UHF Magazine
April 5: The world's finest speaker
     That's not actually our evaluation of this unusual loudspeaker, just something we picked up from Yg's own posters. The company showed up in Vegas (at CES) several years running, trying to do credible demonstrations in large cube-shaped rooms. In fact they weren't even real rooms, but partitioned sections of huge ballrooms. Were the partitions made of cardboard? They might as well have been.
     All of this to say that we found it difficult to gauge whether the "world's finest speaker" claim was realistic or so much bravado. It sounded amazingly good considering the awful odds against it, but you don't base firm conclusions on that.
     At the Salon the Yg was still in a square room (bad for standing waves, or good for standing waves if you're a standing wave fan), but at least it had real walls. No firm conclusions, but it was starting to sound better.
     The cabinets are made from aircraft-grade aluminum, and so for that matter are the driver cones. Even more unusual is that the speaker is modular, and you can add or subtract modules in order to suit your room, and of course your budget.
     Not that the word "budget" seems entirely appropriate. The speaker is part of the Anat series, and is dubbed the Reference 2. The price is $74,000, and of course more modules add to the cost.
     The speakers were being driven by large Jones monoblocks, which were also new to us. We would describe the sound as highly dynamic, with no obvious bad habits that cannot be blamed on the room. We would love to hear them in a proper room, with optimized placement, not surrounded by a lot of other gear.
     The distributor, by the way, is Clarity Audio, which is in...Saskatoon! Yes, there is a world beyond Toronto and Montreal, and indeed any of the big cities.
     There's a lot more we could tell you about...and we will, in the pages of UHF.
April 5: A new Canadian tube amp...or is it?
     Grant Fidelity is a Canadian company known for importing affordable Chinese gear, including tube amplifiers, CD players and loudspeakers, and selling them directly, thus avoiding the dealer markup. For the first time, it now has its own design, the integrated amplifier shown here. The W-30GT amplifier, which is of its own design.
     But no, there isn't a Canadian factory set up to turn these out. It's still made in China. That explains the price, which is $1995.
     And turnabout is fair play. The Chinese factory will be offering a rebranded version of the W-30GT on the Chinese market.
April 5: A new Roksan turntable
     It's not that often that Roksan launches a new turntable, and in fact this one has an old name: Xerxes. Well, it's actually the Xerxes.20plus, and the "20" is meant to mark the two decades of research since the original Xerxes table.
     (Are we counting right? The Xerxes was launched in 1985, so 2011 less 1985...11 minus 5, carry the 1...)
     The new table has not one, not two, but three plinths, and a triple vibration control system. It was playing in a truly huge room, but it seems at least promising.
April 5: Joseph Audio returns
     Jeff Joseph, whose speakers bear his name, has been in the business for a couple of decades, and he has been, no doubt, to more shows than he can count. Last year was his first appearance at the Salon, and he enjoyed the experience so much he vowed to return. He did.
     As last year, Jeff placed his speakers at an angle to the room, a technique used by all too few exhibitors, which help tame the nasty standing waves that can make a narrow hotel room sound like a tunnel.
     The loudspeaker he is standing next to is the new Perspective, and like all of his speakers it is not an economy model, with a price of $11,800. The results were in line with the price, though, (as was the finish) and a number of visitors we talked to singled out the Perspective among their favorites. Jeff was not alone in turning to a computer as a source. He was using a MacBook Pro, running iTunes and Pure Music, into a Moon 600 DAC and a Moon 600i amplifier. Joseph speakers are never flamboyant, but their sound is gratifyingly natural. That was true even with organ music, which the speakers handled with aplomb.
     There was no Simaudio room, incidentally, and that was true for an understandable reason. Not only was Joseph Audio running borrowed Moon gear, but so were several other rooms, including the very large ProAc/XLO room. Simaudio put up posters in appropriate rooms, and several key people were available for support as needed.
April 2: Guitar hero
     Actually it's better than being a guitar hero, because this guitar is real.
     This is one of the many promotions that Michel and Sarah came up with to make the Salon a success (which, without a doubt, it is). The Thiel flagship speaker, painted in the colors of a Les Paul guitar, has been shown before, but this time it was accompanied by the actual guitar that inspired it. Better yet, at certain hours, you can be photographed playing it. Or at least you will later claim that you played it.
     Will this cost you? Well, of course it will. But the money goes to a charity, the Dédé Fortin Foundation, dedicatd to suicide prevention.
