2011 Montreal Hi-Fi Show Report

by admin on April 3, 2011 · 19 comments

in Audiophilia Visits/Show Reports

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.

WestJet -- a class act

La Belle Ville -- the view from the Hilton Bonaventure

La Belle Ville -- the view from the Hilton Bonaventure

The Hilton Bonaventure -- part of Place Bonaventure, built for Expo '67

The Hilton Bonaventure -- part of Place Bonaventure, built for Expo '67. Old school build = solid walls.

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.

The show was very well attended. Sarah and Michel, the organizers, did a superb job! Bravo.

The show was very well attended. Sarah Tremblay and Michel Plante, the organizers, did a superb job! Bravo.

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.

Blue Man Group, but clearer heads prevailed

Blue Man Group, but clearer heads prevailed.

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 SimAudio Moon 850P Reference dual-mono Preamplifier.

Totem chief Vince Bruzzese gives a presentation.

Totem chief Vince Bruzzese gives a presentation.

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.

The always smiling Jeff Joseph with his Joseph Audio Perspective Loudspeaker. $11,800.

The always smiling Jeff Joseph with his Joseph Audio Perspective Loudspeaker. $11,800.

Spin Clean Record Washer System. $80.

Spin Clean Record Washer System. $80.

Harbeth Loudspeakers, a BBC favourite.

Harbeth Loudspeakers, a BBC favourite.

Oracle Paris turntable. $3500 with arm.

Oracle Paris turntable. $3500 with arm.

Shush, Transparent Audio Armadillo sleeping. Opus MM2 Speaker Cable. 25 feet X 2, $43,000.

Shush, Transparent Audio Armadillo sleeping. Opus MM2 Speaker Cable. 25 feet x 2, $43,000.

The DeVore Fidelity Orangutan 0/96 Loudspeakers. $12,000.

The DeVore Fidelity Orangutan 0/96 Loudspeakers. $12,000.

Specimen Little Horn Speakers. $2100.

Specimen Little Horn Speakers. $2100.

Hanns Acoustics RC-20 Record Cleaner. $780.

Hanss Acoustics RC-20 Record Cleaner. $800.

Ampeggio Loudspeaker by Berlin's Voxative by Schimmel Pianos. Finish to die for at $21,000.

Ampeggio Loudspeaker by Berlin's Voxativ by Schimmel Pianos. Finish to die for.

The Gradient Helsinki 1.5 Loudspeaker. $6500.

The Gradient Helsinki 1.5 Loudspeaker. $6500.

The Focal - JM Lab Utopia III ‘Scala Utopia’ Loudspeaker. $30,000.

The Focal - JM Lab Utopia III ‘Scala Utopia’ Loudspeaker. $30,000.

The ProAc Response D40R Loudspeaker. Back to ProAc's best and sounding wonderful at $12,220.

The ProAc Response D40R Loudspeaker.

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.

Grant Fidelity CD 1000 Impression II CD Player. $2300.

Hanss Acoustics T-60 Turntable. $7000.

Hanss Acoustics T-60 Turntable. $7000.

Decca/London LPs never looked this good.

Ayon Triton II Integrated Amplifier. $8500.

Boulder 1021 Disc Player and 1010 Preamplifier. $24,000 and $14,000 respectively.

London/Decca LPs never looked this good.

London/Decca LPs never looked this good.

Sakura is a handheld static neutralizer. It makes balanced ion wind with high voltage and eliminates static charge. $300.

Hair dryer? No. Sakura is a handheld static neutralizer. It makes balanced ion wind with high voltage and eliminates static charge. Really. $300.

Liberty Trading had a huge room chock full of goodies for sale. Live music and a patio, too.

Liberty Trading had a huge room chock full of goodies for sale. Live music and a patio, too.

The Nordost demo of their new resonance control device, the Sort Kone and power cord switching. Eye opening.

The Nordost demo of their new resonance control device, the Sort Kone. Fun with power cord switching, too. Eye opening.

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.

Audio Note UK AN-J Loudspeaker. $16,250.

Audio Note UK AN-J Loudspeaker. $16,250.

Audio Note UK Jinro SET Integerated Amplifer. $23,500.

Audio Note UK Jinro SET Integerated Amplifer. $23,500.

The Verity Audio Sarastro II Loudspeaker. $40,000.

The Verity Audio Sarastro II Loudspeaker. $40,000.

The new Nagra 300i 300B Integrated Amplifier.

The new Nagra 300i 300B Integrated Amplifier.

mbl 101 - MK II Loudspeakers and 9007 Amplifier (used as monoblocks). $67,200 and $18,900 (each) respectively.

Audiophilia Best Sound of Show

1. Audio Note UK.

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.

2. Verity Audio/Nagra

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.

3. mbl

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.

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

roy harris 04.03.11 at 7:11 pm

hi anthony:

did you encounter any warm or tube-based sacd players?

i’m in the market for one.

admin 04.03.11 at 8:26 pm

No SACD players.

The non-tube Moon 750D was in a couple of rooms. An astounding player, made even better by some resonance control and a premium power cord.

IsadoreNudell 04.04.11 at 8:04 am

Hi Anthony
Does the serious audiophile exist in terms of the real world too? Our industry as well as the real world is a duality . For the sake of balance , would you or could you involve some balance to this report vis-a-vis music reproduction in the home of enlightened commoners. BTW was your dad a hypnotist?
Isadore

admin 04.04.11 at 8:18 am

First, welcome.

