crisis was my triple witching hour. Not in the stock market sense of the term,
but in the convergence of the Festival Son Image, the High Point furniture
market, and the NCAA College Basketball tournament all peaking within a seven
day period. What's a guy supposed to do?
The solution was to break tradition and attended the
Montreal show on the Trade Day (Thursday) and Friday — a mistake I shall try
not to repeat in the future. Many of the rooms on Thursday and a few on Friday
were locked tight. I was only able to return to a couple. On Friday, the show
did not open until 11am, cutting my time short since I had to drive home to
Rochester, New York, that evening. On the front end, I had not anticipated the
weekday traffic in downtown Montreal…or the lack of on-street parking. Both
problems are somewhat minimized on early weekend mornings.
This year Stereophile magazine collaborated with the Festival and an
attempt to provide a Press Room was made. There was a large table and coffee,
but no pastries, no chairs nor computers provided. I guess times are tougher
than I thought. Also present in the Press Room was the print magazine's
congenial and knowledgeable host, John Marks, whom I am always glad to see.
Renewing our friendship made up for the shortcomings.
wasted no time or delight in taking me next door to the KEF/Musical
Fidelity room. My lips whispered "Wow" when the door opened.
The polished aluminum KEF Muons stood tall in the spotlights like
architectural jewelry that would have awed Paul Revere. At $140,000, the fact
that the Muons proved to be state-of-the-art loudspeakers was not
coincidental. Nor are they likely to encounter spousal opposition; they are a
quintessential combination of art and technology. The Muons rightly deserve a
position next to the B&W Nautilus in the pantheon of loudspeaker history.
The startling surprise was that the magnificent music was
sourced from an iPod, whose digital signal was extracted by a Wadia
device and fed to a high-end DAC.
solid-state components at a far more affordable cost proved that at this
exalted level there is precious little difference between solid state and tube
gear. You could certainly try tubes given the 90dB/W/m sensitivity, but with 4 Ohm
impedance for the Muon, the recommended amplifier power is 100 to 400 watts. Given
KEF's association with Musical Fidelity, that was not about to happen at the
show. A Stillpoints rack held the
The Muon sports the highest variation of its Uni-Q driver
technology that incorporates the 25mm tweeter and the 165mm midrange in a
concentric design. Two rear-firing 250mm bass drivers are not noticeable from
the listening area. The 6mm thick aluminum cabinet is internally braced and
lined with damping material. Each driver of this four-way design resides in
its own individual chamber, isolated from the others. Richard
Colburn from KEF explained their innovative technique for producing
such deep bass from a sealed enclosure. Granulated activated carbon (like
charcoal) are stuffed into sausage-like sacks and these line the internal
cabinets. The carbon absorbs the pressurized air and quickly releases it with
each excursion of the drivers, providing a very tight and quick bass response.
The rear-firing woofers and organic shape of the Muon allow the loudspeakers
to acoustically disappear.
The real story, however, is about KEF's collaboration with
Ross Lovegrove, a prominent
industrial designer who has done work for such widely variant products as
water bottles, solar cars, sunglasses, furniture and bicycles — the last two
of which I have more than modest knowledge. Let me say that he is cutting edge
and further suggest that the Muon might become one of the few audio components
that becomes worth more than its original price when its limited run of a
hundred pairs is exhausted. The Museum of Modern Art should place their order
Thanks to John, I experienced this room early on when there
were very few others present. While show conditions are never optimal,
nonetheless, this was among the handful of finest presentations I have ever
experienced, and I'm hard pressed to remember the others. When I returned
late on Friday afternoon to have a second listen, the word had spread and
there was a line to get into the room. I could not wait.
Starting on the top floor, the Gershman
Black Swans were very impressive with a dCS digital
front end feeding a VAC preamp
and Phi Series power amplifier. This was the first time I've heard any
Gershman loudspeaker driven by tubes, I believe, and greatly prefer them this
way. The VAC gear really let the very high quality of the Swans shine through.
While the bass was tight and tuneful as far down as it went, it was not as
deep as one might expect in this price and size range.
