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Le Festival Son et Image de Montréal 2004

Day 3
Report By Ian White and Neil Walker
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  Coincident Speaker Technology was using owner Israel Blume's personal Alchemist Forsetti APD33A drive and APD34A DAC to show off the Coincident MP300B single-ended monoblock amplifiers ($3,999 USD/pair) that powered the Coincident 3-way Partial Eclipse Series 2 speakers. ($3,500 USD/pair).  I have never heard the Barenaked Ladies ! sound so present in their recording "Hello City" as I did in that room.  Their first CD has a lot of vocal information that not every system captures.  Not only did the realistic mid-range that one expects of a single-ended 300B amplifier come through the Coincident loudspeakers, the bass and horn harmonics were so true that the room came alive.  Similarly for Lorna Hunt's recording, playing when we first entered the room.


Allied Distribution was featuring Cain and Cain loudspeakers and Cayin (pronounced "cane") and, the one phonetic oddball, Radii monoblocks.  My first exposure to a Cain and Cain loudspeaker had been their near-field Abby, being driven by a one-watt Fi X amplifier.  Stunning.  The regular Abbys captured the same kind of open, detailed and airy quality as their near-field siblings. We spent a moment or two discussing the relative merits of the Fender!  sunburst finish and the beauty of light maple (both Abbys are solid maple cabinets), but the sound won out as we moved to the music. For $1,500 USD ($2,300 CAD) these were a remarkable listening experience.  However, loudspeakers can only use what you give them and this set of loudspeakers seemed to be getting lots from the electronics. The Cayin tube CD player T15 ($1399 CAD) fed the Cayin SC10 pre-amp.  The signal then went into 20 watt Radii monoblocks ($2,399 CAD/pair).  These amplifiers use 12AX7, EL34 and 6C33 tubes to make the magic.  The brand new Bailey subwoofer from Cain and Cain was used to fill-out the lowest octaves in this system, and it appears that Terry Cain has put together a $3,000 combination with a lot of personality and performance.  The Bailey really allows the Abby to open up and it should be quite intoxicating with a 45 or 2A3 SET power amplifier.


Magic? Did I say magic? The Temptations sing Frank Zappa and Palo Conte are different ends of the universe, but spectacular with this gear. After hearing a number of suites that hurt the ears, the clarity, and its pellucid sound were quite a treat.

Same story for the Loth-X and Song Audio room. Another single driver speaker (what's with these people?) and another 300B amplifier made Eva Cassidy's performance of "Take me to the river," vivid and well-balanced.  As with many female vocalists, Cassidy can be made to sound harsh on high and loud notes, but the Song gear plus the Loth-X Troubadors ($4,500 USD, $7,000 CAD) system showed its aplomb throughout the entire range of her voice as well as in its responsiveness to the percussion and guitar portions of the music.  We heard the Song Audio SA1 pre-amplifier with separate power supply ($5,000 CAD) the Song SA-300B power amplifier ($5,600 CAD) handling the output of an Audio Analogue Paganini CD player.  Look for some more detailed reviews of the Song gear in Enjoy the Music.com™.


We always love to find great sound at reasonable prices. While Onkyo has announced a surprising DVD-CD system, as good as it is at that price, it is not what one might call high-end audio. On the other hand, Reflexion Acoustique put together a high-end system that was high-end in performance only. A pair of Gala-Solo speakers using a single four-inch Fostex FE103 driver costs $1,000 CAD.  A Synthesis Ensemble tube integrated amplifier, 30 watts per channel costs $2,200. The only expensive part of the system is the Simaudio Moon Nova CD player at $4,200 CAD. The sound was musical, with strong bass, clear highs and well-defined mids. The speaker, we were told, is good down to 60 Hz and the listening bore this out. All of the truly excellent sound we heard at the show came from systems where the persons putting them together knew which units worked with each other, and this room was an excellent example of just how effective the right combination of components is as important as having megabucks to spend.


Another prime example of this thinking was the system we heard consisting of Naim gear feeding a pair of P.E. Lyon Quattro Reference loudspeakers. Throughout the day on Friday, I had been scorning Ian's appreciation of Naim gear. On Friday, we had stopped by the Naim room and I was most unimpressed with the sound.  Ian said that the problem was the room itself and the speakers – apparently, Naim devotees rather reluctantly recognize the brand's lack of loudspeaker achievement. So, it took a pair of $1,800 loudspeakers to change my mind.  The Naim set-up had everything necessary to qualify as excellent.  Ian called this $20,000 collection of Naim gear, a mid-level system, although he conceded that he would easily die and move to Israel with this CDX2-NAP200-NAC202-Hi-Cap-NAPSC-Fraim set-up if funds allowed. I could now listen to a musical system that has lots of headroom, high ! definition musical reproduction in all parts of the sound spectrum, and the kind of depth and richness one would expect from Naim. You win, Ian.


Simaudio is one of several audio success stories in Quebec. The quality of their products gives reassurance that styling, marketing and business savvy are not all that long-term success in a competitive industry requires: quality will determine your staying power, and quality is what Simaudio has had at every step of their growth.

