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Salon Son & Image 2009
Salon Son & Image 2009
Report By Rick Becker  Part 3

Sunday Morning
"

 

Level 2

With the jumper cables tucked back under the seat, Linda volunteered to stay with the car running to charge up the battery. That adventure now behind, I walked over to the Sheraton Center and approached the Gutwire booth to play with more cables. Herbert Wong, a graduate of my former longtime employer, the University of Rochester , greeted me again this year and showed me their new line of power cables. The SP-5.1 shown here used a three-wire braid design with each conductor in its own housing that was similar to some speaker cables from another company that I had seen last year. It is very flexible in spite of being a solid core cable. In the connector ends there is a small container of charcoal that supposedly absorbs EMI/RFI and releases negative ions. A shinny Mylar thread is woven into the lightweight housing, adding a bit of bling as well as some added protection. The 5.1 is $1199 US, and I didn't ask about the top of the line 11.1.

 

Also in this room was the Roksan Radius 5 TT shown here in clear acrylic. It is also available in lacquered walnut veneer and lacquered maple veneer. It comes with a NIMA arm and is their most affordable table.

 

Sliding over to Salon 1 I ran into Graeme Humphrey from Coup de Foudre again this year. Sensing I needed some coffee he immediately sent out for some. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Linda was actually still out charging the car battery at this point, but we doubled back to this room to photograph her with the Wilson Audio Thor's Hammer, an ultra sub-woofer capable of reaching down to 10 Hz with authority. It was parked vertically between a pair of Wilson Audio Maxx III loudspeakers which were driven by the only pair of Pathos Adrenalin monoblocks in North America at the time. Featuring their INPOL circuitry this 200 watt pure Class A hybrid monoblock with zero negative feedback did a very nice job with the Maxx III, and I loved the visual architecture of this amplifier with the brand name repeated down each side in extruded heat sinks. Prices are $60,000 for the amplifiers and $70,000 for the speakers.

Thor's Hammer comes with a sophisticated controller for tuning it to the room and the main loudspeakers, but it is not powered. A smaller Pathos monoblock was used for the Thor in this music system, but you would probably want a larger amplifier for movies with earthquakes and space launches. Graeme demonstrated a piece of music both with and without Thor's Hammer. The difference was not jaw dropping with music, which is testament to how well tuned-in the sub was in this system, but the subwoofer created a greater sense of space and room tone that made it easier to make the imaginary leap from recorded music to live presentation. The preamplifier was a prototype from Pathos called the Synapse and it was seemingly designed by the same person who did the Adrenalin, but with different architecture that commanded the top shelf of the equipment rack where it was highly visible. In past years Coup de Fourdre populated the room with scores of sound absorbing pillars to control reflections, but this year relied on plants and flowers much more to my liking. As in the past, this room was one of the Best Rooms, but it was quite different than the following highly acclaimed room. At the Coup de Foudre room the doors were wide open and the music had a feeling much like it does in my first floor listening room, except this room was much larger. The experience was more like live music in the sense that the room had a higher noise floor. It was casual and relaxed, quite different from two doors down.

 

The Focal Grand Utopia loudspeakers ($180,000) generated a lot of attention by virtue of being presented in a controlled demonstration to a captive audience. The doors were closed, the lights dimmed and it was more like sitting in a home theater in a basement of a home. In fact, a video presentation preceded the three musical selections. The noise floor was considerably lower here, probably because the people were afraid to breathe. The experience was more like listening to a performance from the control room of a recording studio. Nonetheless, the classic Stevie Ray Vaughan "Tin Pan Alley" generated a visceral reaction in me, and it was certainly one of the Best Rooms at the show. There was plenty of transparency, focus and dynamics here, but the set-up was all too formal for me to really enjoy it. The presentation was in French so I didn't learn the supporting cast of electronic equipment, and we were under pressure to leave the room so the next segment of the line outside could enter. It was all I could do to take a quick photo. I was lucky to get in early in the morning without having to wait in line, unlike most people. Otherwise, I would have missed the opportunity to hear this very fine room.

 

The room between the two rooms above was supposed to have been the Press Room, but instead, the large round table was filled with guys with small rigs, some using laptops as sources, many of them listening to music on headphones. Philippe Charron of Montreal explained that it was a club meeting of the local Head-Fi.org group and open to visitors. I felt like a mountain climber in a scuba shop even though music was a common denominator.

