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Salon Son & Image Report 2012 -- Montreal High-End Audio Show
Montreal High-End Audio Show Report Salon Son & Image 2012
Show Coverage By Rick Becker -- Part 1

  As Tom and I left the Hilton Bonaventure to scare up breakfast before the show on Saturday we encountered the official Salon Son Image Fiat. It was the right color, but closer inspection found it to be bereft of Unison tube amps and Sonus Faber in-car speakers. Pity.

Ordering breakfast by the number, we soon learned that corporate branding has risen to a new level. Our McBreakfast buns were literally branded with the iconic arches.

Tom and I went separate ways and I started with the small guest rooms on the lower level beginning with the Coup de Foudre room where I once again found John DeVore. But unlike last year, he had added digital playback to the rig. This was the premiere of his new DeVore Gibbon 88 speakers ($5000) which were introduced in prototype form earlier this year at CES. This gorgeous production pair was made from solid bamboo with a mahogany finish and replaces the Super 8 model in his lineup. The analog music was coming from a Brinkman Bardo turntable to a Leben phono stage. Alternatively, music sourced from his computer fed an Acoustic Plan DAC ($4700) from Germany through its USB input. The matching transport was also $4700. Amplification was a Line Magnetic LM-211IA tube integrated amp. While the first selection I heard was too complex to get a grip on the quality of the rig, a subsequent piece revealed a detailed, warm and inviting sound that would be very easy to live with. As a disclaimer, I am a tube guy at heart, but I'll bet a lot of other people loved this room, too.

 

As I was saying at breakfast, branding is everything…or so it may become in the highly fragmented High End audio industry. The Vmax room suggested the Amphion speakers were both natural and dynamic, with a splash of orange. And so they seemed to sound. Particularly the dynamic element, driven by solid state gear by Hegel from Norway, including their HD11 (32-bit/192kHz DAC with USB and remote for $1195), their CDP2A (24-bit/192kHz CD player with balance outputs for $2700 used as a transport), their P30 preamp with balanced inputs and outputs for $7600 and their H30 1000 watt monoblocks for $15,000(each?).  The sound was crisp, clear and punchy. This rig could rock! The Argon 7L model from Amphion runs about $6000 to $7000 depending on finish. And speaking of finishes…this one supports my theory that White is the new Black. Also on the Hegel product list (but not heard) was their HD2 24/192 USB DAC for only $350 that might be of interest to a lot of folks.  

 

  

Cabasse, on the other hand, hedged their bet offering their new CineOle in both black and white. The 3-piece ensemble features two balls and a cubic subwoofer that houses both a DAC and amplification for the speakers. For $1800 I can't think of a better rig for video playback in a contemporary setting. It's simple. It's designed right. And it sounds a whole lot more expensive. For those with deeper pockets and larger rooms, Cabasse also showed their floorstanding Pacific 3 SA in an elegant, sculptured piano black for $22,000. The "eyeball" is a spatially coherent mid-tweeter sphere that is more often exposed on other Cabasse loudspeakers. It runs from175 Hz to 20 kHz, with a crossover at 1830 Hz. A built-in 450w amplifier drives the twin honeycomb dome woofers that take the music down to 38 Hz and lower. Like the CineOle, it is available in glossy black and glossy pearl. Both speakers further Cabasse's reputation of excellence for sound and contemporary design.

 

Lafleur Audio was back again with the familiar X-2 two-way monitor ($15,000) that has undergone some crossover work to strengthen the bass. In fact, I was stopped in the hall by a couple of dudes who raved to me about how deep the bass was from this speaker. I asked Emmanuel Lafleur about this and he confirmed that he has modified the crossover. While it is deeper and stronger than I remembered, I felt it still needed work to tighten up the deep bass. Every year, though, it keeps getting better. I heard it with an Oracle turntable and predominately YBA amplification.

 

Waterfall showed their minimalist Serio speaker that is available with a several colored grilles and can be used as a desktop speaker without the stand. Also shown was their Victoria "Evo" glass floorstanders. Both sounded very nice and had a visual appeal for the customer looking for something a little different. I've actually overcome my phobia for glass speakers now that I've seen these several times. The tidy internal wiring becomes part of the design, suggesting a Frank Lloyd Wright stained glass window. Unseen is a downward firing passive woofer in the base. The glass towers were driven very nicely by Cary tube gear and the little sound squares were configured with a minimalist Bluetooth rig.

 

 

The Solen Electronique room is always filled with DIYers and had a working minimalist rig shown here with one of their kit speakers featuring a ribbon tweeter. Just plug your iPod into the little black box and rock on! On one of several tables filled with raw drivers, this wood cone full-range driver caught my attention. (FR222B8-19B, $193 each.)

 

Rethm presented a rig that was largely comprised of their own gear. The Maarga loudspeaker ($8750) is a full-range single driver design like everything I've ever seen from them. The 6" driver is surrounded by an aluminum ring with lots of holes drilled into it to control dispersion. Their Gaanam SET integrated amplifier ($7750) puts out 16 wpc from a pair of Russian 6C33C tubes. While they looked something like monoblocks on the Rethm Taalam racks, the unit on the left is the power supply. They were also using power and audio cables of their own design. I commented on the architectural nature of the speakers, stands and amplifier to Jacob George who was present along with his son who is also in the business, and Jacob shared that he is indeed an architect. With their high efficiency, the Maargas delivered a delicate, yet dynamic sound that conveyed a wonderful sense of space when playing classical music. The cohesiveness offered by full-range drivers is something everyone in this hobby should experience.

 

In the Bitperfect Audio room the place was jammed with visitors. Classé amplification was driving Wilson Sophia speakers but the spotlight was on the Light Harmonic DaVinci USB DAC from Sacramento, California, a product that has been in development for two years and was introduced at CES. The chassis incorporates a light band that kind of wraps around the unit. The top of the unit swivels — why, I don't know. The DAC is non-upsampling, non-over-sampling and has no delta/sigma conversions or digital filtrations making it bit perfect up to 32 bit/384kHz. Gavin Fish told me that by the New York show (merely weeks away) it will be full dad. They see their principle competition as being dCs, MSB and Playback Design. I was told that the DaVinci goes for $20,000, but a little homework showed much lower prices quoted at earlier shows. I heard from a couple of people that thought the sound in this room was not all that great, but if it was anywhere near as crowded and noisy as when I was there, it was not a reasonable situation for passing judgment. Aside from the reputed excellence of this DAC, the other take away was that the Wilson Sophia was not as visually dominant or imposing as I thought it might be in this modest size room.  

 

In another of the Coup de Foudre rooms Jeff Joseph hosted a presentation of his stand mounted Pulsar monitors. A MacBook Pro computer was feeding a Wavelength DAC hooked into a Brinkmann 70 wpc integrated amplifier while a Brinkmann Bardo turntable idled at the top of the rack. Joseph speakers never fail to entice me with their transparency, focus and warm, inviting demeanor. At this level of excellence, there is little or no need to come out with new models every year.

 

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