     A lot of work has gone into this, because, when the Thiel is not a photo prop, it gets trundled back up to where its twin resides, so that it can play music.
     There is also a silent auction for the Foundation, at which you can bid on Shure headphones, a Tivoli radio, or the Totem Tribe speakers we've already mentioned. And on Friday night, after closing time, there was a live concert featuring 20 major Quebec musicians, playing the songs of Dédé Fortin, whose suicide had shocked his fans and inspired the Foundation.
     It seems trite to say that the Salon is not just about profit, but that is simply the case.
April 2: It's everywhere!
     Unless you'r a hermit, you'll have recognized the iPad. There were a lot of them at the show. In the Focal room it was actually the music source, streaming music wirelessly in full resolution to an integrated amplifier. This one? It was the remote control for the real source, a MacBook Pro loaded with music.
     It was in a room shared by Vienna Acoustics, whose new Mozart Symphony Edition speakers were being launched, and Ayre, which had supplied the amplifier and the converter. It was not the most flamboyant room at the show, but we mean that in the best possible way. Trouble was, visitors were coming in and staying...a problem on a crowded Saturday. Finally, Vienna Acoustics' Kevin Wolff gave up on the iPad, leaving the room entirely to make space for others, and controlling the computer with...his iPhone instead!
     It truly is a new world. The fact that the convenience can be implemented without a sonic down side is especially amazing.
April 2: The source matters
     A really big speaker in a hotel room, even a large one, is a recipe for disaster. What can save it, beyond careful setup, is the right sources.
     No one brought a speaker heavier or taller than the Wilson Alexandrias, which might not even have fit in a smaller room. But Coup de Foudre, the Montreal store that sells Wilsons, also brought in the company's sales director, Peter McGrath. And Peter, shown here next to one of the speakers, is also a recording engineer, and likes to come down with a MacBook filled with his recent recordings ("the digits are still wet on this one," he said of a totally luscious string quartet). He had a number of other gems, including a performance of Liszt's Dante Sonata, and a segment from Puccini's Turandot. Yes, including the crowd pleaser, Nessun Dorma.
     Does the source matter? Oh, you bet!
     Which leads naturally into a discussion we had this morning with a designer whose loudspeaker had been "attacked" (his word) on this very blog. In fact the speaker had not been criticized at all, beyond a comment about the Wife Acceptance Factor. What had been sharply criticized was...the source. It was a turntable that had been modified in a way that we consider irrational. Are we wrong about the turntable? If we are, why doesn't it sound better than it does?
     A designer who comes to a show has two responsibilities. (a) To listen to his product with the best possible source so that he can optimize its design. (b) To demonstrate to visitors that the product delivers the goods.
     We stand by the comments about the turntable. We have no idea whether the speaker is good or not, and we never said we did, but we don't think its designer does either.
April 2: On the other hand...
     Not all impressive loudspeakers are small, as we hardly need underline. We submit as evidence the Voxatif Ampeggio by Schimmel Piano. Big speaker, big name.
     There's a short driver count, though: just one. The secondary cone gives it away as a full-range speaker in the Lowther mould. It is in fact a rear-loaded horn, and like most horns, it is unusually efficient, with a 101 dB sensitivity. To put that into perspective, it can play 10 times as loud with a given power input as a 91 dB speaker...whose own sensitivity wouldn't be considered too shabby!
     And in fact its great sensitivity was being demonstrated by the fact it was being driven by an amplifier with a single tube (a dual triode, with one triode section per channel), putting out 5 watts per channel. Yes, it was plenty loud.
     But this is no mere parlor trick. The energy emitted by these speakers stretched credibility. On a flamenco dance number, you could feel the dance steps on the floor beneath your feet. And the sound was of exemplary clarity, thanks to the absence of any sort of crossover filter. Not needed.
     Oh, we should explain the Schimmel piano connection. The German piano maker is the one putting together the large cabinets from the same woods used for their pianos, and finishing them in what can appropriately be called piano black. Indeed, the finish was flawless.
     And that's not easy. Another company, which, by compassion, we will not name, attempted to emulate a piano black finish, but wound up with cabinets that appeared to have been hand-painted in a dusty garage. Yes, sound might be more important than appearance, but you ignore appearance at your own risk.
     The Voxatif nails them both. The name might need tweaking, however.
April 1: The same rule gets broken
     Did we just mention Audio Note, and the fact that it too doesn't believe in thick, heavy cabinets? Here is the E/LX Signature, built to the usual philosophy: thin walls don't store energy and try to resell it to you later as new energy. Audio Note speakers usually sound very good, and that was the case once again.
