Salon Audio Montreal / Audio Fest
2022 Show Report
Rick Becker has covered the Montreal audio show since the mid-1990s, first for the rec.audio.high-end newsgroup and since 1999 for Enjoy the Music.com, missing only a couple of years due to Covid and his business was closed in 2018. The reports can be found in our archives under Montreal Audio Show/Salon Son & Image, and more recent years under Salon Audio Montreal Audiofest.
Those who have followed my Montreal show reports over the past 2.3 decades know that they typically involve a trying adventure, sometimes even life-threatening. No such event occurred this year, thanks to my dear wife who prepared all my Covid vaccination and last-minute Covid test documentation and filed it into my ArriveCAN account. For that, she deserves a Blue Note Award, as I breezed across the border after camping out in my Shooting Brake on Friday night. As the saying goes, behind every incompetent man, stands a woman who knows how to get things done. Thank you, dear.
I had finished my American coffee before I had arrived in downtown Montreal but still was not awake enough to realize the camera was set on Macro. Oh, dear. The Bonaventure looked so familiar with the trees on the rooftop.
The line stretched all the way back to the elevators, but I was able to obtain my press pass and begin studying the floor plan before the show opened. The hallways dedicated to the show were reduced by about 20%, but the rooms on the first level were spread out more than usual, so the room count was down more than that. The lower level at the bottom of the escalator where the larger conference rooms are located was full, except there were few if any, extra tables with smaller vendors. But who cares? Everyone seemed excited to just be having a show this year.
In the hallway leading from the lobby area, I encountered Jacques Riendeau of Oracle Audio with two stunning Paris turntables dressed for a museum. I've long been a proponent of design and artistic embellishment with my background in art. Style matters, no matter what you claim that "it's all about the sound." And Jacques stopped me dead in my tracks with these two beauties. There's a story that goes with them, too. Something to do with the rights to use the images and the signature of the artist, all bound up in a major project he is involved with. My video notes are further down on my chip, so I'll come back to this if I find them.
Continuing down the glass-walled hallway that bisects the rooftop nature preserve I headed up the stairs to Level 2 to visit Frank Fazzalari of Coherent Speakers in Room 2326 which he shared with Corby Audio, one of his dealers in Freelton, ON, who carries a lot of top brands of high-end electronics. Frank's rooms at past shows have always won me over with their warm, holographic sound with a lot of bloom. He was featuring his Model 18 Speaker with a large 18" driver with a compression horn mounted coincidentally, a typical feature of his designs. The Model 18 is something he had developed since I had seen him last in 2019. The sound was completely out of character for Coherent Speakers and it may well have been that the Allnic amp and phono stage had simply not warmed up.
I returned later in the day on Sunday, and sure enough, it was sounding a lot better, but still not as mellow as previous shows — which may be a good thing for his sales. The music had a clean, but more resolved presentation. The Baetis streamer was the new version, and the Frank Kuzma turntable was a new model, too, complete with his own cartridge. And then Frank Fazzalari handed me this thick Corby's Audio carbon fiber record mat, which might well have tightened up the sound a great deal, too. It is 0.125" thick with a diameter of 11.625 to allow the thick lip of the LP to overhang it and allow for easy lift-off. At CAD 695 it is not cheap, but it is thicker than any mat I've tried and seems to have had a distinct impact on tightening up the sound of the system here.
The Model 18 was veneered with a high-character wood and the veneered rim around the driver dressed it up with some contrast. The workmanship of his speakers is very fine with a natural presentation, devoid of high gloss. The beauty of the wood comes through in a natural way that will never be mistaken for plastic or petro wood. As with race car engines, there is no substitute for cubic inches and these large cabinets with their efficient drivers play music in an effortless, unrestrained way with micro as well as macro dynamic range.
Frank told me that the 18" model really opens up in comparison with the 15" version. Perhaps some of that is due to the very small super-tweeter mounted just above coincident drivers. I also noticed he has followed the trend toward more vibration isolation in the footers he is now using. Their website contains a lot of interesting details, including the option of LessLoss cable, which I recently reviewed. Starting at US$14,950, + $300 Drop Ship Charge, it is not inexpensive, but it is one of the finest high-efficiency speakers available for use with low power SET amps. And it digs down to 22Hz (-3dB). While this room did not live up to my preconceived expectations, it ranked among the Best Rooms at the show.
Across the hall at the top of the stairs in 2327 was a home theater set up with Klipsch speakers and a very impressive-looking subwoofer. As the presenter was delivering an explanation of the surround sound technology with what looked like Dolby Atmos ceiling firing speakers, I moved on.