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Salon Son & Image Report 2012 -- Montreal High-End Audio Show
Montreal High-End Audio Show Report Salon Son & Image 2012
Show Coverage By Rick Becker -- Part 2


  The perhaps several readers who have followed my Montreal reports over the past 15 or more years know that I have endured much misfortune on these adventures. Everything from blinding snow storms to camping out in sub-zero weather to trashing my beloved Hotel Tracker. But as the show dates migrated to later in the year, such events have become far fewer. This year, my audio buddy, Tom, drove up separately in order to begin the show on Friday afternoon. I got the phone call from his wife about mid-afternoon. He was heading home and canceling the trip. It seems he had left his passport on the kitchen table. I immediately shifted into Plan B and called him on his cell phone. Quitting was not an option. As I was loading up my Tracker later that afternoon, Tom pulled into my driveway and we transferred his bags into my vehicle. At some point on the second day, he thanked me for talking him into coming up. Why do I tell you this? Only to warn you if you see me in Montreal... don’t get too close. My misfortune may be contagious.


The Naim room is always a tough one for me. It is hard for me to relate to the wall of nearly identical black boxes that house their various components. This year, I was told they have a handful of music servers at various price points. And one of the boxes had several knobs that might indicate it is actually a receiver? But there must be a lot of people who feel comfortable with the symmetry and sameness of their designs because this company has been around a long time as well as critically acclaimed for sound quality. The one component they have yet to shoe-horn into their standard black box has been their speakers. And they’ve had some very good ones over the years. Especially I remember a small stand mounted guy that worked great in stereo or surround applications. And then there was the modest floorstander that was designed to fit up close to the wall, yet still produce a realistic and spacious soundstage. The speaker shown this year was the Ovator S-600 ($13,000) first introduced in 2009 and there is a little brother, the S-400 for more reasonably sized rooms. The S-600 is the best Naim speaker I’ve ever heard and it is extraordinarily handsome and unpretentious. It looks like a loudspeaker and it has clean, transitional lines that will be at home in either traditional or contemporary rooms, although it leans a little closer to contemporary. Doug Graham explained the details for me. The top driver is a nearly full-range driver with a flat cone. They call the technology a "Balanced Mode Radiator" and it resides in a tube that extends from the front of the speaker cabinet straight through to the rear where a backplate resonates with the front plate (or something like that) to cover the spectrum from 380 Hz to Birdland. Hence there is no crossover whatsoever in the midrange. Two large bass drivers handle the lower end with aplomb down to 28 Hz. Sensitivity is 89dB/W/m with a minimum impedance of 3.2 Ohms, so you’ll most likely be looking for solid state amplification, which is something Naim is very good at supplying. I suspect the music I heard was sourced by one of their new music servers. The end result was one of the Best Rooms at the show. Others have moved the crossover out of the midrange before with very successful results and Naim has proven the idea is a winner with their own twist on the implementation.


In the Monitor Audio room I was attracted to this Ardan monitor stand for studio or desktop applications. Designed in Ireland and manufactured in Italy, it allows precise and repeatable positioning for taller or shorter listeners who require different speaker orientation such as can happen in recording studios. $600 per pair.

The Monitor GX 200 loudspeaker was shown in a premium finish for $5900, but is only $5000 in standard finishes. It sounded very good driven by a rack full of Bel Canto electronics connected with XLO cabling. The 500 watt monoblocks easily controlled the speakers in this small room. In previous years the presentation made by Corporate was often less than satisfactory. Radio St. Hubert of Montreal cherry picked their lines to assemble a very fine sounding rig. Dylan singing "Man with the Long Black Coat" from a compilation CD was riveting. Kudos to Christophe Meyniel from Ultralink/XLO for the demo.  


Audiophonie of Montreal put together a very fine sounding room with components from various manufacturers they sell. A Jadis Orphee tubed CD player ($20,000) topped the stack with a Parasound Halo JC-3 Phono stage below it to accommodate a Hanss turntable. Jadis preamp and stereo power amp drove the large Spendor SP100 stand mounted monitors from their Classic series. The Spendors looked antiquated, for sure, but I expect these were the latest R2 version at $11,500. Cabling was by Van den Hul. There was no arguing with the sound, even with the grilles on. Another Best Room, here, that harkened back to the days when Pierre Gabriel was distributing Jadis and put on incredible displays. But these are more modest times.


