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Le Festival Son et Image de Montréal 2005

Rick Becker
Page 3

  Audioville presents their wares each year in the large Vivaldi room, where it is difficult to obtain really good sound, being almost cubical.  This year they pulled it off nicely.  A Chord dac and transport fed conrad-johnson's new ACT 2 tube preamplifier which in turn fed Chord monoblocks rated at 750 watts, double that into 4 ohms, and double that again into 2 ohms.  The photo, taken in ambient light, shows the beautiful blue glow given off by the Chords that will delight many of us who listen in the dark.  The Chord amps handily drove the Neat MF-7 loudspeakers with their dual upward firing tweeters.  Note the incredible veneer on the Neat in the second photo.  The music was clear, detailed and immediately accessible with unrestricted dynamics.  The higher noise level from ambient conversations made it difficult to get emotionally involved in the music, but I expect the system would be excellent in a quieter setting.



On silent display in the Audioville room were the new Bryston B100 SST integrated amplifier and two-box BP26 preamplifier with separate power supply which advance Bryston's traditionally conservative styling.  Both units have a headphone jack.  For some strange reason, the photo of the silver faced B100 looks like it has been dusted for fingerprints by the RCMP.  It is really a handsome unit in person.


Pig Roast at the Holiday Inn

Unlike recent years when there were many rooms at the Four Points hotel across the street, most of this year's show was in the Delta Hotel.  There were, however, a handful of presentations out the door and around the corner at the Holiday Inn.  Anyone who didn't make it over missed out on some of the Best Rooms at the show.

In the Gouverneur II room I anticipated meeting Allan, the Canadian distributor who represents Stillpoints, David Berning and Stereovox. It was through Allan that I had the opportunity to review the excellent Stillpoints vibration absorbing devices and the high quality/high value Stereovox HDXV digital cable which I understand is now available in AES/EBU form. In Allan's momentary absence, I skipped through numerous cuts on my black demo CD and became thoroughly familiar with the system's musical presentation.  An Audio Aero Capitol CD player fed a prototype David Berning preamplifier whose output voltage is controlled by turning two of the TUBES! You read that right. The left and right tube sockets are directly connected to potentiometers at the output stage.  It is a very strange, counter-intuitive experience that invoked anxiety about breaking glass, but I suppose one could get used to the idea.   Since the CD player had a variable output, the volume was more typically adjusted from the listening position with the remote control.  But the Big News about this preamplifier is that it has the world's first tubed switching power supply. Don't ask me for details.

The preamplifier fed a pair of David Berning power amplifiers that were labeled "EXPERIMENTAL" in red letters across the perforated naked cover.  The topology of these monoblocks was basically the same as the ZH 270 — in fact, according to Allan, you could mono the stereo 270 and achieve most of the benefit of these monoblocks, except for the power supply.  In the lower part the power supply was encased in clear Plexiglas and reputedly housed a million microfarads of capacitance.  Needless to say, I kept my fingers well away.  I don't do lightning. 

The loudspeakers in this system were supposed to be the new Merlin, but they were not ready in time for the show.  Maybe we will see them in New York?  In stead, there was a pair of Verity Audio Parsifal that sounded not the least bit outdated.  And this was where the fun began.  With the remote control in hand — something that would never happen in the Verity Audio room — I punched up James Taylor's Steamroller Blues from his "Live" CD and cranked up the volume.  With a million microfarads behind them, I'm here to tell you that the Verities can RockThe transparency, focus and dynamics were outstanding.  Pace and rhythm were a non-issue.  No instrument obscured the notes of any other except at one point where the original recording was probably overloaded.  Two other players were at work here, too.  Chris Sommovigo's new Stereovox SE 600 Mk II interconnects and new speaker cables were at play, and are priced below their predecessors.  And Paul Wakeen's new Stillpoints Component Rack ($3995 US) and Component Stand ($795 US), seen under the Berning amplifier, played a very significant supporting role, as I know from having auditioned the latter at home.  It was a pleasure to meet both Allan and Paul at this show, after having many conversations with them over the past two years.  And while driving home, I kept thinking how ultimate-cool it would be for David Berning to produce his amplifier just as I saw it with the red lettering across the top.  Having had the great pleasure of meeting him once, I can tell you that it would be entirely in keeping with his nature.  He designs and builds his equipment while listening to his own drummer and the score is much longer than Bolero.  Don't hold your breath waiting for these new products.

