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Le Festival Son et Image
de Montréal 2003

Le Festival Son et Image de Montréal 2001

Coverage by Rick Becker
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Page 2


Also opting for two channel, but surround sound capable, was Sonus Faber with their stand mounted Cremona auditor, looking like the top 14" of the floor-standing Cremona, which is among the most beautiful loudspeakers in production today. The $6,000 price tag includes the beautifully integrated and sensuous stands. To follow is a horizontally oriented center channel speaker on a shorter stand of similar design, and a 320 watt powered subwoofer that incorporates two passive radiators in addition to the 300mm main driver. The Classé electronics did a fine job with the auditor, which is rated at 88dB sensitivity and a nominal impedance of 4 ohms. For those who appreciate its impeccable design and quality sound, the price does not matter.

Another fine room that caught my ear featured a dCS front end with Nagra pre-amplifier and tube monoblocks powering the Verity Audio Parsifal loudspeakers, which at the Montreal show, at least, are approaching icon status. Unfortunately, their price seems to keep rising as a result. Also present in this room was a fired up Nagra reel-to-reel digital tape deck. While I suspected that there might have been some comparison between CD and master tape in the offing, I couldn't stick around with so many rooms yet to visit. This room was sponsored by the audiophile record company Fidelio who compiled the official Festival demo CD.

Wilson Benesch loudspeakers have never disappointed me, and I found their stand mounted Discovery in a tweaked out room with Foundation Research LC-1 filters on the loudspeakers, LC-2 line filters on the Orpheus's Three-M slim line monoblock amplifiers ($8,400 US), and Foundation Research's own V6 line stage. There must have been a phono stage in there somewhere, too, as Wilson Benesch's Circle turntable with their carbon fiber .5 arm and a Benz H2O cartridge filled the room with "Lyle Lovett's Big Band" on LP.  An Audio Aero Capitole CD player was there, just in case, and Symposium Acoustics platforms were under the turntable and all the electronics making sure the only vibrations heard were good vibrations.


I had an interesting talk with Patrick Butler of Sumiko, who had an example of the Vienna Acoustics aluminum bodied Schonberg floorstander/on-wall loudspeaker at $2,500/pr US, designed for near wall placement. This 3.5" shallow depth series is very contemporary and voiced to appeal to the younger crowd, as opposed to their wood bodied series, which is aimed more toward classical music reproduction. Unfortunately, I've never heard either series.



The most notable items in the Cyrus room were the custom racks, one of natural maple, the other of metal, that neatly organized their compact "rack systems"...but then, these are not your ordinary rack systems.

Burmester had a very fine sounding room that featured an Oracle CD transport, dCS digital front end, followed by all things Burmester: pre-amplifier, power amplifier, and their new $6,300 CN stand mounted monitor, the 022.

Possibly in this same neighborhood, I saw the incredible Solidtech Rack of Silence. It had large chrome balls in races in the wooden cross members that were held together with cast aluminum parts.  It looked like a medieval torture chamber instrument or something from a Bruce Willis film. Amazing.

There seem to be a lot of horn speakers at Montreal each year, and this year was no exception. An SME turntable headed a system powered by Manley Neo-Classic SE/PP 300B tube monoblocks ($7,200/pr US) driving Beauhorn speakers. This room had a classic sound that took me back to my early days when rock 'n roll was being born, yet was clearly more refined, and stereo, no less! Beside the long Manleys I had my first glimpse of the diminutive Mahi monoblocks, which others at the show perhaps had a chance to hear. (I'm currently having lots of fun with the Mahis; look for my review in July).

The Audes Blues loudspeaker has cropped up in distinguished rooms over the past several years. Without going back to my files, let me guess that this is an Estonian company that produces a wide range of consumer speakers, only a few of which ever cross the ocean.  This year the Blues were featured in a David and Goliath match-up with Balanced Audio Technology tube gear and the result was a real knockout, with both companies coming out on top.  At $3,500/pr, the Blues are a real contender. And BAT has reinvented itself at a higher level with their use of the 6H30 super tube.

The Audes Blues showed up again in another very fine room featuring Audio Harmony Triode Linestage with remote control of volume and selection that will sell for $3,000 US. A Phillips DVD 963SA with SACD was at the front end and Halcro dm58 monoblocks were more than enough power for the Blues.


Aurum Acoustics presented a prototype "system" that seemed very close to completion.  Their take on the high end is a combination of dedicated amplifier and loudspeaker. The separate amplifier includes the crossover for the speaker, and uses 300B tubes for the midrange and tweeter, and a solid-state amplifier for the bass. The total package, which may include the cables, is targeted around $20,000 CN. Keep an eye out and an ear open for this company.


Naim Audio had a rack full of electronics with a turntable to boot that made great music with the North American debut of Dynaudio's new stand mounted S1.4 loudspeaker ($4,500 CDN). This was the best sounding system powered by Naim that I can recall in many years of show-going and featured the Naim 5 CD player, Nac 202 pre-amplifier and Nap-200 amplifier at 70 wpc.  The system came in at about $20,000 CDN.


Oracle presented a loudspeaker project in their room that crossed over from a single cone driver to a horizontally mounted ribbon tweeter at 6kHz. The horizontal mounting was said to give more vertical dispersion. On silent display were their Delphi CD transport ($5,600 CN), turntable ($6650), CD 2500 CD player ($12,500 CN) and their Delphi Integrated Amp Si 3000, ($17,500 CN). But the big news was the new electronics playing the music: a relatively more affordable 150 wpc integrated amplifier at $4,750 CN, and a regular box shape silver CD player at $3,950 CN.


