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Le Festival Son et Image
de Montréal 2001

Le Festival Son et Image de Montréal 2001

Montreal 2001 Show Goodies!
by Rick Becker

  It was a clear and starry night. I unplugged my big rig at home and pulled out of Rochester in the Hotel Tracker at 10 pm. I hit Watertown after midnight and the Lotto computer was closed down, separating me from the 9 million dollar drawing the following night. Across northern New York the roads became snowy, and I sought refuge in the parking lot of a Catholic church, hoping for four hours of sleep as I reclined my seat and buried myself under nine inches of prime goose down. The overnight low was 10 degrees. At dawn I was awakened by the scraping of a snowplow obsessively clearing out the lot to within millimeters of my Tracker. By 10 am I was in the lobby of the Delta Hotel in Montreal, my camcorder batteries fully charged.

Nine floors in the Delta, five smaller floors in the Hotel Four Points across the street, it is no longer possible for one person to cover the entire show as I used to. I resolved to plunder as many rooms as I could, and enjoy my music on systems that seemed most noteworthy. So much fun, so little time.

If I don't mention something another reviewer raved about, perhaps I missed the room, as an increasing number of rooms let only limited numbers of people in at a time. (I'm not one to stand in line in the hall). Or perhaps the music being played at the time I was there simply didn't impress me. Two other writers from Enjoy the Music.com™ were rumored to be on the loose, and I missed them by a mere five minutes in one room. Hopefully, they will cover some bases I missed.

There is a fantasy about audio shows that revels in identifying the "Best Sound in the Show" and ranking the various rooms as if you could buy the components in a given room and install them at home with the same great results. Those of us who know that our brains are our most important sex organs, also realize that our listening room is our most important component. And the exhibitors, both retailers and manufacturers, are becoming increasingly adept at setting up systems in the confines of hotel rooms. That said, I am here to tell you that the "Best Sound in the Show" was not really in the show.

 

Say "What"?

Well... not officially. On Saturday morning I entered a room nearly empty of visitors and had an immediate "Where do I know you from?" encounter with Steve Davis, whom I've met on a couple of visits to HiFi Farm in Moneta, VA. Steve was wearing his Sanibel Sound hat on this occasion, providing electronics for Verity Audio's new Tamino speaker. After a brief chat I settled in and listened. While the sound was very respectable, I guess my expectations were too high, knowing what Verity's other speakers, the Parsifal and the Fidelio, are capable of. At $5,000 US for the Tamino, this single box, two and a half way speaker faces a lot of competition. The electronics were certainly up to snuff: Audiomeca CD player, Aloia preamp, Aloia power amps used as monoblocks, Audio Tekne cables and power conditioners. And a gorgeous Audiomeca turntable in gloss black was on static display. But what intrigued me most was the pair of speakers under cloth sitting to one side in the room. Steve said he couldn't officially play them for me, but if I came back at 9 am the next morning...

Fast forward through the rest of the rooms in the Delta, through the cocktail party at seven, through dinner at a restaurant full of heavy drinking McGill students, the second half of the Duke vs. USC game, putting the Tracker in 4WD and parking it in a snow bank, another 10 degree starry night under nine inches of prime goose down. At a fashionably late 9:03 am, I knocked on Steve's room, and walked in to find a pair of gloss black Piega P8 Limited Edition speakers that had been breaking in over night, twelve hours max.

At less than 4' tall, there was nothing unconventional looking about the Piega except, perhaps, the bowed, perforated metal grille that fit tightly into groves on the conventional block shaped cabinet. Since it was Sunday morning, I asked Steve to play "Church" on my Lyle Lovett CD. Within seconds I knew I was listening to a very special speaker, and looked over my shoulder at Steve with an ear-to-ear grin. The hand-clapping choir in the background revealed not only the outstanding sound staging ability of the system, but the precise focus of the system even at the BACK of the soundstage! The bass was as deep as I've ever heard on this cut, but it was tighter than I've ever heard it before! Absolutely tight! Tonal balance was excellent all the way to the top, but Steve felt the speaker could benefit from more break-in time.

 

Next we popped in the Burmeister compilation CD that John Barnes had given me on my latest visit to Audio Unlimited in Denver, and cued up Stevie Ray Vaughan playing "Tin Pan Alley". Hauntingly holographic & crystal clear. A tear or two made their way down each cheek....it can happen even to an audiophile. In two cuts I had been transported from the gospel of "Church" to the gospel of an AA meeting. I was deeply moved by the music. The system was exceptionally transparent and exceptionally dynamic. Usually, when I encounter such tight focus, the system is overly analytical and becomes irritating very quickly. I felt like I could have stayed and listen to both CDs in their entirety and still begged for more music.

Steve said George Valin is reviewing a pair, and may end up buying them. I wouldn't criticize the purchase if the system and the room can support such a revealing speaker. It features proprietary twin ribbon drivers for both the tweeter and midrange. And although the speaker is bi-wireable, it was not for my audition. I'm well aware that this private audition before the show opened for the day was atypical. There were no people wandering in and out of the room, and the hotel was not yet vibrating from the music in other rooms. I left with the suspicion that I had reached the high water mark of the show. Yet just before the close of the show, I experienced two more musical highs.

 

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