     But there's one more rule being broken: you don't put speakers in corners unless you're looking for the bass to blow you off your feet. But the E/LX is actually designed to fit into a corner, and Audio Note had managed to put them into the two corners of the long and narrow hotel room.
     Did the placement work? It sure did, with the speakers throwing up a huge sonic image many times broader than the room, with energy that was moving in the real sense.
     To be sure, the speakers had help, in the form of Audio Note's other components, using tubes as usual. Even the tone arm was theirs.
     We also mentioned Harbeth as a company making cabinet walls no thicker than they need to be. We did run across the smallest Harbeth, the diminutive M20, which is about as un-macho as a speaker can be. But it's always a delight to find a small and relatively affordable speaker that can capture our attention, and this one, at $2200, did it.
     But we knew it would.
     We heard once again another one, the Amphion Argon from Finland. Starting at $2800 the diminutive Argon isn't precisely entry-level, but in comparison to some speakers at this show (or any show pretty much) its a bargain. Great sound, with a large, deep image and exemplary musicality.
     Well, it's late. There will be more updates tomorrow, and we'll do a bunch of final updates on Monday, when we've had some sleep.
     But hold on, it's just Friday night. Lots more to come before the show's over.
April 1: A speaker that breaks the rules
     To be honest, it's by no means rare for a speaker to be designed by rules other than those you'd read in "how to build a loudspeaker" manuals.
     Even so, the Ocellia Calliope 21 Signature is unusual. The front baffle of the cabinet is massive, but the rest is thin. That's the reverse of the usual thinking, but others have figured out that light structures are less likely to store energy for later release (and attendant smearing). Think Harbeth and Audio Note. But there are more surprises in store.
     What you can't see in this photo (the designers didn't want us photographing the rear) is that the cabinet has a back door, which during the demo was left ajar. Close it and you have an infinite baffle. Open it fully and you have an open baffle. Or you can tune it to make a reflex cabinet...sort of.
     How does it sound, you ask?
     The source for the demo was a highly modified J.C.Verdier turntable. We have yet to hear a Verdier table truly tamed, but this one had been modified in ways that, like the speaker, broke all the rules. Trouble is, we think they're good rules, and these mods make no sense. The sound was frankly edgy. The two piezoelectric tweeters were delivering the edginess with a fidelity beyond what we would have demanded.
     Oh...you were going to ask about the WAF...the Wife Acceptance Factor? Best not.
April 1: UHF's long-time editor honored
     With the trade day over, we were all invited to a party, with three bars and a buffet, plus a lively band.
     There were speeches too, and we'll be saying more about that (because CEO Michel Plante's plea for a relaunch of the passion for good audio deserves to be spread), plus the awarding for two trophies for lifetime achievement in audio. The first went to UHF's Gerard Rejskind. The trophy is a heavy native-made statuette, duly signed, and gorgeous.
     "Lifetime" is about right. UHF was born in 1982, and Gerard was its original editor. He says it's the closest he'll ever get to winning an Oscar.
     The other lifetime achievement trophy this year was awarded to Vince Bruzzesse, founder of Totem Acoustic, who looked genuinely surprised to be called on stage and to be faced with the flashes of the local paparazzi. Starting nearly a quarter century ago with a single speaker some critics (but not us) condemned as too small and too expensive, Vince has imposed his vision on the industry, and he continues to create great loudspeakers. His impressive room at the Salon this year is an indication that his hits keep right on coming.
April 1: Full-range...and surprising!
     What you're looking at is a five-inch (about 9.5 cm) driver that costs $2000. Yes, that's for just one. What's up with that?
     The little "whizzer" cone gives it away as a speaker that looks like (and is probably inspired by) the famed Lowther driver. This one, the Feastrex NF-5, is from Japan. The cone is made from Washi paper, which is used in Japan for calligraphy, and the surround is not rubber or vinyl but lamb skin. It's available with either a conventional permanent magnet or (if you want extra control over the sound) a field coil, an electromagnet you can run from a car battery. You can vary the voltage, and thus change the cone damping. It's available with a Canadian-built enclosure, starting at $5000 a pair, depending on finish.
     Driven by a single-ended tube amp from Mastersound, the speakers sounded outstanding, with a huge sound and impressive depth, and with superb clarity despite decidedly dodgy acoustics. As with the best single-driver designs, the Feastrex delivered especially clear voice, taking advantage of the lack of a distortion-producing crossover.
