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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 5



Using an OPPO DVD player as a transport to feed a Buffalo DAC (the only one in existence, I think) Dupuy Acoustique fed the signal to a Conrad Johnson preamp which drove NuForce monoblocks sitting directly on the carpet to power their 2.5 way stand mounted The Bongo monitor. The design is said to eliminate the floor dip in the 100 to 300Hz range with two mid-woofers and a tweeter. The Bongo ($2500) sounded very decent and played with authority in the large room. The Conga ($15,000), a more unconventional design combined a tweeter and midrange, each in a separate (but attached) cabinet on top of the powered bass unit with two open baffle 10" drivers. The bass unit is equalized by a DSPeaker anti-mode 8033S from Simplifi Audio from Finland. It would have been interesting to hear this one if time had permitted. But the real justification for renting the large room was their $80,000 The Assotor with two towers per side. The main tower has a D'Appolito array of tweeter, midranges and woofers, while a second tower is an open baffle powered woofer unit crossed over at 200 Hz with response calibrated with DSPeaker anti-mode 8033S from Simplifi Audio, once again. Stevie Ray Vaughn was in the room, but couldn't be seen, nor could Hugh Masekela. But with a conglomeration of electronics including Bryston amps, Conrad Johnson preamp and a modified OPPO SACD player with Sophia Electric tubes protruding from its top, this was a very good sounding rig.


In the Bryston and Axiom Audio room I missed the essence of what I was seeing. Axiom is a direct marketing company that has been around for quite a while and made quite a name for themselves. This was the first time I've had a chance to examine their products. Unfortunately, I was starting to glaze over at this point in the show and didn't give them the attention I should have. The LFR floorstanding speakers were in the spotlight with lots of other models on silent display. Electronics were by Bryston and it looked like their music server was playing Kingston Trio music from a flash drive plugged into its faceplate. The speakers were $3700 in standard finish, but the rosewood finish adds $900. We're talking real wood veneers at these bargain prices.  Yet while the efficiency of the speakers is 94dB/W/m, with a 4 Ohm load two Bryston stereo amps were required. One amp drove the front facing drivers and the other amp drove the rear facing drivers shown in the photo here. Also required was a DSP unit that output four separate channels, one for each of the front and rear firing drivers. So while the speaker itself is a bargain, the required electronics brings the price up considerably. Nonetheless, it sounded very good with the rather undemanding music. I wish I could have stayed around longer.


Drifting into the Totem room for the second time at the show, the presentation was just as ambiguous. Vince Bruzzese was tied up in conversation on both occasions. The large room was darkened for the video projection and a surround sound rig comprised of their Element series in white, organized around several couches in the room. (If you like to watch movies in the dark, be aware that white speakers pick up light from the projector or from the screen and gloss finishes will be highly reflective). But there was no seeming correlation between the Totem Element images and the sound on my first visit and at the second visit, the techno music and visuals became quickly repetitive and uninteresting. I felt like "Mr. Jones" in that famous Dylan song. Suffice it to say that I've had a very positive reaction to these speakers in the previous two years.


At the Liberty Trading room the entrance way was set up with a stack of Quad electronics driving a set of Quad floor standers. I've often said before that they make very good conventional dynamic speakers as well as the electrostatics for which they are most well-known. This entrance to the large room where vinyl and other accessories are always on sale is a poor location for such a fine rig, but it made the most of the situation. Deeper inside, the Quad ESL-2905 electrostatic were playing at a "too soft" level in a "too large" room. On the floor in front of them was a very retro looking Quad II integrated with a very unusual source selector lever.



On silent display I found the interesting looking Eximus DP1 DAC with headphone amplifier that also serves as a preamp with both balanced and single ended output.  Next to it was their new power amplifier with both balanced and single ended inputs. Very nice styling here, somewhat reminiscent of Nagra, with unique engraving on the tops that reminded me of the footprints of seagulls on wet sand. I learned later this is a new brand from April Music. Also of interest in this area was a pair of Atacama polished aluminum speaker stands that could add a bit of bling to many rigs.


