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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 4


In a light drizzle Tom and I skipped across the street to the train station for another McBreakfast on Sunday morning. I spotted these wonderful posters for Avian water that suggested the inner audiophile in all of us, male or female. And yes, there were a few female aficionados in the crowd. (Note, I am not a fan of bottled water for the usual ethical and green reasons, but the posters were wonderful.)

Back at the ranch, I dropped down to the lower level once again and looked up Ken Sim of Onda, a Canadian manufacturer of silver cables in Calgary, AB, to return some cables I had picked up for review at the Toronto show last fall. Before I had cleared time to review them, they had changed their design, incorporating not only silver pins in their connectors, but in some cases actually using the silver wire as the pin itself in the connectors, making the signal path absolutely continuous without interruption of a soldered connection. At Toronto I had listened to a wide spectrum of their interconnects which ranged from very good to fabulous. I had used their entry level model briefly at home and they were equally impressive, as you would expect for $1000. I thought these cables were expensive relative to what I can afford, but later at the show I was introduced to ultra-high-end cables that made the Onda seem like a bargain. Ken was tied up in conversation with one of the aforementioned audiophile women, an attractive curly hair brunette with classic Ray-Ban Aviators, so I took a listen to the rig that was playing. An Acoustic Arts Player ES CD player and DAC with USB and coaxial inputs was the front end and an Acoustic Arts Amp II powered the new Joseph Audio Perspective, a 36" tall floor stander that looked expensive and sounded particularly good given the large size of the room. The room was hosted by Tri-Cell Enterprises, a Canadian distributor of very well-known top shelf brands. I fully intended to return for a closer listen, but after returning the cables, I picked up where I had left off in the lower level Grand Salons and unfortunately, never made it back.



In the Focal/Devialet room I poked around before listening to their big rig. The display of the large woofer mounted in a Plexiglas stand made me think back to the prototype Tri-Art speaker I had seen earlier. Possibly Focal doesn't realize what they have here in the way of an open baffle subwoofer?  The small XS Book Music System consists of a pair of bookshelf speakers. The button on the top of the one on the left is an "on/off" button, but also rotates to control the volume of these contemporary powered speakers. I really wish I could have had a listen to these. At $399 they pose some interesting possibilities for computer, TV and small music systems. Moving on to more serious audiophile speakers I noted the gorgeous new light walnut finish available in the Chorus 700V series which starts at $499, shown here with a champagne grille.


There is an inherent contradiction in the Devialet D-Premier all-in-one system. It is a gorgeous piece, finished to the highest standards, but if the idea of making a compact system is to make it less cumbersome and obtrusive, why would you go to the effort of making it so gorgeous and place it dead smack in the middle of the wall between the speakers. Certainly a window with a view, or an intriguing work of art between the speakers would be more appropriate. Maybe even a fireplace where the warm glow of flame and embers would reach into the primal region of your soul would be more appropriate when listening to the right kind of music. Now, obviously the display was meant to showcase the product, and judging by the sound coming from the Focal 1038 BE Electra floor standers ($13,500) it succeeded very well. In fact, I was surprised how close the Electra came to much larger and far more expensive Focal speakers I've heard in the past. I heard the system with some opera, Chinese drums and some jazz/pop. For those who are more interested in the music than the equipment, the Devialet is a "one and done" solution. It was excellent, and one of the Best Rooms at the show. Next year perhaps they will trump this presentation with the use of some out-of-sight high end in-wall speakers such as Wisdom Audio and have the D-Premiere out of sight, presenting glorious music in an empty room.

A short visit to the darkened Polk Audio room exposed me to a rock video performance with surround sound. This was one of the very few home theater presentations this year and it rekindled my fantasy of getting a video projector for the family room. The buzz I've heard in the trade is that video projectors are coming on strong in the lower to middle price points.


A new company to these shores is CH Precision, a very high end company from Switzerland. The "CH", however, are the first letter of the last names of the two founders, coincidentally the bumper sticker symbol for Switzerland. Their D1 CD/SACD disc drive fed their separate DAC. Below these in the rack shown here, the preamp and power amp were from Constellation Audio, driving the Magico Q3 floor standing speaker. Everything was connected with very high end Argento cable. The sound here was extremely precise and hence rather dry. I much preferred the original Magico monitors driven by VAC amps that I heard years ago in NYC. That said the new S5 hold great promise for tube lovers like me.



Of to the side was a single S5 floorstander ($28,600/pr), a three-way design with 90dB efficiency and 8 Ohm impedance that will be much more tube friendly than its predecessor. It will also come with a magnetically attached grille. I spoke with Ricardo Reyes from Musical Artisans in Skokie, IL, just north of Chicago who is a retailer for Magico and a distributor for CH Precision electronics, Argento cables and Organic Audio cables, a sister cable company that is more price conscious, using copper rather than ultra-high purity silver. The FMR (Full Master Reference) flagship cable uses a fibrous material that is both an insulator around the cable and compressed inside the connector. It actually looks like the end grain of a piece of wood inside the XLR connector. The cable and connector pins, and even the connector housing are the same high purity silver. No solder is used — rather a set screw to secure the cable inside the housing. Metal bars, intermittently spaced, separate the three conductors over the length of the cable. A meter pair of interconnects costs $10,500 with XLR connectors. Their Serenity Signature model sells for $2400 in XLR, or $2300 in RCA.


