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Salon Son & Image Report 2011
Montreal High-End Audio Show Salon Son & Image Report 2011
Report By Phil Gold

Montreal High-End Audio Show Design Awards


  I didn't give you my design awards at CES 2011 as have chosen to save them for the Montreal Salon Son & Image 2011 hi-fi show. No prizes for how good stuff sounds, just how much they appeal to my crazy eyes. Here are my top nine.



1. Verity Audio Monsalvat Speakers
A six figure price tag awaits the upcoming Monsalvat speakers, which tells you the playing field these speakers are aimed at. Canada's Verity Audio is taking new directions with this speaker, both in the technology and industrial design. We'll all have to be patient for a little while longer to see if the wait has been worthwhile. I'm betting on yes.


2. Dr. Feickert Woodpecker Turntable
German manufacturer Dr. Feickert Analogue offer two stunningly presented turntables, the Woodpecker, and the Blackbird. The Woodpecker has one motor and one arm, while the more expensive Blackbird has two motors and room for two tonearms. Both are designed to incorporate as much as possible of the sonic abilities of the top of the line MARC turntable in a sleek modern design. A sliding arm base with scale allows you to switch arms in and out in minutes, accommodating most arms in the 9” to 12” range.





OK, so it is not actually the most beautiful tonearm around, but it deserves mention for its design innovations. Replacing Audio Notes earlier Rega based arms, the 9” Arm 3 V2 retains the same geometry as the Rega arms, allowing for drop in replacement, and also inherits the older arm's Audio Note wiring, but there the similarities stop. Its solid machined aluminum for greater rigidity, it has a one-piece precision machined aluminum arm tube and head shell, again to maximize rigidity, the arm tube is internally tapered to keep mass low while increasing stiffness, the bearing support is a one piece machined design offering better support for the bearings, which work on the “captured unipivot” principle. Unlike the Rega arm, VTA is readily adjustable and Audio Note claim a much improved anti-skate mechanism.



5. Totem Earth Speakers, powered by Classé CD Player and Amplification.
The new Element Series speakers were playing at CES but they were only prototypes and they didn't sound this good. Earth speakers ($8995) stand 39.5” tall and form a great visual complement to the partnering Classé electronics. Designer Vince Bruzzese has a much hipper taste in music than I do, but there is no doubt the radical new drivers he's developed for the Element series enable a tremendously dynamic and highly resolving sound from modestly sized enclosures. Clowning around here are Totem's Lentini sisters and VinceBruzzese. Everyone and everything is looking good here.


6. McIntosh MCD1100 SACD-CD Player
A radical improvement on McIntosh's previous efforts in this department, the MCD1100 ($10,000) presents a bold and functional face to wrap the high tech components inside, which include the new Oppo engine and Sabre 32 DACs. With a built in volume control, the MCD1100 can directly drive a power amplifier. USB inputs allow the McIntosh to accept streaming audio from your computer or network storage device. It is shown here next to the new MA7000 Integrated Amp, which was making very nice noises but looks a little over-the-top in the aesthetics department.



7. Thiel CS3.7 Limited Edition Les Paul Signature Loudspeaker
Well maybe the well know and much beloved Thiel CS3.7 isn't the world's best looking loudspeaker. To be frank, it looks a little bloated and its drivers look plain weird, but you have to see the finish on this Les Paul special edition – 26 pairs in two color schemes, hand pained by the wonderful guys at Gibson Guitars.  Gibson's Sunburst finish provides an exact match to a particular Les Paul guitar. Thiel brought their ultra rigid 15-ply curved side panels to the Gibson Custom Shop where skilled artisans applied the legendary Sunburst finish – for 13 speaker pairs in Heritage Cherry Sunburst and 13 pairs in Tobacco Sunburst. The aluminum ID panels were signed by the late Les Paul himself on December 15th, 2008. This particular pair will be sold at auction to raise money for charity.


8. Luxman Neoclassical Integrated Amp
The Japanese may be in all sorts of trouble right now, but they sure know how to build eye catching electronics. Look at the clean lines on this versatile integrated tube amp. It's Luxman's first integrated amp with an iPod dock, and it's catching the digital bits, not the usual Apple analog output. You'll also find a first class headphone amp, a simple remote control and defeatable tone controls, all for a very modest $3500.


9. Naim Ovator 400 Speaker
You wouldn't think there was much room for innovation left in your standard rectangular box speaker, at least in the looks department, would you? Well of course you can round the side panels, as Naim has done, and you can design an integrated plinth for an extra dash of style. You can even offer a range of finishes – Naim lists Ash, Black Zebrano, Cherry, Rosewood and Satin white. But this has all been done before. It's what's inside the box that allows for the beautiful symmetry of the front baffle. Instead of your usual 1” tweeter and a couple of other drivers, either identical in size or progressively larger, Naim gives us three identically sized drivers, exquisitely capped and fully exploiting the available surface area. So why no 1” tweeter? Naim brings us instead their full width Balanced Mode Radiator covering the range from 380 Hz to 35 kHz with a flat measured response and low distortion. This is achieved by attaching balancing masses to a constrained diaphragm in carefully calculated locations. This modifies the diaphragm's behavior to operate in simultaneous pistonic and vibrational modes. This wide ranging driver means there's no crossover in the presence region, and all that's left is for the two larger drivers to operate in the bass region. I very much enjoyed the tremendously dynamic sound the new Ovator 400 ($6495) produced. Those with bigger rooms can audition the bigger Ovator S-600 ($12,995).













































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