Report By Ian White and Neil Walker
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Technology was using owner Israel Blume's personal Alchemist
Forsetti APD33A drive and APD34A DAC to show off the Coincident MP300B
single-ended monoblock amplifiers ($3,999 USD/pair) that powered the
Coincident 3-way Partial Eclipse Series 2 speakers. ($3,500 USD/pair). I
have never heard the Barenaked Ladies ! sound so present in their recording "Hello City" as I did in that room. Their first
CD has a lot of
vocal information that not every system captures. Not only did the
realistic mid-range that one expects of a single-ended 300B amplifier come
through the Coincident loudspeakers, the bass and horn harmonics were so true
that the room came alive. Similarly for Lorna Hunt's recording,
playing when we first entered the room.
Allied Distribution was featuring Cain and Cain loudspeakers
and Cayin (pronounced "cane") and, the one phonetic oddball, Radii
monoblocks. My first exposure to a Cain and Cain loudspeaker had been
their near-field Abby, being driven by a one-watt Fi X amplifier.
Stunning. The regular Abbys captured the same kind of open, detailed and
airy quality as their near-field siblings. We spent a moment or two discussing
the relative merits of the Fender! sunburst finish and the beauty of
light maple (both Abbys are solid maple cabinets), but the sound won out as we
moved to the music. For $1,500 USD ($2,300 CAD) these were a remarkable
listening experience. However, loudspeakers can only use what you give them
and this set of loudspeakers seemed to be getting lots from the electronics.
The Cayin tube CD player T15 ($1399 CAD) fed the Cayin SC10 pre-amp. The
signal then went into 20 watt Radii monoblocks ($2,399 CAD/pair). These
amplifiers use 12AX7, EL34 and 6C33 tubes to make the magic. The brand
new Bailey subwoofer from Cain and Cain was used to fill-out the lowest
octaves in this system, and it appears that Terry Cain has put together a
$3,000 combination with a lot of personality and performance. The Bailey
really allows the Abby to open up and it should be quite intoxicating with a
45 or 2A3 SET power amplifier.
Magic? Did I say magic? The Temptations sing Frank Zappa and Palo Conte are
different ends of the universe, but spectacular with this gear. After
hearing a number of suites that hurt the ears, the clarity, and its pellucid
sound were quite a treat.
Same story for the Loth-X and Song Audio room. Another single
driver speaker (what's with these people?) and another 300B amplifier made
Eva Cassidy's performance of "Take me to the river," vivid and
well-balanced. As with many female vocalists, Cassidy can be made to
sound harsh on high and loud notes, but the Song gear plus the Loth-X
Troubadors ($4,500 USD, $7,000 CAD) system showed its aplomb throughout the
entire range of her voice as well as in its responsiveness to the percussion
and guitar portions of the music. We heard the Song Audio SA1
pre-amplifier with separate power supply ($5,000 CAD) the Song SA-300B power
amplifier ($5,600 CAD) handling the output of an Audio Analogue Paganini CD player. Look for some more detailed reviews of the Song gear in
Enjoy the Music.com™.
We always love to find great sound at reasonable prices. While Onkyo has
announced a surprising DVD-CD system, as good as it is at that price, it is
not what one might call high-end audio. On the other hand, Reflexion
Acoustique put together a high-end system that was high-end in performance
only. A pair of Gala-Solo speakers using a single four-inch Fostex
FE103 driver costs $1,000 CAD. A Synthesis Ensemble tube
integrated amplifier, 30 watts per channel costs $2,200. The only
expensive part of the system is the Simaudio Moon Nova CD player at
$4,200 CAD. The sound was musical, with strong bass, clear highs and
well-defined mids. The speaker, we were told, is good down to 60 Hz and the
listening bore this out. All of the truly excellent sound we heard at the show
came from systems where the persons putting them together knew which units
worked with each other, and this room was an excellent example of just how
effective the right combination of components is as important as having
megabucks to spend.
Another prime example of this thinking was the system we heard consisting
of Naim gear feeding a pair of P.E. Lyon Quattro Reference
loudspeakers. Throughout the day on Friday, I had been scorning Ian's
appreciation of Naim gear. On Friday, we had stopped by the Naim room and I
was most unimpressed with the sound. Ian said that the problem was the
room itself and the speakers – apparently, Naim devotees rather reluctantly
recognize the brand's lack of loudspeaker achievement. So, it took a pair of
$1,800 loudspeakers to change my mind. The Naim set-up had everything
necessary to qualify as excellent. Ian called this $20,000 collection of
Naim gear, a mid-level system, although he conceded that he would easily die
and move to Israel with this CDX2-NAP200-NAC202-Hi-Cap-NAPSC-Fraim set-up if
funds allowed. I could now listen to a musical system that has lots of
headroom, high ! definition musical reproduction in all parts of the sound
spectrum, and the kind of depth and richness one would expect from Naim. You
Simaudio is one of several audio success stories in Quebec. The
quality of their products gives reassurance that styling, marketing and
business savvy are not all that long-term success in a competitive industry
requires: quality will determine your staying power, and quality is what
Simaudio has had at every step of their growth.
This show featured a small listening room that introduced me to their new
Limited Edition of the well-regarded Moon sub-brand. The electronics line-up
started with an Eclipse LE CD player ($7,200 USD), then P-5 LE pre-amplifier
($6,750USD) and the W-5 LE power amplifier ($6,000 USD). Dynaudio
Confidence C2 loudspeakers ($12,000 USD) made all the moving electrons sound
nice. To ensure that all these units performed as they should, each of
the Eclipse and P-5 used an LS line filter and the W5 and L! FA filter.