This show featured a small listening room that introduced me to their new Limited Edition of the well-regarded Moon sub-brand. The electronics line-up started with an Eclipse LE CD player ($7,200 USD), then P-5 LE pre-amplifier ($6,750USD) and the W-5 LE power amplifier ($6,000 USD). Dynaudio Confidence C2 loudspeakers ($12,000 USD) made all the moving electrons sound nice.  To ensure that all these units performed as they should, each of the Eclipse and P-5 used an LS line filter and the W5 and L! FA filter.  The L-S sell for $600 USD each and the LFA unit costs $650 USD. All interconnects; power cords and speaker cables were by Cardas.

Despite the small hotel room, the sound was most convincing, with all the things I love about music: depth, detail, no one part of the spectrum dominating or receding. Stereo sound staging worked well, providing a sense of spatial depth without benefit of echo chambers, rear speakers, under floor woofers or any other kind of multi-channel exotica. This was a pure pleasure room, no question. And the comment about styling? Simaudio's gear is always good looking and finished to a high standard. Aluminum gleaming everywhere, and when you remove the lid, you see the same kind of dedication to build quality inside the machine.

I was sad not to have the chance to give the Nova LE CD payer a good tryout, nor the I-5. Both of these less expensive units have received good notice for a lower price than the other Moon gear. If the past is any indication of the future, both these units will behave with the usual Simaudio good grace and well-honed sound.


One of our favorite stops is always the Gershman loudspeaker room. Perhaps it was just the hour on Sunday (after a while, numb ears and numb feet are the show reviewer's lot), but in both Gershman rooms we visited, the musical reproduction gave me shivers, it was that exciting.

With a number of fine-tuning changes, the Gershman GAP has become the 828 ($14,000 CAD, $13,000 USD).  A new unit I had not heard before was driving this large, unique looking collection of reciprocating motors.  (It still reminds me of a rabbi at prayer.)


The listening was first to Bob Walsh doing "The House of the Rising Sun." The bass and mid range was tight and well defined.  Then, Jheena Lodwick sang "Oh, Danny Boy." The guitar, quietly, softly played set the stage for her voice. ! Her voice, from a near-whisper to very loud high notes, was always ear-friendly; free of the frequent hi-fi unpleasantness that second-rate gear gives. The Linar electronics and Gershman loudspeakers seem to embody the entire concept of synergy.

Even clearer was the synergy in the next Gershman room that Ofra Gershman insisted we visit.  Here, a pair of Avant-Garde RX 20 loudspeakers, with a Marantz DVD/CD, player, the DV8400 ($2,500) and the Linar five-channel integrated amplifier ($5,000 CAD, $4,000 USD) was making mockery of the audio truth that there is no such thing as good multi-channel amplifiers or good DVD video musical sound.  We listened to a five -channel presentation of a Diana Krall DVD and the Avant Gardes carried the full weight of the piano into the room. The piano is usually an extraordinary test of audio gear. Complex, with earthiness in its lowest notes, a sense of weight and density in the midrange, and a combination of lightness and br! ick-like solidity in its highest notes, it shames the slightest weakness in circuitry, cabinetry (some years ago, one manufacturer rebuilt my speakers because of a wiring buzz that certain notes in a Beethoven sonata caused), voice coils or speaker cones. There is a little more to the story of the RX20s. When I first heard them, they sounded very good. But with their rebuild (did I mention the rebuild yet?) and the Linar electronics, they were even more shiver making than their bigger mates, the 828s.


The rebuild of the RX20s is what every manufacturer should do. It resembles the process that Simaudio went through to create the LE line. As Ofra explained, the changes to the new RX20, chief designer and engineer, Eli Gershman, set about applying even more rigorous standards to the parts list and the drivers. As a result of gaining one percent here and two per cent there, these loudspeakers have lower and tighter bass than they did previously The highs are extended and the entire sound is a little more forward. The RX20s are now an exciting option if you seek loudspeakers in the $5,000 range ($5,800 CAD, $4,800 USD).

Just to make sure that we got the point, we also heard Kodo drummers from the album Kodo – Mondo Head and the brand new Peter Gabriel DVD – in concert.  More shivers.

Then, just to be ornery, Ian insisted that we go to his lifelong favorites: a room that hooked up a stack of entry level Naim gear to a pair of Spendor Classic SP3/1 loudspeakers.  The electronics consisted of the Naim CD5 ($3,200 USD), NAP 150 ($2,350 USD) and the Naim NAC 112 ($1,900 USD). A totally different experience from the Gershman rooms, yet a perfect example of the laid back but accurate British sound.  This system is one you can live with for years and years, because it never ceases to surprise you with its musical analysis and quiet insistence on sound that never hurts anyone's ears, even supersensitive female ears. Women have much better high frequency hearing and it lasts many years longer than does male high frequency hearing. That may be the reason that the Love Goddess cannot be in the same room at the same volume level as old cement-ears Walker requires.

One of the last rooms that we visited on Sunday, hosted by Audio Advancements, had a lot of really interesting equipment.  I must confess that I did not know some of the brands represented, but it was quite clear that Mr. White was most familiar with the cartridges from Jan Allaerts, tonearms from Mørch, and amplification from Tron.


Ian, almost collapsed when he spotted the entry-level MC from Jan Allaerts, and furiously began taking pictures of the rather striking cartridge once he composed himself.  The amplification from Tron was also quite pleasing to the ears, and seemed to have a lot of interesting features. The uni-pivot UP-4 and DP-6 look somewhat scary to use, especially with the $2,000 (and up) moving coils from Allaerts, but Ian suggested trying something like a Schroder or Hadcock with it.


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