Coverage by Rick Becker
to e-mail reviewer
Also opting for two channel, but surround sound capable, was Sonus
Faber with their stand mounted Cremona auditor, looking like the
top 14" of the floor-standing Cremona, which is among the most beautiful
loudspeakers in production today. The $6,000 price tag includes the
beautifully integrated and sensuous stands. To follow is a horizontally
oriented center channel speaker on a shorter stand of similar design, and a
320 watt powered subwoofer that incorporates two passive radiators in addition
to the 300mm main driver. The Classé
electronics did a fine job with the auditor, which is rated at 88dB
sensitivity and a nominal impedance of 4 ohms. For those who appreciate
its impeccable design and quality sound, the price does not matter.
Another fine room that caught my ear featured a dCS
front end with Nagra
pre-amplifier and tube monoblocks powering the Verity
Audio Parsifal loudspeakers, which at the Montreal show, at least,
are approaching icon status. Unfortunately, their price seems to keep
rising as a result. Also present in this room was a fired up Nagra
reel-to-reel digital tape deck. While I suspected that there might have
been some comparison between CD and master tape in the offing, I couldn't
stick around with so many rooms yet to visit. This room was sponsored by
the audiophile record company Fidelio
who compiled the official Festival demo CD.
Wilson Benesch loudspeakers
have never disappointed me, and I found their stand mounted Discovery in a
tweaked out room with Foundation Research
LC-1 filters on the loudspeakers, LC-2 line filters on the Orpheus's
Three-M slim line monoblock amplifiers ($8,400 US), and Foundation Research's
own V6 line stage. There must have been a phono stage in there
somewhere, too, as Wilson Benesch's Circle turntable with their carbon fiber
.5 arm and a Benz H2O cartridge filled the room with "Lyle Lovett's Big
Band" on LP. An Audio Aero
Capitole CD player was there, just in case, and Symposium
Acoustics platforms were under the turntable and all the
electronics making sure the only vibrations heard were good vibrations.
I had an interesting talk with Patrick Butler of Sumiko, who had an example
of the Vienna Acoustics aluminum
bodied Schonberg floorstander/on-wall loudspeaker at $2,500/pr US, designed
for near wall placement. This 3.5" shallow depth series is
very contemporary and voiced to appeal to the younger crowd, as opposed to
their wood bodied series, which is aimed more toward classical music
reproduction. Unfortunately, I've never heard either series.
The most notable items in the Cyrus room were the custom racks, one of natural maple, the
other of metal, that neatly organized their compact "rack
systems"...but then, these are not your ordinary rack systems.
Burmester had a very fine
sounding room that featured an Oracle
CD transport, dCS digital front
end, followed by all things Burmester: pre-amplifier, power amplifier, and
their new $6,300 CN stand mounted monitor, the 022.
Possibly in this same neighborhood, I saw the incredible Solidtech
Rack of Silence. It had large chrome balls in races in the wooden cross
members that were held together with cast aluminum parts. It looked like
a medieval torture chamber instrument or something from a Bruce Willis film.
There seem to be a lot of horn speakers at Montreal each year, and this
year was no exception. An SME turntable headed a system powered by Manley
Neo-Classic SE/PP 300B tube monoblocks ($7,200/pr US) driving Beauhorn
speakers. This room had a classic sound that took me back to my early
days when rock 'n roll was being born, yet was clearly more refined, and
stereo, no less! Beside the long Manleys I had my first glimpse of the
diminutive Mahi monoblocks, which others at the show perhaps had a chance to
hear. (I'm currently having lots of fun with the Mahis; look for
my review in July).
The Audes Blues loudspeaker
has cropped up in distinguished rooms over the past several years.
Without going back to my files, let me guess that this is an Estonian company
that produces a wide range of consumer speakers, only a few of which ever
cross the ocean. This year the Blues were featured in a David and
Goliath match-up with Balanced Audio
Technology tube gear and the result was a real knockout, with both
companies coming out on top. At $3,500/pr, the Blues are a real
contender. And BAT has reinvented itself at a higher level with their
use of the 6H30 super tube.
The Audes Blues showed up
again in another very fine room featuring Audio
Harmony Triode Linestage with remote control of volume and
selection that will sell for $3,000 US. A Phillips
DVD 963SA with SACD was at the front end and Halcro
dm58 monoblocks were more than enough power for the Blues.
Aurum Acoustics presented a
prototype "system" that seemed very close to completion. Their
take on the high end is a combination of dedicated amplifier and loudspeaker. The separate amplifier includes the crossover for the speaker, and uses 300B
tubes for the midrange and tweeter, and a solid-state amplifier for the bass.
The total package, which may include the cables, is targeted around $20,000 CN.
Keep an eye out and an ear open for this company.
Naim Audio had a rack full of
electronics with a turntable to boot that made great music with the North
American debut of Dynaudio's new
stand mounted S1.4 loudspeaker ($4,500 CDN). This was the best sounding
system powered by Naim that I can recall in many years of show-going and
featured the Naim 5 CD player, Nac 202 pre-amplifier and Nap-200 amplifier at
70 wpc. The system came in at about $20,000 CDN.
Oracle presented a
loudspeaker project in their room that crossed over from a single cone driver
to a horizontally mounted ribbon tweeter at 6kHz. The horizontal
mounting was said to give more vertical dispersion. On silent display
were their Delphi CD transport ($5,600 CN), turntable ($6650), CD 2500 CD
player ($12,500 CN) and their Delphi Integrated Amp Si 3000, ($17,500 CN).
