Salon Audio Montreal / Audio Fest 2019 Show Report
I don't often have an opportunity to hear Magnepan speakers and I was surprised to see how large their 1.7i model was. This $3100/pr speaker was in a modestly priced system that included a Hegel H190 integrated amp with built-in DAC ($4500) and an Innuos Zen Mini mk3 server with 2TB capacity for $1850. Unfortunately, I missed the photo op here but my video notes sounded pretty good. You'll have to top $10,000 for stand and cables with this gear and be prepared to sit in the sweet spot, but all in all, a very decent presentation. Codell Audio / Tri-Cell Enterprises, Room 1327.
Also in 1327 (a two-room suite) was Harbeth Monitor 30.1 speakers ($5999) on stands sounding very good, as is usual for all Harbeth. They were driven by the Brinkmann Integrated ($8000) and I heard music through another Innuos server (Zenith mk3, $6399) though I would have likely preferred the Brinkmann Bardo turntable ($10,185) with Ortofon arm and Kiseki Blue cartridge that was idle at the time. A Zesto Andros 1.2 phono stage would likely have made the analog rig very sweet sounding. Others might have heard the smaller Harbeth Super HL5 Plus ($6999) which I saw on the side and know to sound exceptionally inviting. Codell Audio / Tri-Cell Enterprises, Room 1327.
Moving On To The Upper Level Of Smaller Rooms
Climbing the stairs to the higher level of small room I hung a right to visit my friend Reinhardt Goerner and was delighted to see this Funk Firm Vector V turntable in action. A few years ago, I was intrigued by their red FX.R tonearm, but the Reinhardt assured me the nearly twice as expensive FX3 (~$3000) was considerably better, even though the arm tube is the same design. Some of the Funk Firm arms, at least, are available in a drip-in Linn configuration.
Note the Plexiglas lid seen here is part of a separate enclosure and not part of the Funk Firm turntable. This was the first room in which I took note of the Modulum racks and speaker stands. Thereafter, these Montreal sourced racks with resonator bars attached beneath the shelves seemed to pop up everywhere. The spikes of the Grandinote Mach 4 speakers ($36,000 CDN) are removed for more direct contact with the stand.
Avantgarde speakers from Germany have long been a favorite of mine given their high efficiency, tube-friendliness and well, their unique styling with that huge horn on top. They can be customized with a variety of finish and color, too. Being sensitive to the rising cost of all things German, they came out with the Uno Fino XD ($24,000) which was the smaller of two models shown here by American Sound. It was powered by another favorite company, VAC, who makes some of the finest tube gear in the world.
Years ago, Albert Von Schweikert sent me his personal VAC 160 integrated amp to try when I was reviewing the VR-4SE. Let's just say the experience was unforgettable back in the day. The Uno shown here was driven by a much-updated integrated, the Sigma 170i ($10,000 USD) without the optional phono stage but with a whole lot of automation built into it. If your ego can let go of the need for absolute channel separation offered by monoblocks, the 170i is an incredible value at this high level. This rig would have sounded great even in a much larger room. Some visitors may have heard the Uno with the Phasemation monoblocks with twin 300B tubes ($40,000/pr.)
In the adjacent room in the American Sound suite I met Jack Miura of Air Tight, another very highly regarded manufacturer of tube gear in Japan. He was introducing their new ATM-3211 monoblocks ($95,000/pr) with twin 211 tubes in push-pull configuration with a12BH7parallel cathode follower. These steel-chassis amps put out 120 Watts each and easily drove the larger Avantgarde Duo XD speakers ($45,000/pr) with clean detailed sound at both loud and soft extremes.
The styling of Air Tight reminds me of the styling of fine laboratory equipment or expensive Ham radio gear my father used to use. Very traditional and perfectly executed. Also on silent display was the new ATM300R revised and updated version their classic integrated amp ($24,000), putting out 9 Wpc for 300B tube lovers. Here again, this room was a real treat. American Sound of Canada (Distribution), Room 2327.
The Ruel Audio room across the hall had a wait time for the next formal presentation so I zigged across the hall and stuck my head in the Kanto room where I spotted a lot of small silent monitors surrounded by a lot of large noisy people, so moved down the hall to the ELAC room that was pretty well packed as you see below.
So I went back to the Ruel room where the line had grown to the point where I wasn't sure that I'd get in.
Well, I was next to last squeezing in, but I lucked into a center seat in the back row (of two). There, up against the wall were the line source Ruel speakers I had heard at the last TAVES show in Toronto. Only this pair didn't smell of fresh lacquer. The entire presentation was in French, but I dutifully sat through it all. What I heard was a vastly improved presentation of music at a very modest volume. But in spite of the low playback volume it was easy to hear that they were getting something very right here. Deep base was surprising, given the small diameter of the drivers — but there were, I think, five forward facing in each module. Placing the speakers up against the front wall (unlike at TAVES) must have done something to improve the rear firing speakers in this modular design that must run from the floor to as close to the ceiling as possible for greatest effect. Unfortunately, as clearly focused as the sound was, it never really came alive. It was as if they were trying not to disturb the people in the apartment next door. Perhaps it was the low volume or a mis-match of amplification, or perhaps the damping effect of the curtain covering the front wall, but I sensed the speaker was a whole lot better than what I heard in that room. I certainly hope they keep at it and make the music come alive next time. Ruel Audio, Room 2328.