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Le Festival Son et Image de Montréal 2005

Rick Becker
Page 2

  Jasmine Products had a pair of products that were both interesting and beautiful — at least to my eye. The first was their Piano EL34 tube integrated amplifier with 43 wpc into 4 or 8 ohms for $2000 CN. The second was their T200, which is a 5 wpc headphone amplifier with inputs for an MP3 player or computer via USB port for $699 CN. The pictures tell the rest of the story as they were on silent display.



And while I'm on the subject of headphone amplifiers, one of the sheets of paper that made its way back from Montreal with me promotes Arachnid Audio's Workstac, which combines a headphone amplifier with a non-oversampling DAC. The DAC is AC powered, and the headphone amplifier can be run from AC or an available battery pack. I have no photos, and I don't even remember seeing this thing, so check them out if you're interested.

As my personal interest in projection home theater has grown recently, I was pleased to again encounter a demo of the Goo screen, which is a special paint that can be applied directly to your wall. While it doesn't give quite as bright an image as a good screen, it costs a lot less and does not involve the complexity of a motorized screen installation. Their logo grabbed me like a Roy Lichtenstein painting.



Isoclean is known for highly polished, gold plated accessories like power cords, plugs and power conditioners which are housed in polished solid copper chases.  This fanatical attention to surface connection is said to minimize any arcing in the electrical connection.


The music system in this room consisted of Tannoy Tuneberry loudspeakers with concentric drivers powered by Air Tight monoblocks and preamplifier.  Isoclean power conditioners filtered the electricity and the music was very smooth and grainless.

The Codell Audio room presented music with a Nottingham Spacedeck turntable equipped with a  Hadcock GH 242 arm and Dynavector DV 20XH cartridge ($5600 CN), Musical Fidelity A5CD player ($3295 CN), Sony SCD-XA9000ES SACD player ($4000 CN),  Audible Illusions L-2 preamplifier ($3400 CN), Quicksilver Audio V4 Monoblocks ($5400/pr CN), and Dynaudio Contour S3.4 loudspeakers ($7300 CN).  Isadore tactfully noted that I have been rather hard on Dynaudio speakers in the past, but I assured him that this room was a whole other ball game.  It was the first time I've heard Dynaudio driven by tubes, not to overlook the analog front end, and the result was excellent.  This was also the first time in a long while that I've seen the Audible Illusions preamp in action. Isadore responded to my query about driving Dynaudio with tube amplifiers by assuring me that the V4 is not your average tube amplifier. Indeed not, as I felt it was one of the Best Rooms at the show, and I now highly recommend auditioning Dynaudio loudspeakers with whatever tube amplifier it takes to drive the model in which you're interested.  Who would have thought?

Balanced Audio Technology used their electronics, including the VK-55 tube amplifier to drive the Von Schweikert VR-4jr loudspeaker. The system was well balanced, price-wise, and sounded very good, but did not measure up to my personal experience in reviewing the VR-4jr. This loudspeaker is worthy of very fine electronics, and I have no doubt that the addition of some vibration control devices would have improved this system significantly and brought the sound closer to what I was able to experience.  Of course, the same thing could be said of many of the systems at the show. Kudos to Jeffrey Poor from BAT for coming out to Montreal to put their equipment on active display this year.

Raidho is a Danish company that was new to me and they won me over with their stand mounted 2-way monitor featuring their own ribbon planar tweeter in a D'Appolito configuration. I'm not sure if it was from their X-treme series or their Emilie series, but the figure of $11K US for the speakers with stands spells expensive. Either way, we're talking 90dB sensitivity with 6-ohm impedance, although the impedance curve is said to be very flat, hence tube friendly. The styling was very attractive with light wood all the way around and shallow horn carved into the center of the face around the recessed tweeter. The electronics were from Cary with their CD player, a tube preamplifier and solid state CAD 500 MB monoblocks.  Top of the line Nordost speaker cable was used and the Raidho speakers use Nordost cable for internal wiring. At the risk of sounding too easy to please, I'll say that this was also one of the Best Rooms at the show.


Odyssey showed once again this year and Klaus Bunge turned the light on in the darkened room to reveal analog playing on one of two Symphonic Line turntables ever made. Stevie Ray Vaughn's rendition of Tin Pan Alley was very familiar music. The Odyssey line is derivative of the German Symphonic line and sold factory direct at much more affordable prices. Those looking for quality sound on a budget should definitely check out the possibilities here.


Weiner Lautsprecher Manufaktur (WLM) showed another model from their line — this one with two woofers below their crescent shaped tweeter module on top.  Highly regarded Audio Aero electronics powered this room, but probably because of the music that was playing here, it did not grab me the way the Inner Ear Report room did. Both of these manufacturers are distributed by Globe Audio Marketing in Canada.

Exposure electronics has been out of the mainstream American buzz for a while, but they surfaced in Montreal driving the Living Voice Avatar II loudspeaker ($10,795 CN) very nicely with Chord cabling.  Bluebird Audio put this fine sounding system together for about $23.5K CN.

