Coverage by Rick Becker
to e-mail reviewer
Usually, the Montreal show throws
some weather related challenge at me. This year I traveled with heavy
heart. My mother was seriously ill and passed away two weeks after the
show. But we are a family of doers, so, a little late; I completed the
task at hand. As we say in my church, to live in hearts that love, is
not to die.
If there were a theme to this year's show, it would have to be that the
High End audio industry is charging forward with new product development in
spite of the sluggish economy and lack of consumer confidence. The audio
industry and the global economy are changing too fast to just sit still.
Some companies moved upstream with more expensive offerings, while others
opened their brands to new customers with lower priced offerings. If I
had to guess, I'd say that public attendance was off maybe 15% to 20%.
But there was no shortage of good sound and interesting products on display.
In addition to the continued expanding interest in home theater and surround
sound, there seems to be a growing wave of upscale products coming from China.
As a consumer oriented show, the Festival offers the avid enthusiast more
opportunity to hear and view equipment than any given city has to offer on a
normal day. Manufacturers and distributors often pull out the big guns
that local retailers frequently cannot afford to stock. It is also a
time of introduction of new product. And if by chance you happen to be
exposed to some new music, or enjoy a listening experience with a system you
could not possibly afford to own, savor the moment. If you've never been
to an audio show before, I invite you to shelve your remote control and take
in Montreal next year. It is big enough to merit a short vacation, and
welcoming enough for you to enjoy it.
The prices I quote are only approximate, and vary between US prices and CDN
prices. With both US and Canadian distributors present at the show,
there is little consistency. It is also possible that the price gets
misquoted, as a lot of people are multi-tasking, changing music or components,
as they speak, so check other sources when possible, and please forgive my
Currency Rates: The
currency rates have shifted about 5% since the time of the show. The
Canadian dollar has strengthened. As of May 15, 2003, the rates are as
$1 US = $1.38 CDN (It was 1.47 at the time of the show).
$1 CDN = $0.72 US (It was 0.68 at the time of the show).
Saturday at the Delta
The morning started with a press conference at which Parasound's
president, Richard Schram, presented their magnificent Halo C-1 AV controller
that features a 7.5 channel architecture that lets the user program 4
additional channels that supplement the usual 7.1 arrangement. It was
designed for quick and easy installation by custom installers, as well as
finite adjustability for tweaky high-end owners. An open, upgradeable
architecture helps insure against obsolescence for this $11K US item.
Parasound is aggressively going after the multi-channel and home theater
market with both controllers and power amplifiers ranging from the five
channel Halo 51, with 250 wpc at $7,600 US to the massive 400 watt JC-1
monoblock at $5,500 US, designed by their premier designer, John Curl. These are definitely not your father's Parasound products as they have the
aesthetic design and build quality of other high-end companies in this price
range. Their finely machined and anodized faceplates establish a new a
new, upscale corporate identity for Parasound.
Anxious to hit the floors, I picked up a new press pass to replace the
antiquated one that had served me so well for the past five or six years and
proceeded in my usual fashion, to start at the top of the Delta Hotel.
As the elevator door opened, I was nearly run over by a $27,000 CN Jadis
CD transport, being wheeled down for the press conference. I would catch
up with this beauty later on in the day.
Audio Harmony had their
pre-amplifier at the center of a system that featured a Phillips DVD963SA DVD
player modified by Audio Harmony, and Halcro
monoblock amplifiers. I'm getting a little more accustomed to the look
of the Halcros, but this is not an amplifier that will ever disappear in the
listening room. I could not identify the tower loudspeaker, but the
sound here was indeed, very fine. Audio Harmony also does mods for
inexpensive Audiosource amplifiers, something that could appeal to buyers at
the entry level, perhaps.
