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Le Festival Son et Image de Montréal 2004

Page 2
Report By Rick Becker
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  James subwoofers have achieved, in a very short time, legendary status — primarily in the home theater arena. Stereophile magazine will be coming out with a full review shortly, presumably in a music oriented system. In active display, they showed an "under the floor/in the closet" version of their subwoofer with a clothes dryer umbilical cord that extends the port through a wall, or up from the floor, allowing you to keep the black box completely out of sight. Special straps are used to suspend the subwoofer from the floor joists for isolation and the 500-watt digital amplifier is a separate rack-mounted unit with a complete set of controls. But equally impressive, if not more-so, was their in-wall loudspeakers, designed with their own welded aluminum box designed to fit between the studs. These loudspeaker feature a front control on the faceplate that allows you to tune the loudspeaker to the room after all the furnishings have been put in the room.  After all, it is no simple matter to change the positioning once the drywall has gone up.  Shown on stands a foot or so out from the wall, these black crackle finished speakers with their wide baffles produced an excellent, holographic sound that belied their ham radio image.

In fact, their look is so unique adding the finish to the bare aluminum box behind the baffle would produce a complete design statement worthy of any hi-tech or contemporary environment. On a second visit to the room at the end of the show, some New Age music sounded completely ethereal, making this one of the high points of the show for me.

 James Subwoofer & Stand Mounted Loudspeakers


The photo does not do justice to the beauty of the B&W Signature 805 in Tiger Eye finish.  This $5,200 CN loudspeaker on $900 CN stands produced outstanding sound driven by the latest Classé electronics.  The $5K CN CDP CD player and $6,900 CAP 2100 integrated amplifier were having their world "consumer" premier at this show, and appeared in several rooms.  The sound was very good, here, I thought.


Verity Audio showed their new Sarastro loudspeakers with ribbon tweeter.  The shape and configuration of this $40K loudspeaker is similar to the familiar Parsifal, and uses a dampened aluminum plate between the upper and lower cabinets. A dCs digital front end was further clarified by the Symposium Acoustics Quantum platform on which it rested, and the Ayre amplifier was on a Symposium Ultra platform while cabling was by Silversmith Audio. In fact, I saw quite a lot of Symposium platforms throughout the show. I know first hand how well their more affordable versions work. They remain a staple in my own system.  The sound, here, was excellent, as might be expected from this distinguished loudspeaker manufacturer.  And if $40K shocks you, then you certainly do not want to hear about the $80K model that was on silent display.

But you don't have to go borderline bankrupt to afford good a musical experience. The Creek/Epos room proved that convincingly.  In a $6,500 rig, the new Epos 12.2 stand mounted loudspeaker put out very enjoyable music from an aesthetically pleasing, well finished box. The most intriguing component in the room, however, was a unique all-wood four shelf equipment rack priced at $1299 CN. The Isoblue rack is available in natural ash, cherry, dark oak, mahogany and black finishes. Epos is also addressing the home theater crowd with center channel models to go with their very high-value paired loudspeakers. With their wooden cabinets, they all fit nicely into traditional and country style homes, as well as contemporary settings.


Isoblue Wood Rack


Continuing the theme of affordability, Meadowlark played their American E Series loudspeaker, a basic floorstander coming in at $995 US/ $1,395 CN.  It was driven very nicely by a Rogue Stereo 90 tube amp at $1,995 CN.  There was good value as well as good music in this room.  Rogue has finally dropped the old crow logo and replaced it with handsome, if not exotic, styling that befits the homes of people who can afford their equipment. They can send me a pair of M-150 monoblocks (150 wpc, $3,995 US/ pr) for review whenever they like. The photo below shows the more fully enclosed Stereo 90, rather than the M-150, which features a welded wire tube cage.

Rogue Amplifier


Moving up the food chain another step, Naim electronics combined with Spendor Classic SP3/1P loudspeakers at $2295 CN.  The Naim Nap 150 power amp in this rig was priced at $2350 CN.  The music here was, well... classic, which is to say eminently listenable, full bodied and non-fatiguing — the perfect rig for someone who cares about the music first and doesn't give a hoot about equipment — not that there wasn't a lot of thought put into this system, however.

