The final day of the Festival
We were right...Sunday saw decent crowds at the Salon Son&Image, but not so dense that we couldn't get into rooms and actually hear something, good or bad. Four of us completed our tour, well before closing time, truth to tell.
So does a smaller show mean -- at least eventually -- no show? Of course Michel Plante, at right, didn't take it in hand so he could run it into the ground, nor so he could lose money. When we talked with him on the final day, however, he wasn't optimistic about seeing profits. The strategy of attracting new categories of consumer electronics companies wasn't working, though fortunately the core of two-channel audio still was. Even so, there had been last-moment cancellations. There was a US company whose truck ran into an accident on the way to Montreal. Plante will be talking to the show's stakeholders to hear where they want the Salon to go from here.
But hey, we're not looking to go all gloom and doom here. there was still lots to see, and -- more important -- to hear.
Some of it was more than the usual, too, like the flamboyant loudspeaker at left. Is that some sort of exotic wood? This made-in-Winnipeg Coherent 8 Phy Si is faced with flaming birch, an old-growth wood you can't find anymore (Indians used to make fast canoes from it). But 19th Century wood mills were a little careless, and some of their stock wound up at the bottoms of rivers. Well preserved by the water, it is a treasure from the past.
This two-way speaker is hand-built, and this sort of work does not come cheap. A pair runs $14,500. The speaker were driven by a SAR Labs 150 MOSFET amplifier, which is billed as being insensitive to loads. That's a good thing, because the Coherent is a 15-ohm speaker, albeit an efficient one, with a sensitivity of 97 dB.
But there was more unusual than just the wood from 19th Century waters. The source was the Nova Physics Memory Player, which reads a CD into flash memory not once but as many times as needed to get it right. It can actually do as many as 150 readings to perfect the information. Expected cost is $14,500, and you still need an external digital-to-analog converter.
How did it sound? Very good, and this was one of the better rooms.
Much smaller was a speaker from Grant Fidelity, based on the famed BBC LS3/5a design (Rogers was the best-known of several manufacturers making this small monitor). It was designed when high efficiency was way down on the list of must-have specs, and at 84 dB it requires a lot of watts to keep it breathing. Even so, the A-534B Grant Fidelity single-ended amplifier shown at right had little difficulty keeping up. The amp is unusual, with a single 300B output tube per channel, with an EL34 (usually used as an output tube) as a driver! The amplifier costs just $2000, and the little LS3/5a $1235.
We noticed that, like many of the rooms at the Salon, this one had a turntable, a Consonance. But it couldn't be played, because the phono preamp was pulling in CBC radio. We figured that, considering the presence of the LS3/5a's, it should have been the BBC.
The solid glass Crystal Cable Arabesque speakers had been playing dreck at maximum levels on two previous visits, but they had been repositioned in the large room by the third day, and they sounded very fine indeed: neutral, spacious, and...well, transparent. They're costly at 45,000 Euros. We persuaded Crystal Cable CEO Gabi van der Kley to pause with her see-through speaker. Her husband, by the way, runs another famous cable company, Siltech. "Are they still together?" asked Steve Bourke. Sure...there's nothing like a little friendly competition.
Another speaker we hadn't heard before was the Avalon Aspect, at right. Its lines evoke the familiar angular Avalon shape, but even so this US$8500 speaker is a new departure, at least visually. Teamed with a Clearaudio Performance turntable (shown farther down the page) and VTL tube electronics, it exhibited power and dynamics, and a broad range of frequencies, as Avalon speakers usually do.
Indeed, it got a little overenthusiastic in what was all too small a room. On low notes (for instance, on Ray Brown's chunky bass), it overpowered the small space, and you could almost see the walls bowing out from the pressure, though the sound level was not truly excessive. Nice, though, and we would love to hear the Aspects in a space that could take the challenge.
We didn't get back to listen to the Audio Physics Virgo speakers in the Naim room. They had been playing what we have come to think of as music for robots on the first visit, but we know them to sound very good. However the lineups were rather long. Perhaps next time.
Oh yes, we mentioned turntables. It's wouldn't be accurate to say that there were more of them than ever, but remember that this was a smaller show, and our impression was that a very high proportion of rooms featured vinyl. More significant, perhaps, is that most of the very good rooms had turntables, and were using them.
Here's the Clearaudio Performance.table already mentioned. It had a Satisfy tone arm with a carbon fibre tube, and a Benz Micro cartridge. The combination was outstanding. Since the Coup de Foudre store is a Clearaudio dealer, it had brought several models.
There was even a home-built table (at lower right), from Sylvain Pichette of Gatineau, He's a machinist by trade, and he used three motors and (of course) three drive belts in his design. The Salon had given him the space free (a table, not a room, and there wwere no electronics and speakers to accompany it), in order to encourage what could be a future high end company. Pichette reports he got nibbles from several distributors.
Speaking of helping others, the Salon also included a draw of an expensive system (Moon, Totem, BIS Audio), with proceeds to go to the Dédé Fortin Foundation, whose mission is suicide prevention (Fortin was a popular musician who died much too young in tragic personal circumstances). "I hope they don't draw my ticket," joshed Costa Koulisakis, whose employer, Simaudio, was one of the donors.
It was almost that bad. The winner was the mother of Sarah Tremblay, who is show director. Michel Plante looked pained, and asked for a vote of those present on whether there shoud be a new draw. The vote was mixed. Finally, Plante let the result stand, but added another $1000 for the Foundation from his own pocket.
And so ended the 2009 edition of this now venerable hgh end show. It has returned to its roots, which is two-channel sound, but they're smaller roots, and so the branch structure is slighter too. Its organizers have worked hard to make it happen despite troubled times, and that is to their credit. We wouldn't be surprised if some changes occurred before the 2010 edition. We are convinced, however, that there will be a 2010 edition, and that it will be worth attending.