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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

Drifting back towards the Canadian Exhibit, I glanced down the narrow vestibule beside the escalator and recalled it being filled with an interesting table with inexpensive, but quite good monitors in a previous year. I could see something at the far end that looked like a display, and after taking a few more steps forward, I doubled back to investigate. There, in a shaft that extended upward to the top floor where the opera singer had performed was a complete rig set up against a backdrop of Astroturf and petroshrub. It was there that I met Zdenko Zivkovic who was holding court in the ClaeCast Loudspeaker exhibit. I asked him to play some music for me, being totally clueless of who he was or what I was about to hear. It took me about five seconds to realize I was sitting in a very special place at the show. After listening for a few moments, if that, we had a conversation. Zdenko was formerly director of design at Magnum Dynalab, whose tube tuners, and later amplifiers, were very highly regarded in the 1990's (and probably before that, for all I know). Prior to that he was senior designer at Sonic Frontiers, the Canadian tube amplifier company that was also highly regarded in the ‘90s.

Now, he is BFA (for Beyond Frontiers Audio) and his fingerprints were all over the rig I had just heard. He designed the crossovers, but the speaker components (drivers?) are designed by Igor Levitsky, who also designed (voiced?) the Oppo headphones. Zdenko designed all the electronics in the rig here. Specifically, the DAC and the preamp (which wasn't quite finished, yet), and the integrated amp (which was being used only as a power amp). A Sony ES CD player was employed solely for its excellent transport. The ClaeCast speakers are totally passive–no amplifier in the bass unit. With 93.5dB/W/m efficiency and an easy (flat) 6 Ohm load, they are easily driven by the tube gear in this rig. (Yes, I thought it looked like solid state stuff, too). Well, the amp is 100% gain by tubes, and the power is delivered by transistors with zero feedback in the system. Getting back to the speaker, it is kind of a D'Appolito design on top with midrange magnetic planar drivers above and below a ribbon tweeter. The top part attaches to the bass module with two bolts for easy disassembly and transport. The sound was transparent, fast, accurate, holographic and dynamic. The whole enchilada. The music itself was captivating. It is expected to sell for $25,000. I came away thinking this was among the very Best Rooms at the show, if not the best. In the hall I ran into one of the revered reviewers on the Canadian scene and mentioned the speaker to him. He said he was impressed with how real it sounded when he was coming down the escalator, but when he got up close, it did not sound like live music to him. I'd say it's worthy of a serious review. I thought about this presentation off and on the whole drive home.


It was late in the afternoon on Sunday at this point and I drifted back into the large open room that housed both the Head Zone and the Canadian Exhibit. It was pretty quiet at this hour. A few people were chatting at the Stax headphone table, but Sony had hung up all their headphones on virtual people.


I stopped for a quick and impressive listen to a Grado Professional headphone connected to a Questyle headphone amp, but I don't recall whether it was the CMA 800i with built-in DAC with the current mode headphone amp, or the CMA 800R which was basically the same, but without the DAC, though it added a balanced headphone output on the front. I believe the Questyle gear is designed in the USA and manufactured in China. I also took another listen to the Meridian Prime headphone amp and separate power supply that I had mentioned earlier. It was still impressive the second time around.


Audio Group (Sarah Tremblay and Stephan Ritch) had their very convenient Grado kiosk set up with the affordable Grado models in the new "e" series hung across the front and the higher end models on the side. I very much liked the quality appearance of the new RS1e ($900CDN) with a saddle colored leather headband that gave it a vintage look without peer. The sound however was top quality Grado similar to their other wood bodied cans. I'm listening through a pair of vintage Grado SR80 headphones to review my video notes from the show, and I couldn't help but notice that they have the same plastic vertical slider piece holding the headband that are on the current high-end Grado models. It's great that it is easy to identify the left and right can, but seriously, folks, it needs some upgraded material on the higher end models…like maybe a piece of teak with a brass bushing? I can't argue about the durability of the plastic retainer, though.


Moving across the room into the Canadian Exhibit side I noticed some very conventional, boring acoustic room treatments from Montreal Acoustique as well as the vibrant, energizing ones shown here. My audio buddy Art Shapiro in Los Angeles needs to have the one of Janis Joplin, the cat. I'm not sure if they can print up covers for the tiles from your own digital photos, but it wouldn't hurt to ask.


Not to be outdone in graphic design, Totem Acoustics showed my favorite on-wall speaker in bright red and with a "totem pole" sock pulled over it which is obviously replaceable if you want to update to a new design in a few years.


Sitting at a table full of photos was a gentleman from the Association Montrealaise des Audiophiles (AMA)  that has a membership of around 75 people and holds meetings that draw about 45 people, depending on the weather, or whether the Canadians are playing (hockey) that night. June meetings are usually for the Do-It-Yourselfers. Judging from the number of people at the show, they could easily boost their membership (if they wanted to) by handing out small flyers when people buy tickets to the show. I also noted tables at the show for the French audio publications, Magazine TED and Magazine Son & Image.


Simaudio Moon, who in recent shows had displayed commemorative editions celebrating album anniversaries with graphics painted on the tops of components, showed a couple of their integrated amps painted in Quebec Edition blue and Canadian Edition red, knowing well that their products are respected throughout  the country.


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