Le Festival Son et Image de Montréal 2002
Bonus Coverage Page 3
By Rick Becker
System Audio loudspeakers, about $3,000 CDN, combined with a Primare CD player ($3,500 CDN) and Primare integrated amplifier (also, $3,500 CDN). The Nordost Valhalla loudspeaker cables probably cost as much as the rest of the system. Very nice sound here and I have admired the less expensive System Audio loudspeakers in the past. I guess it is only natural for them to want to move up the food chain.
After many years of having only silent displays, Bryston was very active this year with their stable mate, PMC monitors, with whom they have reciprocal distribution arrangements in England and Canada. Since both companies have deep roots in the studio side of the music business, it is not surprising that their combined sound is quite neutral, if not somewhat dry. Both are built to last.
In what is perhaps a sign of the recession from which we are hopefully emerging, JM Labs and YBA combined again this year, but took it down a notch, featuring the top of the Electra loudspeaker series ($9,500 CDN) rather than the Utopia series shown in previous years. The Electra series features trickle down technology from the Utopias, but JM isn't giving away something for nothing here. The range goes from the tall floor standers down to a stand-mounted monitor, like the Utopia series.
In the large ballroom this year Martin Logan Statements were powered by top of the line Classe electronics. A large screen was set up between the loudspeakers and a video projector was in place on the floor in front of it. It was "music only" this late in the day when I was there. Perhaps it was the screen, but I was not as impressed with the sound as I was in previous years--the Sonus Faber Amati Homage still reigns supreme in my memory. Nonetheless, it was a tremendous effort to present this system, and a treat to hear a large system in a large room. Maybe next year they will lay down a dance floor?
Tetra presented their two-way Rebel 3 tower loudspeaker in NASCAR yellow, aimed at the working class--supply your own favorite racing stickers! While this is a commendable value product, I still relish the pyramidal top Model Space I heard in previous years. The Rebel was fed by Bel Canto Dac 2, Bel Canto preamp and bridged mono power amps, which combined for a very nice sound.
In the second bedroom of the Bel Canto/Tetra suite, a new loudspeaker line premiered the Kenundrum stand mounted monitor, The Kids ($7,000 CDN), designed as a nearfield listening monitor. It was powered by Bel Canto's new 60 watts per channel integrated amplifier. The Kenundrum is intended to be a higher end line of loudspeaker than the Tetra line, though manufactured by the same people, from what I understand. This loudspeaker deserves some serious attention from the press, from what I heard. The CD player for this system was the often photographed Shanling Chinese tube unit featuring Bel Canto-like chrome plated rings around the tubes. While this CD player may be a serious effort, with high-end parts and 24-bit/192 kHz capacity, the styling shouted "far east copycat" with eclectic design elements. ($3,000 CDN)
Accuphase electronics fronted a pair of German Physics tower loudspeakers. Yes, they look like towers in the architectural sense, too. These $16-22K CDN loudspeakers (depending on finish) did a masterful job on the drum cut from my Burmester CD, even though the meters on the 85 watts per channel amp were into the red.
Good music in the MDG Audio room, too. They featured a three-piece power amplifier with individual power supplies is smaller boxes, outboard of the main amp box, at $4,200 CDN. The rest of the system included a Cary CD player, MDG preamp with separate power supply, $1000/pr MDG loudspeaker cables, and Triangle Celius loudspeaker.
47 Labs, master of Zen and the art of music reproduction, had another minimalist presentation in a large room, featuring a single driver loudspeaker shaped like a thin tombstone. Loudspeakers and electronics were on Symposium vibration absorbing shelf material about an inch and a half thick. In a previous report I mentioned how I was treated to an exhibition of the effect of these shelves as they were first removed, then added to various parts of the system. These aluminum and mystery material sandwiches really do work, but at a pretty steep price. I've also commented before on the 47 Labs wiring, which consists of thin gauge wire in a hollow tube, maximizing the use of air as the principle dielectric. Of particular note is the loudspeaker cables are the same gauge as the interconnects. This year I have a photo to show you. It kind of makes you wonder about the value of the garden hose variety, doesn't it?
I also heard a before and after demonstration of a CD whose edge was shaved with an Audio Desk Glass lathe. The result for me was inconclusive under show conditions, but the guy next to me felt he heard a small improvement.
The Verity Audio Parsifals (full range) displayed their usual glory powered by Tenore monoblocks and a Sony SACD player. This is not news, nor is the dearth of music on SACD. I think I am falling into the camp that argues for maximizing the Red Book standard CDs.
Orpheus Laboratories produces slim line silver faced electronics in Switzerland, I believe. While expensive, they combined with Wilson Benesch's Discovery monitor at $13,000 CDN (with integral stands) to produce a very tight sound that was very listenable at the same time. This was one of the best rooms at the show.
The German Acapella horn loudspeakers ($22,000 CDN) did not make sense for me. At only 91dB efficiency, they were not overly efficient enough for low powered tube amplifiers and they required a fairly large room to do them justice (both acoustically and visually). They featured a large front firing cone driver along with a horn midrange and tweeter. The Acoustic Arts electronics contributed to the decent sound. The CD player and pre-amplifier were slim, but the 400 watts per channel power amplifier was monster. Still, the bass could have been tighter.
In a room that caught enough of my attention to make the notes, I spotted a pair of Marchand Electronic 125 watt solid-state mono blocks for $1,000 USD per side. These are made in Webster, New York, about 10 miles from my home. They looked all business in their shoebox proportions with only minimal heat sinks on one side. Not for showing off, but for listening to music. Also in that room was a Marsh pre-amplifier at $1,200 USD that is made in Indonesia. The loudspeakers were from F.A.A. Sound Technologies who introduced their first floor model, the Okwaho 1.2, which utilizes the same drivers as their stand mounted 1.0 model. Could there be a home theater ensemble in the making here? At $1,500 USD/pr for the 1.2 with real hand rubbed cherry veneers, this could be an interesting direction. The Okwaho utilizes Goertz Alpha Core wiring and foil inductors, which explains their presence in the Goertz Cable sponsored room. This was all good "real world" gear.
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