At the SimpliFi Audio room I was so engrossed with the products and comparisons that I forgot to take a photo of the room. Consequently, I asked my editor to slug in the photo from the NY show report — it looked like the same trio of speakers I saw in Montreal. The featured product was their SMARTBass which consisted of the Gradient HE active crossover ($3495) and a pair of Gradient SW-S woofer modules ($3495) offered at just under $6000 for the set if purchased at the show. I've heard and praised the Helsinki 1.5 ($5995) and their passive Revolution speaker ($6955) in the past. The idea with the SMARTBass is to combine it with your existing speaker to give you extended bass and improved midrange and treble. The HE crossover takes the bass out of your main speakers below 200 Hz, improving the clarity of the midrange and allowing it to play louder. It has a +/- 10 dB adjustment range. The SW-S bass modules are basically the open baffle woofer portion of the Revolution. They look like enclosed speakers, but the fabric wrap merely conceals the back side of the open bi-polar configuration. Hence there are no ported bass or cabinet resonances to muddy the sound. For demonstration purposes, a small Harbeth P3ESR monitor was placed on top of the SW-S units. After listening to some of their music selections and comparing the Harbeth alone with the Harbeth combined with the SW-S, I asked Tim Ryan, the host, to play my Chinese drum cut and repeat the comparison. It quickly grabbed the attention of the people in the room, and even more started piling in. Then I asked him to play the cut on the Helsinki 1.5 and the Revolution and it became quite a clinic. As much as I love the magnificent blending of form and function of the Helsinki 1.5, it couldn't match the depth and bass quality of the Harbeth/SW-S combination. And the Gradient Revolution bettered both of the others. If you have a better monitor than the Harbeth you may want to consider adding the SMARTBass. As I've learned in the past, having deep bass on both sides is far superior to merely adding a single subwoofer. And having a bi-polar (open baffle) bass gives you tight, clean bass right from the speaker. As Tim said, it is much easier to start with a clean bass signal than to try and clean up a distorted bass signal with various room treatments.

At one point in the show I ran into Taras Kowalczyszyn of Teo Liquid Cable fame and he updated me on the progress he has made drilling small conical holes into the barrels of RCA connectors to improve the sound. This is one of those things you should not try yourself if you don't have unlimited funds, commensurate patience and engineering knowledge. He also mentioned that I should be sure to hear the Bricasti Design room — that they had a really great sounding room. Well, I had already been there and the door was locked with no sign on the door. I thought maybe they had just overslept. As it was, their room was practically across the hall from mine, so I stopped back several times over the course of the weekend, always with the same result. I thought perhaps they had equipment problems or a family emergency and had to pull out of the show at the last minute. I even emailed Michel Plante, the director of SSI, to see if he had heard anything about them. He thought perhaps they were merely giving a very controlled presentation. If that was the case, a sign on the door, "Next demonstration begins at _____ o'clock" would have been respectful of the show goers. I still don't know what the story was. Tom later told me he had been in there, but couldn't remember it very well (two weeks later).

And finally, humble apologies to Gideon Schwartz of Audioarts of New York City and David Berning for missing their room. A Holborne analog rig was playing, amplified by David Berning electronics, powering Zellaton Concert speakers. I'm bound to drop the ball at least once at every show. Fortunately, Steve Rochlin covered this same rig at the NY show three weeks later.


In looking back at my SSI show reports of the past two years, it seems like there were more presenters and more interesting new products back then. It seems some presenters chose to go to the Toronto show and skip Montreal. And some chose to skip Montreal and go to the New York show. So are more shows a bad thing? It's a trade-off. At a given show you are not going to see every, or even most manufacturers. But I suspect having more shows in different major metropolitan areas exposes a lot more product to a lot more potential customers (newcomers as well as long termers) than one or two major shows on each coast every year. I like the mix of manufacturer and retailers presenting their products. What I see getting squeezed out of the equation is the opportunity for entrepreneurs and start-ups to gain initial exposure to the public. There are some, but I think an effort needs to be made to offer low-cost exposure to first and second time presenters. On the other side of the coin, Montreal and Toronto are to be commended for keeping the price of admission reasonable. That's what keeps the hallways and rooms filled. And that's a win-win situation.

See you in Toronto in September.


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