Mark Levinson gear is rarely shown at the Montreal show, so it was a delight to see it here presented by Canadian retailer Star Electronics. Music files on a laptop were wirelessly transmitted to an Arcam rDAC which fed a Mark Levinson preamp and monoblocks which drove a pair of modest looking stand mounted Revel speakers. The little silver box near the bottom of the rack is the rDAC and it acquitted itself quite well in the company of the much more expensive Mark Levinson gear. It is designed and sized to sit comfortably next to a particular Apple computer. The advantage of wireless connectivity such as this has been displayed in previous years, but this year it is taking a step forward in quality and elegance.
Tucked in a back corner of the room above (633A) was an almost hidden door leading to 633B wherein I discovered a complete McIntosh rig — including a rare showing of a McIntosh loudspeaker, in this case a floor stander about 5' tall. Hearing this $25,000 speaker was a golden opportunity that many people undoubtedly missed, but the real show was the A/B demonstration of McIntosh's MEN220 Room Correction System. It is a black component dressed up like a real live piece of McIntosh gear. Listening to some jazz that sounded like Jimmy Smith with a Hammond B3 organ the difference was easily perceived when the MEN220 room correction was switched in and out of the system. My understanding is that no microphone is used to calibrate the room. The black box does it all on its own. Amazing, but so is the price at $4500. Less affluent audiophiles would be better advised to explore the more affordable benefits of footers for their components to achieve similar, if not better results. Nonetheless, there are those (such as me) who love the iconic vintage look of McIntosh gear, and it sounds very decent, for sure.
Jacques Riendeau of Oracle Audio Technologies gave me the complete run down on the analog and digital Oracle rig that was driving The Kiss speaker from Vienna Acoustics. We were listening to their Delphi Mk VI turntable with Oracle/SME345 arm and Oracle Calia cartridge, a $13,750 package extracting the voice of Anne Bisson from the grooves of her latest LP, Portraits and Perfumes. They were playing the Delphi through their red Paris phono stage ($1700?) which fed into their Si1000 integrated amplifier rated at 175 wpc. On the digital side Jacques switched to the CD1000 (again, playing a CD by Anne Bisson) which is available as a transport only ($7750) or as a complete CD player. It was used here as a transport to feed their new Mk II version of the DAC 1000. It is a completely new design with two USB 2.0 inputs and new power supply and analog output. The DAC chips upsample to 192 kHz and have four analog outputs allowing the truly balanced stereo output. Oracle is known for their very fine design work and the $9500 DAC continues in a very elegant fashion. No black boxes, here. Cabling was by Kimber Kable. After the run through Jacques noted my interest in the suspension of the Delphi turntable and gave me a complete rundown of the dual suspension system — the larger outer spring loaded pillars for macro, vertical vibrations, and the micro-adjustable inner pillars that handle the fine horizontal vibrations which effect the stylus in the groove using a bath of silicone in the pillar. As I was about to leave I noticed Anne Bisson in person at the back of the room and engaged in a delightful conversation. She would be performing in the lounge later in the afternoon and I promised I would try and make her show, but knew I would probably be too absorbed by my work here to remember to catch her. Our paths would cross again, however.
Gershman Acoustics presented their Black Swan statement speaker ($42,000) once again, this time in conjunction with Pass Labs electronics and PS Audio PerfectWave Power Plant 10 AC power regenerator as well as their PerfectWave transport and DAC. I've heard the Black Swans numerous times over the years and it has remained largely unchanged except for some minor modifications to the crossover. I haven't always been kind in my opinion of this speaker, often due to the room size and electronics used to drive it, but this combination of electronics really showed the Black Swan at its very best. The Pass 100.5 monoblocks were the driving force here, but kudos to Toronto Home of Audiophile for putting this room together. The real news in this room however was the new Avant Garde model with new drivers and hence a new crossover, now available as shown in wood veneer finish ($7995) as well as the piano gloss black of its predecessor. Perhaps some of you heard this playing at some point in the show.
Audio Note (UK) had one of the most modest looking rigs in the entire show, comprised of their CD4.1x (CDT two/II transport and DAC 2.1x combined in a single chassis), ($10,750), OTO SE Signature 10 wpc Class A phono integrated amp with EL84 power tubes ($5050) and E/SPe HE loudspeakers featuring 97dB efficiency ($8475). Aside from the visual simplicity (I said “modest looking”, please note) the most conspicuous feature of this rig was the placement of the speakers in the corners. I believe these are the same speakers Art Dudley uses in his rig, and he has them placed in his corners as well. Call them mellow, musical, inviting and revealing, if not also somewhat retro in their corner placement. A lot of us in the Boomer generation had our speakers in the corners back in the day. This room took the focus off the equipment and put it on the music, which was eminently enjoyable, creating a vivid sense of venue in a small scale recording that sounded like it was recorded in a church.
By mid-afternoon it was break time and Tom and I
reconnoitered for a sandwich at Tim Horton's. Upon return we encountered
this fine vintage Jaguar Mk IX that seemed to belong to the wedding party that
was exiting the hotel.