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Montreal '99
Page 3

  Well, in the next room I got suckered by the NXT flat, hang on the wall speakers. With a picture of your choice, the speakers didn't sound half bad. A thin wire led to a round metal case about the size of an Oreo cookie, affixed to the back of the panel. Audiophiles need not get excited, but this speaker will probably have an impact on the mid-fi crowd.

The next room foretold another wave yet to crash on the audio world as we know it. Omage Opus 5 speakers look like a take off on Sonus Faber stand mounted models. complete with Scanspeak tweeter and a woofer from an unspecified source. About $2000; from Taiwan. Can you say "tsunami" boys and girls? Decent sound here.

I got to behold my first Pass X series stereo amp driving a pair of Coincident Technologies floor standing speakers. This is a VERY COOL looking amp, but I forgot to touch it to see if it runs real hot. Massive heat sinks and a beautiful blue dial in the center. On silent display was the new Pass X2 preamp at about $2500US. It looked considerably more handsome than previous Pass preamps.

Experimentation still goes on with the Heil tweeter. A stand mounted two-way had the woofer on a sloping front with the Heil tweeter mounted vertically, of course, just above it. A black, removable hood covers the drivers and squares of the design into a conventional cube shape. Sorry, didn't catch the name.

Duventi SE from Master Sound is a tube integrated, and they also showed a 300B integrated with nice wood side panels. This was one of those dark rooms where you had to be real careful.

It was a real delight to see the Kuzma Stabi S, the turntable that looks like a brass mallet with a platter lying on it. It was very interesting to see this in person, since it is not likely to show up at my local dealer. There was no cartridge in it, so the arm was tilted skyward, but the host allowed me to place an lp on the platter to check out that ergonomically important task. The platter is beveled at the edge with enough free space around edge of the LP to easily grab it. It never ceases to amaze me that reviewers forget to comment on this important task, especially since it is so seldom that we ever get to actually see these tables. How's a guy suppose to know?

The Meadowlark Blue Heron, at about $12,000 CN, sported one of those Audax gold plated oval dome tweeters I commented on earlier. The cabinets are a little wider than the standard Heron. They were powered by KR tube monoblocks and sounded good with light jazz. The music certainly didn't challenge the amp or the speaker.

I got to see a Runco flat TV screen in action. It was about 4" thick. It's probably going to take HDTV with a three tube projector, line quadrupler, and a 10' Stewart screen to pull me away from my stereo. Besides, music is just so much more enjoyable than watching people being slaughtered in movies. How's that for a display of stereotypical bias? 8-)

I got to see the 556 Meridian amp that was recently reviewed in Audio magazine. Handsome styling. Static display.

My hat is off to Vince Bruseze (sp?) of Totem who was busy educating visitors about the use of his aluminum domes for controlling cabinet resonance in his little floorstanding speakers. He used two "beaks" on opposite corners of the top of each Arro, and then took them off to demonstrate how flat the sound went without the beaks. The $1100 US/pr. Arro was the speaker I marveled at last year, and the first review had praise for it, too. This year, in a much smaller room, the Arros were placed out in the room away from the walls, but strangely, not symmetrically aligned. In spite of this, they sounded wonderful--that is, when they were wearing their beaks. This speaker deserves more attention, particularly since it is visually unobtrusive, and doesn't require stands. Priced right/sounds great! Oh, and take a tip from me--brick size pieces of architectural slate have a similar effect on top of my speakers at home.

Lurking in the corner, behind Vince in the Totem room was a very interesting looking 3/4-way speaker, but I didn't want to interrupt the demonstration to examine it.

I got to hear a DTS CD played through a Classé decoder (?) on Virtuel speakers. Just standing in the room, not in the sweet spot, for sure, I wasn't very impressed. And this was true of other surround demonstrations, as well. With so many people in the room, some of them blocking surround speakers, it is  difficult to get a fix on the experience. Regardless, I don't feel any urge to run out and buy surround stuff this week. In a year or two? Maybe. Overall, there were probably a dozen or more rooms with surround of one form or another this year. And importantly, many of them were in regular sized hotel rooms more akin to actual homes than the large ballroom set-ups of previous years.

I've commented on the fine furniture finish on Ruark speakers in the past, and I heard fine sound coming from their Solstice (?) model, powered by Arcam electronics. If your interior decorator balks at the idea of speakers in the living room, show him/her the Ruarks.

