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Festival du son et de l'image

March 24-26, 2000 Montreal Canada
Show Report By Rick Becker

  This year's show was destined to be a turning point for me. My father was diagnosed with terminal cancer in May. Linda and I were married in July, and our lives have been under the cloud of my father's illness since that time. With my dad's passing came increased responsibility for our retail furniture business and caring for mom. It is a hurdle most people clear or crash through in life and it had certainly taken its toll on Linda and me. Music has been relatively absent from our lives, and the Montreal show allowed us an opportunity to jump back into life for the first time in ten months. We booked a room at the Sheraton Four Points and shot up to Montreal Saturday Morning. It was barely light when we left and we took divided highways then entire way--no road rally through the Adirondack Mountains in the dark this time!

The Big News at Montreal this year was the emergence of Massage Theater, MT for short. Stereo sound reproduction is experiencing increasingly diminished return on invention & investment. The Holy Grail is always just a little further beyond the most recent $10,000 you invested in your system. Home theater/surround sound has promised more emotional involvement with the addition of picture and surround sound. Massage Theater takes your emotional involvement with the picture and sound/music right to the gut. You FEEL the movie, you FEEL the music! Wacko!!! Right??? Read on, and prepare to Rock On!

MT was evidenced in three different approaches in three different rooms. Any one of the three could evolve into more advanced and successful technologies. I can comment on what I experienced, and project my thoughts about what might come in the future, but none of my words should be taken final pronouncements on anything I report on. Consider this an invitation for your own personal investigation of what I experienced. Learn to trust your own ears, or in the case of MT, your own body.

D-Box, manufacturers of some terrific subwoofers, presented Odyssey Kinetic Home Entertainment. Basically, it is a motion simulator that digitally correlated the motion of the sofa you sit on with the motion of the movie or computer game you are watching. An F/X CD-Rom is prepared for a specific movie that triggers an actuator placed under each foot of your sofa. (They have CD-Roms for about 100 movies at present). Thus, when the car in the movie goes over a set of railroad tracks, you feel the tracks through the sofa you are sitting on. Their demonstration allowed only three people on the sofa at a time, so we had a brief wait. The effect works, but it seemed kind of trite. Perhaps with prolonged exposure the effect becomes more effective.

The second demonstration of MT was the Buttkicker. This was a powered platform, a little larger than floor space of the chair that sat on it. About an inch or so thick, it was connected to an amplifier via a cable duct taped to the floor. Low frequency information from the sound track was fed to the Buttkicker and vibrated the chair, giving a visceral experience of the movie or music. The chair was metal frame cafeteria type chair that one would never choose as a listening/viewing chair. With further development--say bolting it to the frame of a sofa--this could prove promising.

The third, and most successful application of MT was the Geophysical Acoustic of the GP-1 system by Messina Electronics. As is not uncommon at the Montreal show, Linda and I had to glean meaning from product information delivered in French. While Linda only reads French, I'm oriented south of the border where Spanish is rapidly becoming the second language of the United States.

The presenter demonstrated the importance of speaker cabinet tuning by grounding a humming tuning fork first on the body of a guitar, where we could clearly hear the harmonics of the note, then by grounding the fork on the driverless cabinet of a conventional box speaker, where the harmonics disappeared. Finally, he grounded the fork on the four-sided cabinet of the Messina speaker box, where the harmonics of the note were brought to life again.

MPKG 550The three sided pyramid shape is designed to fit tightly into the corner of a conventional box room, and this application is patented by Messina. However, hotel rooms at the Delta being what they are--W-shaped on the window wall--the surround sound set-up was set somewhat on a diagonal with the speakers on stands (a little above ear level for the fronts, and closer to the ceiling for the rears. Two sofas, set in a "V" facing the rear projection TV allowed for six people to experience the system at a time. (We took a sticker that reserved our demonstration, and managed to return right on time at 11:15h) And am I glad we did! As Goldilocks...er, Linda said, this one was Just Right! But how did they do that? Five little speakers the size and shape of George Washington's hat couldn't make me hear and feel such deep base.

The secret was tucked behind each sofa. Messina has wisely hooked up with Southern Audio Services here in the States, makers of the famous car stereo Bazooka subwoofers. Featuring 10" paper cone woofers, these powered subs rest against the frame of the sofa and thus transmit the vibrations. Use one for mono or two for stereo. The $1,899 CN package with one sub will hit the market in a couple of months. That's 5 "In-Corner" speakers, one self-powered subwoofer, 150' 16 gauge speaker wire, 32' wire concealed, 32' RCA cable and four wall mounting kits. Demonstrated in broad daylight, this home theater system was more engaging than any I have ever heard, megabuck systems demonstrated in dark rooms included!

