The “Salon Son & Image 2012” Montreal Hi-Fi Show represents the third audio show I have covered for Dagogo within the last six month. The previous two shows were TAVES 2011 (Toronto Audio Video Entertainment Show) and the CES 2012. Some of my friends have asked me whether I get tired from all the travelling, and from seeing the same thing over and over again. My answer to them was “No, not if you are doing it the way I am doing it”. I do not see covering shows as work for me; I see it as an opportunity to get away from my day time job and to meet up with industry friends who share the same passion as I do. As with all the shows I have attended in the past, I usually go with a bunch of audiophiles and we would turn the trip into a weekend getaway for the boys. This time was no exception; six of us from the Greater Toronto Area Audiophile Club (GTAA) drove from Toronto to Montreal to attend the 25th SSI which was held at the Hilton Bonaventure in the heart of down town Montreal from March 22nd to the 25th.
I shall begin my coverage with my favourite rooms at the show in Part I…………
Richard Mak (sitting right) with the GTAA members, having dinner at Le Club Chasse et Pêche after the show.
Avatar Aoustics: Tri Art Audio, Rosso Fiorentino, Dr. Feickert Analogue, Monk Audio, AMR
One of my favorite rooms at the SSI was Avatar Acoustics’. They played some very nice jazz music including the “Crossing” with Sheila Jordan. The general consensus from all six of us from the GTA Audiophile club is that the Avatar room is one of the best sounding room at the entire show for medium sized setups. It had a correct tonal balance, imaging and low frequency response, presenting a high level of detail without sounding aggressive or bright. It was clear that Darren Censullo, owner of Avatar Acoustics, and Stephen Ginsberg of Tri-Art Audio had paid attention to every detail of the setup. They spent two days working within the limitations of the room with various sound traps and reflection tweaks.
The Volterra speakers ($ 12,995) made by the Italian manufacturer Rosso Fiorentino were being displayed for the first time in Canada. The Volterra is a 4-way floor standing speaker, made of two separate compartments held together by the use of a vibration damping system in the middle. The top compartment houses a gold-colored super tweeter which extends to 100 kHz, a 1 1/8” cloth tweeter, and a 6 ½” woofer. The bottom compartment houses an 8” woofer. Sensitivity is rated at 87 dB. The cross over is located exactly in the middle between the ported mid / tweeters unit and the acoustic suspension (sealed) box of the woofer.
Sources were the Dr. Feickert Analogue Firebird Turntable ($12,995) and a Dr. Feickert DFA 12.0 Tonearm ($1,495 with the table) which is basically a modified Jelco 12” arm, the AMR CD-777 CD Player ($4,995), and the DP-777 DAC ($4,995). I wanted to see the AMR PH-77 phono stage in action but Darren decided to bring with him a Monk Audio Phono preamplifier instead. Fortunately, Darren has agreed to send an AMR PH-77 to me for a review, so watch for my article on the AMR-77 in August time frame.
The Monk Audio Phono Preamp was shown for the very first time in Canada. At $3,495, it is loaded with features: 3 separate inputs, 5 equalization curves (RIAA, DECCA, Columbia, EMI and NAB), a build-in SUT for MC, and fully adjustable gain and loading through the front panels.
A turntable sitting in the back of the room caught my eyes, Stephen Ginsberg explained that was a working prototype of Tri-Art Audio’s upcoming entry level turntable called, “The One”. The final price has not been determined but it will be priced at approximately $1,500 to $2,000 including a very nice looking Chinese-made tonearm. The table itself is made in Kingston, Ontario. The platter is made of bamboo, and the underside of the table has a layer of damping material made out of crushed crystals, the very same material which lines the inside of their electronics. The table comes with a detached motor. Even at $2,000 dollars, I thought it would be a bargain.
Stephen holding a bamboo arm wand in his hand, which will be used in their upcoming flagship turntable.
ELAC / MCM Acoustique
On Sunday morning, Robb Niemann, CEO of Burmester of North America, who is also the distributor for ELAC Electroacustic in Canada, was kind enough to host a private session for us to demo the all-new ELAC FS 509 VX-JET speakers ($ 25,000 CDN) which were being shown for the first time in Canada.
Monika Lowe, Export Sales Manager of Elac Electroacustic GmbH, standing beside the ELAC 509
Having won numerous awards overseas in 2011, including the Hi Fi Review product of year award in Hong Kong, the Stereo Sound Grand Prix, and the Hi Vi Grand Prix in Japan, I was really looking forward to seeing the 509s in person.
The ELAC FS-509 VX-JET is a 4-way bass reflex medium sized floor stander weighting in at approximately 120 lbs. The “VX-JET” stands for ELAC’s coaxial and coplanar midrange treble driver system. It is a combination of the JET tweeter coaxially surrounded by the midrange driver. An interesting aspect of the driver is that the entire assembly can be adjusted forward or backward within a range of 16 mm, which allows user to fine tune the dispersion pattern of the upper frequencies to accommodate different room acoustics.
Amongst the several demo tracks which were played during the session was Mara & David’s “Here Now”. The performance was intimate and emotionally involving, the image was slightly larger than life, but this was expected given the room was optimized for home theatre. Mara’s voice was presented with the utmost clarity and accuracy, but not to the point of being analytical or bright, her voice was delicate.
