Thinking I was now finished with the exhibits on the upper level I descended to the lower level and wandered into a Fontaine C featuring Luna Cables at the near end. The cables in primary colors were so visually engaging I totally missed that the speakers here were Dali from Denmark. At the back of the room was the very high end Yamaha rig that I had heard at TAVES but that did not impress me. Here, with the assistance of Danny Labrecque of Luna Cables in setting up the rig, the music approached the quality that the $18,000 price tag on the speakers suggests. I didn't record the price of the integrated amp, but it was in that same league, as was their CD player.
Lifestyle designs are sliding into audio shows at several levels. Seen here are the Naim Mu-so Qb wireless all-in-one system and the Vifa Oslo battery powered Bluetooth wireless speaker (€499) from Denmark. These were at the bottom of the escalators in the Art et Son display.
Walking around the corner past the coat room and down the hallway to the left, I entered the Cote St.-Luc room where DR Acoustics was in the middle of a presentation in French. The story here was all about the wood diffusers like I had seen earlier in the day on the upper level. Music was played through a good, but not outrageously priced rig — and it sounded very decent given the large room. Then the diffusers were wheeled out from behind the speakers and the same piece was played again. There was a very noticeable drop in quality as the back wave reflected from the wall behind the speakers muddied the sound. As I said earlier, these are not simple strips of wood glued to a sheet of plywood. There are boxes behind the diffracting surface that are ported and contain a layer of foam and who knows what else? I didn't get any prices here, but these units are not inexpensive. They do underscore, however, that your room is your most important component and like your electronic boxes, must be tuned for optimum results if you are not to waste the value of your speakers and your electronics. This was a highly educational experience for those who were not already aware of the importance of room treatments.
Doubling back toward the escalators I entered the Mont Royal room on the corner where Vince Bruzzese had done it big and done it right once again for Totem Acoustic. The wall-filling photographs of women have become the signature décor of Totem, addressing not only the prurient interests of men, but providing an environment that welcomes women to the world of high quality music reproduction. Espresso was served in the back corner of the room and couches were provided for people to sit and listen. On one side of a constructed V-wall that divided the space was a modest system putting out really great sounding music from the new Sky monitors that I had raved about at the TAVES show. They sounded just as good here, even backed up close to the wall behind them. At around $1800 they are a fitting replacement for the venerable Model One around which this company was built many years ago. Wandering toward the espresso side of the room I hit an eerie point where I heard not only the Sky monitors, but the music seemed to be coming from both sides of the wall in a holographic way.
As I rounded the apex of the V-wall, I realized the same music was being fed to the slender white floorstanding speakers that I later learned were the new floorstanding Tribe model. Utilizing the same Totem-designed Torrent mid-woofers and tweeter, this new model brings the Tribe level of sound quality to folks who cannot mount them on the wall for whatever reason. Like the Sky, these sounded terrific placed close to the wall behind them. As happens at most (but not all) shows, Vince was there to chat with his customers. In a private moment we shared how important it was to each of us to meet the designer of the products we first bought when getting into this hobby. For Vince, it led to him becoming one of the most successful manufacturers in the industry. And for me...well, I get to babble a lot. As usually happens, this was again one of the Best Rooms at the show.
Moving on down to the Westmount Room an entire recording studio had been constructed along with additional displays pertaining to the recording industry. Seats were set up were people could watch the recording process and listen to the recording engineers explain the process. Some of the manufacturers that were listed as participating here included Cymatic, Focal Professional, IsoAcoustics, Lauten Audio, SPL, Vicoustic, Vovox, and Zaor. Not your top-of-mind audio companies, but this was a great opportunity for people to get insight into the recording process.
Back in the hall I spotted a couple of members of the Association Montrealais des Audiophiles seeking to enroll people in the local volunteer Fire Fighters Association. (Just kidding!)
Steven Huang of Audio Sensibility moved his cheese further down the hall from his usual spot to avoid blocking one of Totem's large graphic banners hung in the hallway. I caught up with him and his wife, Jean, by their table where he plies his cables, connectors and distribution boxes. The wooden box on his table looks to be an Entreq grounding box for which Audio Sensibility offers more affordable grounding cables. But the big news at this show was around the corner in the LaSalle Room which he shared with ANK Audio formerly known as Audio Note Kit. Steve has taken the basic Mundorf MA30 custom speaker kit and upgraded everything except the crossover and the drivers. There are two versions: one with OCC copper wiring ($5999, list price) and one with OCC silver wiring ($7999, list price) and both were being offered at a Show Special price.