In the Ambassador A room I came across a completely unfamiliar rig that also ranked among the Best Rooms at the show.  The electronics included a $13K CN preamplifier from Chapter Audio, a power amplifier for $16K CN, also from Chapter, and a $9K CN CD player from Tube Research with a tube output stage.  The cabling was all by Virtual Dynamics and the large floorstanding loudspeakers were the Accentus A-101 at $14,900 CN with a gorgeous 23 coat finish and ribbon tweeters.  With the loudspeakers placed well out into the long room, there was a very deep soundstage and a healthy amount of bloom to the music.  The only flaw was a slight accentuation of the esss's, probably due to the ribbon tweeter and the closely mic'ed female vocalist on the recording.  I look forward to hearing any of this equipment a second time.

Moving on to the next of the Best Rooms at the show in the Executif room I encountered a mixture of the familiar and unfamiliar. Fab Audio's $9K CN loudspeakers have been a perennial favorite of mine and these rather large monitors on dedicated stands were exhibited here augmented by a super-tweeter mounted on top ($3K/pr), and a $12K CN subwoofer on casters!  The Fabs were driven by traditional looking and beautifully madepair of Korato tube monoblocks made in Serbia ($8500 CN/pr).  The four big tubes per side were Yugoslavian (does it still exist?) 6CA7 which yielded 40 watts per monoblock.  A Korato preamplifier with a separate power supply and a modded TEAC CD Player were further upstream.  An Equitech balanced power conditioner cleaned up the electricity.  The sound was delicate, smooth and airy on top, (at least as high as my ears can hear—and probably higher) due to the super tweeters, but also indicating that the Korato amplifiers were not rolled off.

Luck ran out in the Les Verieres room where McIntosh loudspeakers simply could not cope with the glass wall of windows and the gymnasium acoustics of this large room.  A $9K floorstander and an even larger $16K model, both with multiple bass drivers and a line array of mids and tweeters, are rarely displayed, in spite of the huge popularity and gentleman's cult following of their electronics.  This was an unfortunate circumstance as I've heard them in other venues where they've sounded pretty good.  But there was interesting new news here, too, in the form of their MS300 music server which will gobble up a CD and dump it to the hard drive in four minutes.  In fact, its 300 gig capacity will allow it to do this about 850 times.  My computer guru, Rich Juskiewicz, who came along with me to this show and graciously donated his photos to supplement my own, was keenly interested, but walked away, saying something about having a better idea of how to do it.  I can hardly wait until the next generation of High End engineers gets a foothold!  The McIntosh rep also mentioned that they've had a very big response to their MDA 1000 DAC.


Passing by the Foyer Gouveneur where Diamond Groove had table after table of LPs for sale, we ventured into the Gouveneur I room for what should have been another spectacular presentation.  Gryphon's $16K CN CD player with an automatic lifting top was very intriguing on silent display (I reported on this one last year).  The stars of this show in this room were the Avalon Acoustics loudspeakers with the diamond tweeters, and the VTL Sigfried monoblock amplifiers, which apparently alternated with a monster Gryphon stereo amplifier.  I know these are highly revered components, and they sounded very good to me, but willing as I was, I did not get very excited about the music here.  Perhaps the magic of the diamond tweeters is simply wasted on my rock ‘n roll ears or perhaps the music was so perfectly neutral that I couldn't get an emotional rise out of it.  I certainly admire the superb workmanship of the Avalons, and appreciate the understated finish of their wood cabinets, having bicycled and hiked on numerous occasions in the Rocky Mountain state.  But I look forward to the next encounter hoping for a bit more magic in the music.