     And did we mention the bass? Five inches, you say?
March 31: Oracle's newest turntable
     In past years, Canadian turntable maker Oracle has been known mainly for its Delphi turntable, now in its sixth version. But it has made other turntables too, including the Paris (named for the Greek mythological character, not the city). Now it's back, with the same distinctive shape.
     And with the same suspension too, not using springs, like the Delphi, but a series of metal struts.
     The tone arm is unusual as well. Custom-made by Pro-Ject, it includes an Oracle-designed micro-vibration stabilizer system. The table will cost about $3150. The arm will come in around $950. The cartridge, with a solid aluminum body, $1150, is also Oracle-branded.
March 31: Totems for a cause
     For the second year, the Salon has allied itself with the Fondation Dédé Fortin. Dédé (actually André) was a member of the popular Quebec rock group Les Colocs, and doed by his own hand. The foundation bearing his name gathers funds for the prevention of suicide.
     Once again the Salon is running an auction of high end products to raise money for the cause. Totem Acoustics has donated two of its Tribe loudspeakers, enhanced by paintings by local artists, giving them extra value. Two of Dédé's sisters are in our photo, holding the speakers. Between them is Totem founder Vince Bruzzese and Totem's Lucie Lentini.
     The giveaway was a photo op on "Day Zero" of the Salon, reserved for the trade and for the press (that's us).
     Though some exhibitors don't bother opening on trade day, most did seem to be open, though not all at the 11 am time for launch. That's what happens when you've been up till 2 am to try to get the room sounding right, and worrying about some silly cable that still seems to be in the hands of UPS.
     So far so good, though. The salon is well organized, with good signage. We look forward to the next three days.
March 31: Watch for the blue-haired ladies
     If you associate blue hair with the henna rinse that your high school substitute teacher was known for, you'll find the ladies at the Salon a lot more...er, appealing. Michel Plante haunts the halls of CES with them to promote his show, and he sure gets noticed! Or, more correctly, they get noticed.
     When you see them, you'll know that's where you go to buy your ticket ($15 for all three days, including training sessions, concerts, whatever).
     This photois is from last year, by the way, and, yes, that's Gerard at the counter picking up his badge (Albert was behind the camera).
March 30: Almost ready
     You plan a show like the Salon Son&Image way ahead, so everything should be ready, right? But that's not the way life works.
     When we talked with Salon CEO Michel Plante on the 23rd (that's him, at right, with Salon spokesman François Charron in the picture), we asked him whether everything was ready. No, he said, because in his mind he had one more week to tie up the loose ends.
     Oh, we can sympathize, and how! We feel exactly the same way when we're close to deadline on UHF Magazine. And then, somehow, everything comes together. You just need to put aside non-essentials. Such as sleep.
     But we know that everything will be ready when the show opens for the trade day tomorrow at 11 (Friday at 10 am for audiophiles). See you there?
March 29: The Salon hours
     Thursday at the Montreal show is set aside for the trade, and for (we hope you don't hate us for this) the press. If it's any consolation, not all the rooms will be open. In particular, rooms belonging to retailers probably won't be, because they want to see you, not us.
     For most of us, then, the Salon opens Friday at 11 am. It's a long day, too, finally shutting down at 9 pm. Saturday begins even earlier, at 10 am, but runs only through 6 pm. The final day, Sunday, runs from 10 am through 5 pm.
     There are no more daily passes. Just $15 ($10 for seniors and students) lets you in to all three public days, and admits you to concerts and training sessions. You can check this out at the official Salon site.
     Note that you can't use a credit or debit card. Remember cash? Oh, that's so 2006, but then tubes and vinyl are retro as well, so come prepared.
March 29: The Salon returns to the Bonaventure for a second year
     Over the years the Salon (called the "Festival" until last year) has been through four hotels. Some of us were particularly fond of the Mont-Royal, in 1984, which was awaiting conversion into a shopping centre. But nearly as great was last year's venue, the Bonaventure. Sitting high atop the architectural wonder that is the Bonaventure complex, it has luxury rooms that can be reached without elevators (once you make the long elevator ride to the hotel itself), a bit of rooftop wildlide, and even a four seasons outdoor pool that must be seen to be believed.
     And rooms that are not made of cardboard.
     The Salon opens Friday, April 1st, and runs three days. We'll be here covering all three days, but do come down if you can.

Le Salon Son & Image 2011 in Montreal runs from April 1st - 3rd. Follow our daily blog entries throughout the Salon and after