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Montréal Salon Audio / Montreal Audio Fest 2017 Show Report
Montreal Salon Audio / Montreal Audio Fest 2017 Show Report
Part 3 Show Report By Rick Becker

 

  Cutting through the narrow hallway at the far end from the escalator I encountered Dave Morrison who owns Iso Acoustics. He told me how he took his speaker stands to the Boston Symphony and how impressed they were when they put their speakers on them. Prior to this I've heard a comparison of speakers with/without the Iso Acoustics beneath them, but the results were inconclusive because of ambient noise. Here, in the K8 space he was a lot more isolated and I could readily detect the improved clarity they brought to the music. They come in a variety of sizes and shapes and for different weights, and can be custom made for unusual applications. I've heard similar results from using other types of footers, but if you would benefit from the additional height the Iso Acoustics provide, this is worth looking into.

Moving around the corner to the "All-Saints" hallway, I entered the Kevro International presentation in the St. Laurent room. The rig included a Roksan Blak CD Player ($4999), a Blak integrated amp with aptX Bluetooth and mm phono input ($5699) putting out 150 Wpc, a Torus power conditioner all on a two-tone Massif wood rack comprised of thinner, but still beautiful stock. The rig was laced with Clarus Cable interconnects and used Nordost speaker cables to what looked like Monitor Audio Platinum PL200, judging from the curved sides and the spread of the rear spikes. These not only looked great with their high-gloss finish, but sounded great with the new, upscale Roksan Blak components. The Platinum series speakers have been very favorably reviewed in the past couple years. On silent display were the Roksan Radius 7 turntable ($2999) with acrylic platter and the Roksan Caspian M2 integrated amp with 85 Wpc ($3999) and the Caspian M2 CD player ($3499).with business cards from Sensation Musicale on the table.

Doubling back to the St. Leonard room (Leonard Cohen has become a saint?) I found Jeff Joseph with his gorgeous (and gorgeous sounding) Pearl 3 speakers. They were driven by a pair of Moon monoblocks and optimized with Transparent cables. One of the front ends was a multi-platter, rim drive VPI Titan turntable with a pair of carbon fiber 12" tonearms, at least one of which was equipped with a Lyra Etna cartridge. A belt drive turns the rim drive which turns the lower platter which drives the upper platter with the strength of its six magnets. The three pillars also incorporate an air suspension for further isolation, reminding me of Eddie Wong's AOS (air/oil-suspension) platform of years gone by. The other front end, also analog, was Jeff's Technics professional reel-to-reel tape deck and he treated me to a song on that, too, which sounded every bit as good as an LP, if not better. Chalk up another Best Rooms for Joseph Audio.

Moving next door to the St. Michel room Nordost was running a display with Dynaudio Contour 20 stand mounted monitors ($8000) that looked very attractive in gloss black and sounded just as good. A gray wood finish is available for a $500 premium. The tweeter is an Esotar 2 that trickles down from their higher series and the mid-woofer is a new model that has a 3" voice coil and a 1.5" throw. To prove it, the hose in the room cued up a Chinese drum cut that I've got on my compilation CD. It was very convincing with outstanding timbre, very high resolution and very tight bass. Both drivers are mounted on a metal front baffle. The front end was an Antipodes Edge on AC Sort Kones, of course. Next to it was an Antipodes DS, their entry level integrated digital audio source that is also upgradable. Below that was a Krell unit on TC Sort Kones. A Nordost QRT power conditioner was on the floor with Qv2 and Qk1 Filters in it along with the power cords. All totaled, this was a $20,000 rig.

Moving on to the Audioville room in St. Pierre, I met up with Steve Nicola again this year and saw the new Mark Levinson turntable, a belt driven design with three belts that strangely looked like they were in constant contact with each other. There was also a No. 519 Audio Player, No. 526 Preamp, and No. 536 monoblocks, all powered off an Audioquest Niagara power conditioner. The speakers were the KEF Reference 5 ($24,000) which have been out a few years, but this is the first I've heard them. As you would expect in this price league, they were quite good. The front baffle is a constrained layer sandwich with aluminum and other materials that is made in Italy. This front baffle is tensioned with bolts from the back side of the speaker.