Most audiophiles I know are pretty serious, even the happy ones! :)

To be honest, there wasn’t a lot of ‘mainstream’, inexpensive product there, at least in the rooms I wanted to visit. I didn’t bother with the LG, Pioneer, Onkyo rooms, etc, simply because of time constraints. No doubt, there’ll be a more ‘mainstream’ products covered in some other magazines.

I did mention the use of audio files delivered from computers. Not much more inexpensive than an iTunes download. That said, Liberty Trading, had some truly wonderful goodies in their ’store’. And some inexpensive products. I’ll add some of the photos to the comments when I get a moment. Some of the drool-worthy software, however, was $$$$!

Thanks for reading. My father was a musician, BTW. :)

Cheers, a

Lapdog 04.04.11 at 9:54 am

It must of been sticker shock for many at this show (for the new consumers that is). Just too many mega-buck-systems with luxury car price tags being shown … same really.

 The Devore room was interesting. They were showing their Orangutang speakers paired with Leben electronics, and with a vinyl front end. The music on this system was detailed, and quite spacious. Excellent bass for a hotel room … extremely pleasing to the ears.

Regards,
Brian

admin 04.04.11 at 10:23 am

Welcome, Brian.

I liked the DeVore sound, too. I thought it very musical. The finish was beautiful.

Cheers, a

David Cope 04.06.11 at 6:41 am

Hi Anthony,

Thanks for the very kind words!

I do have a few corrections, though.

- I’m not the U.S. Distributor; Audio Federation is.
- The Jinro integrated amplifier is $23,500 in the U.S. The price supplied to Stereophile in the April issue experienced a “conversion incident”. It’s actually $23,500 - $3k LESS than reported there or here.

Thanks again for being part of a splendid first Montreal Show experience for Mario and I.

Dave

admin 04.06.11 at 8:07 am

Hi Dave:

Congrats on the Best Sound of Show. Your room was wonderful.

Thank you kindly for the corrections They have been made.

Cheers, a

Ed 04.06.11 at 10:46 pm

Where can I get the London Records ffrr t-shirt you’ve shown.

Paul Sop 04.06.11 at 11:44 pm

It is amazing that I agree with you about #1 (Audio Note) and #2 (Verity/Nagra).

Not sure about MBL though.

I did order a pair of interesting open-baffle speakers with dual 12″ sub’s from “Live Audio”, which no one is seeming to cover. They had a really impressive soundstage and quite an oomph in the bass.

Jeremy 04.07.11 at 6:53 pm

Hi Anthony,

On behalf of MBL Germany and MBL North America, thank you for your kind words about our exhibit at the SSI 2011.

I am glad you enjoyed the MBL presentation. This was our first time in Canada; we were pleased with the crowd and the feedback. It was a joy to see the pleasure our system brought to the attendees. Judging from the number of people in the room and the number of repeat visitors, it seems the attendees really enjoyed the sound. That is our best compliment.

We’d like to link to your site on our News section and have you friend us on Facebook. Is this possible? Also, can we get the logo and permissions to the text?

Thank you again for your interest in MBL.

Very Truly Yours,

Jeremy Bryan

admin 04.07.11 at 7:11 pm

Link away, Jeremy. And, again, huge congrats. An awesome room!

Consider us ‘Friends’.

Cheers, a

admin 04.07.11 at 7:12 pm

Hi Paul:

Welcome.

Why ‘amazing’? LOL

Glad you enjoyed the show. Cheers, a

admin 04.07.11 at 7:14 pm

Hi Ed.

Welcome.

http://aux33tours.com/

They were very cool!!!

Cheers, a

Jeremy 04.07.11 at 8:49 pm

Thanks.

Is it possible to get the logo in a bigger size on transparent background (e.g. in .png or .gif or .eps). The resolution of 72 dpi is Ok, but for zoom views on mbl.de’s award-page it is a little bit too small.

admin 04.07.11 at 9:11 pm

That’s all we have on the hard drive. I’ll place an email to our developer. She may have one.

Cheers, a

roy harris 04.08.11 at 7:27 pm

the fact that you did not encounter panel speakers or classic sounding tube amps, indicates that the audio zeitgeist is resolution, and the freedom from coloration.

unfortunately, from my experiences at CES , listening to such products, i.e., cones in cabinets and today’s electronics is not usually a pleasant experience.

as you are aware from my CES reports of the past, i have expressed this thought before.

i was deeply disappointed that magnepan, martin logan, quad, sanders, analysis etc., were not present at the show. i wonder if these companies are making a statement ?

admin 04.09.11 at 6:05 am

Possibly, Roy, but with AXPONA next week, the Newport show in June, Bristol last week, let alone CES, Munich and Rocky Mountain, maybe it was simply a case of one too many shows.

Cheers, a

Michel PLante 04.17.11 at 8:33 pm

To Mr. Roy Harris,
to comment on the absence of the mentionned brands like (magnepan, quad, sanders, analysis etc) it is more often the fault of their local dealers “Magnepan” that are too lazy to participate to a show or can’t afford to participate, Quad was there last year but their dealer decided to support Thiel this year instead, for the others they may just don’t know that SSI is the largest consumer show in North America.
My gran’ma was used to say, asking to the right person is always better than assuming.
Regards

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