I gave this room a Best Room nomination at the TAVES show last year and it should have sounded even better here at Montreal. And it did... sort of. That is, if you have the ability to separate the quality of the music from the effects of the room. The LaSalle Room is huge and I've heard systems fail here before. Steve and Brian Smith of ANK Audio wisely set up the rig on the long wall. The speaker is fairly efficient and very tube friendly with a first order crossover at 3450Hz, but the room is huge and this is a two-way speaker with a roughly 6" Accuton ceramic mid-woofer. By sitting at the apex of an equilateral triangle it was possible to minimize the reverberations of the room and listen past them, much as I listen past the clicks, pops and surface noise of an LP record. There was a lot of good stuff going on here if you could do that. Unfortunately, this room, like the DR Acoustics room, is at the end of a short hallway off the main corridor, so it took some exploring to find it.
Brian Smith gave me a run-through on the ANK Audio components but the key factor was the rig was Steven Huang's personal system and it has been hot-rodded with wire and proprietary anti-vibration technology by Steven, who certainly has the soldering skill necessary to do an excellent assembly job. The collaboration of the two has led Brian to begin offering a "Professional Series" available as finished products, starting with the top-line DAC 5.1 Signature Professional Series and the Mentor Pre-amplifier Professional Series. While ANK started off in 2004 offering kit versions of Audio Note UK products, over time, modifications to the original UK circuitry has evolved ANK into a more modern sound with less of the traditional UK warmth. At this point in time, the two companies should not be confused as sounding alike. But what is important to keep in mind about ANK is that they are a leader of high-end DIY kits. There are a lot of kits at the entry level, but not much else this far up the ladder. Their offerings are not trivial products in the grand scheme of this hobby, though the results are somewhat dependent upon the skill of the builder of their kits. If you doubt your abilities, they can build if for you for a modest fee.
Speaking of Audio Note, they had a second room here, practically next door in the Verdun Room, even larger than the ANK room from which I had just come. And it was very special. My audio buddy Tom Lathrop had alerted me that Peter Qvortrup, founder of Audio Note (UK) and an outspoken legend of this industry would be at the show. And Tom, good buddy that he is, wanted me to ask Mr. Qvortrup the answer to the question all true audiophiles want to know: How does he pronounce his last name? Being the good sport that he is, Peter didn't grab a 211 tube from the Audio Note Jinro 211 SE integrated amp (approx. $28,365CDN) and bash me over the head as I feared he might. Instead, he politely informed me that you cannot pronounce the "v" after the "Q", so it's pronounced "Qortrup". But the excitement didn't end there. As you all know by now, Audio Note speakers are designed to be played in the front corners of the room. And this was a very large room, so they built a three-sided backdrop to allow the AN E Alnico speakers and stands ($31,634CDN) to work their magic. (The AN E is built in a variety of configurations with silver or copper wiring, voice coils, internal or external crossovers and Audio Note silver foil capacitors and Alnico magnets on the upper models. Standard models are in the 94 to 95 dB range while higher models are in the 98dB range.)
The guy, who had built the backdrop, recognizing me from the 2012 show, comes up and shakes my hand — it was none other than Jacques Gerin-Lajoie, the man behind Lys Audio with their Axial Triphonic Speakers that I raved about in my report. It was like homecoming! The three of us sat down and chatted and I told Peter about Jacques' incredible system that fills the room with a stable, uniform presentation even as you stroll around in it. But it gets even better. We were listening to some very good cello solos on the Audio Note rig coming from an LP on their TT2 turntable ($4449) with their Arm3 ($2182) and Io 1+ cartridge ($4449) running through their S8 step-up transformer ($14,161) to their M5 RIAA phono stage ($12,347) and on to the aforementioned Jinro integrated amp. Have I told you this was one of the Best Rooms at the show, yet?
Well, it gets even better, still, as Vincent Belanger walks in and picks up the cello that was standing off to one side. Vincent and I go back a few years, too, and now Peter Qvortrup, who started a classical label under his company's name, has tapped Vincent to record his first classical album of rarely recorded solo cello works: Pure Cello (ANM1601LP) which is what we had been listening to. Furthermore, Vincent has been appointed Artistic Director of Audio Note Music, a major step in his ever-progressing career. The LP vs LP+Live comparison was not just sonically convincing, but emotionally convincing, too, making it one of the Most Fun Rooms as well.
Having all this fun was causing me to run late and I promised Sarah I'd take photos of the Industry Award presentation at the cocktail hour. I'll pick up with the evening's adventure in Part 3. There is still a lot more to come — even more than I expected!
Thank you for your patience.