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Salon Son & Image Report 2011
Montreal High-End Audio Show

Montreal High-End Audio Show Salon Son & Image Report 2011
Part 4 -- Report By Rick Becker

Nespresso, in a foxy bit of cross-marketing set up a display of their Swiss espresso makers and offered free cups to show-goers. The colored balls are not candy, but rather different flavors in a variety pack. Normally they are sold in long slender boxes of a single flavor per box. Cost averages about 63 to 68 cents (CDN) per cup. Realizing I was about to hit the road for home, I begged a strong one. Very tasty. Merci.

 

The Luxman SQ 38u integrated amplifier ($6000) took me immediately back to early adulthood with its real wood cabinet and face full of knobs and switches and even a high quality headphone output terminal. MM and MC phono stages, too. Conservatively rated at 25 watts into 8 Ohms with 34EL power tubes, this amp drove a pair of ultra-modern looking Vivid loudspeakers. This blend of Old School/New School didn't work for me as well as I've heard Vivid speakers in the past. Also seen here was the new Luxman DA-200 DAC ($2900) that behaves as a control center with two analog inputs, two S/PDIF digital inputs and a dedicated 24 bit/96kHz input for PC and Mac. The main DAC operates at 24-bit/192kHz. The unit has both fixed and variable outputs and S/N ratios of 119dB for digital inputs, 103dB for analog inputs. In what might have been an adjacent room, I heard the new D-N100 CD player ($2000).

 

Circling by the AuDIYo rooms again I connected with Steven Huang of Audio Sensibility, an island of serenity and quality in a hobby of skyrocketing costs. Selling direct, his cables go for very reasonable prices. I use his Statement Digital cable ($199) with silver conductor as my reference, and the plastic bag in my hands contains new cables and a small tweak for review that I have been eagerly anticipating.

Doubling back into the room mentioned earlier with the blown aluminum shelves on the racks, I encountered a much different sound with the Specimen 5 wpc amp driving a $3800 pair of larger Zu (Essence?) speakers. Teo Liquid Cables were connecting the gear and the music was very engaging and dynamic with these high efficiency speakers. Earlier in the day I had a chance to sit down with Taras Kowalcyzszyn of Teo and he really laid the scientific icing on the anti-vibration cake we both love. In searching for the correct spelling of his last name I stumbled upon an unopened email he sent immediately after the Montreal show when I was down south at the international furniture trade show. He summed up our conversation beautifully:

You know it's funny...you get the importance of vibration control...I get it...but somehow this industry doesn't really, really get it... that mystifies the heck out of me...

Well, that's not quite true; there are some who get it within the realm of their own specialty. But few understand it at the theoretical scientific level that Taras gets it, or as I and many listeners get it at the "hands-on" tweaky level. Anyway, it was one of those special moments when brains actually connected rather than merely exchanged price data and model names. He talked of machining a specifically shaped hole into the barrel of his interconnects that acted like a Black Hole for vibration and improved the transmission of the electronic signal. He also gave me one of those "Don't try this at home, kids" warnings, citing the multiple failures that preceded his ultimate success. If you don't know the science and cannot do the math, you will never get it right.

 

Stevie Ray Vaughn's recording of Tin Pan Alley sucked me right in out of the hallway into the Son Ideal room where I found another Oracle Paris turntable spinning an LP. A Graham Slee phonostage fed the signal to an Audiolab 8200CDQ CD player ($1299) acting as a preamp with analog inputs and a DAC accessible with coax and optical digital inputs as well as balanced and single ended outputs. The signal then flowed to Audiolab 8200MB monoblocks (250 watts into 8 Ohms, doubling down into 4 Ohms) that used to cost $3500 each when the line was under the TAG McLaren brand, but have since been out-sourced to China and now cost $1100 each. What can I say? It's a Wal-Mart World…save for the music that finally poured forth in grand fashion from a pair of award winning Harbeth P3 ESR monitors that more than did justice to the fine reputation of this British loudspeaker manufacturer. The room was jammed with visitors, which probably says more than any evaluation I might make.

