Le Festival Son et Image de Montréal 2001
Best in Show - The Billie
2nd Runner-up Triangle/Cairn
Over the past four years, Hi-Fi Forum under the leadership of Richard Kohlruss has grown into one of the more interesting companies in the high-end. Not only does Richard import some very fine affordable high-end gear into the North American marketplace, but he does so without an air of self-importance. He's an easy guy to like. It came as no surprise to us that he had a wide variety of great rooms playing this year and the best one by far was the Triangle/Cairn system playing over at the Delta. The resolution, detail, and bass response emanating out of the 92dB efficient Zays loudspeaker was very impressive to say the least and combined with the smooth sounding Cairn gear from France, it was a real pleasure to sit and listen for a solid thirty minutes.
The Zays loudspeaker should be on a short-list for those looking for a sensitive floor standing loudspeaker that is affordable
($2,195 per pair), attractive, and capable of some rather impressive low-end response.
1st Runner-up Quad/Conrad-Johnson
Making this room our first runner-up must seem like a cop-out, but make no mistake, this room made the hairs on the back of our necks stand straight up and for three consecutive songs. What annoyed us was the suggestion from some other manufacturers that the Quad amps couldn't sing and that the original 57 Quad are still better. Ahh…
sure, whatever silly nonsense floats your boat. Not only are the new 989 a spectacular pair of electrostats, but they gave almost every speaker at the show a run for their money as far as transparency, harmonic rightness, and musical passion are concerned. The level of resolution and detail presented by these speakers was quite special, leaving us shaking our heads as we fished for more music that we wished we had brought with us. Listening to the late-Jerry Garcia's splendid guitar playing on The Pizza Tapes was just about the best five minutes we've heard at a show. Ever. With the 989, Quad has delivered an incredibly seductive, yet faithful full-range product that makes us want to dump stock faster than the Chairman of Amazon. What truly intrigues us, is that this speaker could possibly sound better with an even sweeter and fuller sounding amplifier using KT-88s, 6550s, or even a push-pull EL34 power amp. Make an effort to hear this speaker if you can.
And the Winner is… Rega
While it might be unbelievable to some, Rega wins the coveted Billie Award for doing everything right at Le Festival and nothing too terribly wrong. Confused? Don't be, because Rega just did when they have done consistently well for more than twenty-five years - build affordable high-end products that make listening to music a lot of fun. The cynics in the peanut gallery would probably point to the Quad room (which earned a very fine first runner-up) as a better room, and in many ways they would be correct. The Quad room was superb in every way, but it lacked a turntable and affordability. I'm sure that there are many who would point to the Wilson/Mark Levinson room as the clear winner and I'd have to shake my head and disagree most vehemently.
The Wilson system possessed in a positive way, a real sense of power and authority which certainly exists in real live music. On the other hand, why did the piano heard during one of their demonstration pieces sound as if it was the width of the entire room? Is that accurate reproduction? While standing outside of the Wilson room, a gentlemen bursting at the seams in nervous anticipation became angry and snotty with me when I remarked that having to wait for fifteen minutes to hear the demo was not necessarily worth one's time based on my experience at previous shows and in-store demonstrations and listening sessions in people's homes. The gentleman in question replied "Well, Wilson is not for everyone," and turned away with a degree of arrogance that I found almost laughable.
Without having to burst this obviously knowledgeable gentleman's bubble (who later admitted that he had never heard the product in question and had only read about it in
various print magazines), I can only say that money wouldn't be an issue if I ever decided that I wanted to buy a pair of Watt/Puppy 6 and I'm not sure what the point of his comment was. The Wilson speakers are in some ways, truly state-of-the-art, just not in my humble opinion the type of sound that I like, especially not for more than a quarter of a million dollars, if you include the amps and cables required.
For the asking price (depending on your choice of cables), the all-Rega system at the Delta was exactly the kind of system that the general public needs to hear about if this industry is going to grow. While I'm not about to dump my Wavelength/Blue Circle/Rega/Spendor system for this one, the truth is that I could live with this system without any hesitation and never look back. The quality of the analog playback using the 25 turntable, RB600 tonearm and Super Elys phono cartridge was disgustingly better than a majority of the sources being used in other rooms and for less than $2,500. This is no-brainer material folks! Another major surprise was the quality of the new Rega Naos loudspeaker which I think are a huge leap forward for Rega. I've heard Rega's speakers in the past, but none of them really made me dance or want to sing naked in my living room along with Roger and Pete with Keith pounding away on the skins. The new Naos are warm, detailed, dynamic, easy to drive, decent at imaging and rather attractive. The Planet 2000 and Jupiter 2000 are excellent CD players and based on my experience with the Planet, problem free and easy to tweak to even higher levels of playback quality.
Any company that relies on analog to demonstrate the quality of their gear at a show dominated by DVD players and terrible home theatre demonstrations, is clearly devoted to the advancement of this strange industry and worthy of some well deserved respect.