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Salon Son & Image 2009
Salon Son & Image 2009
Report By Rick Becker  Part 1

  It was a dark and stormy night, just like Snoopy wrote. High winds, driving rain and standing water on the highway made use of cruise control unwise. At the high bridge crossing the St. Lawrence I seriously asked the toll lady if it was safe to cross. In the fifteen years I've been making this trip, maybe once the weather was not a factor. With the Festival Son-Image (now a Salon) moved back to early April, the probability of camping out in the Hotel Tracker in sub-zero degrees (F) is greatly diminished. Linda is grateful, and I miss the bragging rights.

 We downloaded our duffel bags into storage at the Best Western Europa across the street from the Sheraton Centre and parked the Tracker in an open lot where the attendant refused to give us a 20 percent break on our U.S. currency. Linda checked her coat and we found our press badges waiting for us. The Press Room was not, however. Not Saturday or Sunday either. Sensing my irritation, Linda treated me to a large coffee from the hotel cafe, for which the industry owes her deep gratitude. Coffee is a mind altering drug that greatly enhances my amazement and appreciation of audio gear and music. If my comments on a given room seem minimal, it is probably because I was not inspired by what I saw or heard, not because I was sleepy. (It was a large cup of coffee, like I said).

First stop was on the Seventh Floor where we visited the Gemme Audio Green Gem loudspeakers that I had just reviewed. It was supposed to be driven by the newest version of the TubeMagic monoblocks and preamplifier, but with a lot of RFI in downtown Montreal , in combination with the high sensitivity loudspeakers (97 dB), the system picked up radio transmissions. In its place were very small King Rex pre and power amplifiers that did a reasonable job with the Green Gem, but did not have the liquidity of the tube gear I used in my review. Robert Gaboury and Jean-Pierre Boudreau quickly substituted the Katana model for comparison. It was immediately evident that the Green Gem was more neutral, but I could certainly live with the slight colorations of the Katana, especially at less than a third the price. In the back corner of the room was a pair of small floorstander prototypes from a new entry level series that features a ribbon tweeter. Two other models from this series were seen elsewhere at the show, but I heard none of them. I revisited this room several times during the show, as it was a great way for me to recalibrate my ears. On my last visit they were using a Neodio integrated amplifier that visually coordinated with the Neodio CD player with candy copper chassis. This amplification, along with switching the phase of the stand mounted monitors of the Green Gem and repositioning them resulted in much improved sound, but was still not as good as I achieved with the TubeMagic amps, or heard at CES in January with the Angelis Labor tube gear. Maybe it is just a tube vs. solid-state thing. Still, it was one of the Best Rooms at the show. The Neodio CD player was used as a source in the Lamm room at CES, so obviously it is held in very high regard.


Jean-Pierre treated me to a cut from a FIM recording using their K2 HD mastering technique that utilizes 100 kHz and 24 bit resolution. It sounded quite special. FIM is noted for their experimentation and innovation. In 2007 Mr. Ma gave me two of their XRCD24 recordings with blue AVM sprayed on the CD to improve the resolution. Their recording of the classic Sheffield Lab Drum and Track Disc is a treasured tool for evaluation.


There was a buzz about the Blueberry Hill Audio cables that were used in the Gemme Audio room, but nobody had any specific information. I noted the vibration absorbing O-rings at the ends. Keep an ear out for this company.


It usually takes me a room or two to get my act together and I tripped up on this one. It looks like a Nova Physics Memory Player on top of the rack, along with something from Audio Aero below. The flaming golden veneer of the loudspeaker was very eye catching.



Eddie Wong of TubeMagic grabbed us in the hall and dragged us in to hear the latest Mk 3 version of his M23SE monoblocks (CAD$6700 pr). I have recently reviewed the Mk 2. They were driving a pair of 1977 Kef 105 loudspeakers that didn't sound the least bit dated. Eddie shared with me the modifications: taking away Fuses, Overload protection circuit; replaced all internal wiring; upper speakers a 2" tweeter & 5" mid originally sitting on a metal pivot; replaced with an AOS System. Underneath is a 12" woofer sitting on furniture castors, now sitting on an AOS System Power amplifier Large platform. Man, talk about stealth technology. NASCAR teams would be impressed! The preamplifier was the P22SE (CAD$4400) utilizing 2A3 tubes which Eddie claims sound even better than the 300B tubes in the P23SE preamp that I have in for review. Beneath everything, including the Kef loudspeakers as seen here was the TubeMagic A.O.S. passive hydraulic shock absorbing platform (CAD$800 each) that is the most effective damping device I have reviewed. TubeMagic plays a lot of attention to vibration both internal and external and it clearly paid off with one of the Best Rooms at the show.


9th Floor

Preferring to work from the top down, we skipped up to the 9th Floor where Jay Rein of Bluebird Music was playing the new A6 two-way floorstander ($3700) from Spendor positioned right up against the front wall. The A6 uses drivers and crossover technology from the new flagship ST model ($11,000) seen against the outer walls. The ST was quite striking in a combination of piano gloss black with a wood veneer inlay on the front, also in a gloss finish. Electronics were a relatively modest Exposure CD player and integrated amplifier. The upscale looking Exposure CD player (~$8000 US) and preamplifier (~$8000 US) from the new flagship MCX series were on silent display when I visited the room and represent a large step up for the company.


I had been looking forward to revisiting the Avantgarde Acoustic Uno Nano loudspeaker that had impressed me at CES. At Montreal they seemed considerably larger than I remembered. In fact, I was listening to the larger Duo Grosso model ($37,500 US) powered by the One Control preamplifier ($55,500 US) that I had seen last year, and the new One Power monoblocks ($22,500 each) that put out 50 watts each in Class A utilizing a unique single ended push-pull design with zero feedback. Given the small size of the room, they sounded very good, although with 107dB/W/m efficiency they could have played in a much larger venue. In the adjacent smaller room I found the Uno Nano loudspeakers ($16,500 US) mounted on the long wall with three chairs against the opposite wall, not far away. The source was an Audioaero Capitole Classic CD player. I was impressed with the quality achieved by these horn speakers in such a small room. The Uno Nano was driven by the Avantgarde Model Three integrated amplifier ($8700 US) that puts out 0.4 watts into 8 Ohms in Class A, and 38 watts in Class AB far more than is needed by the 104dB/W/m efficiency Uno Nano in a home environment. The integrated amplifier, like the separates in the other room, was a unique contemporary design. The lighted central panel provided a touch of warmth to the darkened room that was made even more inviting by numerous large plants. Due to the directivity of the Avantgarde horn designs the Uno Nano were toed in toward the center seat which I had only a short time to visit. Placing my hand on the pillars that support the horn, I could still feel vibrations which suggest there is still room for improvement in this very fine loudspeaker.

At long last I had an opportunity to hear the Gradient Helsinki loudspeaker ($7500), one of the most unique designs in audio. Its sound quality belies its small stature and I was told it was very easy to position in a room because of its design. Its "look at me" visual design becomes "listen to me" when music is played and it seemed to have a non-critical sweet spot with wide dispersion and exceptional soundstaging for such a wide listening area. This is clearly a loudspeaker to be taken very seriously from both an acoustic and visual standpoint. So, just for fun, put a Pop-Art painting on the wall between them.


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