by Anthony Kershaw
Salon Son & Image
Hôtel Hilton Bonaventure
900, de La Gauchetière St. West
Montreal (QC) H5A 1E4
March 31 to April 3, 2011
I’m beginning this report the morning after an 17 hour day. The day began with a 5 a.m. alarm to catch the 7 a.m. WestJet flight from Toronto to Montreal, home of the Salon Son & Image, better know to audiophiles as the Montreal Show. The day ended with the return flight landing at Pearson 10 p.m.
Two things have made the show a winner over the past 20 years, the gorgeous city of Montreal and the superb organization of the show. This year was even better. Two reasons — the city and organization remained wonderful, but this year’s show was scheduled a little later, meaning the snow was gone and we basked in mid 50s sunshine (and Montrealers bask after its usually very tough winters) and the old Hilton Bonaventure Hotel seemed almost purpose built for an audio show.
The Salons (conference rooms) were located in the basement — the large rooms were chock full of goodies. The standard hotel rooms were just one escalator up (no lengthy wait for elevators!) on floors 1 and 2, but the 2nd floor was just a few steps up. More like a 1.5 floor. Signs were clear, organizers, festooned with electric blue wigs, were easy to spot, restaurant and bar were dead center, and the rooms were solid. Good sound was actually achievable.
Even though good sound was heard, it seems some folks still have difficulty with setups — poor speaker placement, poor recordings for demos, speakers wired out of phase, and poor presentations were evident. Happily, many rooms eschewed that nonsense and had smiling, friendly people, room treatments, and professional presentations. Much of the equipment was presented by local dealers. They did a very good job. It was also nice to see HeadFi, a web forum about headphones supporting the show with a room. Headphones were everywhere. Sennheiser, Shure, Grado, Denon, etc, were all represented. I listened to quite a few with some very good headphone amps. Yup, still not convinced. Nice WAF tools, though.
Interestingly, there were lots of MacBook Pros playing files directly. Many of the turntables were static and a goodly number of CD players. What does this tell you at a Hi-Fi show?
Cutting edge in the high-end is not the same as medicine or the space program. It means new cosmetics and upgrades in parts and, possibly, design. Much looked the same as the show from two years ago. Sound, too. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Thankfully, there were quite a few of the former, and I’ll give you my picks for the Top 3 rooms at the end of the photoset.
I’d like to make special mention of two Montreal manufacturers; Totem Acoustic and Sim Audio, maker of Moon components. They were everywhere at the show. For the obvious reason, yes, but the companies are real success stories and should be celebrated in the fickle high end market. Just the marketing budget of the two companies would choke most 2 man, garage-based operations. The campaigns are slick and promote the beauty of the speakers and components. Whether the gear is your cup of tea is another thing, but as a very proud Montrealer, it’s been very pleasant to see their growth and successes.
The following photos highlight interesting people, kit I found interesting or sounded good, or both. The photos in this set are from the minds at Apple and a ham fisted musician clicking. Apologies in advance.
There were many box speakers and a few horn speakers. A couple that followed the ‘Lowther’ model of design, too. Missing was a total absence of electro static/planar speakers. At least, in the rooms I made it to. And, I think I hit everything.
So, a great show, with friendly people, some exciting new products and some old friends with a facelift. The passion of the designers, presenters, and sales teams was infectious, even after hours of saying the same thing to hundreds of tire kickers. Yes, they love their products that much.
Many manufacturers created an environment for very good sound, others like Nordost, Burmester, Thiel, Joseph, deVore, ProAc and others sounded very fine. That said, I chose three rooms that were very special, mostly because they sounded like real music in a real space. A rare event in show conditions. One was the home system of an associate of the US distributor. He obviously knew the setup perfectly. No surprises. One was an old friend from Quebec City — I’ve admired his speakers for years and he continues to knock it out of the park with system matching and synergy. And, finally, a very expensive German system held court and enthralled with power and beauty.
Audiophilia Best Sound of Show
A complete Audio Note UK systems including front end, speakers, turntable, cart, cables, the lot! Supremely musical, the Audio Note E/Lexus Signatures speakers love the bass loading of corners, a definite asset in the small hotel rooms. ‘The AN-E is a two-way, ported enclosure, with a carefully designed cabinet which is shaped to enhance and aid driver dispersion on one hand, and bass output on the other. The cabinet is lightly braced and little internal damping is used. The cabinet is designed in such a way that it augments and supports the drivers in their task, not unlike the box of a guitar. The drivers are selected and paired before they are matched to the crossover in the same process as the AN-K and AN-J.’ Listening to an original LSC RCA LP of Karajan/Price/VPO Carmen was truly an event. The separation of the instruments and soundstage depth, especially the chorus, was magical. I remember very fondly an Audio Note UK CD player I heard 15 years ago at Sound by Singer in New York. This Brit company makes special kit. The new Jinro SET tube integrated amplifier was super sweet and detailed. I could have listened all day.
Verity Audio’s Julien Pelchat configured a superb system synergy between his Sarastro II speakers and Nagra components. Driving the very large speakers effortlessly was the new, diminutive Nagra 300i 300B Integrated Amplifier. It produces 20 watts RMS in pure class A from a pair of push/pull direct-heated triodes. ‘The Sarastro II, like the Lohengrin, belongs to the Verity’s eXR extended-range loudspeaker line, meaning extended efficiency, dynamics, power and bandwidth. It recaptures all of the drama, excitement, and intimacy of the original performance, bringing new dimensions to your recordings. The Sarastro II has a wonderful facility to bring the music the way it was written, the way it was performed, the way it was meant to be.’ I concur. Wonderful.
Needing a mortgage to buy the system, mbl guys setup using their amazing mbl 101 - MK II radial speakers. The website mentions that: ‘Combining performance, looks and luxury, the 101 - MKII does not produce sound as a conventional forward-firing point source, but as genuine 360-degree-radiating omnidirectional spheres. “Radialstrahl” means to “emit sound in a circular signal.” The tweeter, midrange, and bass modules are each pulsating spheres, while a custom-designed subwoofer module is housed below. Each hand-finished 101 - MKII is a thing to behold—a sculptural device that benefits from classic German attention to detail, and obsession with perfection.’ That says it all. Wondrous looks, fit and finish, and glorious sound.
These three rooms uplifited the musical soul and raised the audiophile bar through technology, design and synergy. It was an honour to spend some time with them and with the many other passionate exhibitioners and visitors. ‘Till next year.