Le Festival Son et Image de Montréal 2002
Bonus Coverage Page 2
By Rick Becker
The Maat Audio Group from Sherbrooke, Quebec, had an unusual loudspeaker combining a ribbon HiVi Research tweeter with a custom built Supravox 215 mid-bass driver, combined with a 24dB per octave crossover. At 94dB efficiency, it was tube friendly, although I did not find the sound exceptional with the Golden Middle GM-70 stereo amp, single ended, class A, with 30 watts per channel.
On my final sweep of the show I ducked in to find they had wired up the new Manley Shrimp preamp and the 100-watt Snapper monoblocks. The music got a lot livelier! The ship seems to have come in, once again, at Manley! Both systems featured a Stello CD player from Korea at about $2,000 USD.
Fab Audio Model 1 loudspeakers have caught my attention at Montreal in past years, but really grabbed my attention this time fed by mid-range Burmester CD player and 30 watts per channel integrated amp. With their beautiful chromed faces, the Burmesters came in at about $3800 and $5,200 CND, respectively. While these loudspeakers appear to be stand-mounted monitors, the "stand" is actually part of the bass chamber. They are very architectural in gloss black, and put out a sound that was very dynamic, focused, transparent, and had an excellent soundstage. The bass was deep and tight. With 95dB efficiency, the flexibility for mating with other systems should be great. They are priced at $10,000 in wood veneer, $8,500 in gloss black. It is hard for me to imagine them looking better in wood--black is the way to go! This was one of the very best rooms in the show, to my ear, and to my eye.
I met Mr. Lee from Meadow Song Labs again this year with his new Mont Real SE Music loudspeakers (special edition) featuring an 8" woofer, 5 x 2" mid-tweeter ribbon driver and on top, an upward firing ribbon tweeter for more air. This floor standing tower loudspeaker is priced at $6,700 CDN. Featuring Simaudio Moon electronics, this system had a nice sound.
The much acclaimed Reference 3A Royal Virtuoso ($5,400 CDN) stand mounted monitors were driven by Antique Sound Labs' 300B integrated amplifier. And while the music caught my ear, it was an Antique Sound Labs headphone amplifier that caught my eye. The MG Head DT/OTL is switchable to output transformerless operation by a switch on the front. It also features inputs for two sets of headphones, although there is only one volume control. Hmm…very interesting and it was priced at only $499 CDN.
I had a wonderful time listening to a beautiful floor-stander from Italy. It was my first exposure to the Zingali line. I heard their $7,495 USD model bi-amplified with Audion
PX25 Silver Knight SE triode amps putting out maybe 6 watts per channel, for a total of
12 watts per side. On first audition, they seemed quite dynamic, but when I returned on my final sweep, it was clear that they could have used more power. Nonetheless, they showed great promise for exploration with other systems, and the wood cabinets were among the prettiest at the show with their routed out horns. These are brand new to North America, but should be worth the effort to audition if you can find them.
In the Blue Cow Audio room I heard a pair of S.A.P. Quartette loudspeakers (95dB efficiency) driven by an Emotive Audio pre-amplifier and pair of monoblocks with jazzy metal top plates that reminded me of a hand tooled National Steel Guitar, or maybe a finely tooled western leather handbag (see photo). Also coming from Italy, I did not feel these were as dynamic as the Zingali's I had heard just down the hall. On my sweep, they had substituted a stereo tube amp for the Emotive monos, and I had a more critical listen to some familiar music, which showed this loudspeaker deserves further exploration in a variety of systems. I did not get a price on this one, so just color it expensive. The CD player in this room was unique in that it rested on a platform suspended by magnetic repulsion. This seems a near perfect form of isolation, except for the guide pins at the corners of the platform, and perhaps the difficulty of balancing a component that is heavier in one corner than another. This Relaxa 1 Magnetic Vibration Platform has received several awards and is priced at $550 CDN.
There was real music in a system comprised of a Naim CD player, Hovland HP-100 preamp, Hovland Sapphire hybrid power amp and Spendor S9 loudspeakers. This is a system that did not call attention to itself, save for the visual beauty of the Sapphire, and could be listened to endlessly, yet was not too polite or boring. Don't analyze anything here, just lean back and enjoy the music!
Talon Khorus X loudspeakers were once again paired with Edge electronics. The black pyramid tops and metal edges of the obelisk with luan mahogany (?) wood sides is more appealing to me than the polished aluminum and gloss black of last year. The sound still crosses the line for me to the dry, techno side of the spectrum. For those who like their music this way, this system is a lot more appealing, acoustically and financially, than the Linn Khomri system. There is lots of funky routing and curvy heat sinks on some of the Edge electronics, but in this direction, they need to take it to the next level and anodize the grooves and the edges of the fins in pastels.
A BAT CD player, with BAT integrated amp, both cleansed with a Cobra Power Snakes line conditioner, combined with Verity Audio Fidelio loudspeakers to make very nice sound. It was a treat to hear the Fidelio's driven by something other than Cary tube amplifiers (not that they weren't delightful with the Carys, but it is nice to hear different combinations for a change).
The Living Voice OBX tower loudspeakers ($10,000) have had good press so far, as has Chord electronics. The SPM 4000 power amp with 480 watts per channel at $22,000 CDN is both an electrical powerhouse and an architectural wonder. A special Chord 64-bit DAC with an oval window ($4,700 CDN) should see a review soon. Yet for all the great parts, the musical whole did not measure up for me. Not that it was bad, but for those bucks, it should have been more special. Take the same gear and set it up in another room, crank the volume a little louder, put on a different CD, and maybe it would.
The Odyssey room is one I have kept a special ear on for several years now since it is about as "real world" as high-end separates get. With roots in the German Symphonic Line company, this American made gear has been improving in both sound and finish. Their pre-amplifier is available in nine colors and looked very pretty shown in a red anodized finish. They showed with what they called their own loudspeaker. A floor standing two-way in a beautiful mother of pearl silver finish that sounded very nice, even at loud volume levels. After some confusion about the "Revelation Audio" label, they explained that the two companies are working together to produce loudspeakers for Odyssey, since there is a reasonable fit in terms of the size of each company, and a mutual appreciation for the voicing of the loudspeakers that Revelation produces. Whether "Revelation Audio" continues as a brand name remains to be seen. Hopefully, the reasonably priced loudspeakers and electronics will achieve wider acceptance from their collaboration.
Focus Audio showed their FS888 tower loudspeaker in a beautiful burl veneer. This model replaces the FS88 and features a Revelator dome tweeter and two 7" hexacone woofers. The sound was excellent and these loudspeakers deserve a full review.
One of the most unusual rooms to be seen at a show in my memory was like stepping back in a time machine. A company that specializes in restoring old, collectible audio equipment...some of us DO collect this stuff, DON'T we? This is like running a system of old warhorses. The front end was an old Thorens turntable that probably goes back to when Howdy Doody and Buffalo Bob were TV stars. At the other end was a double stacked pair of Quad
57s. In between were some electronics with old tubes, I think. The room was so jammed that I could only justify a brief listen from the perimeter. It's nice to know there are still dedicated souls determined to preserve audio history.
RL Acoustique showed, once again, with Tenore OTL monoblocks. The sound was focused and transparent, but lacked deep bass, an acknowledged limitation of their single full-range drivers. Although this loudspeaker is highly efficient, I have wondered how it might sound with a more muscular amplifier. Maybe we will hear mating at the May/June New York?
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