There was at least one other major room in the Holiday Inn, which probably had a surround sound/home theater presentation given the vendors listed: Wilson Audio, Runco, Spectral, Stewart Screens.  Admission was at specified times only, which conflicted with my busy timetable.  Others will no doubt have covered this room, and perhaps there will be a re-play in New York.


Meanwhile, back at the Delta...

Proac and Lexicon combined for a very subtle and well done surround presentation of an Eric Clapton number.  There were seven speakers in action, with those at the rear hardly putting out any volume at all on this recording.  I guess you really need an action movie or a music mix that puts you on stage with the musicians to get your money's worth out of this kind of rig, which prices out in the $40K range.  Very enjoyable, nonetheless.



Linn had a similar surround presentation with their soon to be released (in June) Component Series of silver loudspeakers with a squat round subwoofer that can be ceiling or wall mounted, or shoved under the sofa.  (This reminds me of the massage home theater presentation I experienced several years ago at Montreal where a cylindrical subwoofer was wedged up against the back rail of the sofa, very effectively transmitting vibrations to the viewer).  The column speakers in this system can be either floor standing, or mounted on brackets on the wall to suit your needs or the requirements of your interior decorator. The Component Series falls in the middle of the Linn product range.  I also took the opportunity to share with the Linn representative the very successful experience I had reviewing the Boston Audio Design Mat 1 turntable mat on my Linn LP-12.  We'll see if anything develops.


The new YBA Passion 600 preamplifier was fed from an Esoteric SACD player. A large YBA Passion stereo amplifier ($15K CN, 250 wpc) drove the JM Labs Nova Utopia loudspeakers with their beryllium tweeters.  The room was set up differently than past shows, with a half — wall positioned behind the rig, and a foot or so in front of the actual room wall.  It wasn't clear whether this was for cosmetic or acoustic reasons.  The music was better than past years, and very good overall, but I kept thinking that it could be better in another room, especially when you consider the buzz about this brand and the $50K CN price tag for the Novas.  A selection of classical music easily portrayed the volume of the recording venue and the musical force of the orchestra.  While I didn't think this was quite among the best sounding rooms at the show, there was lots of evidence that it was among the best systems presented.


On silent display was the YBA Passion Integre 200.  YBA integrated amplifiers have been a benchmark for music lovers who wish to keep the focus on the music and keep the system simple.

In the last room on the hall Dynaudio Confidence C-4 loudspeakers ($14K US?) were driven by Moon's new flagship electronics.  At the front end was the new Andromeda CD player available at the end of April.  It is a two box unit with a separate power supply for $9800 US.  It can operate at a digital speed of 705.6kHz.  Their prototype P8 preamplifier will be available in late May at a cost of $9500 US.  The achievement of nearly 140dB dynamic range is made possible by the two box design that houses the power supply and the control circuitry in the top box with all the switches and leds.  The lower box houses only the sensitive analog audio circuitry.  The new stereo power amplifier is the W8 should be available about the time you read this for a price of $9200 US.  It puts out 250 wpc and is said to be capable of driving 4, 2 and 1 ohm loads effortlessly.  All of these new Moon models are available in silver, black and customizable finishes to please your significant others.  The look of this rig was world class, but how did it sound?  This is probably the best I've ever heard the Dynaudio Confidences driven by solid state electronics.  It was indeed effortless and precise, yet as I listened, I thought back to the smaller Dynaudio S3.4 driven by the Quicksilver monoblocks.  While my personal bias leans toward tube amplification, this solid state system was among the Best Rooms at the show, and like the YBA/JM Labs room above, probably would have been even better in a better room.  Moreover, the equipment in this room begged to be shuffled into rigs with other components to see how good it really is.

On silent display were the new Moon Super Nova CD player with balanced circuitry for $5500 CN ($4500 US) and the new I-7 Integrated amplifier, also with balanced circuitry, for the same price.  Both units will be available in late summer, and feature the same design cues as their new flagship components.


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