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Le Festival Son et Image de Montreal 2007 Show Report
Le Festival Son et Image de Montrťal 2007 Show Report
By Rick Becker
Page 3

  Verity Audio presented a new upgraded version of their Lohengrin flagship loudspeaker ($69K) with a premium system that easily qualified for Best Rooms recognition. This year they choose to bi-amplify them with a pair of stereo Artemis SP-1 power amps that each had a separate power supply. The Artemis Sp-1 puts out 18 wpc and goes for $12K. A new Nagra CD player garnered lots of attention as the source in this system and has a look strongly reminiscent of their audio tape recorders I used when I was a filmmaker. Strangely, they didnít put maple blocks under each module of the power amplifiers. Also new, and on silent display was the Rienzi monitor, a stand mounted speaker taken from the floorstanding version for people who want to get on board with Verity at a more modest cost.

On a more practical note, I spotted these silk-screened labels on the top edge of a Densen Audio Technologies CD player. Iíve often thought it would be very helpful to have such labeling on the top back edge of preamplifiers to label the RCA connections to facilitate cable swapping and re-connecting components. Not everyone has the luxury of standing behind their components when performing this task. Is anyone listening?

A very interesting system was presented with a slim-line T+A CD player, older VTL preamplifier and power amplifier and a pair of modestly sized floorstanders from Gemme Audio, a new company from Montreal. While the loudspeakers were identically sized, the Vivace housed a single full range Fostex driver that gave a reputed 20Hz to 20kHz response. The Tanto model ($5500 CN), which I heard, had a ring radiator tweeter mounted just below the mid/bass driver and had a range of 18Hz to 30kHz. Other than some vibration absorbing footers under the electronics in this rig, it was a very modest set up. The sound, however, was remarkably alive, dynamic and transparent. Even on the playback of my video notes taken in the room, the music playing through my computer rig sounds holographic. No doubt the tube electronics and 91dB/W/m efficiency, as well as their special Vflex acoustic loading worked in harmony here. With the high-gloss finish on the wood on each side, and non-reflective matte-black front and rear panels, Gemme does not offer grilles, thereby keeping the face of the speaker clean. Inside, a special silicate compound is used to dampen the cabinet, just like the now unavailable Aural Acoustics Model B loudspeaker that appeared in Superior Audio last year. I knew I had heard that sound before! Please accept my humble apology for missing the photo opportunity and check out their website. This would be a very interesting loudspeaker to try with the Red Wine Audio battery powered gear.

George Short, whom Iíve had the pleasure of visiting at his workshop near Old Forge in the Adirondacks, presented his Metro ribbon hybrid loudspeakers ($6900 US) that cross over to a conventional driver in the bass at 360Hz. As the name suggests, this is a very contemporary looking loudspeaker and he markets it through his Advanced Ribbon Technologies (ART) company. George closed down his North Creek Audio division that supplied parts and kits last Fall in order to concentrate on production and promotion of completed loudspeakers such as the Metro shown here, and a couple of outstanding small monitors designed specifically for near-wall placement. The latter he markets through his North Acoustics company.  Both ART and North Acoustics loudspeakers are sold factory direct and auditions at his facility may be scheduled by appointment only. Look for him at future shows and check out these fine sounding loudspeakers. 

Omaha Audio is a new name under a familiar umbrella. I met Ronald Hedrich of Marigo Audio, famous for its tuning dots, among many other products. I noticed the intricate machined prototype footers beneath the Omaha tube integrated amplifier and the conversation quickly shifted to vibration absorption, as this happens to be a favorite pursuit of my own. The new footers are expected to retail in the $500+ range for a set of three. The Omaha OD-300B is a single ended triode integrated amplifier designed in the US and manufactured in Chine that Omaha offers for $1400 US, $1575 CD. It will not be mistaken for a Jadis, but this one you can afford. It did a wonderful job powering the very handsome stand mounted loudspeakers that were also an Omaha Audio prototype.

