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FSI Expo 2008
Le Festival Son et Image de Montreal 2008 Show Report
FSI 2008 Le Festival Son et Image de Montreal Show Report
Report By Rick Becker -- Page 3

  In another room, a Polk home theater rig for $1199 included a one-box amplifier/DVD player and a single loudspeaker mounted beneath the flat screen TV. A separate powered subwoofer is optional. The unit is said to provide a three dimensional sound field even when it is not surrounded by walls.

George Short from North Creek Audio near Old Forge, New York, in the Adirondack Mountains had a presentation that was less than obvious. His in-wall ribbon loudspeaker was mounted on a wood panel that sat atop a subwoofer not of his manufacture. This high quality ribbon driver is marketed to home theater installers and intended for new construction, although with considerably more effort it can be mounted in existing walls. Obviously, he was not about to tear out the hotel walls to prove his point. The simulated wall mounted speakers threw a creditable soundscape behind the wall and the music was certainly very good. With a frequency response down to only 180Hz, it is designed to be used with dual subwoofers. George also makes a floor standing model with built-in woofer that can be positioned out in the room, as well as a small monitor designed to be placed close to the front wall, seen beside his in-wall ribbon.

In another Coup de foudre room I found Morel loudspeakers used effectively in a surround sound home theater setting. The Parasound electronics were completely hidden inside a BDI console with smoked glass. Clean looking as well as clean sounding. The next Coup de foudre room was an unlikely assortment of Naim CD player, Shindo preamplifier, VTL power amplifier and Avalon Indra loudspeakers. This was not your ordinary cup of tea, but it sure worked.

Declaring "Clean cup, move down" I proceeded to the next Coup de foudre room where a Shindo Laboratory Aurieges preamplifier with separate power supply fed one of their Montille power amplifiers with EL34 tubes. The source was a Clearaudio Performance turntable and the Audio Physics loudspeakers were the Tempo VI model with side firing woofers on each side of the cabinets. The Tempos list at $5600 in several finishes but were $6200 in the extra-cost finish shown here. 

A rare appearance of a Simon Yorke turntable ($8995) was a delight. A Graham Slee Reflex phonostage with variable cartridge loading sat on the shelf below along with a 47Labs unit. The digital front end (playing) was an Audio Research CD player and the preamplifier and stereo power amplifier were also by Audio Research. The loudspeakers were the stand mounted Harbeth Super HL5 ($5300) that were very easy to listen to. 

MBL had an all-mbl room, as usual, but chose to present their electronics with the silver faces rather than the often seen gloss black. I like them both, but the black finish is decidedly more formal looking and would be a stunning combination with the aforementioned KEF Muons for a "Knock ‘em Dead" presentation. The loudspeaker was their Radialstrahler 116 ($27,000?) in rosewood with a high gloss finish that gorgeous, assuming that you've become accustomed to the exposed drivers with the screen hoodie at the top. Over the years I've come to accept it, and it is a small price to pay for what is probably the best omni-directional sound in High End audio. The 116 is quite inefficient at 83dB/W/m, so plan on a high current solid-state muscle amp. The music was a little bland when I was there, but from experience, I suspect it was the music and not the rig. MBL gear is very revealing. 

Another rare opportunity (for me, anyway) came when I heard the Thiel 3.7 loudspeaker ($15,000). In the distant past I was never very fond of Thiel loudspeakers, but from what I heard in Montreal, they've come a very long way in developing a loudspeaker with creative style, more reasonable size and far superior musical presentation. Equally surprising was that the rig was mostly B&K electronics, except for a Moon Super Novacd player. It has also been a long time since I've seen or heard anything from B&K and they too seem to have moved far up the R&D curve. Good show, gentlemen! And pardon me for neglecting to take a photo here.

Castle loudspeakers are imported to Canada once again, only now they are sourced in China. The real wood veneer had burnished edges on some models, which is typical of many Chinese furniture factories. The display was silent, so that's all I can say.

 

Oracle pitted their CD player against their turntable with their own Oracle cartridge ($8000?). The loudspeaker looked like a Final 1000i ($10,000), the flagship of the Dutch electrostatic line, reviewed by Dick Olsher. I heard only the analog playback, and didn't settle into the sweet spot for a critical listening experience. The Oracle Delphi turntable received an award from editor Steven R. Rochlin and you can find the review within Superior Audio. 

On a cocktail table in a dim room was a trio of Quad retro styled amplifiers based on the almost 50 year-old original including the Quad Classic monoblock (15 watts, $1750 each), the Quad II-forty monoblocks (40 watts, $2340 each), and soon there will be a Quad II-eighty monoblock (80 watts, $6500 each), all made in China.

In the Bluebird Audio room Jay Rein had a beautiful stack of Chord electronics worth about $51,000 including their top of the line RED Reference CD player at $29,500. It was finished in black with chrome pillars, which interlock with the preamplifier and power amplifier to form their own rack. It was simply stunning to look at. This is one of the few sets of electronic components that have the performance and beauty to dance with KEF's Muon. In this room, however, the electronic pillar of wealth drove a relatively modest Neat Momentum 4i loudspeaker ($6000/pr). The sound was excellent and threw a much wider soundscape than you would expect to hear in a small room. The rig here totaled more than $65,000. For those of you who question why the Red Reference CD player has blue lights, I'm told this is the way they come to North America. Red light is available on special order. Seriously.

 

At the other end of the high-end spectrum Bluebird showed an entire rig that cost less than the modest loudspeakers in the previous room. Billed as the Ultimate Budget System, it included an Exposure 2010S CD player and 2010S integrated amplifier. Neat Motive 2 loudspeakers, a small floorstanding two-way with a bottom firing port for $2195, really got down and boogied in a system that cost a little more than $5200 including the Chord cables.

 

Summum Acoustique is a company that I've watch grow over the past decade from producing admirable small floorstanding loudspeakers to their ultimate Appassionata loudspeaker shown here. Looking similar to a Wilson Maxx, it is more organic in its form, being finished in wood and incorporating Accuton ceramic drivers. It is certainly a more inviting loudspeaker than the Wilson in appearance — but then, I'm a tree-hugging kind of guy. Nowadays, Summum is more like a custom tailor, building very high-end loudspeakers for your specific rig and your specific listening room. Like Wilson, they deliver it and set it up to perfection, tweaking the crossover to meet your personal listening preference. The $60,000 loudspeaker shown here was bi-amplified with Summum's own preamplifier and monoblocks. The electronics were about $27,000 according to Jean-Marc Charette. But don't be misled; they continue to offer a spectrum of models from stand mounted monitor on up — all featuring very fine woodwork.

 

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