In comparison, the AudioClub room displaying an all-Linn rig playing digital music next door was virtually empty.

 

Moving on to the naim room the music was hard driving with their new Ovator S-400 loudspeaker ($6500), Both the S-400 and larger S-600 utilize naim's Balanced Mode Radiators that present the listener with a flat honeycomb diaphragm. The 85mm version in the S-600 crosses over at 380 Hz while the 47mm version in the S-400 crosses over at 700 Hz. Both rise to 35 kHz, essentially covering the midrange and treble without the interference of a crossover. The BMR crosses over to two bass drivers with a 4th order acoustic slopes and the crossover is isolated in the plinth of the speaker. The BMRs are also isolated in their own extruded aluminum cylinders at the top of the cabinet, which itself is isolated from the plinth by a steel leaf spring that decouples the cabinet above 12 Hz. Lots of technology here. The tactic of combining the midrange and tweeter in a single drive unit is becoming something of a trend in the past few years, though the implementation has varied. Rated at 88dB sensitivity with 4 Ohm impedance, these are probably best driven by solid state amplification, which naim does quite well with their own line of electronics. If you have a larger room and want deep bass (28 Hz), opt for the S-600, but from what I heard here, I'd say this is the best I've ever heard from naim. It's also very well styled and available in five finishes. Good show, gentlemen!

 

 

At the Solon speaker driver display I examined their new Eton 26HD1 ceramic tweeter at $167 each. Actually, it is a ceramic coated magnesium membrane said to combine the best features of each material. It didn't ring at all when I tapped it on the stone countertop. (Just kidding). Also noted were some thick power cords from Symphonica Cable ranging in price from $250 to $650, hand crafted in Canada. And a HiFiMan headphone amp and HE-4 headphones did a nice job at recreating Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. Sennheiser HD598 headphones were on sale for $399.99, down from $449.

 

Every year the Totem Acoustic room is among the very best and this year was a very special one with the introduction of the first three models in their new Element Series: the 2-way Fire, 2.5-way Earth, and 3-way Metal designs. Water (subwoofer) and Wood (center channel) are yet to come. The three models shown this year were really basically the same speaker, comprised of the same dome tweeter for which Totem holds a manufacturing patent, and their in-house designed 8" woofer. A guiding principle for the series was that the woofers have no active or passive parts in the crossover. It runs free and clear. A huge three projector panorama filled the wall of the large room, while a sectioned-off area was used for demonstrating their new speakers.

 

While the 2-way Fire is a stand mounted monitor, and the 2.5-way Earth floorstander incorporates a passive woofer, both are 8 Ohm rated with 88dB/W/m efficiency. The Earth plays strong down to 31 Hz while the Fire goes down to 40 Hz, though both seemed to taper off discretely without calling attention to their limitations.  Aside from the deeper bass of the Earth, they sounded identical from what I could tell in my brief auditions. This begs the question of "Why not get a pair of subwoofers for the smaller Fire and go really low?" The 3-way Metal I heard in another room earlier in the show claims only one additional Hz, is rated at 4 Ohms, but picks up efficiency to 91dB/W/m. The Metal was in a tube-based system that only faintly resembled the Totem room with Classé solid state electronics including the CDP-300 CD player, CP-800 preamp and CA-M600 monoblocks. The music in the Totem room was more dynamic and a lot more airy with terrific transparency and focus. The musicians were playing Right there!  Not that I think the Fire and Earth cannot be driven with tube gear, they may just need the right tube gear with the right power in the right sized room. My colleague Phil Gold appeared beside me and mentioned that he has been promised a pair of Metal speakers, so we will be hearing more about these in the future.

