Salon Audio Montreal / Audio Fest
2022 Show Report
Once again, going across the hall, but skipping a couple of rooms, I entered St. Laurent 3 to find the B&W 801 D4 speakers ($45k CAD), this time driven by the same suite of Classé Delta preamp/DAC ($14k CAD) and Delta monoblocks ($30k/pr CAD) that I heard in the DR Acoustic room earlier. The DR Acoustic Antigone power conditioner was also in use here, as well as a pair of subwoofers facing inward toward the B&W speakers. I noted that both B&W 801 D4 speakers at the show were shown with subs. These speakers seem on the dark side to me but that is apparently what a lot of people like, given the popularity of the brand. The music here was very good, too. Yet I wondered if it could have been more holographic had the rig been pulled further out from the front wall of this very deep room.
And from my experience with my friend who owns the stereo version of these monoblocks, I would say consider the stereo amp if your room is small or you are not comfortable spending large for the monoblocks. This room, along with St. Laurent 4 and 5 (which I will come to shortly) were all sponsored by Sound United, a global company with a footprint in more than 100 countries. These are the people that bought the orphaned Classé company and are raising it to new glory.
In the outer section of this deep room, prominently displayed on a pedestal, was a B&W Nautilus painted blue (in honor of Quebec?). I first saw this iconic speaker back in the 1990s when I was getting started in high-end audio. It was painted piano gloss black, of course, as nothing was painted in wild colors — or any color at all back then. It was so far ahead of its time that the industry, with few exceptions, is still trying to catch up to the daring statement it made. Kudos to Sound United for bringing it up to date in French blue.
Backsliding to St. Laurent 4, I entered a darkened room with a surround sound set-up featuring Definitive Technology speakers. The black components with the blue-lit circles on the table in front were Marantz surround sound components, as the porthole is their signature design element going back to the early days with the founder, Saul Marantz. As Enjoy The Music, in general, and I in particular, do not claim to be experts in surround sound, I gracefully moved on to the next Sound United room. But gee whiz, was that an 18" subwoofer in the far right corner I missed?
Moving on to the third Sound United room, St. Laurent 5, There was an unusual pair of Polk speakers ($9k CAD) with dual midrange and dual tweeters. A Denon stereo integrated amp and CD player were on the table. As unusual as it was, this was the most seriously built Polk speaker I've ever seen. It was designed with an acoustic trick to eliminate cross-talk between speakers — or more accurately, the cross-talk our brain traditionally interprets between two stereo speakers. Pay attention, here. The left and right speakers are interconnected. The signal from the midrange and tweeter in the right speaker is sent to the left pair of midrange and tweeter on the left speaker... and vice versa.
The music coming from the right speaker to our left ear gets canceled out from the same signal coming from the left pair of drivers on the left speaker... and vice versa. What our left ear (and hence our brain) then hears is only the left channel coming from the left speaker... and only the right channel coming from the right speaker. There is no cross-talk coming from the right speaker to the left ear... and no cross-talk coming from the left speaker to the right ear.
What the brain hears is a more focused soundstage that is also much wider than it would typically be from more conventional speakers. I didn't notice that the soundstage had become deeper than I would have expected from this unfamiliar music I heard, but it sure got wider than expected.
The effect was solely the result of the speakers and their wiring. Any traditional stereo electronics would have had the same result, I was told. I heard the intended effect, but only with a single piece of music. I'd have to play with a large sample of familiar music in a familiar environment to determine what effect this technology had on depth of field and scale of image. I imagine it would have a detrimental effect in a home theater situation where the width of the soundstage would be much larger than the width of the image on the screen unless you had a wall-to-wall TV or video projector. Interesting, nonetheless.
With only a few minutes before closing on Saturday afternoon, I spun around the block of rooms on the lower level to Montreal 6 to meet a friend and make arrangements for a Sunday night listening session. This was the Audio Note UK and Audio Note Amerique room where I heard a very nice all-Audio Note system playing against three internal free-standing walls in the large room. In typical fashion, the two-way Audio Note speakers were placed close to the simulated corners and aimed to cross in front of the front row of seats.
The music here was very delightful, coming from entry-level components from Audio Note UK. From the left was the TT One Deluxe suspended turntable in cherry, R Zero II, entry-level mm phono stage in black acrylic, Cobra integrated amp with built-in DAC, and CD Zero, entry-level Red Book CD player. The Cobra amp introduced back in 2020, puts out 28 Wpc from a pair of EL34 tubes in Class A push-pull. It also features double C-core output transformers manufactured in-house.
There are three RCA inputs and three digital inputs: RCA coax, Optical S/PDIF, and USB. The accompanying remote controls volume, mute and input selections. The phono stage and CD player are both available in black or white acrylic and the turntable comes in two other wood finishes. I didn't get to talk with anyone here about the equipment, but their website indicates that they've continued to develop new products throughout the pandemic.
Walking to dinner I spotted Teamsters Quebec 1999 protesting outside the Bell Center while a small dog was convinced he could drown out a group of drummers with his bark. Meanwhile, the crowds were pouring into the Bell Center where the Montreal Canadiens beat the Toronto Maple Leafs, 4-2, later that evening. One of these years I'm going to take Saturday night off at the show and go to the game. But tonight was a work night.
With the St. Hubert's chicken restaurant at the train station now closed down, I proceeded to McDonalds where I mastered touch-screen ordering (once I found the button that converted the menu to English). My, how the world has changed while I've been hiding out in my listening room and home office during CV.
They have even planted "No Smoking" signs on the sidewalks outside stores and office buildings. How sweet it is.
Back at the Hotel Bonaventure, I proceeded to crop and enhance over a hundred of the 172 photos I'd taken that day — sending ten of them off for Enjoy the Music.com's Creative Director, Steven R. Rochlin, to post on Sunday morning as a highlight of what was to come. I was so focused on getting photos out that evening that I forgot about the awards ceremony for the Lifetime Achievement Award. I'll get to that and a few more important rooms including another Best Of Montreal 2022 in Part 5.
Look for Part 5 and a wrap-up of the show in a couple of days.