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Salon Son & Image 2009
Salon Son & Image 2009
Report By Rick Becker  Part 2

8th Floor (Continued)

Manley Labs and Adam Tensor, two companies that serve both the pro-audio and audiophile sides of the fence showed together in a configuration that will likely see greater acceptance. The front end was a laptop computer, but could easily have been a music server. The first time I visited the room a Manley Jumbo Shrimp preamplifier (now with remote control for about $2000) was being used in conjunction with a Manley Steelhead which is normally a phono stage, but I didn't notice the turntable in the room. The signal was fed from the preamp directly to the powered Adam Tensor Gamma loudspeaker — the one seen here in the middle with its name lit up on the gloss black floorstander. These German loudspeakers use an updated Air Motion Transformer tweeter, similar to the more familiar Heil version. They are available as non-powered loudspeakers, or as shown here, powered with ICE Class D power. Color them expensive, either way, being both German and descendant from studio monitors. On my final sweep on Sunday they had switched to the Manley Neo-Classic 300B preamplifier, now also with a remote control for about $5500. The young man from the studio side of Manley Labs pointed out the DAD (Digital Audio Denmark) AD/DA converter seen here below the Manley preamps. This is very expensive studio gear normally seen only in professional recording studios. The room sounded notably better the second time through with the 300B preamp. My camcorder also got a glimpse of the Manley Labs pirate flag on the wall. Pirates are all the rage these days.

 

It was a pleasure to meet John DeVore of DeVore Fidelity. I took a nice photo of him adjusting the Leben integrated amplifier in his rig. I also had a nice shot of the Clearaudio turntable and another of the entire rig in his uncluttered room with the components neatly displayed on a beautifully made stand from Box Furniture Company, who also make the DeVore speaker cabinets. But the one I have to show you is the photo of his loudspeaker, The Nines, from his Gibbon Series, which basically includes all but his Silverback Reference model. Looking a little like tiger maple veneer, it was actually his premium wild cherry finish. It was absolutely stunning. In fact the design of the entire loudspeaker was a perfect balance of "look at me" beauty and the expectation of what a real-world loudspeaker should look like. The music here, however, far exceeded expectation. It was easy to hear why reviewers clamor for his next creation. It did not surprise me to learn he comes from the Rhode Island School of Design; his eye is as good as his ear. And the craftsmanship is worthy of the finest homes. If the premium finish is a little too rich for you, step down to the standard finish. And if that is too classy for you…don't worry, you'll grow into it. On my sweep visit I walked in and heard some blues — a song I had never heard, but I knew the voice — a young sounding John Lee Hooker, right there in the room, like he had been raised from the dead. With 8 Ohm impedance and 91dB/W/m sensitivity this speaker was made for tubes and the Leben CS 600 really made it sing. At $6500 for The Nines, I expect this keeps his shop humming, even in these lean times. Easily, one of the Best Rooms.

 

The Avalon Ascent ($8500) also had some very interesting wood veneer, but unlike the DeVore, it was definitely a contemporary design — one that takes some getting accustomed to, and represents a new direction for Avalon. I loved the sound from this speaker at CES and it sounded just as good here at Montreal. An Audioaero CD player held down the front end. A Shindo Aurieges tube preamplifier fed a pair of VTL 125 tube monoblocks. Dual downward firing ports are concealed on the bottom angled surfaces behind the black "V". The sound was clear and dynamic coming from this 92dB/W/m efficient loudspeaker, making it another Best Room.

Focal (JM Labs) showed their 1007S stand mounted monitor with an Al/Mg tweeter rather than the Be tweeter at $3800. The front end was a Micromega CD-30 ($2495US) feeding a Micromega IA-180 integrated amplifier with 180 wpc, Class D ($2495 US). This marks a return to North America for the Micromega brand from France . Music here was very smooth and easy to appreciate, changing my opinion of what to expect from Class D amplification. The rig was so unpretentious that I forgot to take a photo — sorry.

In the Divergent Technologies room I had the pleasure of talking with Tash Goka, whom I had met at CES.  The Reference 3A Grand Veena loudspeakers ($7995 CDN) were driven by the Antique Sound Labs Hurricane Mk II DT tube monoblocks ($6500/pr CDN). The loudspeakers and components here were all supported by magnetic levitation spikes, available in three weight ranges, which Divergent now imports. The music here suggested the quality that earned the Grand Veenas a Blue Note Award from Enjoy the Music.com, but I dare say I heard it sound better at CES. I think the Veenas with their wide dispersion drivers needed a larger room to achieve the greatness of which I know they are capable. I was also disappointed that one of the smaller Reference 3A loudspeakers that recently had been improved was not yet ready for display. Mr. Goka mentioned numerous upgrades to the entire 3A line that have taken place recently, but not merited new model designations. I was so engrossed in conversation that I forgot to take a photo — sorry.

 

Shown here in piano gloss black, the Vienna Acoustics loudspeaker, The Music, is also available with wood veneer on the side panels of the bass unit. The upper unit is adjustable to aim toward the listener to maximize the soundstage. This is the second time I've heard this loudspeaker, and it is outstanding. The smaller stand mounded derivative, The Kiss, was shown at CES and was also excellent. A stack of dCS digital components formed the front end which fed Audio Research amplifiers. An Artemis Labs phono stage handled the SME 10 turntable with what looked like an Ortofon cartridge. It had been playing Blue Mind by Anne Bisson, which I later learned was produced by Fidelio Audio, a Canadian recording company that shows every year at Montreal. Anne Bisson performed live during the show, but of course I was too busy to take in her performance. Excellent music here, as you would expect from this high priced gear in yet another Best Room.

 

Audio Research appeared in the next room with their highly regarded CD5 player as a source and their new VSi60 tube integrated amplifier which is essentially a VS60 power amplifier with a passive control section on the front end — a nice way to economize. Power from this amplifier was sufficient to drive the new Verity Audio Finn loudspeaker in this smallish room playing a very familiar cut of Chinese drums. The midrange sounded tonally different than my compilation CD, but they may have been playing the original CD rather than the Burmester demo CD. (Anssi Hyvonen of Amphion Loudspeakers had shown me the difference many years ago). Nonetheless, at $6000, far below their $40k Sarastro, the Finn is an outstanding loudspeaker with high focus, transparency and depth — handling the bass drum with aplomb in this small room with its rearward firing woofer. The single box approach, rather than an isolated bass module is a more economical approach that doesn't seem to sacrifice sound quality. Were it not for the one question raised above, this rig was a very synergistic system that would easily rank with the Best Rooms.

 

7th Floor

Hearld Audio Continues to evolve their systems approach to audio, this time introducing a new monoblock amplifier. Actually, it is three amplifiers in one. There is both a tube section that puts out 8.5 watts of single ended Class A power, and a FET transistor section that puts out 400 watts into 4 Ohms. It can be used as a full range tube amplifier at 8.5 watts, a full range solid state amplifier at 400 watts (4 Ohms), or as a bi-amp monoblock supplying 8.5 watts to the midrange and treble and 400 watts (4 Ohms) to the bass drivers. The value of these monoblocks, ($3495 US, each) lies in the bi-amp capability. It would be interesting to hear the electronics with loudspeakers of another brand. The amplifier could be particularly interesting with say a Von Schweikert VR-4 (JR or SR) for example, which benefits from bi-amping.

 

What intrigued me most in the Linn room was this very stylish lifestyle system that was comprised of a $2500 integrated amplifier that can take a signal from a computer via router or from a CAT5 cable. The speakers were about $500 to $600/pr. They pulled off the same trick in the large active rig, using a router and running the signal into the amp with a CAT5 cable.

 

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