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Salon Son & Image 2014 Report Montreal High-End Audio Show
Salon Son & Image Report 2014 -- Montreal High-End Audio Show
Part 1
Show Report By Rick Becker

  It felt like the Good Olde Days, back in the 1990's when the show was held when the snow was deeper. Winter was still with us in late March and I camped in my car just south of Champlain, NY. By the time the show opened at 10am on Saturday I had transferred the amplifiers I had been loaned for review and met up with my audio buddy Tom Lathrop, also from Rochester, NY. Tom has become something of an audio show junkie, frequently attending RMAF, Toronto and Montreal. We work the show separately and Tom was able to visit some rooms I had to skip, so some of his impressions noted in the coverage later on will fill in the gaps in my notes. Even though the show was a little smaller this year due to the proliferation of audio shows across the continent, I still encountered closed doors due to lines and formal orchestrated presentations. That's just the way it is sometimes.

Another major factor this year was the converging dates of the Montreal show and the semi-annual furniture show in High Point, NC, the following weekend. Consequently, I will cover some of the major highlights in Part 1 and resume writing when I return and dig into the nitty gritty that makes this industry so fascinating.


Coupe de Foudre is a major retailer in Montreal who hosted several small rooms as well as the Longueuil grand salon in the lower level. Peter McGrath from Wilson Audio really has this room down pat. Each year a different Wilson speaker sits on virtually the same square centimeters and the curved red listening chair nailed down in the exact same spot. Even the tables on the side walls are in the same location. Clearly, Peter has blueprinted the room; he is probably the best set-up man in the business in addition to being a world class recording engineer. He gets it right every time and he did it again this year with the new Sasha Series 2 speaker which is the evolution of the famous Watt/Puppy series that has been emulated by many others. Nobody does it as well as Wilson.

Peter walked me around back of the Sasha to show me the same silver step device that appeared on the Alexia last year with both fore and aft as well as the vertical steps combining for 40 possible positions for the mid-tweeter module. Single wiring is near the floor below the off-set port in the woofer cabinet. Impedance has been improved from 1.8 Ohms in the earlier version to 2.17 in the Series 2 which offers a more benign load for Single Ended Triode amps something that was very tempting given the 91dB efficiency of the speaker. Cabinet resonance has been reduced from already dead level by 34% thanks to measuring capability of B&K instrumentation that allows them to measure each square centimeter and make adjustments with their X material. While the Series 2 uses the same woofers, the tightened cabinet produces cleaner, but not lower bass. The midrange driver is the same one used across the entire Wilson line, but the tweeter from the Alexia has now been brought down to the Sasha necessitating a slight re-design of the mid-tweeter cabinet. The Sasha was introduced right at the time of the stock market crash so Wilson tightened their belt and offered it at $27,000, $3000 less than the Watt/Puppy had been. Given the state of the economy, they kept production rolling by taking the hit in price. For the very short term pricing is $30,000 but Peter suggested that it will soon go up. Wilson Audio pays good wages and offers a 401k to their employees, which is necessary to retain artisans capable of this world class quality. What I find amusing with the Wilsons is that while so much effort and attention is given to proper driver alignment (quite successfully), even sitting to the right of the sweet spot, not to mention walking around the room, the music is exquisite, if not quite as good. Such is their obsession.


But the Sasha speaker would have been one hand clapping without the stunning electronics from Dan D'Agostino. Their Momentum stereo amp and preamplifier are audio jewelry of this highest order, both acoustically and visually. A large circular remote control selects the source and controls power, mute, phase, tone and volume. Imagine that a tone controls at the highest level in the High-End! And a "Dock" button, presumably to alert the captain of your yacht that you are coming on board. Further investigation is warranted. I couldn't resist giving the huge volume control a slight left/right twist. It is positively erotic. It wouldn't surprise me to find a D'Agostino display at Tiffany's. Photographs simply do not do his work justice. A Sound Devices 744T recorder, an Alpha DAC from Berkeley Audio Design and a Mac formed the digital front end of the rig while a Brinkman Bardo turntable sat idle. Transparent cables connected most everything. A Dan D'Agostino Momentum stand was used beneath the amplifier.

StirlingTrayle of Vana LTD. is the North American distributor for D'Agostino as well as Vienna Acoustics and Isotek in Canada. We both agreed that the stereo amp was visually dwarfed by the large room, but for those with such a problem they offer monoblocks. More intriguing was to hear about the new Momentum integrated amplifier ($45,000, 200 wpc) introduced at CES this year that melds the stereo power amp with the preamplifier, isolating the amplifier's transformer into an enlarged base in the preamp. It will weigh a hefty 85 pounds and be trimmed with ported copper with much attention paid to keeping the beast cool.



Two doors down in the Jacques Cartier room was a rig fit for the Queen with large 15" dual concentric horn loaded Tannoy Canterbury speakers ($30,000) from their Prestige Gold Reference series delivering a rich, full sound, if somewhat colored. With very high efficiency and exquisite vintage looking cabinets they will fill large rooms in most castles. The music was both detailed and dynamic being delivered by Mac Air via USB to a Cary DAC-100t with tube output stage. The next version of the 100t will have an Ethernet input, I was told. A Cary SLP-98 preamp and a CAD 120S MkII 120 watt stereo amplifier completed the rig. For more modest homes they showed the more slender model ($17,600) as well as a few of their modern design speakers, all with high efficiency. While not as neutral or accurate as the Wilson above, this was glorious, dynamic sound with a dimensionality to be savored by tube lovers .


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