There are also inserts for the ports that give you varying diameter to allow you to tune the bass to your room. These reside just below the KEF Blades in their hierarchy. I asked Steve about the success of the new active LS 50 speaker from KEF. He said they had to add an integrated amp to the passive LS 50 that brought the total price up to $4000 to match the quality of the active LS 50 which costs only $3000. The un-asked question is "How much better would the passive LS 50 be with an even better amplifier?" But with a built-in DAC, the active LS 50 will take TosLink optical, USB, Bluetooth... so it really is a pretty complete package by itself, and it is selling quite well.

 

 

Moving down the line to the final room before coming to the escalator, the St. Lambert room, I once again encountered the welcoming Mark Jones of Audio by Mark Jones from Whitby, Ontario. Mark is a "music first" kind of guy who delights in sharing really good and often obscure LPs with the people who come to his room. I sat down for the long version of Thomas Dolby's "I Scare Myself", a song that comes from the 1984 album The Flat Earth, but I don't know when this long version LP was released. (If you're curious, there's a 24 minute version on YouTube.) You can feel Mark's passion for music when he introduces an LP and you can hear Mark's passion for top quality gear when you listen to the music. As usual, the gear was all First Class here.

Top of the heap was the Kronos Pro turntable with counter rotating platters and the 12" Black Beauty tonearm. It looks like Louis Desjardins has finally caught up on the backlog for his new power supply that lets the table run off-grid. (While one bunch of super-capacitors plays the LP, a second set is being re-charged. And they switch instantaneously when one bank gets low.) Raphael Pasche of Ch Precision was on hand to talk about the electronics. Of particular interest to me was the large M1 stereo power amp (200 Wpc) with a meter that danced way too high for the volume that was being produced. It was reading upwards of a hundred of watts for music that was maybe 90dB at the listening position with speakers of 91.5dB/W/m efficiency. Raphael admitted that the meter was a bit optimistic and also said it could be turned off if it was distracting. But the amp is capable of driving even the most difficult speakers.

"Precision" is the key word here and the sound of this rig with Focal Sopra No. 3 was very revealing, leaving no place for poor recordings to hide. Those looking for a more euphonic sound will not find it with CH Precision. Those who treasure strict accuracy will love it, and for those people this room ranks as one of the Best Rooms at the show. The amp was complemented with the CH phono stage and preamp in the rack. I also took note of the handsome wood rack from Massif Audio Design. This was certainly not the first room to featuring Trevor Doyle's fine work. Additionally, he supplied cable risers for the Nordost ribbon speaker cables that kept the cables on edge, giving them a more intentional look — less like $20,000 discarded Christmas present wrappings. Appearances are very important in this price league.

As I rounded the corner near the base of the escalator I stopped to admire some interesting wood shelving units made by Francois Nadon of Ebenisterie Sarastro. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a website for him to get more information, but his work appears to be very cleanly designed and sturdy. I liked the asymmetrical cube he designed to hold maybe 40 vinyl LPs. He said he is open to doing custom work for people, too.

 

 

 

 

By now, it was almost the end of the show and once again, I almost missed the Bryston room in Le Plateau. Inside, it was a familiar scene. The rig looks almost the same, year after year, and James Tanner, by this hour of the day, sits restfully in the far right chair enjoying music both of us love. As I write, it is almost a month since the show and my memory of what was said has faded and I have no video notes to save me. But as I lay in bed last night, I recalled the music sounded a little more alive this year. Strange, because there were no new amps. Then a recollection surfaced (and forgive me if I'm wrong) — he was using active speakers this year — possibly the Model T Signature.

Bryston has such a rock solid sound that is hard to fault—usually there are only incremental improvements when new models are released. This is not a bad thing. Consistency builds confidence that is underscored by their 20 year warranty on analog and speaker products. (The digital ones will likely become obsolete before they run into trouble.) But it was noticeably better this year and from what I learned earlier with the active/passive comparison with the ATC speakers, going active was probably the difference. Check out the coverage on other sites. What was new this year was their BLP-1turntable with separate BTP-1 power supply. This may be their first ever turntable, but with their expertise in electronics, you can be sure it runs precisely on both speeds with pulse width modulation synchronous motor with low speed and high torque. The power supply even has a "Stop" button! Like everything Bryston, there is no bling. Just a modest footprint about the size of a Linn LP12, and like the Linn, an acrylic dust cover. Real meat and potatoes! Unfortunately, it was on silent display. (They should take some lessons from Mark Jones!) Also on display was their BP 2 moving magnet phono stage, the PS 2 power supply, and the TF 2 passive step-up transformer which I have seen before, but with the hood down. Maybe next time I'll get to actually hear this analog gear. For high resolution, transparency, dynamics and enjoying the music without taking it to the bleeding edge, you don't need to take it any further than this.

