Vive La Différence!
@udiophilia.com brings you a comprehensive report on the 2001 Festival du son et de l'image
Snow, snow, and more snow!
Spring had sprung everywhere it seemed with the exception of a swath of countryside in the wake of a late blooming Nor'easter. Montreal, home to the 14th annual Le Festival Son et Image, was an early victim, with over a foot of the white stuff in the space of twenty-four hours. The hint of this storm, and the dangers of travel associated with it, squashed the enthusiasm of a very excited pair of writers from @udiophilia.com. For our readers, however, the information must come first. So with faith instilled in warm boots and a good set of ABS brakes, we started our trek across the most boring stretch of highway in North America.
Again, the Montreal Show attracted dealers, manufacturers, audio press and distributors from far and wide. And again, it was brilliantly conceived and executed by Marie-Christine Prin and her dedicated team of workers. It seemed less crowded this year, no doubt a by-product of dangerous travel conditions, leaving us snowbirds an unimpeded flight through the ten floors of rooms. The show's traditional hotel, the Montreal Delta, continued to be an excellent choice, with ease of movement, good restaurants and bars, and, praise be, moving elevators. The show has grown, and once again, the overflow was accommodated at the Four Points Hotel, located directly across Sherbrooke St. The five floors of the Four Points were just as easy to access as the Delta's and the room's walls just as firm.
It was nice to see Scarlett Audio up and manufacturing after some very interesting sounds in previous shows. The Kitchener, Ontario, based company paired up their Pearl monoblocks (US$16,000.00) with the work-in-progress Maestro preamplifier and the Merlin VSM loudspeakers. A Telarc disc of some vintage once again inculcated the idea that these speakers just do not beat my baton. Many audiophiles swear by these speakers, and I have received many odd looks and deprecating comments because of my view. Sorry, but I have heard these magnificently finished speakers in many settings. Lean and still On static display were the huge Masterpiece monoblocks (available by special order - 519 585 0819). If they sound anywhere near how they look, wow!
Fidelio, a Montreal company producing audiophile-quality recordings, demonstrated their wares with Sonus Faber Guarneri (US$9500.00) speakers, and an all Nagra setup. The sound was very smooth and refined; the folks from the company really got the synergy right. Very special.
The looming DVD Audio and SACD battle was fought on different floors. The reference Toshiba DVD Audio machine was hooked up to a 5.1 surround setup of Boston Acoustics speakers. The sound was huge, powerful and enveloping, depending on the source material. The Daniel Barenboim/Berlin Staatskapelle Beethoven 5 was gripping in its musicality and ferocity, a potent combination. Only a slight hall reverb was to be heard from the rear speakers. Aaron Neville and a gospel choir surrounded the listeners magically, though. He sang through the audience and the answer from behind did not smack of gimmickry. I would like to hear this format again in a larger room and with true high-end components. Intriguing.
Sony had a static display outside their rooms listing software for their fabulous SACD players. More recordings please, Sony, et al. Inside, was another 5.1 setup with equipment due for release in the next three months. The SACD player was Sony's SCDX555ES (CDN$2500.00). The sounds I heard were free from artifice, leaving this confirmed two-channel listener convinced of the viability of a musical 5.1 setting. Classical, jazz, and pop sounded fantastic. Watch this space.
Canadian distributor, Audiopathic had four wonderful rooms; each setup was careful to match equipment for price and synergy. Great combinations of Soliloquy, Rowland, Talk Electronics, dCS, and Wilson- Benesch were to be found. The new Soliloquy 6.5 loudspeakers (CDN$9990.00) sounded especially fine powered by the new Rowland Concentra II. Regular @udiophilia.com readers know how much we admire Mr. Rowland's designs. The 6.5/Concentra combination enhanced my demo CD (Swingphonic) to no end; the tonality of the speakers on instrumental timbre and ability to convey hall ambiance was first rate - the power of the recording's brass section was amazing. A pair of 6.5s is on their way to @udiophilia.com's office for review.
The Wilson-Benesch Bishop loudspeakers (US$30,000.00) seemed quite happy hooked up to Rowland 12 monoblocks (CDN$24,000.00) and digital brilliance from dCS (Elgar and Delius). The classic RCA of Reiner's Pictures at an Exhibition was terrific; an abundance of power with a very smooth presentation was evident. Bass packed a hefty wallop, too.
Audiopathic also had the striking Eraudio Stone Twins vacuum tube monoblocks amplifiers (US$25,000.00) on static display. These Russian-made amps take six months to build and use marble and wood to embellish what one hopes is magnificent sound. The company's principals are also luthiers of some note.
Another Canadian distributor, Tri-cell Enterprises, had Musical Surroundings' boss Garth Leerer overseeing a static display of his goodies. Basis and Benz looked mighty fine together. The Phenomena phono stage and battery supply were on display as well. Happily, Garth keeps on bringing good analog things to life.