In the largest of the Coup de Foudre rooms I was warmly greeted by Peter McGrath, Director of Sales for Wilson Audio, who gave me the run-down on the rig and treated me to some of his recent master recordings. The uniform excellence of this room from year to year is beguiling, especially considering that the featured speaker has been the Wilson Sasha W/P, two years ago, the Alexandria 2 last year and now the Sophia 3, not to mention the different amplifiers. In fact, the Sophia 3 ($18,550) sounded as good as my distant recollection of the Sasha. Perhaps the addition of the new Berkeley Alpha DAC2 ($5095) tilted the playing field in the favor of the less expensive Sophia 3. The VTL monoblocks this year were more moderately priced MB-185 III ($15,000) in place of the 600 watt VTL Siegfried model that drove the very efficient Alexandria 2 a year ago. It was only afterward in conversation with Luke Manley, head of VTL that I learned the MB-185 III is switchable from tetrode to triode mode where it puts out a very healthy 110 watts vs. 230 in tetrode. I wish I could have heard the difference, as I’m a big triode fan — it just evokes more emotional response in me. Unlike the Series II, these use the EL34 tube which they used in the de Luxe 225 model earlier in their history. But it was not the overly warm EL34 sound I've heard before with soft bass and rolled off treble. This rig had tight bass and gobs of dynamics as I witnessed with ballsy, yet delicate cello music. There is a lot of new technology in the Series III version including adjustable damping and Series II versions are upgradable at the factory. I need to stress again that the size of the Sophia 3 did not overpower the smaller room in which I had heard it upstairs, yet with sufficient power it easily filled the much larger room here. This is a wonderful speaker than can play in a lot of venues with more modest gear as well as state of the art designs. Other gear in the rig included a Luxman D38 CD player as transport ($4000), Transparent Reference Speaker cables and Interconnects ($26,000 worth), and a couple of humungous Elrod Power Systems AC cables. Again this year, this was easily one of the very Best Rooms at the show.

Stepping down a league or two in the Dynaudio room I encountered a much more affordable speaker as well as the welcoming Michael Manousselis, Director of Sales & Marketing for North America, whom I've known for a good many years now. The little stand mounted monitor Xeo 3 ($2300) includes a built-in DAC, and a separate transmitter into which you can connect virtually all your digital source toys from computers to Smartphones. Up to four can be connected at once using the USB, TosLink, RCA and Minijack inputs. From this point, you use a remote control to select the input and direct it to one of three possible rooms. Additional pairs of speakers are $350 less because you do not need additional transmitters. The floorstanding Xeo 5 is $4500 if you desire more bass response. The XEO 3 is based on the Excite 12 monitor I loved so much a year or two ago, and the XEO is based on the Excite 32 speaker, both ported designs. While you do not need signal cables, you will need a power cord to each speaker. The AC power input is the figure 8 C7 style and the supplied cords should be sufficient. Aftermarket cords and IEC to C7 adapters are available if you wish to experiment, but you wouldn't want a beefy power cord on the stand mounted monitor that might pull it off. While the system will take care of stereo sound from DVD and Blu-ray players as well as from TVs with analog or digital outputs, it does not appear to be capable of surround sound applications. But then, good stereo bests mediocre surround sound any day in my book and the Dynaudio Xeo delivers. Unfortunately, I neglected to take a still photo of these beauties, probably because they were dressed in piano black rather than the optional piano white, thus providing evidence against my hypothesis that White is the new Black.


Before I could get out the door, Michael introduced me to James Shannon of T + A Elektroakustik, a German full-line manufacturer. I was familiar with some of their electronics, but they also make a very handsome line source loudspeaker. They have teamed up with Dynaudio for distribution in North America which should give them an even larger presence. James was proud to show me their new DAC 8 which was just introduced in Germany and will arrive in North America in another month. It has a full complement of inputs including USB and is a balanced design with multiple Burr Brown 32 bit chipsets allowing processing of all inputs at up to 24-bit/192kHz. There are both balanced and single ended outputs. It also includes a high quality headphone amplifier with volume control. There are four proprietary filters as well as DSP time and phase correction and two switchable analog outputs for high and low bandwidth to better mate it with the capabilities of your system. Target price is less than $3000 in the United States. This could be very interesting.


Still to come, a few more interesting rooms, plus one of the most extraordinary presentations I've ever heard. Stop back later in the week for the final wrap-up.


Click here for part 5.



































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