Despite being a medium sized floor stander, the 509s were capable of delivering thundering dynamics when the opening segment of the movie “Rio” was played. The bass response was so strong that it rattled the metal frame which was holding up the curtains to the left side of the room. Make no mistake about it, these speakers can rock when you want them to. If I was to vote for the grandest presentation of the show, the ELAC 509s would be it.
Towards the entrance of the room, a number of ELAC speakers were on static display. Monika Lowe, who travelled from Germany to attend the SSI, was showing me the all-new Micro Magic II desk top system (approx. € 1,000). It consists of the MicroSub 2010 BT desktop subwoofer and two ELAC 301.2 satellite speakers. The MicroSub 2010 BT is only 21.8 cm tall and contains four amplifiers, two for the internal bass drivers, and two for the external 301.2 satellites. Connect them with a Sonos, ZonePlayer or Apple AirPort Express and you will turn the Micro Magic II into a mini Hi Fi system.
Upstairs at the ATOLL room, another pair of ELAC speakers were found (FS 249, $6,900), and they were being driven by the ATOLL CD400 CD Player ($6,499), the PR400 Preamplifier ($5,599), and the matching AM400 Amplifier ($5,999). An Atoll IN400 Integrated amplifier was also on display. The system sounded great with plenty of bass, great dynamics and extension.
At the 2011 TAVES, I thought both of the rooms with Vienna Acoustic speakers were the best sounding. At the CES 2012, Vienna Acoustics debuted the Beethoven Imperial Grand speakers ($9,000) but they were on static display only, so I never got the opportunity to listen to them.
Fortunately, Patrick Butler, sales director of Vienna Acoustics, brought with him a pair of Beethoven Baby Grand Symphony Edition, which is a trickled down version of the Beethoven Imperial Grand, but priced at only $4,500.
If I have a budget of $4,500 to spend on a pair of speakers, the Beethoven Baby Grand Symphony Edition would be the speakers I would buy. If it wasn’t because I already own more speakers than I have time to listen to them all, I would have bought this pair on the very spot.
The Beethoven Baby Grand Symphony Edition did everything right. It presented music with a perfect combination of transparency and dynamics. They were never forceful, nor were they ever overly laid back. They have a realism which presents classical music with the right tonality, and a bass response capable of delivering low organ notes. All in all, a great speaker for the money. They were also driven by affordable electronics from Ayre.
Son-Or Filtronique: Sonus Faber, Ayre, Kronos, Boulder
Located on the lower level of the Vienna Acoustics room in this multi-level presidential suite, was the main display room for the Montreal retailer “Son-Or Filtronique”.
A Boulder 2060 integrated amplifier was found driving a pair of Sonus Faber Elipsa, giving a somewhat relaxed and laid back presentation, suitable for those who are after
a somewhat slower paced presentation.
At the back of the room on static display was the Kronos Turntable ($28,000). The Kronos is an innovative turntable that breaks the rules of conventional audio design, earning it the reputation of first of its kind with two patents presently pending. It employs two identical high mass platters, one above the other rotating in opposite directions and moving at precisely the same speed. This engineering completely eliminates torsional forces. Since the turntable is protected from mechanical and environmental vibrations, it can therefore be suspended without any negative outcomes. Finally, the judicious use of materials helps minimize the transfer of remaining mechanical vibrations emitted from the bearings and stylus friction. The result is a turntable platform with unparalleled stability. The Kronos is shown with an SME tonearm and a Lyra Delos cartridge. It cannot think of a reason why Filtronqiue would bring such a nice turntable to show, but only to have it sit idling at the back corner of the room. Guess I’ll just have to wait for the next opportunity to listen to the Kronos turntable.
Also found n the same room, again on static display, is the VPI Classic 3 turntable ($6,000), which comes with the JMW-Classic tonearm.
I first met Jacob George of Rethm Loudspeakers at the 2007 CES, where the Saadhanas were premiered for the first time in North America. The Saadhanas utilized a highly modified Lowther driver combined with an active bass unit, together with its distinctive cabinet design, they drew plenty of attention. Then at every subsequent audio show, the sound got better and better with each revision of the Rethm speakers.
On Saturday, Jacob George held a private listening session for our audiophile group to demo Rethm’s very first 16-watt integrated amplifier called the Gaanam ($7,750), and the Maarga Loudspeaker ($8,750). The Gaanam is a 2-chassis design, with the amplification section housed in one chassis, and the power section in another. The design is based upon a single-ended pure class A, zero feedback circuitry utilizing a 6DJ8/6922 driver tube, and a 6C33c output tube per channel.
While previous versions of Rethm speakers utilized modified versions of Lowther drivers, the Maarga houses a paper cone driver designed completely in-house by Jacob himself. According to Jacob, the greatest challenge to Rethm speakers has always been to overcome the aggressiveness and immediacy of the Lowther driver, which is reflected through frequency peaks at 3kHz, and 6 kHz. The driver is designed specifically to overcome these weaknesses. The cabinet also houses two 6.5” woofers arranged in an isobaric configuration, each powered by an internal amplifier.
The Rethm setup gave a warm and organic presentation with vocals, with a sufficient bass response to make you just want to listen to music for hours. The bass control was not the tightest, nor did it go down deep enough when compared to some of the larger multi-driver speakers at the show, but the Maarga delivered an intimacy which cannot be found elsewhere. While not the last word in detail, it was seductive and captivating. I give my highest compliments to Jacob for the originality in the aesthetics of his design.
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