Friday morning, 9am – the show
officially opens to the press, but gear is still arriving, some suites are
still locked and a lot of last minute tweaking is going on. This is the best
time to visit the suites, since the crowds will not arrive until the public
admission starts at 1pm.
The rooms in the Delta are all odd shapes, and this helps to
avoid the standing waves that cripple the sound in many rooms at the CES in
Las Vegas. The accent here is on speakers -- relatively few new sources,
digital or analog, were seen. As usual, a good proportion of the new product
is coming from China, and the standards of finish and design on these imports
is rising all the time. The Festival is well run and draws a large,
predominantly male crowd. Unlike CES it is open to the public.
For me this was an opportunity to see old friends and to make
new ones too. I prefer the intimacy of the small suites on floors 2 to 9 of
the Delta Hotel to the large mezzanine suites and the show floor of the
Holiday Inn next door, as it is easier to converse and relax in a comfortable
chair, maybe nibble on the free munchies or beg for a cup of coffee when
On With The Show!
Maurice Schmir and Lars Kristensen introduce the Eben X-Streme speakers
from Raidho Acoustics on Denmark. Common to all the speakers in this line is
the Raidho Planar ribbon tweeter, flat from 3.5kHz to 50kHz. The other drive
units are custom sourced from Audio Technology. The cabinets are slim and
elegant, and as you might expect from Lars, they are wired with Nordost
monofilaments. Dyana Audio Distributing has been selected as the exclusive
North American distributors for Eben. Prices range from $4,800 US for the
X-Baby up to $33,000 US for the X-4.
Lars introduced me to their $14,400 X-3 and their less expensive Raidho Emilie
series loudspeakers. Both the X-3 and X-2 sounded
very open and dynamic and operate at 90dB efficiency. Designer Michael
Borresen is responsible for the exclusive tweeter which uses a voice coil
etched on to an extremely light weight diaphragm. A Cary CD-303/300 CD player,
a Cary Preamp and a Cary CAD-500 Amplifier combined with an ExactPower Voltage
Regulator, Nordost Thor Power Distribution System and Valhalla cables.
Eben speakers are also featured in another room. Maurice Schmir of Dyana
Audio and Alan Warshaw of Jason Scott, the distributor of Electrocompaniet and
Chapter Audio are pictured here with the Eben X-Centric ($9,200 + $1,800 for
the stands). An Electrocompaniet CD player feeds Mike Gregory's Chapter
Preface preamp ($9,500 US) and the new Chapter Couplet power amp ($12,000 US),
using prototype Chapter cables. Chapter Audio impressed me at the CES this
year with their Precis integrated amplifier ($7,000), and contributed to
another excellent sounding room here in Montreal. You have to love a company
whose high end range is the Hardback series and whose cheaper range (which
includes the Precis) is the Paperback series.
Prize for the best choice of demo music goes top Kevin Scott of Living
Voice in the Bluebird Music room. He demoed his Avatar OBX-R2 speakers (£4,000
or $10,795 Cdn) with the Scarlatti Piano Sonatas. The piano is one of the
hardest instruments to reproduce so it is a brave man to pick this music. A
violent argument ensued as we debated the relative merits of Mikhail Pletnev
and Vladimir Horowitz on this repertoire.
The Avatars sounded great driven by an Exposure Classic CD Player,
Classic Preamp and Classic Amplifier ($3,495 Cdn each), although one would
normally see the Avatars (93dB) paired with tube electronics. This particular
model uses an external crossover because Kevin finds the crossover works best
when away from the vibrating speaker box, despite the looser coupling of the
drive units to the crossover. Less expensive models in the Avatar range use
internal crossovers. All wiring is from the Chord Company, for a total of
Ken Wilson and Jody Hickson of Globe Audio Marketing showed a number of
systems highlighting Audio Aero Design electronics from France, including
their new SACD player and the Capitole CD 192/24 CD Player Mk II, which I saw
used as a source in quite a few rooms throughout the show. The Wilson Benesch
Full Circle provided the analog source and the featured speakers, making their
Canadian debut, were the Austrian WLM which are extremely sensitive and
provide a great match for the Audio Aero Capitole TransTrac 40 watt tube
amplifiers. Ken and Jody are seen here with Jerome Andre of Audio Arrow Design
besides the WLM Aura, the Full Circle, The Capitole CD Player and the
TransTrac. The WLM speakers are unusual in having an external filtering unit.
Next door, the bigger WLM Lyra is mated with the Duo subwoofer driven by two
sets of Audio Aero Prestige Monoblocks.
Importer Bill Parish of GTT squats next to the stylish Kharma Ceramique CRM
3.2 FE speakers ($21,000) from Holland but take a look down to see Kharma's
tiny prototype MP-150 150 watt monoblocks ($3,400 each) and the Ceramique CeSb
subwoofer ($9,500) making its Canadian debut. Hooked together using
Kubala-Sosna Emotion Cables ($15,700 altogether), this room had effortless
sound, and Bill, send me a pair of those monoblocks to review when they're
ready. I love tiny.
Then Joe Kubala joined Bill on his knees so you can see we didn't just
have mono sound. A CEC CD TL-1X transport and Zanden Model 5000 DAC driving a
Nagra PL-L preamp sitting in a TAOC AS Series rack fed the Kharma monoblocks.
Joe Fratus from Art Audio shared a room with David Gill of Gill Audio, a
sister company, and Lee Landesberg of Landes Audio Imports showing the Italian
Ars Aures Audio speakers. Art Audio premiered their new speaker cable, The
Bridge, as thick as a fire hose but very flexible I'm told. The new
speaker from Ars Aures is the F1 with a 1" woofer and 1.5" tweeter in a
very attractive 30 kg solid wood cabinet. The F1s are available in a wide
variety of finishes. The power amps are the Art Audio Carissa, 16 wpc and
single ended, and the digital source is the Arcam DV79 DVD-A player feeding
the Gill Audio Elise Tube DAC ($6,000 US or $6,600 with upsampling) and Alana
Preamp ($4,500 US). A surprisingly powerful sound given the modest speaker
size, and the guys were playing Martha Argerich, whom they had heard just a
few nights earlier in Carnegie Hall if my memory serves.
Bernard Li of Charisma Audio of Markham Ontario showed a number of new
Chinese speakers, including the JAS Audio Orsa ($2,799 Cdn) featuring a twin
ribbon tweeter, shown here with a Shanling CD player feeding a new amplifier,
the 100 wpc Qinpu A-8000 Mk II ($1,899 Cdn) that looks for all the world like
a tube amp, but is in fact transistor-based.
The new high-end Shanling CD-T300 is the most gorgeous looking piece
of hardware at the show and I asked Bernard if I could get one of these
beauties at home to review. The CD-T300 uses a Philips CDM-4 transport and 8
Burr Brown PCM1704K converter chips. Four Russian EH6922 tubes are used for
output amplification and an external power supply is used. Place your order
soon as only 300 will be made.
Click here for part 2