The French loudspeaker company, Triangle Electroacoustique, blew away their image as a high
quality inexpensive loudspeaker company with the presentation of their 7'
tall, $50,000 CN Magellan towers with beautiful curved wood veneer sides, and
a gorgeous base with built-in spikes. There seemed to be 8 or 9 drivers
on the front side, along with a port, and possibly a midrange and tweeter
facing the rear. Not wanting to step in front of the intent listeners, I
did not give this speaker as close an examination as I should have. A
good guess, based on a photo, suggests that this is a three cabinet, stacked
design. Driven again this year by Cairn
electronics, there was the upsampling Fog CD player, a pre-amplifier and two
monoblocks. The sound here was very nice, but seemed a little spacey. That could have been the result of the rear firing drivers, the small room, or
the music selection itself. Look for a $5,000 Cairn amplifier at the June show
in San Francisco.
Newform Research, a
manufacturer of ribbon loudspeakers, jumped onto the cutting edge of high-end
audio by combining their ribbon and cone driver loudspeaker with the all
digital TacT Audio system.
The crossover function is incorporated in the TacT pre-amplifier and separate
power amplifiers drive the ribbons and bass cones. The Tact system also
incorporates a room correction capability that results in extremely flat
frequency response. In a much smaller room, this Newform/TacT
system sounded quite similar to the all-Tact system presented at the New York
show last year, but at a much more modest cost, given the less expensive
Newform loudspeakers. The R645 that I heard is available factory direct
for $2,265 US. Also on display was a single sample of Newform's new model that
incorporates a more solid, rounded body for the cone bass driver, and a
shorter ribbon. This new model, from a styling standpoint, is miles
ahead of the current model and should go a long way toward greater acceptance
of this fine sounding combination of ribbon and cone drivers. Standing
in, as host in this room, was John Otvos who formerly designed and
manufactured Waveform loudspeakers, which I thought were one of the finest
combinations of sound quality and art form in the high end in the 1990s.
StudioLAB Reference emailed
me in advance; inviting me to hear their new flagship Revelation speaker built
around a 1.1" Revelator tweeter and a pair of 7" Revelator Woofers
with externally mounted crossovers and premium parts and construction.
The thick walls and braced cabinet conceal compartments filled with a mixture
of lead shot and sand, giving the speakers a weight of 170 lbs each. With an Audio Aero Capitole CD
front end and Swiss made Orpheus
150-watt monoblocks, there was very nice music in this room, too. The
finish on the speakers appeared to be a deep blue Imron-like color, and
attached to the cable connectors was a Foundation
Research LC-1 filter, looking a little awkward, but presumably
making a significant contribution. Coming in at $16,000 CN, this is far
above their number one selling model, and my personal pick a few years back,
the Reference One at $1,100/pr.
Quad Musikwiedergabe GmbH is
the German company that used to distribute Quad
loudspeakers in the 1950s and 60s. They bought the rights and
original tooling and began manufacturing the contemporary metal frame version,
the Bauhaus styled Braun LE1 ($10,000 CDN) from the late 1950s that is stark
contrast to the original wood and cloth version ($9,000) which they had on
hand for visual comparison. They also do serial refurbishing of the
original style. In keeping with the retro-contemporary design theme, an
Audio Aero CD player and stereo amplifier played the Brauns. This was a
very high class act.
Origin Live, a British
turntable company showed their mechanically suspended table priced at $4,800
US with a $900 cartridge. The end result was heard through InnerSound
Eros speakers. This is an intriguing looking table that will probably
receive lots of press coverage.
Verity Audio went surround
sound with a Lexicon RT-10 CD
player, and Classe surround
processor and multi-channel amplifier. Featured were the Tamino floor
standers combined with their Rocco subwoofer. The sub, with 120dB
capability at 1% distortion, with an 800-watt amplifier is priced at
$9,995--can that be right?! With a Nora Jones video on the screen, the
sound gave me goose bumps in waves.
It is a lot easier to pull off great sound in a small room with just two
channels, and JMlab did just that
with their $25,000 Utopia Be Alto model powered by Audio
Research electronics aided by a Symposium
Acoustics rack and platforms. Those who know will tell you
that using the Symposium platforms is practically like cheating, they are so
effective. A Nagra DAC and Acoustic
Arts CD player were at the front end of this rig.
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Click here to
complete listing of show exhibitors.
Click here to see last
year's show coverage.