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Le Festival Son et Image de Montréal 2005

Report By Phil Gold
Part 1

  Friday morning, 9am – the show officially opens to the press, but gear is still arriving, some suites are still locked and a lot of last minute tweaking is going on. This is the best time to visit the suites, since the crowds will not arrive until the public admission starts at 1pm.

The rooms in the Delta are all odd shapes, and this helps to avoid the standing waves that cripple the sound in many rooms at the CES in Las Vegas. The accent here is on speakers -- relatively few new sources, digital or analog, were seen. As usual, a good proportion of the new product is coming from China, and the standards of finish and design on these imports is rising all the time. The Festival is well run and draws a large, predominantly male crowd. Unlike CES it is open to the public.

For me this was an opportunity to see old friends and to make new ones too. I prefer the intimacy of the small suites on floors 2 to 9 of the Delta Hotel to the large mezzanine suites and the show floor of the Holiday Inn next door, as it is easier to converse and relax in a comfortable chair, maybe nibble on the free munchies or beg for a cup of coffee when you're parched.


On With The Show!

Maurice Schmir and Lars Kristensen introduce the Eben X-Streme speakers from Raidho Acoustics on Denmark. Common to all the speakers in this line is the Raidho Planar ribbon tweeter, flat from 3.5kHz to 50kHz. The other drive units are custom sourced from Audio Technology. The cabinets are slim and elegant, and as you might expect from Lars, they are wired with Nordost monofilaments. Dyana Audio Distributing has been selected as the exclusive North American distributors for Eben. Prices range from $4,800 US for the X-Baby up to $33,000 US for the X-4.


Lars introduced me to their $14,400 X-3 and their less expensive Raidho Emilie series loudspeakers. Both the X-3 and X-2 sounded very open and dynamic and operate at 90dB efficiency. Designer Michael Borresen is responsible for the exclusive tweeter which uses a voice coil etched on to an extremely light weight diaphragm. A Cary CD-303/300 CD player, a Cary Preamp and a Cary CAD-500 Amplifier combined with an ExactPower Voltage Regulator, Nordost Thor Power Distribution System and Valhalla cables.


Eben speakers are also featured in another room. Maurice Schmir of Dyana Audio and Alan Warshaw of Jason Scott, the distributor of Electrocompaniet and Chapter Audio are pictured here with the Eben X-Centric ($9,200 + $1,800 for the stands). An Electrocompaniet CD player feeds Mike Gregory's Chapter Preface preamp ($9,500 US) and the new Chapter Couplet power amp ($12,000 US), using prototype Chapter cables. Chapter Audio impressed me at the CES this year with their Precis integrated amplifier ($7,000), and contributed to another excellent sounding room here in Montreal. You have to love a company whose high end range is the Hardback series and whose cheaper range (which includes the Precis) is the Paperback series.



Prize for the best choice of demo music goes top Kevin Scott of Living Voice in the Bluebird Music room. He demoed his Avatar OBX-R2 speakers (£4,000 or $10,795 Cdn) with the Scarlatti Piano Sonatas. The piano is one of the hardest instruments to reproduce so it is a brave man to pick this music. A violent argument ensued as we debated the relative merits of Mikhail Pletnev and Vladimir Horowitz on this repertoire.  The Avatars sounded great driven by an Exposure Classic CD Player, Classic Preamp and Classic Amplifier ($3,495 Cdn each), although one would normally see the Avatars (93dB) paired with tube electronics. This particular model uses an external crossover because Kevin finds the crossover works best when away from the vibrating speaker box, despite the looser coupling of the drive units to the crossover. Less expensive models in the Avatar range use internal crossovers. All wiring is from the Chord Company, for a total of $2,250 Cdn.


Ken Wilson and Jody Hickson of Globe Audio Marketing showed a number of systems highlighting Audio Aero Design electronics from France, including their new SACD player and the Capitole CD 192/24 CD Player Mk II, which I saw used as a source in quite a few rooms throughout the show. The Wilson Benesch Full Circle provided the analog source and the featured speakers, making their Canadian debut, were the Austrian WLM which are extremely sensitive and provide a great match for the Audio Aero Capitole TransTrac 40 watt tube amplifiers. Ken and Jody are seen here with Jerome Andre of Audio Arrow Design besides the WLM Aura, the Full Circle, The Capitole CD Player and the TransTrac. The WLM speakers are unusual in having an external filtering unit. Next door, the bigger WLM Lyra is mated with the Duo subwoofer driven by two sets of Audio Aero Prestige Monoblocks.


Importer Bill Parish of GTT squats next to the stylish Kharma Ceramique CRM 3.2 FE speakers ($21,000) from Holland but take a look down to see Kharma's tiny prototype MP-150 150 watt monoblocks ($3,400 each) and the Ceramique CeSb subwoofer ($9,500) making its Canadian debut. Hooked together using Kubala-Sosna Emotion Cables ($15,700 altogether), this room had effortless sound, and Bill, send me a pair of those monoblocks to review when they're ready. I love tiny.

Then Joe Kubala joined Bill on his knees so you can see we didn't just have mono sound. A CEC CD TL-1X transport and Zanden Model 5000 DAC driving a Nagra PL-L preamp sitting in a TAOC AS Series rack fed the Kharma monoblocks.


Joe Fratus from Art Audio shared a room with David Gill of Gill Audio, a sister company, and Lee Landesberg of Landes Audio Imports showing the Italian Ars Aures Audio speakers. Art Audio premiered their new speaker cable, The Bridge, as thick as a fire hose but very flexible I'm told. The new speaker from Ars Aures is the F1 with a 1" woofer and 1.5" tweeter in a very attractive 30 kg solid wood cabinet. The F1s are available in a wide variety of finishes. The power amps are the Art Audio Carissa, 16 wpc and single ended, and the digital source is the Arcam DV79 DVD-A player feeding the Gill Audio Elise Tube DAC ($6,000 US or $6,600 with upsampling) and Alana Preamp ($4,500 US). A surprisingly powerful sound given the modest speaker size, and the guys were playing Martha Argerich, whom they had heard just a few nights earlier in Carnegie Hall if my memory serves.



Bernard Li of Charisma Audio of Markham Ontario showed a number of new Chinese speakers, including the JAS Audio Orsa ($2,799 Cdn) featuring a twin ribbon tweeter, shown here with a Shanling CD player feeding a new amplifier, the 100 wpc Qinpu A-8000 Mk II ($1,899 Cdn) that looks for all the world like a tube amp, but is in fact transistor-based.


 The new high-end Shanling CD-T300 is the most gorgeous looking piece of hardware at the show and I asked Bernard if I could get one of these beauties at home to review. The CD-T300 uses a Philips CDM-4 transport and 8 Burr Brown PCM1704K converter chips. Four Russian EH6922 tubes are used for output amplification and an external power supply is used. Place your order soon as only 300 will be made.


Click here for part 2













































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