Montreal 2004...the wrapup
The phrase we heard most often from exhibitors at this year's Festival "It's a good show, we're happy." Indeed, the crowds were massive, fueled in part, perhaps, by a special section announcing the Festival in the Montreal newspaper La Presse. The organization of the show purred along pretty much, and even the closing-day race for the elevators seemed better than usual.
There were three rooms at the Festival running the Linn Unidisk 1.1 universal player. One was of course UHF's own room, since we have purchased the player. One of the others, you will have guessed, was that of Linn itself. Our picture shows the setup: the Klimax Kontrol preamp connected to three Klimax amplifiers (two monoblocks and a stereo amp), driving a pair of Akurate 242 speakers. When we were there, the LCD video display was being used to show audio menus rather than movies. The sound was clear and solid. A Patricia Barber SACD was superb. The sound was helped considerably by the presence of wraparound curtains, producing a warmer acoustical environment than the usual bare room.
Speaking of curtains, we headed over to the Totem room hoping to have a look beyond the curtains (which you can see in our Day Two online report). Well, there is no there there. A pair of Totem Forest speakers was just visible through the gauzelike curtain (Forests in the forest, get it?). To the side was a video display with more speakers, all of them concealed. No flaunting of technology here!
In one of the other large rooms, Montreal retailer Audioville was playing a pair of Living Voice Avatar OBX-R speakers, with Conrad-Johnson electronics. Our decision to put the same speakers in our Alpha reference system was of course warmly greeted.
We were pleased to see (and hear!) Cabasse back at the Festival. The speaker in our picture, the Baltic II, was accompanied by a pair of Thor II subwoofers, rather smaller than the giant 50 cm sub we had heard the same speaker coupled with in Vegas in January. The combination worked well, however. That's an Art Audio amplifier you can glimpse at lower left. We are not in the habit of wandering around with CDs (Albert says he uses the show as a means of discovering great recordings he doesn't know), but exceptionally we did ask to hear one of our favorite test recordings, Now the Green Blade Riseth, on Proprius. It sounded gorgeous. We're sorry to say that a couple of other rooms flunked that test big time. Perhaps we should do this more often!
We were surprised to see the famous Bösendorfer piano company in one of the Festival's largest rooms. No, it wasn't showing off its concert grands. Bösendorfer also makes loudspeakers, which were clustered about a video screen. This was possibly the Festival's only demo of D-VHS, the high definition videocassette medium. It was a disappointment, with video artifacts we seldom see even with DVD projections. The speakers were...well, loud.
Indeed, we much preferred the home theatre demo in the large Multi-Electronique room, done with a Krell controller, YBA amplification and a large array of JMLab speakers. A concert by Sinéad O'Connor was a delight for both eye and ear.
The longest lineups were at the Sensio room, where the increasingly famous 3-D video system was being shown to appreciative crowds. D-Box had provided some of its Odyssey kinetic chairs, to add to the you-are-there feeling. Of course, that limited the available seating, and getting in was a hot ticket.
Notwithstanding the growing presence of SACD (including in UHF's own room), turntables were by no means absent. Foundation Research was of course using vinyl so that it could show off its impressive phono stage and preamp. There was a considerable array of turntables from Clearaudio. For those looking for cheaper (vinyl) thrills, there was a Pro-ject room, playing LPs through a pair of Magneplanar speakers. The RPM 9 table shown in the picture is C$1999, complete with arm. The Speed Box SE at right is a C$699 optional add-on. Pro-ject has cheaper turntables yet, some still sporting carbon fibre tone arms.
Coincident Speaker Technology was once again in one of the narrow but deep rooms at the 4 Points. Some of the (relatively) small models were being shown. The one in our picture is the Partial Eclipse, driven by a pair of Coincident's own tube monoblocks. The company's products continue to evolve in refinement.
Why does FM radio so often sound horrible, giving (misplaced) hope that digital broadcasting will eventually make the pain go away? A repair centre called Audiodoctor 007 did an interesting experiment. Armed with a temporary broadcasting license and a small Harris transmitter hooked up to an Accuphase CD player, it invited visitors to hear the signal through a Magnum-Dynalab MD 100 tuner feeding Stax headphones. The combination did sound outstanding, perhaps better than you're used to hearing from the FM band. The company says it invited the chief engineers of all area stations to come by and listen. None did.
A pair of the big Quad 989 electrostatic speakers was playing, but that wasn't the only Quad room. Elsewhere, the more conventional 21L floorstanding dynamic speakers were being driven by a pair of retro-look Quad tube amplifiers. The sound was very good, with strong dynamics and a pleasingly lifelike quality.
If you recall our reports from last year's Festival, you may have been struck, as we were, by the brightly colored AND components (CD player and amplifier) from the Italian maker Synthesis. This year our eyes were drawn by the Onda AM-FM tuner, which sports a traditional tuning dial, a magic eye, and a look that is at once old-fashioned and modern cool. No, it doesn't come with a remote control, but then again does your town have more than one station that's any good? The amp underneath is one of the same ones we saw last year, in woodgrain this time.
In our next issue we will be reviewing one of the Wilson Benesch carbon fibre speakers, the Curve. We got to hear an even larger version, the A.C.T. Despite the good stuff upstream (the new Audio Aero SACD player and Capitole tube amp), the speakers didn't seem quite at ease. We actually preferred the smaller Discovery next door, shown in our picture. It looks odd in the extreme, with a speaker sticking out of the bottom, as though there had not been enough room to tuck it into the enclosure. The Discovery is an isobaric speaker, using two woofers to maintain constant pressure inside the cabinet. It did well on our Now the Green Blade Riseth disc. But don't think getting a smaller model will save you money. The Discovery is priced at C$12.5K.
The large crowds at the show made it difficult to actually listen to everything we would have liked (and because we were exhibiting ourselves, we couldn't spend all our time exploring). So once again we saw the Acapella Violins, one of our favorite speakers in all the world, but had to glimpse them through the bodies rather than sitting down and enjoying the music.
Another of the rooms too crowded to do more than peek into was the one demonstrating the Final electrostatic speakers from the Netherlands. We believe the moderate-sized Model 500 was the one playing. Still, we were glad we dropped by, if only to see the "Final Art" hand-painted speakers shown at left. They were actually for sale, with a sign indicating they were marked down from $8000 to $5000. We don't know whether they got takers.
There were other electrostatic speakers shown at the Festival, including the very large Innersound Kaya ($19K), driven by the company's new DPR 500 stereo amplifier. It certainly sounded impressive. Alas, word got back to us that something unfortunate had happened: a visitor had given the volume control a vicious clockwise twist, triggering a meltdown. Ouch!
It made us think of something a speaker manufacturer told us years ago: most speaker repair jobs arrive in January. Christmas and New Year's Eve are the most likely time for someone to overimbibe at the punch bowl, and step up to the amp with the intention of seeing "how loud this baby will go."
And so ends this edition of the Montreal show. Despite the fact that it was held later than ever (it's usually in March), it ended with what over the years has become a hallmark of this event, an abundant snowfall. "If they move the show to July," said one exhibitor who was facing a late-evening run to Ontario, "it will snow anyway."
As Irving Berlin says in one of the songs we played several times in our own room, "love and the weather can't be depended upon."