Bryston Addendum
Subsequent email conversation with James Tanner confirmed my suspicions. It was, indeed, the Model T Signature ($8300/pr.) and yes, it was an active speaker. But not the typical active speaker with a built-in amplifier. Bryston is shooting for state of the art design here using full-fledged amplifiers, not just the guts stuffed into the speaker cabinet, and this changes the entire equation. Here's the run-down on the system: BDP-3 Digital Player, BDA-3 DAC, BP26 Preamp, BAX Electronic Crossover, Amps 7B's (x2) and 3B's (X2) for six channels, driving the Model T's. But instead of having these four amps cluttering up your dance floor, they have a new 3-channel "monoblock" amp dedicated to the Model T speaker incorporating a 600 watt channel for the bass, a 300 watt channel for the midrange, and another 300 watt channel for the tweeter…so you are down to just two amps — one for each speaker, along with a color coded wiring harness to connect the amp to the speaker. There is a huge engineering advantage to designing the crossover, amp, cable and speaker as a complete system, not to overlook the benefit of keeping the speaker cable short. The real gemstone of this active system is the BAX-1 electronic digital crossover and James Tanner explains it succinctly:

"This is a very unique approach.  Most electronic crossovers allow you to change the crossover point and slope but our BAX crossover is specifically designed for the Model T.  By that I mean the software has been designed by placing the speaker in an anechoic chamber and making over 600 measurements both vertically and horizontally to make sure the on and off axis polar response is as flat as possible.  With a generic crossover there is no way to know what is going on off axis and therefore the polar response is a crap shoot."

He also points out that while you need the BAX-1 crossover, you are still free to use whatever amplifiers you wish to play with in driving the speakers. And for those with smaller rooms who do not need the large Model T Signature speakers, there will be an active system based on the Middle T speaker, too. I also learned the pricing on the new turntable(s): the BLP-1 Turntable with Titanium Arm - List $3,995 and the BLP-.5 Turntable with Aluminium Arm $2,995 List. Next show I will make an effort to hit the Bryston room earlier on with full batteries and a little more Mt. Dew in my veins. This was easily the best I've ever heard the Bryston room and in retrospect, it was one of the Best Rooms at the show. A tip of the hat to Mr. Tanner for following up with me.

 

 

And speaking of the bleeding edge... as I reached the top of the escalator I stepped into the Plurison Pavilion just as they were cuing up The Who on the floorstanding Clearaudio Das Statement turntable with TT1 tangential tonearm. I turned on my camera but the screen didn't light up. I snapped a photo anyway and got lucky. The hosts were focused on getting the music rolling so I didn't ask if the pendulum hanging down the center of the turntable was to correct for gravitational pull of the moon. It looked pretty high tech and it was one of a handful of turntables I've ever seen that I can call "imposing". The rest of the rig was just as intimidating with the $180,000 USD Naim NAP S1 amplifier driving the $97,500 USD Focal Utopia Stella loudspeakers. Not in my neighborhood! Notice I said loudspeakers.

Playing The Who, the hosts felt obliged to crank up the volume and this was the downfall of this system. The room couldn't handle it. Too much glass and too many reflective surfaces. A lot like a real live concert with less than optimal acoustics. But fear not, I've heard the amp and the speakers before (or earlier versions of the speaker perhaps), and this sounds pretty terrific when properly set up. And those who can afford gear at this level can afford to have an appropriate dedicated environment for it. For the rest of us, it was a treat just to say we've heard it, and for that, a sweeping tip of the hat to Plurison and the manufacturers.

Tired, hungry and out of battery power, I took Interstate 87 South to Plattsburg and turned west through my beloved mountains with dreams of chasing the grandchildren up another mountain. If you were there at Montreal, I hope you had as much fun as I did, if not, I hope I was able to instill some enchantment. As always, enjoy the music! 

 

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