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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

Pro Design Audio in Quebec works in wood to build effective diffusers and equipment racks that appeared to be of very good construction. Multiple colors are achieved by using oil, not varnish, on different species of wood.


At the BIS Audio table I took a close look at their cables and discovered this novel way to use a single cable to attach to a speaker that is set up for bi-wiring.


Wandering back into the hall I finally connected with Steven Huang of Audio Sensibility in a quiet moment. He had sent me a sample of his new Statement SE Silver digital cable ($229CDN) to compare with the original Statement I have been using as my affordable reference. After running it 24/7 for a week and giving it a listen with my compilation CD just before coming to the show, I was happy to report that it seems to be a very significant improvement. I'll be working it into a review in the future. Other than that, the "new and good" at Audio Sensibility was a pair of more affordable power distribution boxes. The first is a six outlet box with Japanese phosphor bronze receptacles wired with 14 gauge Ohno continuous cast copper with Teflon insulation. Star wiring configuration gives each receptacle current directly from the input so noise from one receptacle isn't passed on to the others, just like in his more expensive boxes. The input is IEC, allowing you to select the quality level of power cord you wish to connect to the grid. Price is $289CDM (about $220US). A second box, (also star wired, has only four receptacles, but includes a hard wired Impact SE power cable ($139CDN as a stand-alone cable) from his entry level Impact series. It goes for $259CDN, or about $210US. The smaller box looks to be a good way to add receptacles to a small power conditioner to connect components that are used less often, or for a small entry level rig. While these boxes do not compare with the fine machining of his more expensive units, I expect they get the job done in a cost effective way. Steve was offering show special pricing on many items, which continues through the end of the month on his website. I also noted that they offer 10AWG Cryo-Treated Romex cable for those of you wishing to install a dedicated line for your audio or video system. This is something you definitely will not find at your local electrical supply store. I bought a couple of sheets of ERS paper for some future projects from Steven and was prepared to hit the road for home, but I noticed another room directly behind his table that I had not visited.


It is embarrassing enough when you miss covering a big name room at a show like I've done in the past with Bryston, and once I missed an entire hallway in a rather confusing hotel floor plan. But this last room, the salon Mont-Royal, was very big. Like with a $450,000 rig comprised of some of the very best brands in Canada. The front ends were not one, but both turntables from Kronos. First, there was the world premiere of the Kronos Pro, which is an upgrade of the original with two new motors, and then the more spartan sibling, Sparta. No point in mincing words here. These are two of the greatest turntables available in the world today with their suspended, counter-rotating platters. The Sparta sells for something around $21,500 without arm, and people who buy the Pro don't need to know what the price is – only that it is a bargain compared to the competition at its performance level. The finely crafted tonearms on the tables (12" on the Pro, 9" on the Sparta) appeared to be those of Andre Theriault of Montreal, a carbon fiber uni-pivot design using a ball and cup design rather than a balancing point.  The cartridges were a ZYX UNIverse II on the Kronos Pro and an Ikeda Kai on the Sparta. The Ikeda Kai is the flagship of their line, selling for around $10,000 and it was an honor to be able to hear it in such a fine system. The UNIverse II is likewise the flagship of the ZYX line and sells for around $8500. It has been very favorably reviewed, and again, a privilege to be able to hear it. So that was the front end.


The electronics in Mont-Royal were all by Tenor Audio with their signature wood faceplates. First was their new phono stage, Phono 1 ($50,000), which featured a very informative window on front. Their Line 1/Power 1 ($100,000) is a completely dual-mono unit with separate power supply. And finally, the world premiere of their 350HP monoblocks rated at 500 watts into 8 Ohms ($125,000/pair) that can put out 1500 watts into 2 Ohms. (A 175 wpc stereo version of this amp is also available.) This large amount of power was necessary to drive the passive version of the Muraudio Domain Omni PX1 ESL ($65,000), a hybrid speaker with omni-directional electrostatic drivers handling the signal above 450Hz and three opposing 10" bass drivers below. I've heard this speaker at Canadian shows since its introduction in both active and passive forms now and this is the best it has ever been, finally achieving a rig capable of supporting it, and in a room that was perfectly set up for its size. I think the massive amount of power distribution (and conditioning?) that went on behind the Solid Rack ($1950) also played a significant role, as well as the Kubala-Sosna Elation cabling which was used all around. In fact, I didn't pay much attention to the equipment at all because the music was so incredible. I don't usually make a call on the very best room at a show because the room itself is a big factor in what kind of sound can be achieved by any given rig. With rooms (and neighboring rooms) of different sizes and playing at different volume levels, the playing field is never level. It is hard to imagine music sounding much better in this room than what I heard this year. It was a big room and it was very well set up; obviously one of the very Best Rooms at this, or any other show I've been to. The music moved me.

It is not often that you get to hear phono cartridges in this price range at shows and I relished the reality they presented with inner detail, timbre, transparency and dynamics that made the leap from recorded music to live presentation a very simple fantasy. I've never had the luxury to put together a system with such excellence in each component, but maybe it gets easier to do in this price league.

Louis Desjardins, who knows of my tinkering in turntable design, treated me to a demonstration of the effectiveness of the counter rotating platters in his Kronos turntables. He put on a mono recording of Louis Armstrong that is frequently played at shows. There was a holographic, three-dimensional soundstage between the speakers that measured about 30 degrees between my outstretched arms that encompassed it. Louis then disengaged the lower, counter-rotating platter so only the top platter rotated. With the same music, the soundstage collapsed to about a five degree angle. Essentially, my arms were pointing straight ahead. When he re-engaged the lower platter the monaural soundstage expanded to its original width. Of course with a stereo record the soundstage expands even further, often beyond the width of the speakers, but the experiment suggests that even more accurate holographic imagery is achieved with the counter-rotating platter when stereo recordings are played. It was clearly one of those phenomena that you didn't know existed until you were exposed to it, and then it was taken away. It's kind of like our knowledge of the universe. Not only are there things about it that we don't know (and are trying to find out), but there are also things about it that we don't know we don't know (and hence we are not even looking for an answer). I'm a firm believer in the benefit of counter-rotating platters and suspended turntables. I just hope the technology trickles down to a more affordable design without losing the benefit it offers in the Kronos tables.


With just a few minutes before the end of the show I finally found the doors to the Meridian room open. I had doubled back to their room several times at the top of the hour but their scripted presentations seemed to run over and the door was closed. It is well known that they are on the cutting edge of digital playback and the people who were lucky enough to experience their presentation were undoubtedly treated to an impressive show. Hopefully another reporter has sung their praise this time around. And hopefully I will catch up with them next time around.


Some Closing Thoughts
With the increasing competition for the time and money of manufacturers and distributors, this year's show was less spectacular in the measure of high-priced gear on display, but I sensed an increase in positive energy among the presenters and the visitors. Particularly the visitors whose demographic trended younger this year with a small but noticeable increase in women attending. Let's hope the demographic shift continues and more young people achieve sufficient prosperity to explore this hobby and truly savor their chosen music.


And finally, I'd like to publicly bid a fond farewell to Sarah Tremblay who is leaving the Montreal show after many years of excellent service; most recently as the on-the-scene director for the Chester Group who is the organizer for this and the New York shows. Sarah has been most kind, helpful and supportive for which I am deeply grateful. So, with a virtual hug from afar, I wish you much success and happiness on your next adventure in life.


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