to the Show ...
I took an unexpected Friday off work to drive to Montreal for the annual Son et Image Audio Show. This year marks the change in venue to the Sheraton Hotel near Guy and St. Catherine Street in the heart of downtown Montreal. Just four blocks up from the hotel are the hills of Mount Royal and nearby is McGuill University. There was a rumor that the show would "change", possibly for the worse, due to an expansion of types of products covered (video consoles, HTDV, compact digital players, and digital cameras)...more on this later.
My day started off early and I was in my car by 5:30 am to meet Danny at his house. The plan was to take Danny's Mazda3 and try to make Montreal before 1pm. For those who like a quick summary of likes and dislikes from the 2006 edition of the Son et Image show...click here. For other coverage of this event, take a look, here:
1 Arrival in Montreal 11:45 am
We parked just up the street for $15 flat rate for the day. The early bird special was $8. The parking attendant heard these words: "Bounjour...Je ne peut pas parler francais...". He looked at me, said "Bonjour!!!...", smiled and said "Me neither". From an earlier show that we attended 3 years earlier, we knew that we would have to limit our time and auditions if we wish to cover the event in one day. The trick was to do so in a relaxed enough pace so as to be fresh enough for the drive back home some 9 hours later.
To the left is one happy person standing in the Lobby of the Sheraton Hotel just 5 minutes after parking our car. The new exhibits (panel displays, digital cams, video consoles) taking a leaf from CES were on floors 2 and 4. Two basement floors contained Salons/Large conference rooms for some of the larger exhibits. The heart and soul of the show took place on floors 7 to 11. We were wisely instructed to take the elevator to the top floor and walk down to the other levels.
In the photo is myself(PeAK) Danny's tube designer friend(Howard) that he managed to meet via a cellphone call two hours earlier from a gas bar on Highway 401 on the way to Montreal...gotta love these cellphones. The rest of you, like me, can refer to him as Yoda. In an earlier life he was a repair technician for tube equipment of the likes of Jadis. Several innovations in his tube amplifier design (like auto-bias) are a direct result of his experience with some of the failure prone designs of early Jadis equipment where he prototyped modifications to improve their reliability. These were pioneered by him about ten years ago and are now becoming more common for reliable and long tube life. One last thing I forgot to mention is the $12 admission and the bargain $10 CD/SACD that Fidelio puts out for each show...the proceeds going to charity. Kudos, Guys!
The picture on the left is to give you a feel for the rooms (compared to the Delta Hotel of yore). Overall, the rooms and corridors feel much less claustrophobic than the Delta. The 40 story building is serviced by 6 elevators...which all work!
It seemed like Howard knew just about everyone in the Canadian
audio scene. The person on the left is a Vince Scalzitti (Distributor Tri-Cell
of Hovland fame) Some 10 years earlier he helped a budding designer
get his Tube Amplifier ( Soundtech Poweramp One
to the market. This thing supplied 50 tube watts and featured self-bias
, boutique caps, and a full range sound coupled with authoritative bass.
This was unheard of at that time. The designer of that amp was not other
the same Yoda ...err...Howard
Lee making rounds at this show. In 2006, of this year, Howard's
latest evolution of his 300B SET amp called the Connoisseur SE-2 Mk II
was named by Paul Cervantes as "Best
Sound" at the CES 2006 show. Like a violin maker, the voicing of an
amplifier is synergistic combination of choices regarding cabling, topology,
transformer selection, passive components, power chord build, layout and
assembly. Danny began as a customer of Howard's electronics when introduced
by a mutual friend in his search for a tube amp. The better Aleph solid
state amps were good but a convincing dealer demo pointed him toward tubes.
Howard decided to not exhibit this year and instead be a spectator for
a day and to later visit with relatives in Montreal for dinner. I was honored
and tickled to spend the day with both Danny and Howard looking at the
state of Audio on Friday, March 26.
One of first exhibits we saw was that of Sound Fusion located just outside of Toronto. I took the following image from their web page to show you Ribbon tweeter that was used by several manufacturers at the show. ( Note: all of the equipment pics can be clicked on for larger viewing )
speakers featured a curvaceous form that any warm blooded Italian would
have been proud of. Not exactly Sonus Faber in look but the sound from
the room was dynamic...could it be due to the judicious use of bi-amping
using NuForce ampllifier modules?
To the right is another example of this tweeter used used in a room featuring Air Tight electronics. I saw the same unit also in in the JAS Audio/Audio Space room ...it might be quite special in price and/or performance. Maybe I can still have my "mini" Apogee, still...to this day, one of the saddest examples of innovative designers held unduly in check by the misapplication of the patent law.
