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Salon Son & Image 2015 Report Montreal High-End Audio Show
Salon Son & Image Report 2015 -- Montreal High-End Audio Show
Report By Rick Becker -- Part 4

There was a nice display showing both front and back of the Cocktail Audio unit with all the inputs and outputs you are likely to need, including a slot-loading CD player to download your CD directly to the hard drive, a feature few, if any, of their competitors offer.


The new Diamond series of speakers from Wharfedale was on display with two monitors of 86dB/W/m efficiency and the 230, 240 and 250 floorstanders rated at 89dB/W/m efficiency. The canted binding posts were something I hadn't noticed anywhere before. Wish I could have heard one of these guys.


Moving on to the Verdun room I encountered Pierre Murray and Eric Barry of Deep Space Audio with their speaker that looks somewhat like a Wilson Sophia, save for the front port and the crossover box extending off the back side. Using a 10" woofer they claim a frequency response of 20Hz to 20kHz. The cabinet is made of Russian plywood for both strength and lightness. With efficiency of 88dB/W/m, they recommend an amp of at least 50wpc and it will handle 200 watts with its ScanSpeak drivers from Denmark. The crossover is mounted on the back side to minimize vibration and the internals of the crossover are visible through Plexiglas that faces the front wall. It was equipped with a single set of Cardas binding posts. Since they are made to order at $20,000, they are offered in custom paint finishes. The rig included a very nice turntable, a Conrad Johnson preamp and an Audio Research power amp as well as a digital front end with files on a laptop. Listening to "The Load Out" and "Stay" on Jackson Browne's Running on Empty revealed some serious shortcomings that very well may have been from the way the rig was set up in this large room. A large curtain was rigged behind the speakers to damp rear reflections and there was a lot of echo which muddied the sound here. This is their first loudspeaker (DS-1) and this was their first show, so it was hard to pinpoint whether the problem was with the speaker or the set-up. Hopefully they will return with more experience and a more suitable room.


Aside from the humongous headphones seen earlier, the biggest phenomenon of the show was the world's first full-head motorcycle helmet with a built-in High End audio rig, the Phantom implosive sound center from the French manufacturer Devialet. It features zero distortion, zero saturation and zero road noise with a sensitivity of 99dB/W/m and internal power rated at 750 watts. It is seen here stand mounted with a wall of accordion pleated paper, not unlike the blinds I use on the windows of my listening room. In the second photo the Phantom is shown with Devialet's more conventional Atohm Special Edition loudspeaker. I had a brief listen to the Phantom in a party environment on Saturday night, and it seemed pretty extraordinary. I walked in on a demonstration that seemed more lecture than listening, so I moved on, but coming from Devialet you can expect that it produces excellent sound at a high price. I'm sure other media were all over this puppy. I expect this will be displayed at most major audio shows this year, so keep an eye out for it.


Next door in St. Michel was the Solen display of speaker drivers and some cute & affordable headphone amps like the Bravo Audio ones above with a single 6922 tube protruding from their Plexiglas housing. The Topping amps seen here range from $120 to $190CDN perfect for that little desktop system. The speaker playing in this room was obviously built using the drivers they sell, and probably built from one of the designs they offer.



The Audioville room in St. Pierre was using the new Tidal streaming service ($20CDN/month in Canada) for source material which at this time is in standard CD quality, but will eventually be available in higher resolution. They have 25 million titles, according to Steve Nicola who helped me sort out this rig, but I'm not sure how many of them are from your local garage band. Coming out of the laptop was the new AudioQuest Jitterbug, whose case is still being designed. It will be a $49US USB interface into which you can connect to any DAC or hard drive, but here it was used in conjunction with the AudioQuest Dragonfly. They were running comparisons with a $2000 Bryston DAC2 to demonstrate the high value of the affordable AudioQuest products. AudioQuest cables were used throughout, including Redwood speaker cable, Fire interconnects and Wild AC cables. The preamp was a mid-level conrad-johnson ET5 which fed their Art SA power amp, which drove the newly introduced version of the B&W 802D loudspeaker.



Steve also showed me the new KEF Reference stand mounted monitor ($9600CDN) that will soon be joined by two floorstanders. The lower driver is a flat woofer and above it is the familiar coaxial mid/tweeter. Both drivers derive from their Blade speaker technology, but come in at lower prices with more conventional cabinets. But not too conventional. The front baffle is a constrained layer affair and the rear port comes in two variations to change the effect of the bass response. And those massive binding posts for bi-wiring didn't escape my eye. The middle set is actually a pair of knobs that engage and disengage the internal jumpers for the upper and lower binding posts. The little grey Kef buttons on the lower corners cover bolts that run through to the front baffle and control the tension of the baffle/cabinet interface. Like I said, not too conventional. While speaker efficiency is only average, Steve says they are an easy load for an amplifier. And finally, I got to listen to the AudioQuest Nighthawk headphones ($599US) with high gloss liquid wood cups, floating drivers, all-leather headband, lightweight with a thin, but very stiff headbar, removable cables with upgrades to be available down the road, and did I say comfortable? They sound pretty good, too, though I'm not a headphone guru.


At the Acoustic Technologies table out in the hall where they were selling a diverse array of products, I stopped to examine their $120CDN power cord made with OFC copper, seen here, and made right here in Montreal. It looked well-made and reasonable for the price. And of course, they offer cables of other types and at different price points, too.


Diving into the Brosseau room in St. Lambert, I heard a very detailed piece of electronica emanating from the Dali Rubicon 6 floorstanding speakers ($7000CDN) connected with BIS Audio speaker cables to a Simaudio Moon 340i integrated amp ($4700CDN) that was fed by a Moon 280D DAC with DSD capability ($2200). Given the grating, hard driving nature of the music, I was surprised at how listenable it was with this rig. Along another wall in the room was another rig with gorgeous Dali Epicon 6 floorstanding speakers ($17,000) in a high gloss wood veneer. I spoke with Patrick Sareault of Brosseau who is a fan of Dali speakers and wanted to show the Moon electronics with something other than the Dynaudio speakers that I usually see in this space. It was a real treat to hear the Dali and indeed, it pairs very well with the Moon gear and this said by a long-time tube fan. Patrick also pointed out the very nice looking wood racks with a butcher-block look from Hi-Fi Racks.


Coming around the corner past the escalator I stopped in to see Jack Woo of Woo Audio who has finalized his portable headphone amp that utilizes a Russian sub-miniature tube that was used in rocket launchers back in the 1980's. I had seen this in prototype form at TAVES and Jack said the final version here is a little bit longer. While not exactly small, it may lead to the re-introduction of the fanny pack. Available in both black and silver, I had a listen and was duly impressed, but again, I'm not a headphone guru. As always, the Woo room was filled with heavy tube headphone amps and the finest headphones from a variety of manufacturers. The woman seen here patiently waited and eventually pounced on the Abyss headphones. Todd Garfinkle of MA Recordings was once again teamed up with Jack in this room, selling his finely recorded CDs. My audio buddy Tom Lathrop has been very pleased with the microfiber record sleeves he bought from Todd which I covered in the Brooklyn show report last fall.


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