 

  

Next up was a welcome visit to the GTT room where I met up with my friend Bill Parish. As you can see in the photo there is a slight generation gap between us, but we share our interest in high quality music reproduction. As the importer of Kharma loudspeakers and vendor of many other very high-end brands, he plays the game at the highest level while I tweak the hell out of more modest gear. His room was clearly among the very Best Rooms again this year with the most expensive two-way loudspeaker in production, the Kharma Mini Exquisite ($43K US), with its diamond tweeter and 165mm concave ceramic mid/woofer. The wood veneer flanking the sides near the top offset the rich gloss Matador Red, a custom optional finish. Powering the Minis was a rebirth of the Tenor monoblocks, having an OTL input driver stage and a massive solid state power output stage rated at 350 watts. The inside has been completely re-worked from the original, with only the chassis remaining the same, and even that sports a new gloss finish on the wood.  (I believe the original had a flat or satin finish). The front end of the system included an mbl 1621 transport and a 1611 DAC. Joe Kubala seemed to be enjoying himself much more this year as his Kubala-Sosna Research cables were definitely contributing to the improved sound this system presented over last yearís more modest rig with the Ce 3.1c two-way loudspeaker. The Kharma Mini Exquisites are about $30K more expensive than the entry level Ceramique with the (then) newly introduced ceramic tweeter presented last year. As I discovered when I upgraded my Ceramique 2.2 with this new tweeter, it made a huge and welcome difference in the entire audible range of the speaker. (Click here for the review). 

Michel Bernard was again a gracious host as we entered the Fidelio Audio room featuring their very fine recordings mastered on a Nagra recorder. The playback system featured a Verity Audio Parsifal loudspeaker driven by an entire system of Nagra components. Linda particularly liked the Nagra tube VPA monoblocks shown here. Itís hard to believe they were first introduced back in 1998. Michel tipped us off to the fact that the sweetest spot in the room was actually at the back. The music here, as always, was very good, coming sometimes right from the master, sometimes from the CD. Michel wears a number of hats every year at this show.

Son-or/Filtronique presented Ayer and Verity Audio in a very clean looking $20K system (plus cables) with a rack full of Ayre components including a CD player for $7K and an integrated amplifier for about $3K. The Verity Audio Rienzi loudspeaker is about $9K. Note, like with many Verity Audio loudspeakers, the bass module can be reversed to fire forward or toward the front wall to tune the system. I had an interesting conversation with an Ayre rep, but their literature had all been gobbled up. The music in this room was lively and transparent, as was evident from my video notes.

In another room by Son-or/Filtronique, this one of fairly good size,a rack full of Audio Research components and a VPI analog front end with a Benz M2 cartridge fed the signal across the room to a pair of Ayre MX-R monoblocks ($16.5K) that powered the new Sonus Faber Elipsa loudspeakers ($20K). On the lowest shelf of the rack was a Magnum Dynalab analog tuner, one of the few pieces of equipment at the show that alluded to the existence of broadcast music, aside from the televisions, of course, that bring us MTV. Another piece of eye candy in the room was a Clearaudio turntable with a colorful blue Benz Ace cartridge on silent display.

Lots of reviewers have raved over the sound in this room, and it certainly was good. The individual components have all been reviewed quite favorably, and Iíve been a big fan of Sonus Faber loudspeakers for virtually all of my audiophile life, but something did not come to life for me as much as it seemed to do for others. Perhaps it was the positioning of the Elipsas, or the wall of windows to the left, or simply that the Ayre was a solid-state amp that wasnít giving me the dimensionality and palpability of tubes that I seem to prefer more often than naught. The serial number on the left loudspeaker was 0003. Maybe that had something to do with it. Maybe the sofa along the front wall behind the loudspeakers was over-damping the room, or maybe it was the extra pairs of loudspeakers on silent display. Yet I seem to recall having the same reaction with the Stradivari Homage, the flagship of the line on which the Elipsas were modeled. They, too, were powered by solid state at the time. Perhaps in New York Iíll have a second chance to experience the ElipsaÖmaybe even with tubes. The equipment in the system was all very good equipment, but the music didnít transcend the equipment like it did in a number of other rooms at the show. I noted the finish on the wood on the Elipsa was a satin rather than gloss finish like on the Stradivari, which were on silent display.

