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Montréal Salon Audio / Montreal Audio Fest 2019 Show Report

Salon Audio Montreal / Audio Fest 2019 Show Report
Part 1
Salon Audio Montreal / Audio Fest 2019 Show Report By Rick Becker



Getting There
Bad weather didn't take long to find me this year. I was still 40 miles west of Syracuse when the snow started to fall. By the time I reached Interstate 81 to head north to Canada I was already contemplating turning around. But that's not who I am. Besides, it happens every year, either coming or returning. Adventure always brushes with disaster and this year, like most, it was my own fault. In physics they say gas always expands to fill the container just like my "to-do" list fills a 28 hour day that never materializes. My good audio buddy, Tom Lathrop, left for Montreal in the morning before the snowstorm hit. I left at 8 pm with the usual intention of making it to Champlain, NY, before camping out in the Hotel Tracker. As the cars fell into a single line heading north on Interstate 81 at 45 mph I wondered if I would make it to Watertown.



That question was answered when I realized I hadn't yet shifted into 4WD. Problem solved. While the pavement had long since disappeared, the onslaught of snowflakes was nowhere near as debilitating as a prior trip when I had to guide my journey by spotting the reflectors far to the right every hundred yards of so. I also had the advantage of red taillights far off in the distance that would only sometimes disappear over the crest of a hill. Just north of Watertown at the exit for Fort Drum, I phoned home to give my wife a heads-up on my progress. At 11 pm, it was clear I wasn't going to make Champlain driving 45 mph. Nonetheless, I was feeling pretty lucky so I bought a Powerball ticket for Saturday's drawing for the $600+ million.

Shortly thereafter I made "the mistake" of forgoing Route 11 for Route 3. ("There are no mistakes in life, some people say" wrote Bob Dylan decades ago.) For me, there was just a slight alteration of adventure. Taking the "shortcut" on 3A, the road disintegrated into a single set of wheel tracks in the 3" deep snow. I made it to Saranac Lake at speeds ranging from 35 to 45 mph on the un-plowed road, intimately feeling the loneliness of year-round Adirondack residents. As the snow ceaselessly fell I continued northeast a ways on Route 3, finally settling in for the night in a pull-out at 3 am. I was not even close to Plattsburgh but I sensed I might still make my rendezvous with Tom the opening on Saturday morning if I had an early start.

At 7am I stuffed my vintage down Sierra Designs sleeping bag into its sack and hit the road within 5 minutes after scraping the snow and ice off the windows, head and taillights. The plows had been through along with an assortment of 4wd pickup trucks. By the time I approached the outskirts of Plattsburgh AWD cars started to appear.  At Champlain, a mile south of the border, I filled up with gas and had breakfast at McDonalds. Seems like it had been remodeled since I was there two years ago. It was so totally decorated for Easter that I had to pause a moment to figure out if the men's room was the purple bunny or the yellow chick. (I guessed correctly.) After a final phone call home (my cell phone does not work in Canada) I crossed the border without fuss and headed north on Canadian 15.

The drama continued when I missed the turnoff for the Pont Champlain to take me across the St. Lawrence Seaway to downtown Montreal. Fortunately there was Plan B at the Pont Victoria, but due to construction, that alternative required navigating a maze of detours. I dread the Pont Victoria as it is a monument to historic bridge construction. Its utility remains a necessity for Montreal due to the out-pacing of modern bridge construction by the ever expanding demand of motor vehicles. It also messed me up by dropping me off in a strange neighborhood in Montreal. Signage in Montreal is not good, unless you already know where you're going. As it turned out, I was actually quite close to the Hotel Bonaventure, but failed to see it on the first pass. At that hour on a Saturday the only parking available at the hotel was at the bottom of the catacombs on Level 7. I was happy to take what I could get.

In the modern tradition of Canadian audio shows, admission was free, but I tracked down Sarah Tremblay for a Press Pass. A big smile and a warm welcome made me feel right at home. The Press Pass with its red lanyard ensured instant recognition and extra attention, plus the bold "Cocktail" printed on the reverse side provided admission to the industry party on Saturday night. And believe me when I say I can sure use a cold beer after working the show non-stop for eight hours. Lunch is a Clif Bar and a few swigs of Mt. Dew while I continue to audition systems. Not long after arriving, I ran into Tom and we planned to meet at the bottom of the elevators on the lower level at the end of the show that day.


So Where's The F-ing Show Report?
Some few of you might have noticed I didn't make it to Montreal last year. In the January before that show I ended up with in the hospital with the flu and pneumonia. A lot of people my age don't survive that sequence of events, but death isn't a word that frequents my vocabulary. I was also on the brink of a "Going Out of Business" sale for the retail furniture business that had been in my family for 72 years. I had been working there for nearly fifty, paralleled with a couple of other careers, writing for Enjoy The Music.com being one of them. It was a stressful time that lasted up through last December when I finally closed the doors.