But the big news was the new electronics playing the music: a relatively more
affordable 150 wpc integrated amplifier at $4,750 CN, and a regular box shape
silver CD player at $3,950 CN.
The very handsome Phoenix
SE 15, 15 watt, class A SET tube monoblock ($11,000 CN/pr.) that debuted last
year made a repeat showing in a very musical combination that included a Naim
CDX II CD player ($7,200 CN), Hovland
HP 100 pre-amplifier ($8,100 CN), and Spendor
S9 loudspeakers ($6,500). I've been an admirer of Spendor loudspeakers
since I became a born again music listener, and this system renewed my faith
My editor requested that I be sure to photograph the Brinkmann
LaGrange turntable ($8,500 US) with two tonearms ($3,200 each). But that
was just the front end of a very fine system that included a Fabreeka
platform with a granite top for the turntable. A Phillips
SACD CD player with tube output that was present, but not heard. There was a new
Brinkmann Fein solid-state phonostage in there for $1,650 US. Throw in a pair of
Brinkmann 175 watt "Class A" monoblocks that double into 4 ohms for
$8,950. Finish it off with the very handsome Marten
Design's Miles II loudspeakers
with ceramic drivers for $7,200, and tie it all together with very high priced
Stealth audio cables and you have
a very nice few minutes of listening. Unfortunately, I encountered this
room early on my first day, and felt pressured to move on before I really
I wasn't at all prepared for what I saw and heard in the Moon/Dynaudio
room. The advertisements for the Dynaudio Special 25 loudspeaker give no
indication of the nature of the beast. If you were thinking of something
like the little BBC monitors, think "Times Six". And if
you were thinking cheap dappled vinyl wrap, think "Rich Burl".
And if you were thinking anemic mini-monitor sound, think "Almost Full
Range Floor-stander with Mini-Monitor Soundstaging". The only thing
ordinary about this $4,800 US stand-mounted speaker is the shape of the box.
The sound was deep, rich and nearly full-range. Of course, the 425 wpc
Moon monoblocks might have had something to do with that, I suppose.
And to complete the 1-2 punch, in the next room, I was lured in by the
sound of Nora Jones, where they had a Musical
Fidelity Tri-Vista CD/SACD player ($9,500 CN), Cary
SLP 98 pre-amplifier ($5,600), and Cary V12i ($6,600), driving Dynaudio's
Contour S 3.4 floorstander ($8,000 CN). Good show, men! I thought
the Quadraspire wood rack and
amplifier stands were a very tasteful touch, here, too.
The most bizarre presentation honors has to go to Art-i-son,
whose red-lighted dark room gave us a wall of gothic looking loudspeakers that
seemed to include some sort of massive folded horn technology. As some
people say, presentation is everything. The flash on my camera was
able to dispense with the smoke and mirrors in the room, but at the cost of
conveying the true atmosphere that pervaded the space.
Focus Audio, using their new
FS 788 tower loudspeaker achieved clean sound with lots of air with the help of a
hearty cast of players that included an Ayre CD player used as a transport, a slim line Weiss
DAC from Switzerland, an Ayre integrated amplifier and a massive PS
Audio Power Plant. The Focus loudspeakers featured the light
burl veneer that has practically become their signature finish, although it is
available in another shade of burl and gloss black.
Odyssey is a value line based
on German circuitry from Symphonic Line, but assembled in the USA, and
marketed directly to the public. Their exposure at shows like Montreal
is important to their success, and they typically acquit themselves quite
well. I've raved about their speakers in the past. The $2,500 US
Lorelei and $1,600 Nightengale were on display. I believe the
Nightengale is a spin-off from the Canadian manufacturer Revelation Audio. This
time they were using the new Kharatog power amplifier at $750 US and Etesian
passive pre-amplifier with active switching at $250, to anchor a very nice
sounding high value entry system. For those wishing to take another step
upward, they have their Stratos amplifier at $1,070 and Tempest pre-amplifier
at $950, which look a lot more expensive than they are.
Blue Circle had their Pumps
(small monoblock power amplifiers built in high heel shoes) on silent display.
I keep hoping they will someday go all out and give the Pumps and Purse
pre-amplifier center stage, complete with live models and all the trappings,
but this was not the year. Instead, they went with mainstream gear
driving Martin Logan
The Chord DAC that premiered
last year was joined by a matching MC phono stage, line stage and 30 wpc power
amplifier to form a high end mini-system, complete with a special rack holding
the components on an angle for both visibility and presumably, heat
dissipation. The Chord Pearl series lists for about $25,000 CN and was
complemented on the front end by a Nottingham
Spacedeck turntable at $4,200 CN, and on the business end with the North
American premier of a new speaker from Living
Voice. The very relaxed analog sound in this room stood out in
stark contrast to many systems at the show that seemed to be grabbing at you
fab audio speakers are
perennial standouts at Montreal and this year fab showed an add-on super
tweeter on its $10,000 CDN flagship Model 1. Hovland's Sapphire amplifier drove the fab, and a TEAC CD
player modified by Audio Upgrades fed the system.
Linar Audio, a young company
whose amplifier I admired several years ago now has a foothold in the industry
and had their Pre-amplifier 2 ($4,250 CDN) and Power Amplifier 250i ($6,500
CDN) driving a pair of Wilson
Witt loudspeakers (on casters, for quick delivery). Good sound here from
this factory direct company.
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complete listing of show exhibitors.
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year's show coverage.