The Montreal miracle
That's what we called it. The 2016 edition of the popular show, mismanaged for two years by its purchasers, the Chester Group, was cancelled with 10 days notice. It was saved by its former owners, Sarah Tremblay and Michel Plante, who burned up the phone lines to set up a non-profit organization and getting all the potential exhibitors behind them.
The organization has solidified. Sarah is the only salaried employee, and she is surrounded by a team of volunteers. We told the whole story in a four-page UHF Magazine article, which you can download here and read for free.
And now on with the show...
One of the running jokes is that, no matter when the Montreal show is held, it will snow. Usually a lot. A few years back it was scheduled for mid-April, deep into Spring. We got hit by what had been the biggest snow storm of the Winter, made worse because so many drivers had already installed their summer tires.
And sure enough, we got a major snowstorm on the first day of this 30th annual show. The poor ducks that live in the hotel's roof garden were looking decidedly chilly.
Speakers without baffles
Nearly all loudspeakers have enclosures. That's so the low frequencies from the rear of the driver (the woofer, especially) don't come around and cancel those from the front. And yet, a number of designers have gone against the current, and designed speakers with open baffles. Here's an interesting example.
This speaker is called the Pure Audio Project. It's marketed by Grant Fidelity, the company known for bringing in spectacularly styled audio gear from China and selling it directly at rock-bottom prices. This is different, owing more to IKEA than to traditional audio products. It's shipped in a flat pack, to be assembled by the user. There are three versions, with different high-frequency drivers (that's the central section), allowing for upgrades.
There was another large open baffle speaker, this one from Tri-Art, in Kingston, Ontario.
It's known as the Bam Bam, and the reason is that it's made from bamboo. As is the turntable (a detail of which is shown above right, and all the other Tr-Art components except the Jasmine phono cartridge. We were thinking that everyu time Tri-Art sells a system, a panda goes hungry. This entire system, alternating between digital and analog, sounded warm and dynamic.
The speakers shown cost just over $5,500 (Canadian). The turntable, with the 23 cm arm, costs $3,000.
Live vs recorded (sort of)
It's a major challenge doing a direct comparison of live music, but we've seen it done with considerable success. A company called Artist Cloner was showing off a system made up of speakers and amplifier...and a live bassist.
The problem was that the bass was electric...and playing through the same amplifier and speakers as the reproduction. It wasn't a real comparison. The two sounded the same, but then they would. That said, the bass sounded excellent, with clear, powerful notes. So this was a very good room, ignoring the comparison.
Build your own
Do-it-yourself audio kits are not as popular as they were when Heathkit was famous. A lot of people learned to solder thanks to Heathkits. Today's kits require, for the most part, less in the way of tools and workshop skills. Still, this Mundorf MA30. Mundorf is a German company perhaps best known for its high quality capacitors, used by numerous speaker and amplifier manufacturers. It's Mundorf's 30th anniversary, hence the model number. And it's also the 30th anniversary of Accuton, the maker of that ceramic woofer. The speakers shown here would cost you about $2,500 a pair, but you can choose some of the elements that you prefer. The result was rather good, especially considering the price.
Somewhat more complex are the kit amplifiers from ANK. The initials used to stand for "Audio Note Kit," but the modern ANK units are unrelated to those of Audio Note.
There were plenty of CD players at the Audio Fest, but they were outnumbered by computers, and -- yes -- turntables. For example, here's the Döhmann Helix from Australian designer Mark Döhmann..
It looks expensive, and it is: some $52,000 (CDA). Driving a Grandinote amplifier from Italy and a pair of Wiener Lautsprecher Diva 4 speakers (from Vienna, obviously), it sounded exceptional. We have to mention this, but the price includes neither the tone arm nor the London Reference cartridge (which we own and love).
A number of VPI turntables were present, and both VPI's Harry and Mat Weisfeld were in attendence. This turntable is also a VPI, though that's not the name it bears. It's a Mark Levinson 515. VPI also made the arm, though it hasn't included the signature wires coming off the arm's top rear. Coupled to Mark Levinson electronics (of course) and a pair of KEF Reference 5 speakers, it deserved extended listening.
And here's a VPI bearing its own name, a VPI Prime Signature.
And then there's the McIntosh turntable, which can, literally, light up your life:
This turntable and preamplifier were driving a pair of MC275 tube amplifiers, a classic design that helped build the company's early reputation. The speakers were from Sonus Faber. Both brands now belong to the same Italian company.
Bryston at the Audio Fest
Bryston was conspicuously absent from CES in January, but that says more about CES than it does about Bryston. The company occupied its usual large room, showing off what is now its flagship speaker, the Model T active, with an amplifier for each set of drivers. Bryston will also be launching a three-channel power amplifier. Two of them will match up with the speakers' six sets of drivers.
By the way, that blue screen at left is the control panel for the digital signal processing, used to tame the cantankerous acoustics of the typical hotel room.
Live music at the Audio Fest
The usual suspects were present, playing live. Cellist Vincent Bélanger, at left, was launching his new solo album, Pure Cello, and was playing live as a duet with his new CD and 45 rpm double LP. Singer Anne Bisson, at right, will be launching a new recording soon, but was singing excerpts from her four existing albums, including Conversations, done jointly with Bélanger.
Was the 2017 Montreal Audio Fest a success, following last year's near-death experience? Everyone we talked to thought it was a hit, perhaps the very best one in the show's 30-year history. The new non-profit formula, with free admission, was the right way to go.
Well done, Sarah. Bravo Michel.
Speaker cables from Atlas,
BIS Audio and Furutech.
All at our Audiophile Store.
The Salon is now called the Audio Fest. Now with free admission, this 30th edition could be the best ever.