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Salon Son & Image Report 2013 -- Montreal High-End Audio Show
Salon Son & Image 2013 Show Report
Part 2

We all know that a lot of people have a disdain for cables and visible technology, aside from the TV screen, of course. Particularly the spouses of audiophiles, with the sole exception of my own dear wife, and possibly a few others. And with the advent of the thin screen TV and the demise of audible built-in speakers, a company called ZVOX stepped up to fill a void for acceptable sound in a relatively inconspicuous package. The sound bar subsequently followed. What I heard in room 1313/1315 was a similar concept. The AudioXperts Model 2112 Virtual Surround Sound Console is 2.1 music and surround system in a smoked glass and aluminum chassis. Their Model 5122 is a 5.1 unit with a wireless subwoofer. In the photo the 5122 is the black tabletop that the large Panasonic TV is sitting on. Not the whole table — just the two inch thick black plinth. The silver unit against the wall to the right of the poster is the subwoofer. Judging by what I heard, I'd call it a ZVOX on steroids. Powerful, clear and dynamic, it shook the room. Under a smaller TV, perhaps only 40" was the smaller model and it sounded just as powerful in the big unit. If this looks like a solution to your problem, do your homework and seek it out. Unfortunately, the room was packed and the demonstration was in French, so I didn't stick around. I rarely give a Best Rooms nomination to anything in the video/home theater category, but this room deserves it!

 

Arcam was showing with Mission speakers and the room was packed when I tried to enter. A moment later they stopped playing music and everybody left. I grabbed some photos waiting for some music to begin. With the pendulum swinging toward downloads there has been a lot of activity in the development of DACs lately, especially affordable ones that appeal to younger folks looking to get in on the action in High End. Dockable ones, too. Among them is the Arcam irDAC with 6 digital inputs including a direct iPod input. It uses TI/Burr Brown PCM1796 DAC and is controllable with an IR remote. Arcam also showed their matching airDAC that allows you to add Airplay with 24-bit/192kHz resolution. On another shelf was a drDock, an rPAC, an rLink and an rBlink, all small items that I didn't take the initiative to explore. All good solutions for smaller complex problems as the technology evolves, no doubt.

 

Down the hall I found music in a rig that began with an Oppo player with Modwright Truth Modifications including two small signal tubes protruding through the top. Below that was a Conrad-Johnson preamp that fed into Bryston power amps that drove Depuy Acoustique Bongo speakers sitting atop a very handsome stand that comes standard with the $5500 speakers in the standard black finish. The wood finish show here is an optional upcharge. The speaker is a 2.5-way ported design with 89dB/W/m sensitivity.  There was an optional 300 watt active subwoofer in the corner ($1500) to supplement the monitors. Despite the French sounding name, the speakers come from New York State. Audio cables were from Audio Sensibility, whose table I came upon on Sunday. Slow mellow jazz was playing here, perhaps Miles Davis, but I was emotionally too charged up to relax and appreciate it. An interesting experiment was happening while I was there, however. They had The Daisy Reflector, a reflective panel on a stand like a blackboard, placed between the two speakers, and then removed the panel for a with/without/with comparison. With the panel in place, there was a smoother, but more homogenized sound, but I preferred the music without the reflector due to its greater sense of air. I was told it was designed to reflect back the part of the soundstage you were missing when it was not there. $595 on the small reflector, $995 on the larger one. I'm not so sure it does, but my brief experience in the room was not definitive.

 

I took note of the subtle shift in name from Fidelio Audio to Fidelio Musique, to better put the emphasis on their recordings rather than have people think they were a retailer or manufacturer. Their room is always an oasis of calm and superb sounding music. And this year, coming from Sonus Faber Amati Futura speakers, it was again one of the Best Rooms at the show. The Amatis were driven by Audio Research monoblocks and preamp, while the front end was a stack of dCs digital gear. I heard a selection from their new album, June, In the Fields [FACD044] that sounded serene and very musical, having been recorded in analog. They were also featuring a new compilation disc, we capture the feeling two [FACD913]. I noticed that the jewel case also had the DSD logo on it and I asked Rene LaFlamme about it. DSD is offered as a download on a couple of their productions and more of their albums will be offered in DSD in the near future. It seems to be gaining momentum.

