Montreal 2004...the wrapup
The last day! "This is the part we really enjoy," we were saying among ourselves. That was a joke, of course. Tearing down and lining up for elevator service that seems to have been contracted out offshore is not fun.
The show was quieter than usual, as everyone agreed, though it was still very good by the usual consumer show standards. And visitors who came got lots to see and hear.
We got our first listen to the StudioLab Reference speaker, shown at right. Overheard conversations revealed that there was some confusion between this upscale Canadian product and the economy French speaker of the same name (reviewed in UHF No. 71). It's tough to protect your trademarks internationally, unless your name is Apple or Coca-Cola.
That said, the listening session was highly enjoyable. This big two-way speaker, which begins at C$11K, sounds balanced, and throws up a huge, deep image that would put some better-known speakers to shame. The finish is attractive, though we generally don't much like to see screws showing on the front of a speaker.
We spent a few minutes admiring the Raysonic SP100 integrated amplifier, a tube unit from China that uses the EL34 output tube in Ultralinear configuration, and costs C$2280. (A slightly larger version uses the KT88 and delivers more power). The amplifier looks rather like a Shanling, with nicely contrasting metals, but more squarish than the rounded lines of the Shanlings. The sound was more than pleasant through a pair of (familiar) Living Voice speakers. This might not be the amplifier to choose for every last nuance, but the music was warm and comforting. One could get used to this!
The Raysonic was not the only Chinese amplifier at the show, of course. Shanling itself was well represented. And we spotted another integrated amplifier with distinctly exotic styling, from Qinpu (at left). It's C$1900, and has the impeccable materials we've seen from recent Chinese products. By the way, this is not a tube amplifier. The two small cylinders near the front are the volume and source controls, and the ones next to the transformers near the rear are filter capacitors.
The Newfoundland company Aurum was back at the show, and it's clear that its founder, engineer Derrick Moss, has not just sat around in the past year. The Active 300B system, consisting of two large speakers, six amplifiers (four of them single-ended tube designs) and an electronic crossover, has matured to the point where Moss is ready to actually put it into production. The system was being driven by Aurum's Integris CDP player/preamplifier. We've said before that Moss was on to something, and hearing the evolved system confirms it. The player/preamp (C$11K) is superb, and the active system will be a force to be reckoned with.
In the Holiday Inn next door to the main venue was a large hall previewing a future Montreal store called Coup de Foudre (literally "love at first sight," though it loses in the translation). The store will be occupying a former Honda showroom, and has lined up a number of interesting products, including Meridian, Gryphon, Avalon, Michell (yes, the turntables!) and VTL. We were pleased to see them demonstrating the wonderful computer-controlled VTL Siegfried tube monoblocks, one of which you can see at right. Driving the large Avalon Diamond speakers, the amplifiers sounded (predictably) superb. VTL's Luke Manley was there, and is excited to be finally represented in Montreal.
The new store will be a short walk away from an established high end store, Audioville, which had its own well-stocked hall (Conrad-Johnson, Totem, NEAT, etc.) at the show. Tough competition? Perhaps, though we suspect that the two stores will complement each other, acting like a hi-fi power centre. Just park, and you can hit two interesting stores. Only be sure you lots of change into the meter!
We ran across Alain Courteau, who used to make Enigma speakers (the Oremus was reviewed in UHF No. 55). He's back with a new line called Revelation (the link between "enigma" and "revelation" seems intriguing). No micro speakers this time. He was showing a two-piece speaker (medium-sized top with slanted front, sitting on a large woofer base). We'll follow its development with interest.
Over at the Tri-Cell room, we were not too surprised to find a pair of Oskar Aulos speakers playing (UHF No. 57), with rather exotic colors at that. More of a surprise was the appearance of another brand using the superb Heil tweeter, namely Elac. Tri-Cell's Vince Scalzitti is shown at left holding the 310 Classic, a two-way design with an extruded metal cabinet. It's C$2500 a pair. The floorstanding 207.2, with two woofers plus the Heil tweeter, is $500 more.
We sat through a demo of an unusual product called AVM, which stands for "Anti-Vibration Magic. It's a paint-like treatment for everything from cables to tubes. In the demo, we heard a tube amplifier with untreated tubes (12AX7 twin triodes) and then treated ones. The difference? Well, we certainly heard the difference between a hot tube and a cold one. But we got some samples so we can do our own experimentation.
Spotted touring the Festival with his briefcase was Jean-Marc Trochon of French speaker manufacturer BC Acoustique. He had attended the Montreal show some years back, but an experience at North American distribution had not been a happy one. Will he try again? He gave us a definite perhaps.
We heard more speakers too.
Fab Audio was demonstrating a system claiming to cover not less than 13 octaves. Atop the company's Model One speakers were muRata tweeters (UHF No. 71), extending to some 100 kHz, and the woofer, shown at right, taking response down to 10 Hz. We can't vouch for the frequency cutoff, but it does go down there all right, without obvious secondary symptoms. The sub has an 18-inch driver, but may change shape before it goes into production.
We spent some time with the large Accentus A-101 speakers, shown below left. That model, from China, starts at C$14,900, and had not the slightest difficulty filling an extremely large room with excellent sound.
Last but hardly least, our vote for cutest monoblock goes to Nagra, for the PMA Pyramid (below right). Though Nagra does make tube gear, this is a solid state unit, offering 200 watts into 8 ohms. We heard a pair of them driving the updated version of the Verity Parsifal, and we liked what they do. All they would have needed is a little light shining from the top!
Oh yes...we shouldn't end without mentioning the Harmonix CD player which we spent much of the weekend breaking in at our own room (we used our Linn Unidisk in the meantime). By Sunday, after nearly three days of workout, it was sounding fuller and less overly crisp. We did play it for some visitors, who seemed suitably impressed, though predictably they liked the Linn as well. The Harmonix is back at the magazine, and will get another solid week of run-in time to prepare it for an eventual review.
And that's it...the Montreal Festival for another year. We still have a lot of stuff to put away, and some sleep to catch up on. After which...back to work!