connect with the driver and mahogany on the large visible ring on the outside. It goes for $1400. I also listened to the GH2 from the Heritage Series ($950) made with Cocobolo, a species of wood that is listed on the CITES (Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species) appendix II as being at risk in the wild, but not necessarily endangered. Its population has been reduced over 20% in the past three generations as a result of a decline in its natural range and exploitation. This is a limited edition headphone with only around 75 available in Canada. It is certainly a beautiful wood and the sound was commensurate with the price. Personally, I get along splendidly with the SR325e from the entry level Prestige Series for interpreting my video notes from shows like this, and for what little headphone listening to music I do. The top of the line Grado GS2000e headphones ($2200) were on display near the bottom of the escalator on the lower level, I was told, but I didn't get a chance to listen to them. I love the combination of wood with the tan leather headband. They are retro and authentic, as much so as my vintage Linn turntable, yet they are up to date in resolution. Up and down their line, you get what you pay for.



Sennheiser had their HD-800 on display, normally $1899 but only $1599 including taxes, as a Show Special offer. These, too, are befitting of their price and offer removable cables should you want to upgrade to something more exotic. Excellent sound, but a thoroughly modern look and a different feel than the Grados... or others, for that matter.



Astell&Kern, a relative newcomer on the North American scene was also present with their high-end portable audio players and headphones. The host was in deep conversation at the moment, so I didn't get a chance to try these out and get an explanation.



As I left the Personal Audio Fest in the Bonaventure room I noticed Ann Bisson signing LPs and CDs on the landing at the top of the escalators. Helping her out and doubling the beauty of the presentation was her daughter, whom I met for the first time. No word on a Duet album was mentioned... but who knows — maybe someday?



A hallway off the landing for the escalators was new this year — a result of the remodeling that the show endured a year ago. It led to the newly created Ville Marie room that was formerly part of the restaurant. The room, almost the size of the Bonaventure room I had just come from, was completely occupied by Plurison, a major importer and distributor of high end gear for Canada. It was practically a show-within-a-show. The room was divided in many ways to give personal space to each of the brands they distribute, with a few complete listening stations that could only play one at a time because the space was continuous and interactive.


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