While no music was demonstrated, the experience of the tuning fork demonstration leads me to believe that it will perform very well on this count, too. The liaison with Bazooka means the system will be marketed on both sides of the border, which is good news for everyone. And the 98dB efficiency of the "In-Corners" means modest electronics will suffice. As the Beatles sang, "Good Day, sunshine"!

But the good news spreads like circles in a pond when a rock has been dropped. Couldn't any HT be transformed into a Massage Theater with careful placement of a sub against a sofa? And couldn't subs be designed to be installed under or within a sofa? The image of 32' plastic transmission lines coiled and bolted to the frame of a sofa comes to mind. And for that matter, we now have massage recliners...why not wire them to your home theater? I see lots of possibilities here, being a furniture retailer. The important point here, for both music and movies, is that the vibration makes for a more tactile and involving experience of the medium. I was emotionally moved, and this is what Enjoying The Music/Movie is all about.

It should be no surprise to anyone reading this that High End audio has really gone off the Deep End (editor's note: quite possibly true in Canada. In Italy, the UK, Asia and other countries stereo is as strong as ever). In reality, it is merely reflecting the stock market and the obsession with wealth and technology that characterizes capitalism unimpeded by communism, religion or other social values. If you think greater technology leads to greater emotional fulfillment, you probably need to see Zorba the Greek again and take some dance lessons...which is how and about I came to meet Linda. And while she would sooner watch a movie than play a CD, she is a much better dancer than I can ever hope to be. It was a real delight to share this trip with her since the Montreal show features "new and good" for both movies and music.

Dynaudio EvidenceThe tall and the short of our technological glut was epitomized by two products, the Dynaudio Evidence loudspeakers (pictured left) and the Symposium Rollerblocks. The Evidence, playing in a large room, offset to one side on the short wall, sounded much better than their lack of the room, some 40' to 60' away. Up front, in the audience seating all the right words came to mind: full range, smooth, coherent, soundstaging, dynamic, etc.  Standing next to them, the precision and quality of the technology was undeniable. But why was the wood finish of an $85,000 pr of speakers not as finely finished as a $1200 cherry curio cabinet at my store? And the sound? A little dry for my taste, but perhaps that is the signature of the electronics that played them. Clearly, this is a speaker for a person of vast wealth, and a huge listening room. It was a treat to listen to them, and a perfect example of value of the Festival Son & Image. You are not likely find them at your local dealer.

At the other extreme, sidewise, are the Symposium Rollerblocks (Series 2). I was invited back at the end of the day to audition a demonstration of their effectiveness with two gentlemen from The Inner Ear. We were treated to a detailed explanation of the technology imbedded in these devices that appear to be little more than marbles confined by a small block with dish carved in it to retain the ball. Rest assured that these are very high tech and that production justifies the cost. We are talking aircraft quality aluminum, anodized to a hardness close to that of diamond. Polishing of the dish and ball to micron tolerances, drilling the block and filling it with vibration absorbing material, and of course, a drain for vibrations generated within the supported component, as well as a blockage of floor born vibrations. To say that the components moved easily when pushed from the side is a gross understatement. It is claimed that these devices drain and dissipate mechanical component vibrations and isolate components from external vibrations.

RollerblocksFirst we listened to a few minutes of a quality recording with the system fully loaded with Rollerblocks (pictured left) and Symposium Shelves--sandwiches of different density closed cell foam between sheets of stainless steel. Then Rollerblocks and shelves were remove. We listened again. The music had clearly degraded. Then, piece by piece, the roller blocks were added beneath the 47 Labs CD player, amplifier, and finally, the shelves were replaced beneath the floorstanding Audio Physics Tempo speakers (without spikes). The music came back to life with each additional application.

The obvious question, why not cones or inner tubes or less expensive isolation feet? The answer: The Rollerblocks both isolate the component and transmit vibrations away from it. Well, I'm both impressed and convinced, but I'm sorry, my money stays in my pocket on this one. As Linda will attest, I am a master of room treatment, and I've been able to achieve similar (dare I say 95%) results at 1% of the cost using cardboard cones, Swedish slow release foam, architectural slate, elastic waffles, and wall mounting my source components. Nonetheless, this is an incredible product for those with deep pockets.  Just be forewarned that the improvement that the Rollerblocks bring to your system may reveal other deficiencies that require thousands of dollars in additional upgrades. And stay hip to whether you are doing this for the enjoyment of the music, or for the enjoyment of the resolution of your system.


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