2 Who's who...
Just about the first room we entered contained a pre-amp proclaiming itself to be "Modwright" and standing next it it was the man himself, Dan Wright. This pre-amp was being used in many rooms at 2006 CES. The controls and finish oozed quality. Dan was kind enough to have a pic with friend Danny....it looks like Danny is somewhere in heaven.
I borrowed the image, above, from the Positive Feedback CES review to give you a sense of the finish and fondness of this pre-amp. The switches had a nice tactile finish. It was featured in several rooms.
The thing that I noticed about the show is that
most of the people who have been around for a while are "people" first.
They are truly excited by their products and want to spread their enthusiasm
to all those that they come in contact with. My friend Danny came
across Dan Wright shortly after he purchased his first DAC in the form
of the MSB Link DAC.
This was one of the first companies that delivered upgraded digital sound
using an external aftermarket converter for a nominal price. (This
predatated the Art
DI/O).Dan Wright made a name for himself with upgrades to this product
on Audio Asylum that eventually led to the commercialization of his modification
business. We did not "drool"...well not too much...but it was nice to put
a face to name in the flesh and might the equivalent of a celebrity gawk
at the Toronto Film Festival.
DIY types know that fit and finish are one of the last steps after prototyping.
With all of the production happening in China, it seems as if the opportunity
for young imaginative designers to see their space-age looking designs
come to fruition. I got a chance to see the Shanling tube based transport
for the first time. It could sit right next to an Oracle
Turntable without your Art-Deco friend complaining too much about ...maybe
just turn down the level on the blue lights "a tad" on the supports. Notice
the two orange glowing tubes on the left...reminds me of the Luxman amplifiers
which put a little window on the front panel on some of their amplifiers
to let you know that a tube was in the works. Hopefully it does emit a
color of light which that does not affect the sonic bliss of "blue". Thanks
to YBA, their research will forever etch this color
onto transports. Amplifiers may move onto other colors, eventually, but
for now blue is in for amps and transports. This report features no less
than 3 transport pics...the other two are from Europe.
...Divergent Technologies (Importers of ASL Hurricanes and the Reference 3a Speakers) was present in the form of Task Goka. Not surprisingly, Howard and Tash are old acquaintances. Tash appreciated the non-use of flash and said to me "You must be a Pro!" for doing so. The familiar form of the MM de Capo was now extended to a floor standing unit. called the Veena being driven by a chunky looking preamp(top of rack) by Antique Sound Labs. Tash is head quartered in a town called Kitchener, neighboring the University of Waterloo. A good chunk of the software engineering talent circa Win95 days hails from this school and continues to do so.
In terms of manufacturers trying to put together value and to cater to different market segments, I have to give a hand to Klaus of Odyssey Audio. One advantage on a Friday is that quite often you will be priviledged to demos showing off conscious tradeoffs of using or not using tubes. Klaus put on both a tube preamp and a solid-state preamp voiced to be similar. The most strking feature of his equipment were the thin but large 3" diameter knobs for volume and input select. The Art On-wall speakers sounded surprisingly good but the emphasis on quality resulted in the use of quality drive units by ScanSpeak. A resounding success in the business world wishing to overcome the limiations of ceiling mounted speakers. Klaus took the time to compare his Candela pre-amp and pre-amp section of the Symphonic Line RG-14 and do us the favour of playing the same cut twice over the Lorelei speakers. Not at all bad and definitely promising (these guys setup in unfamiliar hotel with questionable line feeds) ... that was the best I could do. I sensed Klaus was good at reading body language but the voicing of the two units needed to be fleshed out by another recording...and time was still my enemy at this show. Definitely worth revisiting at or above that price point...as Mike (Audio Federation) put it..."at least that is what I heard". (After the show, I had a chance to peruse a thick duotanag of information on the Odysssey brand...value and quality seems to be the focus.
to "Speak Up"
The routine for visiting each floor was to first go to the elevator section of each floor. There, you be greeted by "Blue Polo" wearing staff/security of the show in their baseball caps...sometimes they asked to see the orange band granted to 1-day attendees. Each company/product for that particular floor was listed on a large piece of cardboard. I learnt the hard way, 3 years earlier, that this is the best way to insure seeing a name that your internet prompted brain wanted to see.
Audio was present in at least 3 rooms (including the Fidelio
room). Again, this year they produced a show CD that could be purchased
for $10...I've yet to listen to it. Verity's largest speaker now towers
above the smaller Parsifal standing close to 5 feet tall with a
difficult to spot(bad photo...better ones here from AF) ribbon tweeter. Instead of using the
tube electronics of Nagra, Fidelio chose to use the triangular shaped solid
state unit in a smallish room. The large units were in another room
driven by a Wavac amp that was fairly exposed looking (No, the matching
gold flower part does not come with the amp. In hindsight, this would have
been one of those rooms that one should have got in line to play familiar
Eben Acoustics was showing
their well received unit featuring a ribbon tweeter shown on the right.
