Le Festival Son et Image de Montréal 2002
By Rick Becker
I come from Rochester, New York. Every year this trip has a challenge. Forget my hospitalization and near death experience in February; March Madness continued this year with 15 miles of whiteout driving at night on Interstate 81 North of Syracuse. It was a real life video game, steering by watching the road markers through the side window. Nonetheless, I arrived on time at the Delta Hotel on Saturday morning.
Missing the first day is probably doing most exhibitors a favor, as it takes a while to get the best sound out of the sometimes-quirky hotel rooms. I was fortunate in working quickly this year, to have time to make a second sweep through the three hotels at the end of the show on Sunday. The return visits provided me with some surprising and rewarding experiences, which remind me to warn you not to take my opinions as gospel. Swap out a cable or an amplifier, or move a loudspeaker a foot to the left, and a system can take on a considerably different signature.
My bias: I tend to like sound that is a little to the warm side of neutral with lots of focus, and probably pretty flat in the high treble to compensate for my high frequency roll-off. (How many reviewers would admit to that?) A system that can reproduce a large soundscape will probably drive me to ecstasy.
Goosebumps and ecstasy are good initial indicators in this business, but extended listening is always advised. At shows, unless you are wont to camp out in a room, as some people seemed to do in the '57 Quad room, it is only possible to get a good glimpse. Ideally, what you then do is track down a dealer for an extended listen and then buy some of this gear and enjoy great music...until next year's show, when you will once again need to upgrade your equipment!
Prices are in the currency stated
$1 USD is about $1.576 Canadian
$1 Canadian is about $0.634 USD
If you're looking for a "best of show" list you will have to mine the gold by reading the report start to finish. Here is what I glimpsed.
amphion loudspeakers xenon at $3,600 USD intrigued me with the triangular perforated sides behind the midrange driver at the top.
Have you visited a Finnish website lately? The sound was competent, but did not really grab me. But on my final sweep of the show, after I had played a drum cut from my Burmester CD in a room across the hall, the host of the amphion room invited me in to compare the Burmester pressing with the same cut on the original CD. Much to my surprise, the original CD was actually better! Not only that, but after sampling a few more cuts from the Burmester, the beauty of the amphion xenon really started to shine. So much for first impressions!
The system featured a Metronome CD player and Jeff Rowland pre- and power amplifiers.
Linn Komri loudspeakers did not impress me at the New York show. Jonathan Scull said in his Stereophile review: "But if your taste runs to really entertaining extension and detail that'll scare the horses, the Komris will fit right in" (Vol. 25, no. 4). Very well put. Let me add that, powered by the Linn Klimax 500 monoblocks, they will also scare the barn wood right off the beams! Extended auditioning should be mandatory if you're contemplating such a purchase. This is the speaker Antonioni would have used in "A Clockwork Orange" to torture the young hoodlum, had it been available back then. It sounded a little bit better here in Montreal than it did in New York. Maybe it is finally breaking in? My advice would be to build a dedicated listening room with your $40K USD. (For what it's worth, I love my old LP-12 turntable.)
I had a very nice listen to the highly acclaimed Triangle Celius loudspeaker driven by very handsome Cairn electronics--a $1200 CN CD player with both balanced and single-ended outputs and a 30 watts per channel integrated amplifier that operates in "Class A" for the first 10 watts. The remote control shown on top of the CD player is shaped like a hockey puck, which should endear it to Canadian audiophiles. While the sound was focused, smooth, open and fast, it seemed a bit lightweight, causing me to wonder what it might sound like with more power. At $2K USD it is an excellent value, but probably not for rock or large orchestral music, unless you add a subwoofer. If you need to be considerate of roommates, or live in an apartment, this may be all the loudspeaker you will need. The host of the room suggested the Triangle Ventis at $4K USD if you are looking for more body to the sound, and an amp with more current to drive it.
The voice of Leonard Cohen was heard frequently at the Festival, and it certainly sounded deep and rich through the Italian Unison Research tube pre- and power amplifiers driving the new Opera SP3 loudspeaker, a slim floor-standing tower with the shape similar to the omega symbol when viewed from the top. The use of wood on the faceplates of the amps seems more minimal and more gracefully integrated with the metal than I remember it in past years. New models, or am I just growing accustomed to it?
An Audio Aero Capitole, 40 watts per channel integrated amplifier ($8,400 USD) was making nice music powering Studio Labs Reference speakers. The source was a humble Onkyo CD player... or was it tricked out? I heard the Reference Three loudspeaker first ($3,800 CDN), then the Reference One ($1100 CN) which maybe sounded even better in the same room. Finally, I heard the Reference Two at $2,200 CDN. All three sounded great--just pick the one that fits your room!
I have commented on the angular cabinetry of Summum loudspeakers every year, and the company seems to have been in a custom order production mode. This year they have taken more of a system approach, marketing a $30K USD package that includes two amplifiers, cables and loudspeaker. One amp is optimized for the mid/treble while the other is optimized for base. Both put out 125 watts per channel. The system featured a Sonic Frontier transport and DAC.
Another nice room featured YBA CD player, Nagra pre-amplifier, YBA Passion power amp and P.E. Leon speakers, a perennial exhibitor.
Preference Audio (dealer) featured the Ethera Sound Corp. Baby Bear speaker (Vitae $5500 US) that suggested an evolution of the Bose 901 speaker and reminded me of the Phillip Glass (?) concert I heard decades ago at the Buffalo art gallery where two 901s filled a large auditorium with what, for then, was pretty good sound. The Baby bear, with forward facing drivers and vents on the extreme left and right edges, has short transmission lines along the back walls and a vertical foam cylinder on the inside where the transmission lines enter the main speaker cavity. There was and excellent sound with excellent bass as powered by YBA's integrated amplifier fed by their CD player. A smaller version of the loudspeaker is available at less than half the price. The only disappointment in this room was a Magnum Dynalab tuner. Why doesn't someone hold an antenna out the window and see what it can pick up? The ultimate multipath rejection is not to try at all!
In a room that showed more courage than crowd, was a pair of stand mounted Verity Audio Parsifals loudspeakers. Without deep bass, most show goers probably passed by this excellent speaker. Not to worry as it was shown elsewhere in full
form as seen above.
In another room I found myself interrupted by a rather casual soul. (Read: blue jeans, plaid shirt and a beard.) He turns out to be Zdenko Zivkovic, former designer of Sonic Frontier's final pre-amplifier and present designer of the Primrose L1 tube pre-amplifier. The L1 features an all tube, DC connected output stage. This is a design he has been working on for many years. The amplifier is very attractive with the logo/name back-lighted in an oval in the center of the face. Designed with single ended outputs only, the pre-amplifier is targeted at about $1,600 USD, and should stand an excellent chance of finding an audience at this price. His P1 power amplifier is to follow later this spring, with both balanced and unbalanced inputs. It will be rated at 120 watts per channel into 8 ohms, 250 into 4 ohms. When a giant tree falls in the forest, others grow in its place. This system sounded very nice with Triangle Celius, (or was that Zerius?) loudspeakers, Anthem CD player and a Blue Circle power
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