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Le Festival Son et Image de Montréal 2004

Day 1
Report By Ian White and Neil Walker
Click Here To E-Mail Reviewer


  We walked into Audio-Pathic's display and started thinking about audio gear as "Wow.  I'm always impressed when I go to an audio show and they have a lot of neat looking gear on silent display.  I like sculpture as much as the next person, but..." but then I saw the turntable and I was happy.  An Avid Volvere Sequel turntable was feeding a Koetsu Rosewood car! tridge into a Manley Steelhead pre-amp which was feeding a pair of Manley Mahi monoblocks.  Audioquest Type 6 cables hurried the electrons into two Audes Blues speakers.  About $3,200 CAD for the speakers, with more than $20,000 supporting them.  Made us wonder how ordinary mortals would like these speakers attached to their Sony ES gear.  We would have loved to try the larger Audes driven by a number of new solid-state offerings from Threshold, but we were treated to a silent demo.


Ian and I met with Matt Brazeau, the former owner of Analog Emporium and Globe Audio Marketing, whose a thoughts on MP3, CD, and the digital revolution are not encouraging for the high-end industry. On the other hand, we agreed that the growth in vinyl availability and analogue gear gives some hope for the recovery of music in hi-fi, hi-end, audiophile stuff or whatever we are now.

Then we hit the Sony room.  Lots of big screen, LCD and plasma televisions.  Beautiful, but there is still just a hint of lag in fast moving objects.  Sony has made great strides with their Grand Wega LCD sets, which had many attendees quite captivated with high-definition sources. At $29,000, the statement Sony 60-inch plasma set is way out of the reach of most people, but it does provide a magnificent viewing experience.


On silent display was a small unit that incorporated DVD, CD, SACD and receiver and Sony even gave it their ES (Elevated Standard) label. So, for $1,699 CAD you can have it all in the AVD-C700ES.


Classé Audio has a new look with nifty little display screens.  Not sure why, but they sure do impress the fashionistas of audio shows.  So the Classé CDP 100 running the CAP 2100 made the Focal.JMlabs Divas sound like really good $3,000 loudspeakers.  Except that they cost $15,900 CAD.  It is quite possible that thinness is a desirable quality in sound, but where are the people who want to pay for it?

ProAc Response D 15? A quick visit suggested that the older Response series models are an even bigger bargain after all of these years.


Paradigm went driver happy designing the new, high-end Signature line.  An Anthem Statement Surround sound processor and amplifier drove the eight-driver S8.  Apart from seeming flat and unmusical, it was a great looking system.


Mighty Joe Lamhorn made its debut in Montreal, and this bass-reflex design sounded extremely smooth and coherent with its AER driver.  At 95dB, this loudspeaker requires very little power to open up and we were quite taken by its reproduction of strings and choral work.


Naim brought the almost ready for prime time DVD5 player to Montreal, and our initial impressions were that it offers a lot of performance, most importantly a very solid sounding CD player. At close to $4,500 (USD), the DVD5 is going to have to be really, really good if Naim is going to convince non-Naim users to give it a try. The DVD5 was connected to Naim's AV2 surround processor/preamp, which controlled two NAP-200 stereo amplifiers and one NAPV175. As much as we liked the new Naim equipment, we both left the room with the same impression – fantastic system being held back by the speakers. Fanatical Naim users might take issue with us on this point, but we have yet to hear an all-Naim system that was as musically pleasing as a Naim/Spendor or Naim/Neat set-up.


The YBA Passion Integrated ($7,250 CAD), YBA CD player ($8,000 CAD) made the JM Lab Diva Beryllium speakers quite happy but would you be $31,000 happy with this system?  Great sound, but the prices, even in USD (about $23,000) put me in mind of Pulp Fiction, "He'd have to be one fucking charming pig."

While listening to a cut from Dead Can Dance, we felt that the Focal.JMlab/YBA system was quite smooth sounding, open, clear, but not punchy enough.  There was a noticeable lack of midrange warmth and top end sparkle which we felt kept this system from being really spectacular.


Ayre had two demonstrations in Montreal, one live, and the other static.  The extremely well reviewed line-up runs more than $25,000, and we were very impressed by both the sound and construction quality.


British loudspeaker manufacturer, Living Voice, had a pair of its Avatar OBX on display, driven by Conrad-Johnson amplification, and it was hard not to be impressed by the resolution of the sound at very low listening levels.  Chord's stackable transport and digital converter were not only one of the few eye-popping pieces at the show, but they are clearly capable of state-of-the-art digital reproduction.


So the first night of the show resulted in a draw for best room.  The last two were the best. First was Rega. Tonight they were playing Gary Carr, double bass and Harmon Lewis, pipe organ (Kuhn, Switzerland) in a Handel Sonata.  The P9 turntable ($5,250 with external power supply), Exact cartridge ($870), Cursa pre-amp ($1,395), Exon amplifiers ($2,790) and the new R9 speakers ($5,995) made some music magic – at last.


What really made this system work was the simplicity of the set-up, the synergy of the associated components, and the atmosphere of fun in the room.  If we had to isolate one component which we felt was the weak link, it would most certainly be the Cursa.  There is no question that the entire system (which also included a new Radio 3, Planet 2000 CD player, and Jupiter 2000 CD player) works well together, but the preamp moans ever so quietly..."under-achiever."  If Rega could up the quality of the preamp one more notch, this would be the single best value system in all of audio. The R9 loudspeakers are a significant triple jump forward in performance for Rega and we suspect that what we heard was only a hint of its music making capabilities.


Second best, was the McCormack and ASW room.  Mighty Sam McCain was demonstrating his gravelly voice and great guitar chops on the UDP 1 CD/DVD player. The RLD 1 Pre-amp drove the DNA 225 amplifier into the ASW Genius 400 speakers ($4,895).  Music – what a lift.


Then, out into the miserably cold, rainy, and windy night as we made the annual twenty minute pilgrimage to Schwartz's for smoked meat and black cherry soda.

Love Atkins.

Day 2


Click here to see last year's show coverage.













































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