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Le Festival Son et Image
de Montréal 2003

Le Festival Son et Image de Montréal 2001

Coverage by Rick Becker
Click here to e-mail reviewer

Page 3

 

 

 

Quad is perhaps most famous for their panel speakers, but they are also makers of conventional loudspeakers and electronics.  The Quad 99-CDP  ($2,400) is not only a CD player, but also a remote controlled digital pre-amplifier with a 24-bit/192kHz DAC with six digital inputs and a single digital output. Also on active display was their 909 amplifier at $2,200, driving their 21L conventional loudspeakers. Having seen their ads, I took note of the loudspeaker on Saturday and was not terribly impressed. Dropping in again on Sunday, whether it was the particular music, or a change in the system, I was much more impressed with this attractive $2,000 model.

Tondino had a nice looking under $3,000 two-way loudspeaker in rosewood playing in a room tweaked out with Golden Sound tuning dots, DH Labs cones and very nice looking cable risers. Life is in the details, here, and I noted interconnects with bullet-ended RCA interconnects.

 

Shanling showed CD players at $3,000 and $4,000 CN. I'm starting to get accustomed to the nuovo-Chinese styling here. I thought their $3,900 50-watt push-pull tube monoblocks were especially nice looking, if somewhat pricey. The sound coming from the Revelation Audio Lyra 5 speakers ($3,500 CDN) in this system, which also featured a line stage, was very nice, too, upholding my high regard for this reasonably priced, Canadian loudspeaker manufacturer. On silent display were a couple of conventional box CD players, one the SCD-S200 with SACD, the other the HIT Audio CD-22 with a tube output stage, upsampling, and HDCD capable.  Each was only $1,899 CDN.

Rogue Audio has apparently seen the light.  Not only have they leaped significantly upstream with their Zeus dual mono 225-wpc amplifier with 12 KT-88s, built-in meters and adjustable bias under the top plate, but they have finally done away with their crow logo on this model. Of course, in this more aesthetically pleasing and powerful neighborhood, the price is $6,000.  The Zeus powered Meadowlark's flagship Blue Heron2 loudspeaker with ease. Also on silent display were the Krestel2 and Swift models. All featured inlaid wood accent lines giving these already fine looking loudspeakers additional visual interest and class, and moving them deeper into the contemporary design camp.

 

Reference 3A is a brand I've been following at Montreal for many years and always thought they were pretty good. Not having had the privilege of extended auditioning that our editor has, I just kind of left it at that. This year the new MM de Capo-i model at $2,990 CDN really stood out from the pack. Mounted on Phenolic stands ($849 CN) and fronted by a Copland CDA 822 CD player ($3,495) and CSA 29 integrated amplifier ($3,900), the MM de Capo-i took a major step forward from my past recollections. This minimal crossover design is exceptionally tube friendly and 92dB efficient. Also in the room was 3A's L'Integral Nouveau floorstanding two-way speaker looking like an arc of Corian with inlaid drivers for $8,990 CN.

 

Antique Sound Labs shared the room with Reference 3A and Copland and at the time I visited, their 300B stereo amplifier was not in use. Also on display was their The Absolute Sound award winning Hurricane monoblocks at $6,500 CN, as well as a couple of interesting tube powered headphone amplifiers. I would hear the Hurricanes later on in the Coincident Speaker Technology room on Sunday.

 

RL Acoustiques has been making horn loaded single driver speakers for quite a while, and I have been pretty iffy about them in the past, sometimes loving them, sometimes feeling like they were just too over priced. This year Robert Lamarre pushed me into the "loving" camp with a new smaller model, the LamPipe, at $4,950 CDN, about half the price of his larger models. And they seemed to sound just as good as their larger brethren, as best I could recall. Of course, it couldn't hurt that they were driven by Tenor monoblocks fed directly from the CD player.

P.E. Leon played their $4,000 Enzo loudspeaker with Naim electronics this year.

And I heard the two-way, stand mounted Gala-Solo loudspeaker ($3,500 CN) played with Simaudio electronics.