And speaking of modest times, there was an abundance of mini to modest size rigs at the show this year. All the better to introduce newcomers to the hobby. One such display was the Project Box Design rig billed as the "Next Generation Hifi" shown here with a Project Xperience turntable ($1299) with an Ortofon Blue cartridge ($200) as a source. The speakers were Castle Model Knight 5 ($1299) which proved to be a very adequate anchor for this modest system playing an LP, Friday Night in San Francisco by Al DiMeola, John McLaughlin & Paco DeLucia. A lot of bang for the buck here. The Project turntables can run up to $5000 for the top of the line model coming from the Czech Republic.


I coaxed the host to liberate the new Project Media Box S from its display cabinet so I could hold it in my hand for scale. On the left side it accepts SD cards and on the right, a USB stick. The dark rectangle in the center of the faceplate is a very high resolution screen that will read out what you are playing... all for $399.


A stand mounted Gala Solo monitor made in Canada with a mid-tweeter-mid configuration and dual rear ports sounded good being driven by a Unison Research integrated amplifier ($2300) with a tube input stage and MOSFET power stage. It was fed by a Unison Research CD player. The $3600 M3 speaker is 94dB/W/m efficient and poses an 8 Ohm load, making it tube friendly. Very respectable sound here.


Arcade games have certainly evolved as evidenced by this gaming chair that was designed to give you the full throttle effect without disturbing the sleeping children in the house. In the not too distant future when gas becomes really expensive, this is how many of us will commute to work. Another model, similar in concept, was more suitable for combat.


Shown here is the Audio Note AN-E Spe/HE loudspeaker ($9600). It is 97dB/W/m efficient and has a claimed -6dB low frequency response of 17 Hz, probably due to its corner positioning. Yes, this is the proper way to position this particular speaker — and the way many of us placed our speakers in a bygone era. But if you have a more modern design, chances are this will not work for you. The source was the Audio Note CD 4.1X ($12,000) and the Audio Note Oto Phone SE Signature Class A phono integrated amplifier ($6500) drove the speakers with its 10wpc from EL84 tubes. The music here was warm, articulate and inviting with no hint of becoming fatiguing. Corner placement can only enhance its adaptability if children and spousal approval are an issue. All in all, this was a very likeable room. The TT Two Deluxe turntable, cartridge and step-up transformer added $16,400 to the package.



Avatar Acoustics is a United States distributor for a number of esoteric high end lines and this year teamed up with Tri-Art Audio from Kingston, Ontario, Canada, who had previously impressed me with their unique concrete and wood enclosures for their electronic components, some of which were battery operated. From what I saw and heard here, this is a growing and highly innovative company that deserves a very keen eye and ear. The rig was fronted with a Dr. Feickert Analogue Firebird turntable ($12,995) with his DRA 12.0 arm ($1495 with table). I should have paid more attention to the Monk Audio Phono Preamp ($3495) than I did, as there was a lot of adjustability on the front of its utilitarian chassis. For digital, an AMR (Abbingdon Music Research) CD-777 CD player ($4995) was used as a transport only for the AMR DP-777 DAC (also $4995). Hereafter, Tri-Art kicked in with their Pre Passive Preamp ($2295), #200 Mono Blocks ($3995), and #25 Stereo Amp ($1995) and #DC12V (990) battery power supply. All of this was connected via Acoustic System International cables to feed the Voltera loudspeakers ($12,995) by Rosso Fiorentino of Italy. I pulled out my garage sale copy of Jackson Browne’s Running on Empty and to the delight of many people in the room, listened to "The Load Out" and "Stay", a couple of real classics. Suddenly it was 1977 all over again. The Voltera did an excellent job with the mid-tweeter section isolated from the bass unit with a vibration absorbing mid-layer which housed the crossover. The sound here was one of the Best Rooms at the show and looking up, out of the corner of my eye, I found out why. Six of those sneaky Acoustic System Resonators — the bonsai Tibetan bowls on myrtle(?) wood blocks were strategically placed on the side and front walls near the ceiling. Seriously, there was a lot of good product in this well thought out rig. Additional evidence of the vitality of Tri-Art was found in a clean looking turntable pictured here for about $1600 and a prototype speaker that showed clear proof of thinking outside the box. I noted the angle of the midrange driver was similar to that of the midrange of the Gradient Helsinki 1.5. A tip of the hat goes to Kevin Farquhar of Tri-Art for helping me sort out this room.


Still, much more to come. Tune in again in a few more days to see if I have survived yet another NCAA National Basketball Championship game.


Click here for part 3.













































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