In another room, Gershman
presented the veneered version of their Sonogram loudspeaker driven by an Audio
Research CD player and integrated amplifier. The budget version of
this loudspeaker with the faux wood painted finish was not popular, in spite
of its high value. Apparently, people are willing to ante up from $2500 to
$3650 for the prettier real wood veneer. This loudspeaker, and for that matter
the entire rig, represent very good value.
their new FS 249 floor standing loudspeaker (approximately $5500) that sounded very good
with handsome Acoustic Arts CD
transport and tube/hybrid DAC with dual 32-bit chips feeding an equally
handsome ModWright 36.5 tube
preamp and somewhat more elegant Hovland
power amplifier. While it was unusual to see a CD player and DAC mounted
separately on floor-standing stands like monitors, the effect led credence to
my preference for long, narrow sofa tables for audio rigs to avoid having to
bend over frequently. (Music servers be damned)! Although not widely
distributed in the United States, Elac speakers with their ribbon tweeters
have impressed me very highly over the years.
My colleague, Phil Gold, covered the cartridges in the Soundsmith
room, so I'll mention that they have now come out with two stereo amplifiers
based on the larger, modular multi-channel amplifier, the HE-2006. The HE-150 ($6000, seen above the HE-2006) is manually
operated, and the HE-150M ($8000, "M" for Metered) has the V-configuration
of blue LEDs to indicate the power output of the two channels as well as a
remote volume control. The wood faces of their amplifiers give them a
distinctive appearance that should help them blend into a room setting with
real furniture. This is my second exposure to the brand, and my fondness for
the look is growing. It would certainly fit in with the flora I use for
acoustic treatment as well as décor in my listening room. Note Soundsmith
also repairs vintage audio gear, particularly Tandberg, should you be in need.
Neeper loudspeaker ($23,000) was
a standout for its high quality sound in a diminutive and aesthetically
pleasing contemporary design that will not visually overpower even a small
room. It came as no surprise that it was from Denmark. The highest quality
Scanspeak drivers were mounted in a curved machined aluminum front. The curved
wood cabinet was finely finished with a unique veneer and the design as a
whole was well integrated without calling undue attention to itself. The
electronics were top shelf, coming from dCS
and Jeff Rowland Design Group.
This was one of the few rooms set up on the diagonal, a technique frequently
used for achieving good sound in the small rooms in the Delta Hotel where the
FSI used to be held.
The Mutine Duevel
Planets loudspeaker ($1500) is one of the most elegant and simple
solutions to omni-directional sound I've seen. Above each upward-facing
driver is positioned a chromed ball for dispersion. While providing a
reasonable soundstage, don't expect pinpoint imaging here — it is much
more like live sound than perfectionist stereo. Moreover, the soundstage
remained consistent as I walked about the room — no sweet spot, and no
collapse of the image when sitting off to the side. The reasonably priced
Planets were driven by Mutine's
Mimetism 17.2 integrated
amplifier and Mimetism 27.2 CD player. Other interesting C.E.C
components were on silent display, including an integrated amplifier.
another room, Mutine exhibited
their Duevel Bella Luna Diamante
omni-directional loudspeaker ($15,490) driven my Mutine's Audiomat
Recital MkII integrated amplifier fed by a C.E.C TLOX v2 transport and
Audiomat Maestro Reference DAC with a separate power supply. While still an
omni-directional presentation, the music took a significant upward leap in
quality in this room. Enjoy the Music.com's editor, Steven R. Rochlin,
was among the very first to 'discover' these speakers and as such reviewed the
original Bella Luna many years ago within the Review Magazine.
In a conversation with Mutine's chief honcho and worldly
citizen, Pascal Ravach, I learned that the changing value of the US
dollar has caused some delay in the development of David Berning's new components. With some luck we might see
them by this fall. My colleague Philip Gold
came by at that moment and I had the pleasure of meeting him in person for the
first time. Many people think Enjoy
the Music.com writers are buddies and know one another. In real
space, unlike cyber-space, we are quite spread out and rarely encounter one
another unless we are fortunate enough to convene at CES. We stopped van Gogh,
who was running through the hall with a bleeding ear and asked him to take a
photo of the three of us. Fortunately, it turned out more in the Impressionist
rather than Post-Impressionist tradition. The fact is, Enjoy
the Music.com reviewers are located in Asia, various parts of
Europe, and from one corner to another of the United States.
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