"Mister Howard Lee!" came
a voice from behind was none other than Angie of Audiopathic....perhaps
the only person in Toronto who is known by her first name by long time
audiophiles who eventually worked their way up north to her store (American
Sound) up in Richmond Hill on Yonge street. Her and Howard
go back a long way in the early days of CES with his first product.
Two Yodas in a pod, if you ask me. Angie proceeded to give Howard
a tour of her 3 rooms starting with the best room featuring the Hansen
speaker and a turntable . The advertisement to the left of Howard's
shoulder is a killer turntable (Angie's opinion) by Redpoint
a teflon layered platter secured by a hundred or so machined bolts. She
was so friendly that we forgot to take the pic until some 5 minutes after
she saw us off from her last of 3 rooms. At the American Sound store, there
are a few rooms to greet visitors. Angie will size you up and decide which
room you are worthy of based on a few straightforward questions. I've never
ventured into the "back" room where she keeps here pride of place but I'm
told by Danny that the sound in "that" room is quite special. She knows
her stuff. More on the turntable, below.
5 Round and Round...
I grabbed a image for the Redpoint turntable from Angie's site. As you can see, the unit has mass and original inklings about turntable design. As I said to Vince, maybe it is time for me to resurrect my Thorens TD160 with its Mayware Formula IV (both Mark II). At the show, I saw a uni-pivot design, like the Mayware, by a company called Moerch (a.k.a Morch) ...the principals of that company probably owned Mayware arms when they were younger! I can still remember the day my brother ask me to help him unload the last remains of his LP collection for about $1/album. The promise of CD that was met was the absence of groove noise and hum....this I think convinced most people to switch. The thinking then was that the problems were in the execution of the CD players and not the format.
I promised you at least two more pics of statement (read
pretty and ambitious) CD playback units. Below is the unit sitting in the
Kharma room near the door. The image has been enhanced so that you can
see the detail but this has led to artificial enhancement of what appears
to be dust spots....the unit actually looks better than the picture. Click
on each pic to see the full size image:
I guess as the industry (Sony) awaits the final CD/SACD player that will put a nail into the turntable's coffin, more and more souls will convince themselves to put out mechanical feats of engineering to play the black vinyl. Even for myself, I'll have to admit that the magic of LP playback happened on many more occasions than I can remember with CD.... and all this time I thought it was just a mid-life thing with my ears....
6 Three more pics...and Adios
Before I left for the show, I knew that a certain new company would be there. The principal of the company has corresponded with me over at Asylum using my handle PeAK. Before we get there, I need to put up one more exhibit which shows what one can do with mundane hotel rooms. Some of the exhibitors commented that they took as much of the bolted down furniture out of the rooms but registering and then getting the "perfect" room was a lottery at best. In many of the pics, I was able to crop out large 5 foot tall dressers out of the shot. The room you see in this pic is of Pathos and speakers by Vivid Audo. The printed flowers on the curtains definitely seem to clash with sharp edges/lines of most equipment. I would have to give Pathos/Vivid a thumbs up for bringing in the backdrop in their room.
The final two pics are for Vinnie Rossi of Redwine Audio. I have never heard his modified 6 watt T-amp based amplifier but it focuses on the less is more school of thinking and makes strategic use of good parts where they will make a difference. The speakers they were hooked up to seem to have the driver sparseness of early Totem speakers (bottom-most Lobby) but were wide and featured a single drive unit. Maybe it was my ears but I thought they sounded like they looked...a little thin sounding. We tried to put on a CD (Over the Rhine's Good Dog Bad Dog) but that would have necessitated unplugging wires and unplugging the turntable. We said we come back later but ran out of time. So as a parting shot, I leave you with a shot of the author of this coverage with an up and coming manufacturer trying to spread his knowledge in the form of products while trying to make a living at the same time. Cheers
So what was great about the show:
What did I not like about the show:
So how does one relax the next time the show rolls around to Montreal...especially if you are going to do something dumb like drive back 5 hours to the same place you started from ? Have a nice dinner. I suggest you try the ribs at a place called Bar-B Barn ((1201 Guy, Montreal, 931-3811) for a meal of their Montreal reknown tender ribs ...next time I need to pick up a few bagels and to try out that smoked meat sandwich I keep hearing about.
of May 16 2004