The next room was both a treat and a letdown, also. Linn had set up a rig with both an older upgraded Valhalla version of their LP-12 turntable and the new version of the LP-12 with extensive upgrade of the suspended chassis and their new tonearm.

The dreamers among us were probably hoping for a complete makeover for a modest price increase of a couple thousand dollars. What surfaced here was a new turntable that could easily be mistaken for the old, if you didnít really know your stuff. The tricked out Valhalla was playing when I first entered the room. Taking stock of the music, I didnít feel it was as good as my own rig with a Valhalla, tweaked with a couple of aftermarket products and equipped with a lesser tonearm. The hosts then moved the record over to the new version ó the LP-12 SE (about $17K). The improvement in the bass and dynamics of the music was immediately apparent, but not overwhelming. An increase in inner detail took a little longer to recognize, since this kind of improvement is more subtle. Overall, this was the most pleasant listening experience Iíve ever had with a Linn system and I surely hope they continue to present at least one room with LP playback at future shows. But nonetheless, there are readily available additions for an older Linn that I believe will take it farther than the SE upgrades I heard at Montreal. And they cost a lot less. The upgrade mods alone are about $8K and the new arm itself is $5800. This is a wonderful turntable, with a functional, easy to use dustcover and terrific ergonomics. The LP-12 wouldnít still be around after all these decades if a lot of people didnít really love them. Like old Harley-Davidsons, you can still get parts for them, they have a loyal cult following, and their sound turns heads.

 

 

Although the weather outdoors was on the dismal side, some people took advantage of the swimming pool. Note the dude with the job of handing out towels to the guests. Presumably he had the parrot (sitting on top of the cage in the lower part of the photo) trained to alert him if a swimmer got into trouble while he was reading. However, the parrot, it seems, became more interested in the audiophiles than the swimmers. 

Naim had a very nice sounding home theater going with the n-Sat loudspeakers Iíve mentioned at previous shows. This speaker is designed to sound particularly good when placed close to the front or sidewalls. This home-theater-in-a-big-box goes for about $13K ($6k for the n-System of loudspeakers, $7K for the electronics, not including video playback). The very handsome subwoofer has both speaker level and RCA inputs, and a monaural input for home theater use. The remote for the subwoofer controls phase and two adjustable presets, one for home theater and one for music. A second sub can be connected in a master/slave configuration. The sub is rear firing, requiring it to be placed close to a wall for optimum performance, just like the stand mounted n-Sat loudspeakers, thereby optimizing your floor space. In this room, the front loudspeakers were placed out from the wall, in line with the monitor, while the side loudspeakers were placed close to the wall, as was the subwoofer.

Iíve often quipped that Iíve never met a ProAc loudspeaker I didnít like. They have always been very enjoyable and easy to listen to, but somewhat on the soft side.  Who would have thought to mate them up with Mark Levinson electronics? Well, someone did, and the results were very nice indeed!  Of course, the $7K Response 28D is a new design and may be a significant step forward for Proac on its own, but with the Levinson solid-state electronics, the music was more dynamic, quick and transparent than Iíve ever heard from ProAcs. And as always with ProAcs, the tonal balance was full and inviting. Their design is conservative, their wood veneers gorgeous, and you can put them in almost any dťcor. Iíve not been a big fan of Levinson gear, but this combination was one of the most delightful discoveries at the show and very close to being one of the Best Rooms. 

Following up on their Solo, a stereo receiver with a built-in CD player, Arcam introduced their new Solo Movie 5.1, an almost-all-in-one box music & home theater system, leaving only the rDock as an outboard input for your iPod. Smart move. As portable playback units and formats evolve, your iPod will someday take its rightful place next to the film camera in your curio cabinet. There is a lot of flexibility with this little rig, but it is not all-encompassing. Thatís not important. It is a way to step up to better sound and video for newcomers, and a perfect solution for a second-system or third system application for someone who doesnít want to get into whole house wiring and multiple zones. Itís also small enough to take with you to the summer cottage. The set-up was not impressive. The rig was thrown together at the last minute ó the Solo Movie had only just arrived before the show. Brand new, but Iíll bet this 50 wpc package is a good one.

 

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