 

The Totem mid-woofer and tweeter seen here expand on the knowledge gained from the smaller Torrent mid-woofer used in their Tribe III and V speakers. The mid-woofer has an exceptionally clean and long throw due to the use of a large number (13-17?) of slivers of neodymium magnets embedded in the motor that create a uniform magnetic field to control the pistonic movement. In chatting with Vince I mentioned concern over the increasing scarcity (and demand) for rare earth elements, including neodymium which is sourced exclusively from China, at this time. He shared that Canada has newly discovered deposits of this metal, but that commercial availability is probably five years off. Another curiosity was the fact that the drivers were not countersunk into the front baffle as on many high-end designs. I was told the faceplate of the 1.5" dome tweeter was part of the cooling system which allowed it to play "ridiculously loud". Also, the front baffle was only ¾" thick—too thin to allow countersinking of the 3/8" faceplate of the mid-woofer. Exciting times we live in. And these are certainly exciting times for Totem. While they have always been among the best loudspeaker manufacturers, this Element series is a big step forward that will put top shelf performance within reach of a lot more enthusiasts: Fire, $6000, Earth $9000, Metal: $13,000.

 

On silent display in a main hallway was the elegant Focal Bird series available simply as a pair of speakers or as powered 2.1 series with a separate amplifier. (Bird: $500/pr; large oval Super Bird: $650/pr; powered Bird/ Little Bird System 2.1 $995; power Bird/Bird System 2.1: $1145; power Bird/Super Bird System 2.1: $1295. Also available are short table stands and wall mounts. These were truly elegant signs of spring, available in black or white.

 

I wandered into another large room where Liberty Trading had set up huge rows of LPs. On another table I spotted this Orb anti-static device to clean up the negative ions on you CDs and LPs ($340/$295 show price). Makes me wonder if I should play around with Linda's hair dryer. Next to it was an Orb LP hot plate device ($1400) that will flatten your warped LP in two hours, for those special pressings that you've been wanting to play, but couldn't. And a final item in a securely locked glass cabinet was what looked to be a Feastrex Naturflux Exciter, NF5ex. My full-range driver guru tells me Feastrex are the best currently in production and I expect these are in the range of $2000 each. You will also need a special field coil transformer, sold separately.

 

Shortly there after I happened upon Art Dudley feverishly bopping to music coming from LSA loudspeakers set up in this large room.  We then auditioned a pair of single driver speakers on short stands, admiring the simplicity and finesse of the design. Art leaned over and asked me if I was still having fun in this industry. I think I answered with a smile. By late afternoon, it was approaching midway in the show. There were plenty of attendees scurrying about, but it was not jammed. And the number of presenters seemed to be noticeably down from last year, missing the novice entrepreneurs and even some of the more prominent manufacturers. The important thing here was the affordable access for the public to see and hear far more product than they could possibly expect in any single city, much less any given dealer. The advent of the Axpona show only a few weeks later in Atlanta may have been a possible influence on participation here, but I expect the proliferation of regional shows open to the public will be a positive influence on the survival of our industry. Those on the West Coast can look forward to T.H.E. Show, June 3rd through 5th, 2011, in Newport Beach. Denver is the home of the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, October 14th through 16th, 2011. I spoke with Michel Plante who will be lending his expertise to the TAVES (Toronto Audio Video Entertainment Show) September 30th through October 2, 2011. Hopefully that will draw in some of the manufacturers from that area who were noticeably absent in Montreal. There is no shortage of equipment for fine music reproduction. The shows will certainly help expose our hobby to larger numbers of people. On the other hand, each of us could invite a friend over to hear some music, too.

 

As the mist rose off the pond on the roof of the Hilton Bonaventure, I retrieved my Tracker from the catacombs below and made the trip back to Rochester without incident this time. Forty hours later I was in High Point, North Carolina, minding my own business at the spring Home Furnishing show. Thank you for your patience. I look forward to seeing you in Toronto.

 

Click here for main Salon Son & Image 2011 show page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

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