The very handsome Phoenix SE 15, 15 watt, class A SET tube monoblock ($11,000 CN/pr.) that debuted last year made a repeat showing in a very musical combination that included a Naim CDX II CD player ($7,200 CN), Hovland HP 100 pre-amplifier ($8,100 CN), and Spendor S9 loudspeakers ($6,500). I've been an admirer of Spendor loudspeakers since I became a born again music listener, and this system renewed my faith in them.



My editor requested that I be sure to photograph the Brinkmann LaGrange turntable ($8,500 US) with two tonearms ($3,200 each).  But that was just the front end of a very fine system that included a Fabreeka platform with a granite top for the turntable. A Phillips SACD CD player with tube output that was present, but not heard. There was a new Brinkmann Fein solid-state phonostage in there for $1,650 US. Throw in a pair of Brinkmann 175 watt "Class A" monoblocks that double into 4 ohms for $8,950. Finish it off with the very handsome Marten Design's Miles II loudspeakers with ceramic drivers for $7,200, and tie it all together with very high priced Stealth audio cables and you have a very nice few minutes of listening.  Unfortunately, I encountered this room early on my first day, and felt pressured to move on before I really wanted to.



I wasn't at all prepared for what I saw and heard in the Moon/Dynaudio room. The advertisements for the Dynaudio Special 25 loudspeaker give no indication of the nature of the beast. If you were thinking of something like the little BBC monitors, think "Times Six". And if you were thinking cheap dappled vinyl wrap, think "Rich Burl". And if you were thinking anemic mini-monitor sound, think "Almost Full Range Floor-stander with Mini-Monitor Soundstaging". The only thing ordinary about this $4,800 US stand-mounted speaker is the shape of the box.  The sound was deep, rich and nearly full-range. Of course, the 425 wpc Moon monoblocks might have had something to do with that, I suppose.

And to complete the 1-2 punch, in the next room, I was lured in by the sound of Nora Jones, where they had a Musical Fidelity Tri-Vista CD/SACD player ($9,500 CN), Cary SLP 98 pre-amplifier ($5,600), and Cary V12i ($6,600), driving Dynaudio's Contour S 3.4 floorstander ($8,000 CN). Good show, men! I thought the Quadraspire wood rack and amplifier stands were a very tasteful touch, here, too.


The most bizarre presentation honors has to go to Art-i-son, whose red-lighted dark room gave us a wall of gothic looking loudspeakers that seemed to include some sort of massive folded horn technology. As some people say, presentation is everything. The flash on my camera was able to dispense with the smoke and mirrors in the room, but at the cost of conveying the true atmosphere that pervaded the space.

Focus Audio, using their new FS 788 tower loudspeaker achieved clean sound with lots of air with the help of a hearty cast of players that included an Ayre CD player used as a transport, a slim line Weiss DAC from Switzerland, an Ayre integrated amplifier and a massive PS Audio Power Plant. The Focus loudspeakers featured the light burl veneer that has practically become their signature finish, although it is available in another shade of burl and gloss black.

Odyssey is a value line based on German circuitry from Symphonic Line, but assembled in the USA, and marketed directly to the public. Their exposure at shows like Montreal is important to their success, and they typically acquit themselves quite well. I've raved about their speakers in the past. The $2,500 US Lorelei and $1,600 Nightengale were on display. I believe the Nightengale is a spin-off from the Canadian manufacturer Revelation Audio. This time they were using the new Kharatog power amplifier at $750 US and Etesian passive pre-amplifier with active switching at $250, to anchor a very nice sounding high value entry system. For those wishing to take another step upward, they have their Stratos amplifier at $1,070 and Tempest pre-amplifier at $950, which look a lot more expensive than they are.

Blue Circle had their Pumps (small monoblock power amplifiers built in high heel shoes) on silent display. I keep hoping they will someday go all out and give the Pumps and Purse pre-amplifier center stage, complete with live models and all the trappings, but this was not the year. Instead, they went with mainstream gear driving Martin Logan loudspeakers.



The Chord DAC that premiered last year was joined by a matching MC phono stage, line stage and 30 wpc power amplifier to form a high end mini-system, complete with a special rack holding the components on an angle for both visibility and presumably, heat dissipation. The Chord Pearl series lists for about $25,000 CN and was complemented on the front end by a Nottingham Spacedeck turntable at $4,200 CN, and on the business end with the North American premier of a new speaker from Living Voice. The very relaxed analog sound in this room stood out in stark contrast to many systems at the show that seemed to be grabbing at you for attention.

fab audio speakers are perennial standouts at Montreal and this year fab showed an add-on super tweeter on its $10,000 CDN flagship Model 1. Hovland's Sapphire amplifier drove the fab, and a TEAC CD player modified by Audio Upgrades fed the system.

Linar Audio, a young company whose amplifier I admired several years ago now has a foothold in the industry and had their Pre-amplifier 2 ($4,250 CDN) and Power Amplifier 250i ($6,500 CDN) driving a pair of Wilson Witt loudspeakers (on casters, for quick delivery). Good sound here from this factory direct company.


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complete listing of show exhibitors.

Click here to see last year's show coverage.













































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