 

In the Bowers & Wilkins room the front end appeared to be a laptop feeding a DAC that was leading to a Classé CP-800 stereo preamp processor that was driving CP series monoblocks, which come in either 300 or 600 watt versions. The 802 Diamond speakers in cherrywood finish lived up to the B & W reputation. The vocal was a male baritone singing a bluesy number when I visited the room, which didn't give me a balanced listening opportunity. Although it had a lot of air and sharp focus, it was irritating. Then I was treated to a comparison of the same cut first coming directly from the soundcard in the MacBook Pro, and then with the wave file fed to the built-in DAC in the Classé CP-800 preamp, which helped a lot. I'm not sure I would care for the diamond tweeter in the long run, so I would advise careful listening with your favorite music. A top-off display gave me a glimpse of the complexity of the preamp/processor which has been out for more than a year now.

 

Elac speakers from Germany with their ribbon tweeters have long been among my favorites. We were treated to a listen from their $24,000 FS 509 VX-JET model. The top driver, seen here, was unusual not only in that it had a shield on it, but also that it can be pulled in and out to adjust it to the particular listening set-up. It was driven by Atoll gear from France. With low impedance, it is fair to say the Elac are best paired with solid state gear as was done here.

 

In the Audio d'Occasion room I was treated to a look at the new Rega RP-8 turntable I have been longing to see. As you can tell, it is a cut-out plinth, but what you can't believe is the weight. It wouldn't cost much more to air mail these than send them by UPS. There is a surround piece that comes with the table for those who insist a turntable should have a rectangular plinth. It is composed of very light foam wrapped in the gloss black polyester shown. I was able to pick up the surround and experience the stiffness of it and I'm here to tell you it is a lot stiffer than a Hershey's Kit Kat bar. Rega has long been in pursuit of lightweight materials in producing their turntables and they've really taken the RP-8 to the next level. Like the several models below it, it has the metal stiffeners above and below the deck which run from the spindle area to the tonearm area. But unique to this model is a new tonearm and a glass platter which is thicker at the circumference to enhance the flywheel effect. Please forgive the reflections of the curtains on the glass platter. I asked to have the platter removed to give you a better glimpse of the plinth and belt drive. It didn't escape me that all four off-the-shelf mods I used on my very successful Linn LP12 make-over would be directly applicable to this table. Unfortunately, a lot of other vinylphiles are lusting after this $2995 cookie, too, and review samples will not be available until production catches up with demand. In a way, that's fine with me. I'd be most happy with a Union Jack Special Edition — kind of like a Mini with the flag on top. On the other hand, a Jolly Roger Special Edition would be pretty cool, too.

I didn't hear the RP-8 in action, but the all-Rega system featured the RS-7 speaker at $3200 along with an amplifier and digital source that topped out at $5000. A real winner at that price, I might add. Or you could swap out the digital for one of their less expensive turntables at that same price point. While it is not unusual to see a speaker with side-firing woofers, in this case, the port at the end of the transmission line also fires out the side. As you can see from the tan line, normally the woofer and port would be covered with a grille.

In another Audio d'Occasion room an Atoll IN400 integrated amplifier with a CD400 perched atop it was driving a ProAc D-40 speaker ($13,000) with a ribbon tweeter sandwiched between a pair of mid-woofers. The source, however, was a streamer feeding a small DAC via Ethernet cable. Possibly it was either Atoll's ST100 ($2440) or their ST200 ($2800). I must not have completely left the Rega room, however, as I forgot to take a photo here. The sound was quite decent, as it always is with ProAc speakers.

 

In the next room a Mimetism Integrated 15.2 amplifier was driving Kudos Audio X2 speakers. Mimetism, a multi-national effort from Europe, I am familiar with, but the Kudos Audio speakers from England at $2900 were a very pleasant surprise. Using high density fiber board covered in real wood veneers offered in seven finishes along with Kudos-designed 6" and 1" drivers manufactured by SEAS and a downward firing port, these attractive small towers delivered exceptional sound quality with a claimed in-room response of 30 Hz to 25 kHz. With 180 wpc the well-reviewed Mimetism integrated amp was easily able to drive the X2 with its 86.5dB/W/m sensitivity. To the left of the X2 was an $8500 model from the Cardea series in the Kudos lineup that was probably exhibited with the Mastersound Compact 845 tube integrated amp above the Mimetism. The Compact 845 was a 30 wpc Class A amp with zero feedback and a remote control from Italy. This amp should have been sufficient to drive the larger Cardea with 88dB/W/m sensitivity. Both Kudos models have a plinth beneath the downward firing ports to create a consistent distance and surface for reflection. The smaller X2 was placed on an additional platform to raise the level of the drivers. A Wadia 121 Decoding Computer (DAC) was translating files from a computer and the rig was wired with Kimber Kable. Although my stay was short, I thought this was one of the Best Rooms at the show. I can only imagine how I would have loved to hear the larger speaker driven by tube amp. Heaven can wait.

 

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