Arcam and Ruark combined in a $40,000 home theater presentation that did justice to Diana Krall. But it was an Arcam FMJ CD player feeding a dCS DAC that ultimately fed an Acoustic Energy AE-1 Mk III loudspeaker that perked up my ear. This stand mounted two-way monitor is steel lined with an aluminum baffle and real wood cabinet and lists at $5,000 CN. "Stimela" was a familiar reference recording for me here, and it must have been playing in at least a dozen other rooms I visited.

A Rega K-9 turntable at $6,000 CN was idle when I visited the room, unfortunately. It looked pretty much like the Planar 25 model and was highlighted by an orange LP going round and round.

D-Box was playing their iliad T1 loudspeaker, with two 6.5" drivers with a textile dome tweeter between them ($1,100 CDN). I believe a Sherwood Newcastle was driving this affordable entry-level system.

JM Lab and Parasound combined for a first class cinema presentation, complete with a front projection video rig. But unfortunately, being in the dark, I was in the dark. Presumably it included the Halo C-1 controller that was introduced at the press conference earlier.

Another very high quality surround presentation combined bel canto electronics from Minneapolis with ASW (Accurate Sound Wave) loudspeakers from Germany. bel canto is rapidly reinventing itself as a top player in home theater and high definition surround sound. The Genius line of loudspeakers from ASW includes a variety of models utilizing various combinations of the same mid-woofer driver, and the same tweeter, plus a separate subwoofer. Using a wide variety of wood finishes with real wood veneer cabinetry; these loudspeakers should fit in almost anywhere. Their contemporary metal stands include a clamping system that is supposed to keep the stand from vibrating.  The sound in this room was excellent.

In a room with more light, once again this year, YBA electronics were teamed up with a high end JM Lab loudspeaker. It is a difficult, rather large space that opens into an adjacent room where other components are on silent display and other show goers seem to always be talking. The Utopia Nova BE in light wood, at $50,000 CN, was the featured loudspeaker this year, representing the new Utopia line with Beryllium tweeters. I had heard the next model down, the Alto BE at $25,000 CN, upstairs earlier in the day, and was very impressed with it. But this room has always seemed to be under-whelming to me. The young woman attending the equipment said, "Oh, we've got that!" when I asked her to play my Burmester copy of "Stimela."  "We've been playing it all day long," she added as she left the room after starting the CD. I couldn't resist.  With maybe one other person in the room, I went over, found the remote, and boosted the volume to something just a little bit louder than live, had Hugh Masekela been playing in the room. Voila', the system came ALIVE, like toys in Toy Story! So this is why people rave about the Utopias! (Not to forget the wonderful YBA electronics that were driving it). The next day, in the Four Points Hotel, I would have a chance to hear one of the old series Utopias being offered at a closeout price.  While the older model is still an excellent loudspeaker, the new BE series is clearly more transparent and more dynamic, while losing none of the fine qualities of the preceding generation. Of course, the volume had to "get real" for that to become evident. Count me as a fan.

The Utopia BE line has expanded to indulge wealthy home theater devotes.  Starting at the top, the Grand Utopia BE, about 6' tall, list for $120,000 CDN, the Nova @ $50,000, the Alto @ $25,000, the Diva @ $15,000, the Micro @ $8,5000, and the Center @ $7,000 CDN. Of particular interest is the way the tweeter and midrange are housed in their own separate cabinets on the Grand Utopia. Hence, you could actually see right through the speaker, above and below the tweeter cabinet, reminding me, in a fashion, of the isolation afforded in the multi-tiered Halcro amplifiers.  Other models of the Utopia BE line had similar, if not so extensive separation of drivers.

Returning to earth, across the hall was a modest $6,000 system composed of Roksan components driving Vandersteen 2CE Signature loudspeakers. I've become a Vandersteen fan since the Signature series brought the focus up to contemporary standards. This system rocked at a price that people who like to rock (or hip hop), can afford.

 

Proac was in its usual room at the Delta with a new Lexicon surround processor. But what differed this year, instead of doing surround with large and expensive Proac models, they premiered a new small box system that seemed to work as good as the bigger rigs I have heard there in the past. For $7,000 CDN you get five small speakers and a sub, all in the expected real wood cabinets that Proac is known for. And of course, not that I pay an enormous amount of attention to home theater, Lexicon is a big name player in that league.