Moving way up into the Big League, Dynaudio presented their S5.4 floorstander at $11.5K CN if I'm not mistaken, here.  A Sony SCDXA-9000ES (SACD) player ($4500 CN) and a Naim CDX2/XPS CD player were the digital front ends.  A Musical Fidelity M1 turntable with SME M2 arm ($7,500 CN) provide analogue playback. Pass Labs provided the amplification with their X-1 pre-amplifier ($7,800 CN) and XA-160 monoblocks ($25K/pr CN). Pass will be coming out with XA-100 monoblocks soon, I understand, if you don't need as much power.  To put it simply: this was the best Dynaudio equipped system I've ever heard.  It is also the best Pass Labs driven system I've ever heard.  Perhaps the PS Audio power regenerator, power cords and Cardas cabling had something to do with it, but there was a lot of synergy and musical life in this system, without the limitations of narrow sweet spot that comes with the more expensive Dynaudio Confidence Series loudspeakers. This room was one of the best at the show, to my ears.

Ceramic drivers have come to the masses, courtesy of Infinity loudspeakers and their Beta Series with CMMD (Ceramic Metal Matrix Diaphragms) which are claimed to be three times as stiff as titanium, and 85 times stiffer than felted paper.  The surround sound demonstration was powered by Harman Kardon electronics and had a crisp, highly focused sound — just the ticket for the Headphone Generation when they finally discover there is something better than MP3 and iPods.  The fronts were $1200, center $500, surrounds $700 and subwoofer $700.  The rig seemed more aimed at home theater than music, depending on your favorite genre of either, I suppose.  What we have here, though, is trickle-down technology that is bound to improve over time.  Stay tuned.

Brinkmann, from Germany, produced a complete system, save for the loudspeaker, which was equally extraordinary, being Eggleston Works Andra II ($18,900 US).  The front end was their stainless steel version of their Balance turntable ($12,900 US) with a 10.5 inch tonearm ($3,500 US) and EMT phono cartridge ($2,500 US).  There is a separate tube power supply for the turntable, a separate power supply for a heater to keep the bearing oil at a constant temperature, a separate power supply for the phono stage, and a separate power supply for the pre-amplifier ($9,600 US).  I believe there were monoblock power amplifiers driving the Eggleston Works loudspeakers — I was in such awe of the front end that I forgot to notice.  Again, this was one of the best rooms at the show.  Are you getting the impression that there was lots of analog being played?  BTW, the custom equipment rack in natural cherry was an unassuming piece of exceptional quality by Middle Branch Furniture in upstate New York.

Brinkmann Turntable & Equipment Rack


Odyssey, Revelation and NAD combined for a home theater demonstration that had people glued to their seats.  I can't tell you much about the room, however, since it was dark and loud.

Odyssey continued to wave the high-value banner again this year with their electronics that were originally designed in Germany and are now built in the US.  The electronics look like they come from a much larger corporation. The loudspeakers, sourced from Canada, are high quality and modest in size — a combination that makes for great spousal acceptance.  Their products are sold factory-direct, meaning that you save the mark-up normally earned by the retailer.  Shows like this are a rare opportunity for most audiophiles to experience the excellence of their products.  Their "large" system cost $4,500 US, without a source, and their "small" system came in at $1,500, again, without source components.  Figure on the large system working best in a medium size room, and the smaller system best in a smaller room. Odyssey never fails to impress me at Montreal, and they deserve much more attention than my annual flag-waving show report.


Fab Audio, also, never fails to impress me. They were playing their high efficiency large monitor complete with super-tweeter when I first entered.  It looked like the front end was a modified Teac transport with a Manley preamp and Manley Retro 250 monoblocks (not that the Fabs needed all that power).  Then they switched over to their new $2K two-way, the Brat, which displayed similar competency at a much lower price point. 


Aurum Acoustics presented the latest evolution of their complete system package and the sound in this room was excellent.  The Integris Active 300B loudspeakers includes monoblocks that put out 5 watts SET for the tweeter, 5 watts SET for the midrange and a built-in Bryston sourced solid state amplifier with adjustable bass loading for $24K/pr. Their Integris CDP CD player/preamplifier resamples at 24-bit/192kHz, includes five digital inputs and goes for another $8K CN.  A remote control can change absolute phase in the digital domain. This is a feature I wish would become more commonplace, and available in more moderately priced equipment, for correct phase can make a huge difference in the playback of CDs.  In the photo, Derrick Moss explains all the benefits of this full range (20Hz on up) system.  Cabling was by Cardas.


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