Retirement isn't all that it's cracked up to be. It's not that I don't have enough to do with my life — hell, I've got more to do now than I did before. It is the suck-out of people that leaves a void—the customers (many of whom stopped by just to wish me well), the factory reps, the truck drivers bringing me goods to sell and deliver, the almost daily stop at the grocery store on the way home from work. I've joined a health club just to replace the exercise I used to get at work and I look for excuses just to get out of the house in the winter. The snow has only been deep enough for XC skiing once this year. It snows one day and melts the next.

Another nightmare of retirement has been the realization that my life is filled with too much "stuff." At my wife's insistence I've embarked on a massive reorganization and de-cluttering campaign. I have yet to start listing items on Audiogon, but audio has not escaped scrutiny of what's really important not only in my life, but life in general. Fear not, kind editor. Audio gear will remain important to me; it's a way to give back to the industry that has given me the joy of music. But enjoyment of music will become more important than before.

The third major shift for me has been the realization of the preciousness of time. Having cheated death for over seventy years at breakneck speed on bicycle, motorcycle, cars and truck, why shouldn't I live to see 150? Well, I'm not. Nor am I going to live long enough to listen to every side of every LP I own. It ain't gonna happen, dudes. Nor am I going to visit and write about every room at the shows I cover. No more detailed lists of each component complete with price. I've been doing that for over 20 years... since long before others started doing it. Younger bucks can pick up my slack.

I decided to come to Montreal this year just to see old friends. It's the people that have become most important to me in this final lap in the race of my life. (No, I don't have a terminal illness but I'm a doer, not a couch slouch.) Then, in a moment of inspiration I thought I could find maybe 20 products that I could highlight in a brief report, so I brought my cameras. But as I started walking the first hall I realized there is still too much cool gear to go unrecognized. The industry is definitely in spring blossom once again. So I'm certainly going to exceed the original line in the sand. Love abounds, but if I fail to mention something special and really good, please forgive me. I'm still human. In fact, in retirement I may even be more human than I was before.



Once Again I Walk Past The Swimming Pool
A case in point... being a furniture guy in my recently departed life, I love wood and have always taken an interest in Tri-Art's creations. This turntable which goes for about $1600 CDN is an elegantly simple design that apparently works well enough to still be in their lineup. The feet seem to be a new design and the phono stage, which handles at least moving magnet cartridges, was also new to me. Made of Plyboo, it has a definite Zen air about it, as well as appealing to the sprouting minimalist within. Audiofilles / Bed-In, 1204?



Richard Kohlruss and I go back a long time and in recent years he has re-branded himself as ASONA to acknowledge himself as an importer/distributor of products to all of North America. The stand mounted speakers in this room sounded very good — much better than the spherical speaker on the credenza which I heard in black in another room. Of course, the monitors were five times as expensive, I was told. Richard is a very approachable, easy going guy that you should have talked to, if you had any questions. Asona, 1212.




I liked the sound of these speakers almost as I love the tall, narrow form factor with wood side panels and side-mounted woofers. Driven by an Auris tube integrated amp this was a very good sounding rig. Stevie Ray Vaughn had a lot of air and fine decay as well he should with speakers costing $22k. Rear-firing tweeters that can be turned on or off helped create the sense of air in the room. I could see myself owning this rig if I had a smaller abode. Motet Distribution, 1215.



Music Hall's mmf 11.1 turntable was very eye catching and a lot more sophisticated than the eye suggests. Each layer is isolated from the others with the motor, platter and tonearm each on a separate layer for optimum isolation. And very dressy in tuxedo gloss black, I might add. The cartridge was a Grado wood bodied top of the line model, I believe. Earlier in the hall I had run into Bruce Jacobs of Stillpoints and we chatted about the spring floods in the Midwest. I recognized their equipment rack supporting the mmf 11.1 as well as their record clamp which I use personally on my hot-rodded Linn LP12 and alternately as a chassis damper on my hot-rodded Sony tuner when I listen to Hearts of Space. The next morning I met Luke Manley of VTL who invited me back to explain their new tube electronics in this rig which included his new TP 2.5i MC phono preamp at $5250 CDN and IT-85 Integrated amp at $7350 CDN. While the system revealed very high resolution in general, the Triangle Magellan Duetto stand mounted speaker seemed hissy in the treble for a $9000 CDN speaker. Perhaps it wasn't broken in yet.  Motet Distribution, 1218.



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