Orelle was the sign on the wall behind the electronics driving the acclaimed Reference 3A stand mounted monitor.  It was a familiar sound, but coming this time from solid state electronics?  Hmmm. Orelle, it turns out is an 18 year old British company that has achieved some fame amongst the British press. The CD 100evo is their CD player for $3300 CN.  The SA 100evo is an 80 wpc integrated amplifier for $3100. Their pre and power amps go for $2600 each. I guess I should have investigated this room more closely.

T + A has received rave reviews in the press and this was my first experience of their product.  Their CD player fed the 80 wpc tube powered V10 integrated amplifier that looked very expensive, but was only $8500 US. Unfortunately, a matching CD player did not pass through customs in time for the show, and they were forced to use a more ordinary looking model. This German company is a full-line manufacturer and perhaps next year we will be lucky enough to see and hear their awesome looking turntable. The T + A fed a somewhat updated version of the Amphion loudspeaker ($5650 US) that impressed me very highly several years ago.  I was even more impressed with the finely detailed sound this year and once again, we have another Best Rooms at the show. Not only was the music outstanding, but the modern visual designs of the two companies complemented each other very well.

Quad electronics drove Quad electrostatic loudspeakers in the Quad room this year (no surprise, here) and the electronics were set up on a dresser top between the two loudspeakers.  Perhaps they were in need of longer speaker cables from the model Forty tube amplifiers, but the arrangement did not seem to work in favor of the music.  I've heard these loudspeakers sound much better.  Sitting down greatly improved the sound, but I still expected more quality.  Quad is now manufactured by IAG, a Chinese company.  In the April, 2005 Stereophile eNewsletter, Wes Phillips writes a fascinating tale of his recent journey to the IAG facility.  Anyone interested in the retailing or manufacturing of anything should read this article.  It is handwriting on the wall.

In room 405 of the Delta, Kenwood, Dream Vision and Mordaunt-Short teamed up for a modest but highly effective home theater demonstration. Front projection seems to be gaining interest lately, not as a replacement for a CRT TV, but as a supplement for special event, large screen viewing.  The Dream Vision projector put out a very nice image at 480P lines that was impressive for its size, but not HD quality.  The Kenwood VRS-N8100 home theater receiver boasts six channels of digital amplification at 100 watts with tons of features.  It drove the $2700 surround sound speaker set from Mordaunt-Short without strain. While not a home-theater-in-a-box, the complete rig will not require refinancing your home.

Gershman Acoustics introduced their new Black Swan loudspeaker with a rather unique design that sets a new benchmark for their company.  The two piece loudspeaker has a woofer module that nestles underneath the mid-tweeter module.  Imagine the letter "A" straddling the woofer module and you will get the idea.  Looking straight on, you can see that the two parts do not touch, thereby affording complete mechanical isolation from each other.  Yet, seen as a whole, they are visually integrated and look gorgeous in the gloss black as shown.  In fact, they would probably be outstanding in any number of other colors — even two-toned.  Moreover, with a multitude of angles and surfaces, they are visually interesting — far outclassing more monolithic designs.  All of this adds to the cost, of course, and the Swan is about $30K US.  Is it worth it?  In my first visit to the room I was put off by an overly bright high end that I found distracting.  It later occurred to me that it might well have been due to the Linar solid state electronics that Gershman typically shows with, or perhaps the cables in use.  On my second visit, I paid conscious attention to the midrange and bass and decided that this could very well be a great loudspeaker.   When I asked about the possibility of driving the Black Swan with a tube amplifier, I was told the impedance was rated at four ohms, but the curve is very flat, so it should be a possibility.   Let's hope they get it into the hands of a good reviewer with a variety of amplifiers.  Look for this one at the HE 2005 show in New York — it's a beauty!


A bevy of Musical Fidelity electronics powered the new Mordaunt-Short Performance 6 loudspeaker ($7800 CN).  This floorstander featured an unusual tweeter with a spike that protruded about 5" out the back side of the one-piece cabinet that is made with a mixture that includes concrete.  The gloss finish contrasted handsomely with the silver colored aluminum mid-range and two bass drivers.  The design is front ported and set up for tri-wiring.



Vince Bruzzese spent all year drumming up the world's first block-shaped teepee for the Totem Acoustic room, and equipped it with a very fine home theater to give it a modern twist.  Particularly well integrated into the décor was a circular screen on a stretched white skin, upon which was projected the video.  Vince told me he had nothing new to show this time, so I guess if it isn't broke, don't fix it.  And nothing sounded broken here, at all.   Up front he featured his flagship Shamans.  Note the beautiful wood selection on this pair.  I marveled, once again, at the beautiful surround loudspeakers on the side walls.  And at the rear, for greater dynamic punch, he used a pair of Model One Twins.  At the rear of the room he also had a two channel rig featuring the popular and affordable Rainmaker, which comes in under a thousand US dollars.


Moving from the Beethoven teepee to the Tchaikovsky lounge, I was treated to a taste of Sonus Faber's flagship, the Stradivari homage.  Electricity coming from a Shunyata Hydra power conditioner fed the Ayre electronics that drove the Strads.  Forget that I am a fan of Sonus Faber loudspeakers. These are absolutely gorgeous in anyone's book.  And the music hinted at the greatness of this loudspeaker, but the unbridled conversations at the back of the room killed the enjoyment.  Let's get it right, guys: big ears, little mouths.  Next year, I bring my stun gun.


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