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Festival du son et de l'image

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

  This year we were taken by surprise with the $30,000 Gaya speaker from Belgium. It had some clichéd features like piano gloss black finish, and the pyramidal top section, looking something like a mutant Watt/Puppy, but there were some significant design innovations that merit serious investigation and critical listening. In the top part is located the midrange. And in the larger part of the cabinet below the mid-range were two forward facing woofers. The tweeters were mounted on an arm that cantilevered out directly in front of each woofer. In a separate gloss black box on the floor was a passive crossover with five hoses connecting with a massive connector that looked about the size of a hospital grade male plug. The geometry of the speaker head was quite complex, with the midrange angled toward the prime listening position. As I recall the dispersion was excellent--the music sounding very rich and balanced even as I videotaped the speakers from the side. Good as the Gaya may be, most people should concentrate on the rest of the e line, which was much more affordable.

While the architectural beauty of the Gaya attracted me to the speaker, The Tetra speakers with their 3-sided pyramid atop the main column attracted me with the beauty of their wood finish in as well as their unusual shape. A couple of copies from The Inner Ear gave the Model Space and the Model Live very good reviews. I especially liked the colored stain used on one of the models--Canadians are much more open to this sort of artistic treatment, it seems. Also noteworthy in this room was the Rogue electronics. Helped out by an EAD CD player, this is the finest
sound I've heard by Rogues.

Swiss company Ensemble was present with their electronics powering their Minimata speaker. The sound was excellent, but there was no bass. I hear they don't allow speakers with bass into Switzerland out of fear of avalanches. 8-)

Reference 3A Summum Acoustique was playing a $35,000 pair of speakers specially built for a customer. It includes custom wiring to suit the customer's amplifier. The tweeter and mids were mounted in a separate piece of teak (because it's oily and absorbs sound better) that is suspended on the front in neoprene to isolate it from the cabinet. Likewise, the crossover is mounted on the rear in a 1" thick board, wired for tri-wiring. The French firm Cairn looked and sounded very good.  They had an interesting tuna-can shaped remote control that was optional. Meanwhile the Primare line of electronics was very handsome. Alas, the Reference 3A monitors on stands (pictured right) were powered by a nice 18 wpc tube amp, but the room was too noisy to comment on.

Tenore, the Italian OTL amp manufacturer is moving away from their wood frame amps to the aluminum (?) bodied ones where the tubes erupt from conical volcanoes on the chassis. Verity Audio speakers sounded very good with Sony SACD source material, but the kinky percussion music made it difficult for me to get a grip on the system. There is a lot to be said for playing familiar music when auditioning.

A massive Clearaudio turntable was the source in the Nagra room with Verity Audio speakers, again. The sound was clear and polite, but like the Tenore metal housed amps, I didn't really warm up to the Jules Verne styling of the Nagra equipment. They must be using the same designers as made the audio recorders I used back in the Sixties.

In the Cary room I had my first exposure to Soliloquy speakers. I also heard them driven by Talk Electronics. They sound very nice, even at low volume, which is a trick not mastered by many speaker
manufacturers. Cary also had some new electronics on silent display--hybrid amps?

Ultra-precise was the word of the day in a room that started out with an Oracle black & gold transport (buy it in silver) and moved on to dCS Elgar @ 192kHz to Jeff Rowland Model 12 amps to Eggleston speakers. This was the best I think I have ever heard drums, but the ultra-sharp focus started to tire me pretty quickly. Could this be too much of a good thing?

More livable sound came from the much less expensive Opera speakers driven by an Audio Analogue CD player and integrated amplifier. Dare I leave out the $50,000+ stacking AU 24 Modular Line Array with 16 drivers per side? Well, they were active, so you don't need amps. Also, no crossovers, either. The soundstage stayed largely consistent as I walked about the room, but then, if I'm walking about the room, it is probably party time, and I'm not paying the music $50,000 worth of attention. Individual modules are $6500 powered, $3500 passive, each! Ouch!!!!

Avantgarde Acoustic Duo Triangle Ventis XS speakers at $6,295 a pair, driven by the French Cairn electronics, deserve a very favorable mention while the Avantgarde Duo 2.0 horn speakers (pictured left) driven by KR tube amps sounded better than I recall from past years. The cabling, as the host explained, runs through the supports in a more permanent installation, and is not visible. Man, wouldn't it be cool to try these with the new Art Audio PX-25 amp I mentioned earlier?

The Cabasse Adriatis 600 Evolution at $35,000 is both a visual and aural statement. Very fine on both counts. The big surprise was the McIntosh electronics driving them. You don't hear much about McIntosh. My local McIntosh dealer displays them with Paradigm Reference speakers in a room with a lot of mid-fi equipment. My experience in Montreal suggests perhaps their image needs a little dusting off. It was nice to see them out dating the Big Boys.

Cliffhanger Audio Systems new Bulldog stand mounted speaker with a d'apolito configuration gave the best sound I've heard yet from this Canadian firm. In the other Cliffhanger room was a floor standing speaker powered by Blue Circle electronics. The source was the AWESOME prototype turntable by Andre Theriault that I wanted to learn more about last year. With its carbon fiber arm, this table is an integral design with the stand. It incorporates both air bladders and a system similar to the Symposium Rollerblocks in the massive pillars that support the turntable. While the prototype cost in the neighborhood of $30,000, Andre suggested there might be a small production run (say 10) of a simplified version for about $15,000 each.

Manger had a pair of speakers rigged for audio shows that allowed them to connect and disconnect a side firing driver, depending on what sounded better in a given hotel room. Actual production models had a much simpler crossover. And I believe both the Manger driver and the woofers in the base module were powered
by built-in amps. These drivers are also available for people who want to build their own speakers. It is a sound of a different flavor that one does not learn to appreciate in a limited visit. Hopefully
someone will review these soon.

Speaking of reviews, keep your eye open for the Oskar Kithara speaker to be tested in UHF magazine No. 59. It has a very unusual heil-type(?) driver. I should also mention one of my positive encounters with the JMLabs Mezzo Utopia speakers was in a room powered by VTL electronics and a Meridian 508 CD player.

Bryston JoLida JD1000 integrated amps were used as monoblocks in a fine-sounding room. Next door, a single JD1000 powered a pair of Virtuel speakers very nicely! This is a very handsome amp with silver face and gold knobs. Somewhere I also heard a Bryston amp (pictured left) actually playing music! They've been here in previous years, but usually on silent display. I believe they were driving Tannoy speakers to good effect. On display were the new 14B ST stereo amp (500w @ 8 ohms, 800 watts @ 4 ohms), and their new SP1 surround processor with 24 bit decoding. But the BIG news from Bryston is the silver faceplates they showed this year. The silver fronts take them out of the black cliché and raise them to a higher, more desirable standard.


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