LG, the contemporary stainless steel refrigerator manufacturer, were also at the show. Not only with their refrigerators, (which had been picked bone dry by the time I found them), but a department store full of big screen and LCD TV's. Just as the kitchen--and the outdoor stainless steel kitchen--is developing a "High-End" of it's own, LG tackles touch screen TV and enters television land. Never underestimate the wife acceptance factor of stainless steel appliances. Guard your audio dollars carefully. And remember, you heard this warning here first.

Among the many smaller booths in one of the conference rooms I encountered Anthony Padilla who presented a smoke and mirror comparison of his Exactpower EP15A that corrects both voltage and waveform variations without current limitation. His "noise sniffer" compared the EP15A with a number of competing products and convinced me that I would love to get my hands on a review sample to try on my various dedicated and household lines.

Wandering into the Salon Vivaldi, one of the larger rooms, which seldom seems to have a satisfactory rig, I was immersed in rather fine music this time. The room also seemed a bit smaller than I recalled--perhaps because I now have a larger listening room that is about two-thirds the volume of this one. Also, there were relatively few people in it at this late hour on Saturday, making it a bit livelier than usual. (There were also about a dozen other pairs of speakers at one end of the room that probably suck up a good bit of the acoustic energy). Totem Acoustic Winds were being driven by conrad-johnson electronics. Lew Johnson came over to me as I started to make my video notes and explained this was the North American premier of his new Premier 140 tube amplifier with the new 6550C tubes. It debuted in silence at CES, and was being publicly heard for the first time at this show. For $6,795 US, it comes as a 140-wpc stereo amplifier, or a single 280-watt monoblock, as it was being used to drive the Totems. Lew took me over and showed me how easy it was to bias the tubes with a meter and a self-contained screwdriver hidden under a top panel of the amplifier--very neat.  The styling is typical of conrad-johnson gear. The ART pre-amplifier updated the corporate look a few years ago, but it is still reserved, tasteful and classic. The music being played was classical, too, but what I really wanted to hear was some classic rock or blues. Unfortunately, the people were listening so intently that I didn't want to drive them from the room. Color me polite.  My time will come.

Across the hall I finally met up with Vince Bruzzese of Totem Acoustics, winding things down at the end of the day in his stereo demonstration room. I promised I'd be back on Sunday to talk to him about his new Lynx surround speakers and Thunder subwoofer. I never made it back, but I did spend enough time in the Totem surround room that evening to know I wanted to hear more. Vince sounded almost apologetic about making these surround sound oriented products, because "It's what the people want," but I think he's got a couple of winners here. The surround speaker is switchable from dipole to bipole, and the sub features a main driver and two passive radiators, plus 280 watts. For those who decorate in a country or traditional style, this is one of the few brands on the market that fit in unobtrusively. Plus, it also fits contemporary design in an understated way.

Seeking a little solitude, I wandered into the Sony area and found myself in a little room devised with curtains listening to the surround sound SACD of Dark Side of the Moon. Perhaps it was the lack of hard walls, but the presentation was only moderately engaging. I would hear other, much more expensive, surround presentations the next day that would take the format to a higher level.

Stopping back at my room I dropped off my literature, charged my camcorder battery and watched Kansas beating somebody else in the Elite Eight round of the Big Dance. Little did I know at the time they would go on to face my favorite, Syracuse, in the finals.

I dropped back to the Delta for the cocktail hour for presenters and the press that Marie-Christine Prin so graciously provides each year.  After thanking her for linking the HiFiexpo.com show site with the show reviews on Enjoy the Music.com™, I found one of my many favorite Canadian beers, and enjoyed talking with some people I had met earlier in the day, and some I would encounter again on Sunday.

The weather was mild at this year's show, and I spent some enjoyable time walking around this upscale area, window-shopping after dinner. The jazz club I wanted to drop in on had closed down (for renovations)?

A motorcyclist rode down the main drag. A telephone call home made me want to be both places at once.

 

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complete listing of show exhibitors.

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