This year was my first opportunity, ever, to hear Manger speakers from Germany. Their proprietary driver goes from 170 Hz to 33 kHz. The were playing a floor standing model ($11,000) with front and side firing Manger drivers supplemented with two forward facing bass drivers. They also showed the Studio Monitor ($4000) model sitting on top of the dedicated subwoofers ($7-8000). These are also available in kit form for those so inclined. The sound was very smooth and precise, but a little dry for my tastes. It's that old red wine/white wine controversy, I guess. You will recognize this driver when you see it by its 9-point star cut-out within the round driver. It is very flat, and all black anodized, or so it appears. Kind of looks like it might have been designed by an astrologer.

I had the opportunity to listen to the Stax Lambda Nova and the Lambda Nova Signature headphones. I guess headphones are an acquired taste. Fortunately, my townhouse is very well isolated from unit to unit, and only occasionally to crowds gather in front in the street to listen to my system.

From A-16 I heard their L'Ameridia speaker, a three driver speaker with the tweeter mounted between two equal size larger drivers. I don't know if it is a true D'Appolito design. Did I day on my tape that this speaker is 95 db/watt efficient? And their smaller, two-way L'Euridia is 89 db/watt? Impressive speakers as in previous years from A-16. What was different this year was the use of conventional pillar-type speaker stands in stead of the aluminum tinker-toy-like architectural stands of previous years. Sometimes there is wisdom in convention. I should also mention that McCormack electronics were driving these speakers so well.

Amin Diab, the young designer of the Afiom amplifiers, worked for five years to develop his ultra-wide bandwidth power amplifiers based on current feedback (rather than voltage feedback) and high slew rate. The stereo amps put out 100 and 200 wpc into 8 ohms, doubling that into four ohms. $3500 and $4900 respectively. He also does the A-800 five channel amp with two channels at 100 watts each and three channels at 200 wpc weighing in at 109 lbs (50 kg). There is a microprocessor controlled protection circuit and the amps turn on and off with any old infra-red remote control you might have laying around for say, your cd player or VCR. This was Amin's corporate debut, and looking at his product, and speaking with the man, I got the sense that this company is poised to make a mark in this crowded industry. If you are a reviewer who lives to discover the Next Great Product, beg, borrow or steal one of these amps.

At the other end of the corporate spectrum is Proac, whose speakers are universally acknowledged. I heard the 3.8 model (with a sub?--I can't remember why I made that comment on my tape). In any case, as I've said before, I've never met a Proac I didn't like.

Bryston had the lids off of their 9B-ST, 8B-ST and 4B-ST power amps. Also on static display were the utilitarian PAC-120 and PAC-60 mono amps designed to bolt onto your favorite speaker, or the wall near your surround speakers. These have been around for a couple of years now, and I'm surprised no one has picked up either of these for review.

Linn was playing a floorstanding speaker with a rear firing woofer. The speaker was out from the wall only about a foot, yet created a very nice soundstage. They were playing their new $20,000 US CD player, if I remember correctly. Hospitality in this room was in short supply again this year. Granted, it was late in the day, but hey, I wasn't going to sleep for another seven or eight hours, either.

The entire JM Labs line was on display, including a dissected Grand Utopia with all its internal bracing and fiberglass showing. Even the individual drivers were cut open. In an adjacent room the Utopias were playing, powered by YBA electronics. I can't remember ever hearing good music in this room. Perhaps the YBA stuff cant drive speakers loud enough in a room this size. Or maybe it is the dimensions of the room. I was not impressed with the Utopias here. The smaller stand mounted Utopias upstairs in a smaller room sounded much better. Still there were people in the seats monastically worshiping the sound. Maybe it was just the massed chorale music...who knows?

On a table I got to view the SimAudio Moon Eclipse CD player, looking very well built and nicely styled, provided, of course, that you can reserve the top shelf of your rack for this top-loading player. Personally, my turntable would get very upset if I ever did that.

Ultra chic were two CD storage racks from La Boissellerie. About $40 CN gets you a 55 CD lattice of thin wood strips that either stands on a shelf or mounts on a wall. The second unit held about 114 CDs and looked like a medicine chest that mounts on the wall. What set it apart was the marquetry on the wood door. The one with the image of the violin and bow was very trick, but it was the door with an image of Marilyn Monroe that immediately grabbed my attention (fool for blonde maple that I am)...$295 CN. Hmmm...maybe they could do one with a picture of Linda?

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