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Salon Son & Image Report 2011
Montreal High-End Audio Show

Montreal High-End Audio Show Salon Son & Image Report 2011
Part 3 -- Report By Rick Becker

 

  Legacy Audio was showing their large Whisper XD loudspeaker driven by an Ayon amp and CD player. As large as they were, the speakers did not over-power the room because of a Xilica Audio Design DSP box with algorithms specifically designed for the Legacy Whisper. (Algorithms for other speakers are available). The 15" bass drivers, both the top and bottom pairs, are concentrically mounted in an open baffle design. This gives them more of a cardioid projection pattern that helps keep the energy off the walls and hence a cleaner sound. Unfortunately, I forgot to photograph this rig.

 

Vienna Acoustics loudspeakers rarely disappoint me and this room was no exception. The small floorstanding Mozart Grand, Symphony Edition, stands about a yard high (1 meter-ish) on unique spikes that spread the footprint for additional stability. Incorporating some trickle-down drivers from the model above it, this 2.5 way speaker comes in at about $3500. Fine fit and finish coupled with luscious veneers make this a very eye appealing speaker. The Ayre Acoustics DX-5 A/V Engine ($3500) plays back virtually all digital and video formats and was used as the source. An Ayre AX-7e integrated amplifier ($3500), which has been very favorably reviewed, provided the amplification. For little more than ten grand, this was a very musical solid state rig. The laptop was equipped with Amarra software, but I didn't get the specifics on this. Computer archiving is the "in" thing at the present time, but it suffers some vulnerability. I mean, like who is going to steal a turntable?

 

Codell Audio put together a very nice rig with a SqueezeBox front end coupled to a Peachtree Audio Nova DAC/amp to drive a Dynaudio Excite X32 small 2-way floorstander with dual woofers that's available in four real wood veneers as well as gloss white and gloss black. The entire rig was about $4000, total. You could park this sweet little set in virtually any décor at any level of sophistication. Unfortunately, my snobby little Canon pocket camera couldn't keep its lens off the more elegant stand-mounted Confidence C1 Signature when I snapped the photo. It was just too hard to resist the beautiful dark curly maple veneer. This was the first model of Dynaudio's forthcoming Confidence Signature series which features these special veneers. The same speakers will be available in the standard Dynaudio veneers as the Confidence II Series. The C1 Series II runs from $7500 to $8300 depending on the finish and it sounded very good to my ears. Michael Manousselis, Dynaudio Director of Sales and Marketing for North America, was a familiar and friendly face once again.

 

On a second visit to the Codell Audio room I heard the Dynaudio C1 Signature with a Naim rig that featured their new NDX network player for $5495. This seems to be a "must have" component for the major electronics companies.

 

T plus A (T+A) from Germany put the entire rig on a pedestal in the form of their new age all-in-one receiver with a built-in CD player as well as USB inputs on the back side. It will also perform wireless streaming; give you internet radio and high quality FM reception and put out 160 watts into 4 Ohms, 94 watts into 8 Ohms. Power comes not from Ice power, but from their proprietary design. The receiver combines the features and power of other E-Series components into a single chassis for $4200 for the person who wants their music to be heard and their equipment to be noticed, but not dominate a room.

 

Visiting my friends at the AuDIYo rooms I turned up a number of gems, as usual. First was this Furutech GT40 from the Alpha Design Labs that is both a USB DAC with a phono stage. (Want to digitize your LPs?). It also has a built-in headphone amp with adjustable volume. At $495 it seems a real bargain and it has already garnered numerous awards, but check the specs to be sure it is compatible with your other equipment.

 

Next to the GT40 was a TubeMagic Audio Systems IAM96 integrated amplifier looking very handsome with wood side panels. It puts out 20 watts pure Class A per channel in ultralinear push-pull with minimum feedback and auto-bias. I use TubeMagic Canada monoblocks from the same designer in my reference rig so I had great expectation of how this new model would perform. I actually heard it twice in adjacent rooms. In one, it drove the Klaro Audio Summus speakers to a level that surpassed my experience with this speaker last year. These slim towers with a second side-firing woofer near the floor were very impressive being tube friendly at 8 Ohms. They run $3295 in the basic black finish and $4495 in piano gloss black. Next door the TubeMagic were driving a pair of Zu speakers which are very tube friendly. The front end was a highly modified tube CD player from China. This was a rare opportunity to hear a Zu speaker as they are sold factory direct and not promoted by any dealers. It was a very dynamic and transparent sound that was a lot of fun to listen to, reminding me of the large JBL speakers in my younger days, but with better focus and more transparency.

 

Recently released in France was the Cabasse Pacific 3 SA which has a more conventional box design that the spherical and other creative enclosures that Cabasse is known for. The active version of this speaker is $23,000 while the passive design is $15,000. The Riga system displayed here at Montreal includes an active subwoofer and two monitors that have coincident drivers in a sphere, as shown in the photo. That sphere is also available with a wall mount bracket. The Santorin 30 subwoofer covers the range below the Riga from 20 Hz to 95 Hz, and is comprised of trickle down technology from the awesome (and I do not use that word casually) flagship loudspeaker, La Sphere, which was seen here a year or two ago. The trio heard here goes for about $17,000. Strangely, Cabasse, which is the most elegant modern style loudspeaker manufacturer in the world, was paired off with McIntosh electronics, which are a classic "old school" design that has achieved cult status. I've heard both companies sound better with other partners, but this room at least hinted at the greatness of each brand.

 

Next up was Beyond Frontiers Audio (BFA), a company founded in 2009 by former senior designers at Sonic Frontiers. Zdenko Zivkovic has not stood still in these intervening years. His Tulip Stereo Integrated Amplifier w/DAC on display here had a supporting cast of audio greats that included Hanson Emperor loudspeakers, Kubala-Sosna cables, HRS damping devices and shelves and an Acoustic Arts top loading CD transport. It is designed in Canada and assembled in Serbia using premium parts and creative engineering. At 180 wpc into 8 Ohm and 360 wpc into 4 Ohm, this massive amplifier is said to be capable of driving speakers down to 2 Ohms. Like me, you're probably thinking this is solid state technology, but it sure didn't sound like it. In truth, it is a hybrid design with tubes providing the gain and bipolar transistors providing the current with no feedback in the amplifier stages. It is also remote controlled with their proprietary patented protocol. That's good, because in room light (or less) the buttons on the black face were virtually obscured (It's also available in silver). I didn't see the aluminum remote, but I expect you will have to have an LED flashlight to read it if you listen in the dark. Fit and finish are in the league with the best gear out there, though it is tastefully devoid of bling. Before I was aware this was a hybrid design, I was saying to myself this is the first solid state amp I've heard that really sounds like tube gear — except that it was totally tight from top to bottom. Part of that equation must be due to the built-in DAC that resamples everything to 24-bit/192kHz. At $17,000 it is up there in the big league with Boulder and DartZeel, but amplifiers from these two companies have not grabbed my soul the way I heard the music in this room. Considering that it appears to be a world class preamp, power amp and DAC, and will save you a small bundle normally spent on cables, this seems to have real value. This was easily one of the very Best Rooms at the show, and the one I kept dreaming of on the long drive home.

 

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