 

Level 3

Jumping up another level I entered the Solen Electronique room where a lot of raw drivers were on display, as well as two pair of project loudspeakers they built to show what DIYers could do with a little imagination and a table saw. The larger loudspeaker shown here could easily move a lot of air.

 

  

I explored the KingRex/John Blue/Tripath room with a lot of interesting goodies. The KingRex electronics were so small that the guy shown here had to bend down on his knees to see them. I didn't get the total scoop on this stuff, but there was a KingRex 16 volt converter ($200) in the short stack. A 20 watt power amplifier ($350) and a preamp ($500) completed the stack. Next to it, a cheap Sony DVD player ($90) was feeding a Citypulese Dac DA7.2x II ($500 CDN). KingRex is a Taiwanese company. Tripath is the chip within the KingRex amplifiers. Cirrus Logic purchased the intellectual property of that chip, but the chips KingRex uses are sourced from Korea . It's a mad world! This stuff was driving a $4500 pair of JohnBlue floorstanders with a super tweeter very nicely, however. The 50 watt KingRex amplifier heard driving the Gemme Audio Green Gem on Saturday was a prototype. Another interesting item I saw was a four-input Preference preamp with an adjustable phono stage and separate power supply. They also have regulated power supply units with the Tripath chip optimized for 16 volts. A pair of small JohnBlue TL66 6-watt monoblocks based on the 6L6 tube ($2200/pr) had a very retro look about them.

What I liked best on my sweep though this room was the JohnBlue 3 single driver ported loudspeaker shown here mounted on a stand very elegant in a thick gloss black finish. These are a serious loudspeaker deserving of heavy stands and traditional speaker placement not to be relegated solely to desktop or computer usage. Listening at a distance was very pleasurable, although a subwoofer would be needed if you require serious bass. Might I suggest the Mordaunt-Short Performance 9 subwoofer($3000) I saw earlier in the show, equipped with dual 10" aluminum woofers, each powered by a 500 watt IcePower module. The Performance 9 incorporates M-S's Active Room Control. In the high-gloss Granite Grey it would be a stunning combination with the JB3 monitors, although it certainly brings up the price. I'm becoming more and more intrigued by crossover-less single driver loudspeakers. A hearty thanks to Sasha Obad of Obad Imports of Langley, British Columbia (and Blaine , Washington , USA ) for venturing to Montreal with these small gems.

 

Sliding over to the Salon Drummond Est I bathed in Jennifer Warne's updated version of Leonard Cohen's "Famous Blue Raincoat" and Hugh Masekela's "Stimela" two of my favorites. This was easily one of the very Best Rooms at the show. The front end was PS Audio's prototypes of the soon to be available Perfect Wave Transport and DAC, $3000 US, each. The TVR 100 preamp ($5k) was by Trigon of Germany . Their Monolog monoblocks ($9500 each) put out 400 watts into 8 Ohms (650 into 4 Ohms) and are fully balanced, but also have an RCA unbalanced input. The monoblocks were plugged into a PS Audio Quintet power conditioner. The loudspeakers were Verity Audio's Lohengrin II ($80,000 CDN) in a subtle dark blue finish that turned bright blue with my camera flash. With a ribbon tweeter on top and a 15-inch bass driver in the lower module, the Lohengrin II has a wingspan of 15 Hz to 40 kHz with 95dB/W/m efficiency. Last year they were shown with Lamm ML3 monoblocks and did quite nicely, for sure, but this year the experience was even more moving and with solid state electronics, yet. I suspect the new PS Audio Perfect Wave front end had something significant to do with that. And Dave Kakenmaster of PS Audio, who was here last year and I met again at CES, certainly agreed. We had a nice chat. I had a much better opportunity to listen to the Perfect Wave stuff here than I did at CES. In a quiet room with world class gear the music was great. BTW, a PS Audio Power Plant Premier was nested below the source and preamp, indicating the system was running on a steady 119 volts.

 

On a table at the side of the room above were an Avid Diva II and the Sequel II shown here. With the price of the beautiful Acutus climbing ever higher, the Sequel II begins to make more sense, being only slightly less refined, sonically, using the same power supply and an un-tweaked version of the same motor.

In the Salon Drummond Ouest was a pair of Audio Physics Scorpio II loudspeakers driven by a Naim rig consisting of their CDX2 CD player, Nait XS integrated amplifier with their Flat-Cap 2X power supply all nicely mounted in their Naim rack which is one of the cleanest contemporary designs out there.

 

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