There were lots of static displays at the show: Oracle had their new integrated amp (CDN$13,500.00), 7000 Transport (CDN$9000.00) and CD 1000 (CDN$7000.00). The photo does not do these gorgeous designs justice. In the same room, Krell's new look integrated (CDN$5000.00) and five-channel power amp (CDN$12,000.00) were stacked with the KPS CDP (CDN$12,5000.00) and the KCT preamp (CDN$12,000.00).
Quebec's MDG Audio is progressing well; the designs for the SC 800 power amplifier (CDN$2600.00), Allegrio preamp (CDN$2000.00), and brand spanking new Accolade integrated amp (CDN$2500.00) sounded excellent and looked very sophisticated - the electronics were coupled with gorgeous Italian floor standers. Engineer Maurice De Grandmont certainly has an eye for the finer things.
As usual, the waiting time for an audience with Mr. Wilson and his famous speakers was very long. His reputation, once again, had preceded him. We snuck in early and had a nice chat with Wilson's point man, Peter McGrath. McGrath moonlights as a recording engineer and was happy to play some of his surround recordings for us on a digital Nagra tape deck and the third incarnation of the Wilson Grand Slam loudspeakers (US$80,000.00). The sound was huge and quite lifelike; imaging was superb. Still, Wilson's Grand Slams are not my cup of tea - there is no denying the statement these monoliths make, though. The local dealer told me with a straight face that the MIT Oracle V1 cables the Slams were hooked up with cost CDN$24,000.00! Ridiculous! More a component than a cable, I guess! The Levinson 33H monoblocks (CDN$30,000.00) powered all with effortless grace.
A pleasant visit with Troy Ruscheinski of Monsoon yielded a pleasant surprise. Their hybrid planar/woofer speaker is a new design, finished exquisitely and is offered at a very attractive price. That a computer speaker company would try a difficult design in these uncertain times shows gumption and faith. Kudos to them. Sounded good, too! Three sizes are available: FPF-1600 (CDN$2600.00), FPF-1000 (CDN$1600.00) and FPF-600 (CDN$900.00).
Tenor Audio had their 75 Wi integrated monoblocks (US$18,600.00) driving Verity Audio Parsifal loudspeakers. These beauties had the Veritys doing their usual dance. The presentation was excellent; I still remember the Parsifals driven by Cary 805s and falling in love with the sound. While not in the 805s exalted company, the Tenors are built gorgeously and possess a very refined tube sound.
Justice Audio had their traditional room, selling great software and accessories. They are still owned by the hardest working family in high-end audio. Among the nicest, too! Looks like the folks at Justice moved some serious product. The gear they represent could be found elsewhere - Rega's Planar 3 and 25 (review forthcoming) looked spiffy as did their Roksan Kandy line.
Charming and erudite Vince Bruzzese of Totem Acoustics seemed a little off his game during our visit. Busy tweaking the system, no doubt. And what a fine system it was. Speaker maker Totem has dipped their toes into the solid-state waters and came up with the Amber Integrate integrated amplifier (US$5000.00). The build quality is fantastic and connected to the new Totem Hawk speakers (US$2395.00) and a Myriad CD player, sounded marvelous. Madonna's new CD was dynamic and very detailed; the amp eschews the worst of solid state. It seems very promising, even on the briefest listen.
Naim representative had just finished setting up (we
visited the Naim room at the start of the show), the fabulous
NBL speakers were already cooking with gas. I heard a
lengthy demonstration over a year ago; they were some of the
most musical sounds I have heard from a loudspeaker. Coupled
with Naim electronics, of course.
Best Sound of Show
Contributor Christopher Tocher and I heard many good sounding
rooms, some excellent, and a few special ones. The Audiopathic
setup of Soliloquy 6.5s and a Rowland
Concentra II (Metronome Technologie CD player)
was fantastic and great care was taken in the placement of the
equipment. The Tenor Audio integrated monoblocks
really sang the praises of Verity Audio Parsifal
Encores - simply, one of the finest speakers of all time. If
one must be chosen, however, both Christopher and I loved the
presentation in the Fidelio recordings' setup. Nagra
and Sonus Faber, it seems, are a magical
combination; a pairing made in heaven. The sound enveloped the
room without distortion or stridency, allowing the superb
Fidelio recordings life and breath. The room was small and the
placement square, but the equipment took everything in step.
Congratulations to all associated with this superb room.
It started at CES and continued in Montreal, as such, the fight between SACD and DVD Audio looks like it should make good copy for the audio press. And with all the great systems available at this show, you won't be reading about the demise of two-channel audio in @udiophilia.com. My thinking is that the two shall cohabit nicely for some time. If this show proved anything, it established that 5.1 surround setups can sound musical and that the high-end mind knows no boundaries when designing new standards for two channel audio. Finally, congratulations to Marie-Christine, organizer supreme. We had a wonderful time, were welcomed by all, and were privy to the best and brightest of our beloved high end.
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