The L-S sell for $600 USD each and the LFA unit costs $650 USD. All
interconnects; power cords and speaker cables were by Cardas.
Despite the small hotel room, the sound was most convincing, with all the
things I love about music: depth, detail, no one part of the spectrum
dominating or receding. Stereo sound staging worked well, providing a sense of
spatial depth without benefit of echo chambers, rear speakers, under floor
woofers or any other kind of multi-channel exotica. This was a pure pleasure
room, no question. And the comment about styling? Simaudio's gear is always
good looking and finished to a high standard. Aluminum gleaming everywhere,
and when you remove the lid, you see the same kind of dedication to build
quality inside the machine.
I was sad not to have the chance to give the Nova LE CD payer a good
tryout, nor the I-5. Both of these less expensive units have received good
notice for a lower price than the other Moon gear. If the past is any
indication of the future, both these units will behave with the usual Simaudio
good grace and well-honed sound.
One of our favorite stops is always the Gershman loudspeaker room.
Perhaps it was just the hour on Sunday (after a while, numb ears and numb feet
are the show reviewer's lot), but in both Gershman rooms we visited, the
musical reproduction gave me shivers, it was that exciting.
With a number of fine-tuning changes, the Gershman GAP has become the 828
($14,000 CAD, $13,000 USD). A new unit I had not heard before was
driving this large, unique looking collection of reciprocating motors.
(It still reminds me of a rabbi at prayer.)
The listening was first to Bob Walsh doing "The House of the Rising
Sun." The bass and mid range was tight and well defined. Then, Jheena
Lodwick sang "Oh, Danny Boy." The guitar, quietly, softly played set the
stage for her voice. ! Her voice, from a near-whisper to very loud high notes,
was always ear-friendly; free of the frequent hi-fi unpleasantness that
second-rate gear gives. The Linar electronics and Gershman loudspeakers seem
to embody the entire concept of synergy.
Even clearer was the synergy in the next Gershman room that Ofra Gershman
insisted we visit. Here, a pair of Avant-Garde RX 20 loudspeakers, with
a Marantz DVD/CD, player, the DV8400 ($2,500) and the Linar five-channel
integrated amplifier ($5,000 CAD, $4,000 USD) was making mockery of the audio
truth that there is no such thing as good multi-channel amplifiers or good DVD
video musical sound. We listened to a five -channel presentation of a
Diana Krall DVD and the Avant Gardes carried the full weight of the piano into
the room. The piano is usually an extraordinary test of audio gear. Complex,
with earthiness in its lowest notes, a sense of weight and density in the
midrange, and a combination of lightness and br! ick-like solidity in its
highest notes, it shames the slightest weakness in circuitry, cabinetry (some
years ago, one manufacturer rebuilt my speakers because of a wiring buzz that
certain notes in a Beethoven sonata caused), voice coils or speaker cones.
There is a little more to the story of the RX20s. When I first heard them,
they sounded very good. But with their rebuild (did I mention the rebuild
yet?) and the Linar electronics, they were even more shiver making than their
bigger mates, the 828s.
The rebuild of the RX20s is what every manufacturer should do. It resembles
the process that Simaudio went through to create the LE line. As Ofra
explained, the changes to the new RX20, chief designer and engineer, Eli
Gershman, set about applying even more rigorous standards to the parts list
and the drivers. As a result of gaining one percent here and two per cent
there, these loudspeakers have lower and tighter bass than they did previously
The highs are extended and the entire sound is a little more forward. The
RX20s are now an exciting option if you seek loudspeakers in the $5,000 range
($5,800 CAD, $4,800 USD).
Just to make sure that we got the point, we also heard Kodo drummers from
the album Kodo – Mondo Head and the brand new Peter Gabriel DVD – in
concert. More shivers.
Then, just to be ornery, Ian insisted that we go to his lifelong favorites:
a room that hooked up a stack of entry level Naim gear to a pair of Spendor
Classic SP3/1 loudspeakers. The electronics consisted of the Naim
CD5 ($3,200 USD), NAP 150 ($2,350 USD) and the Naim NAC 112 ($1,900 USD). A
totally different experience from the Gershman rooms, yet a perfect example of
the laid back but accurate British sound. This system is one you can
live with for years and years, because it never ceases to surprise you with
its musical analysis and quiet insistence on sound that never hurts anyone's
ears, even supersensitive female ears. Women have much better high frequency
hearing and it lasts many years longer than does male high frequency hearing.
That may be the reason that the Love Goddess cannot be in the same room at the
same volume level as old cement-ears Walker requires.
One of the last rooms that we visited on Sunday, hosted by Audio
Advancements, had a lot of really interesting equipment. I must
confess that I did not know some of the brands represented, but it was quite
clear that Mr. White was most familiar with the cartridges from Jan
Allaerts, tonearms from Mørch, and amplification from Tron.
Ian, almost collapsed when he spotted the entry-level MC from Jan Allaerts,
and furiously began taking pictures of the rather striking cartridge once he
composed himself. The amplification from Tron was also quite pleasing to
the ears, and seemed to have a lot of interesting features. The uni-pivot
UP-4 and DP-6 look somewhat scary to use, especially with the $2,000 (and up)
moving coils from Allaerts, but Ian suggested trying something like a Schroder
or Hadcock with it.
Back to main Montréal 2004
Click here to see last
year's show coverage.