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Salon Son & Image 2010
Montreal High-End Audio Show

Montreal High-End Audio Show Salon Son & Image 2010
Part 3 -- Report By Rick Becker

  Verity Audio Amadis speakers ($30K) with a rear firing woofer sounded very good, as do all Verity speakers. This was the world premier for this model, third from the top of their line. With 93dB efficiency they were easily driven here by Nagra VPA monoblocks with 845 tubes that were sitting on maple butcher block stands. The shape of Verity speakers has practically become their corporate signature, differing primarily in size and drivers from one model to the next. The size of the Amadis belied the large room filling music they were putting out and the large audience listened in rapt attention. A dCS digital front end looked to be the source, as it usually is in the Verity room, helping to earn mention as one of the Best Rooms at the show. This room is not to be confused with the Son or Filtronique room heard earlier which also featured Verity speakers with a dCS front end and also garnered Best Rooms recognition. Do you detect a pattern here?

 


This stand mounted monitor from Proac, the D2 ($3600) from their Response series was very easy to listen to and looked like real furniture as well. The sound here seemed up to date and the appearance, as always, was classic. They were driven here by Moon electronics.

 

 


Jeff Joseph, not quite the showman he has been at New York shows in the past, nonetheless put on an outstanding display with his Joseph Audio Pulsar stand mounted monitor ($7k). Just listening, you would never imagine the speakers were so small. Excellent transparency, dynamics and focus, due in part to the source which was his MacBook Pro loaded with high resolution files, no doubt. Cardas Clear Beyond cable was used for the speaker cable and Clear for the interconnects. This is not the first time I've heard outstanding music from systems with these cables. And here again we have another Best Rooms presentation.

 


Emmanuel Lafleur showed up for the third consecutive show, this time displaying his MX-1 stand mounted two-way monitor ($6K) in a silver metalflake finish over a rock solid cabinet. This ported design features a 1.5" ring dome tweeter and a 5" mid-woofer. It was driven by a Moon I3.3 integrated amplifier with a Moon CD3.3 CD player as the source. The music was tight with high resolution from the top down to the bass, perhaps farther than you might expect from a small two-way monitor, but this speaker is a brick, weighing in at 30 pounds each. I remember a Lafluer speaker sounding very good last year driven by tubes and using the Liquid Cables from Teo, so with its 88dB sensitivity, perhaps you could go that way, also.

 


Looking like they stepped out of the Saturday Night Live skit with Steve Martin, the Vivid Audio B1 speakers ($15K) shout "We are from France "! But I've said it before, these are very serious speakers waiting for their prime audience to mature and acquire some discretionary income. I'm talking about the iKids and their iParents. This is a four driver 3.5-way vented speaker in a carbon fiber filled polymer complex cabinet with integrated stand. The molded front baffle acts as a wave guide to improve the sound. Van den Hul cabling is concealed inside. Very open and transparent, their modern styling made the classic Luxman components that were driving it look dated. $10K for the integrated amplifier, $8500 for the CD player, yet as expensive as these units were, I couldn't help but think the speaker could have performed better with other electronics. Ironically, it is Vivid's top of the line G1 Giya ($58K) that carries the company. Maybe next year they will have a larger room and treat us to this beauty.

 


I'd like you to meet Toni Liitola from DSPeaker in Finland . He's their lead designer for acoustics and DSP (digital signal processing) and that is his unassuming little two-way Servo 300Pro monitor on the stand next to him. A pair cost $3500. You plug a microphone into the speaker and place the mic in the listening position. The speaker has built-in digital signal processing inside that corrects for the room anomalies. You tweak each speaker separately, so you can have one speaker in a corner and one out from the corner as they did here. The dsp also handles the crossover and phase correction. You feed the analog signal from your CD player to the speaker (and hence use the CD player remote to control the volume). An analog to digital converter does what it says. The signal is then processed in the digital domain with all the room correction adjustments. The signal is then converted to analog with a built-in DAC and the appropriate analog signal is fed to each of two linear A/B amplifiers (of their own design) inside the speaker to bi-amplify the two drivers. There is a gain control on each speaker to balance the levels from each speaker at the listening position which allows the speakers to be set up asymmetrically in the room as it was at the show. The sound was very good, but not as amazing as the technology behind it.

It played far better at the extremes than such a small box has a right to play. The sound falls a little short of World Class, but it only needs a little more attention to drivers and cabinet construction I suspect. Or perhaps it was the source component or the music. When I think back to the complexity and cost of other DSP room correction systems I have heard in the past (some of them with surround sound), this approach just blows them away. You still have to plug the speakers into the wall, but down the road signal transmission systems will probably eliminate the need for interconnects. I expect a lot of people just walked into this room, took a quick listen, and just didn't get it. I almost did, myself. Thanks for taking the time with me, Toni. I sure hope you guys return bigger and better next year! You've got my first Best Technology show award. Beyond what was shown here is their Anti-Mode™ 8033 automatic subwoofer equalizer that performs the same room correction with your active subwoofer. Where have they been hiding this stuff?

 


I finally got the critical listening experience I've dreamed about with the Gradient Helsinki 1.5 speaker. Not only that, I was treated to a thorough explanation of the major technology involved here. My experience with the Tekton Design open baffle speakers over the past year had piqued my interest even further in the more complex open baffle Gradient design. The Gradient has been refined over the past 24 years by Finnish acoustician Jorma Salmi. (Is it a coincidence that the two Finnish rooms were next to each other?) And do you detect another trend here? They were playing Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Tin Pan Alley" so I just melted into the seat.

There was a sign for Ammara for Sonic Studio with high resolution computer music player for Mac with 24 bit/192KHz. Since I'm heavy into LPs and still waiting for CDs to be dumped into the garage sale bins, such sourcing is a step ahead of me, if not two. The computer fed a DNM 23 wpc amplifier which was plenty sufficient for the Gradients with 85dB sensitivity and smooth 6 Ohm impedance. After all, we're here on earth to enjoy the music, not recreate earthquakes. The dipole speaker, I was told, does prefer solid state, however.

(Rats!) But even more important, after changing shipping lanes and reducing import duties (or some such excuse) they are now available for $6500 — a bargain for such a high quality speaker disguised as a work of art. And to realize even greater value, they were using DNM speaker cables at $250/pr. Are they sure it doesn't work with tubes? But judging from what I heard in this room, it doesn't really need them. I was interested to learn that the sculpted surrounds on the drivers were formed and angled to act as wave guides for the drivers to minimize room interactions along with angling the speaker itself. And talk about art? The wood comes in birch, oiled walnut, oiled oak, black and white. The midrange and tweeter surrounds come in at least red, blue, white, black…and probably more. The more you look at it the more you appreciate the way form and function is integrated with this speaker. It reminds me of my visit to the Moderna Museet in Stockholm in 1966. I'd call this another Best Room on a number of fronts.

 

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