THE CANADIANS SHOOT...AND SCORE IN MONTREAL
Montreal has always had a plethora of quality high-end stereo dealers with beautiful brick & mortar stores. These guys are also very smart, because several years ago they got together and put on a combined show just for their customers and the people of the city. Each year it grew and grew until it started attracting more and more attention. Festival Son & Image is the outgrowth of those humble beginnings. People and companies from all over the world come to see the best the audio world has to offer. So does the press. This show was made even more important this year because the New York show was abandoned, so companies that did not have their new goods ready for CES had to premiere them here.
There was not a ton of never before seen products here, but what did show up was fascinating and newsworthy - as you will see. Stereomojo published very extensive coverage from CES in Vegas, so we won't rehash much of what we reported on from there, but Senior Editor for Canada Clark Hertz and I think you will find some noteworthy products worth investigating. Enjoy!
James L. Darby - publisher
JD: Perhaps the biggest splash at the show was the new statement speaker from KEF. At $140,000 per pair and finished in fingerprint capturing polished aluminum, they were quite the spectacle. Huge posters festooned elevator doors and walls all over the Sheraton. KEF is going all out to bring the company back to it's former glory and apparently, far beyond. We were invited to a special press party for the unveiling where we got to listen quite a bit. Eschewing the free booze and trying to ignore the rock star light show and the room ambience which had been decorated and accessorized by several interior design firms, the Muons were none-the-less very impressive. Huge sound of course and very dynamic. Everything you would expect from such an expensive product. KEF indeed proved they could make a world class speaker.
One of the better sounds at the show, for sure - even when playing mp3's through the Wadia DAC and an Ipod.
Was the hourglass, female shape of the cabinet a coincidence or was there a deliberate attempt to make them resemble (pick your own actress or porn star name)? Yeah. I actually asked that question of one of the company reps. He just smiled and turned to a page in the official FSI show guide where he pointed out the advertisement pictured here. Question answered.
CH: KEF's flagship Muon, @ $140 G's, started life as a prototype so ugly that it had to be demoed with the speakers behind a curtain. They were looking and sounding spectacular in all their polished glory. The final look is thanks to Ross Lovegrove who had the brilliant idea of squishing a pipe in the middle and cutting holes for the drivers. Too bad the model from the ads wasn't there as well.
MERRILL/SCILLIA EXCLUSIVE SCOOP!
Here's an exclusive according to Vinh Vu of Norvinz. Vinh is a great guy who was pretending to charge people to hear his displays. I told him that might work in Canada, but in New York people would probably shoot him for jesting like that. Vinh is the exclusive agent for Merrill-Scillia on this continent and he had the current lowest priced model MS2 (left) playing. It goes for $9k. The big dog is the MS21 for $24,000. The big news is that, and he told me he had not told anyone else this, Merrill/Scillia is coming out with an all new table! They are adding the Model MS1that should come in around $6,000. That's $3,000 less than their current lowest priced MS2. That info is not even on their website yet. So you know it first! Thanks Vinh! So ...how about sending one of those our way?
Here's another bit of a scoop. Stereomojo was the first to break the news of the new Linn LP12 with the new plinth. Here's more news for you Linnie's or Linnie wannabees: Linn premiered their new Linn Majik LP12 that will sell for $3,650 Canadian dollars. It's the base LP12 with a Project Carbon Fibre arm and the Linn Adikt MM cartridge. The power supply is internal and the wood base is available in five colors. They tell me it is fully upgradeable to the top-o-the-line loaded LP12 as bucks become available. A lot of bucks.
Ofra and Eli Gershman are two of the nicest people in audio.They also happen to make some of the best speakers in audio at very remarkable prices.
You have probably heard of their Black Swan's which have gotten raves everywhere and compete with the bestest - meaning $100,000 or so - at about 30 grand.We are just about to publish the first US review of their lowest priced speaker, the Sonograms. Here's a hint: wonderful!
They also had their Avant Garde set up (left). It looks and sounds like a smaller Swan at only about $4k.
Ofra promised us a review sample soon.
Amanda Fleising, Associate Product Manager of SF Marketing in Quebec, displays Shure's new SE110 in ear listening device.
Shure was the only earphone company we saw at the show. She told us that the new SE100 was an effort to bring Shure's more expensive audiophile quality phones to a more affordable price. At about $99US, the price seems reasonable. I wasn't able to audition them because, for some reason, in-ear phones just don't work for me. Last year Amanda tried valiantly to find a plug that would fit, but time after time the best sound I heard resembled a bad telephone connection. And that is not endemic to Shure. Apparently I have weird ears because no other brands works either. Since Shure only makes in-ear type phones, I'll have to leave it to others to say how they sound, but for me it's over-the-ear type phones only.
Clark: After showing a rough prototype at RMAF 2007, the finished Gamut S9's @ 130 G's looked stunning with their angular Wengee wood finish. The ladder type grills and steel bases transformed them into a gem. Also in the works are new Wengee wood monoblock amps model RS380M. Rated power is 400W @ 8 ohms, 800W @ 4 ohms and 1.6 kw @ 2 ohms. The finished price is TBA.
JD: Very impressive style and sound. Lars Goller has revamped and resurrected the Gamut (Gam-MOOT)line after taking over a few years ago. Cabinet resonance is always one of the major challenges with which speaker designers have to deal. The laws of physics dictate that it cannot be eliminated, so how to work around it is always a major design decision. Some speakers use granite, MDF and other exotic concoctions to minimize it, but Lars takes another road; don't damp it, distribute it! Use the natural resonances to make a more musical presentation.
Clark: Globe Audio Marketing and Brinkmann North America were debuting the new Avantgarde Acoustic Duo Mezzos at $47,250.00. They are a three way horn speaker with 500W active twin 12" woofers. They have a sensitivity of 107db. The speakers were driven by a pair of Avantgarde Acoustic One mono power amplifiers @ 45 G's a pair and the matching One preamplifier @ 37.5 G's.
JD: 107 dB efficiency and you need $82,500 in front push them? Uh uh. I agree the sound was good, but not the best. And for the money, particularly not the best. Perhaps the most overpriced at the show.
Clark: If you want the biggest pair of speakers on your block you might want to take a look at the Usher D2's at $24k. I wouldn't want to be the mover for that job!
JD: This room gets my vote for the most inappropriate speaker to room size ratio ever. Just look at how they are shoehorned in there, which is really a shame since they look like they could be magnificent in the proper setting. The piano black cabinets with real wood horns looked gorgeous, and after seeing so many other speakers at prices from $50,000 to well over $100,000, I was shocked when they told me these were only $24K per pair. I know several standmounts that are more than these. They are also over 100dB efficient.
Clark: The $16,500 prismatic Dynaudio Sapphires were shown with Moon electronics.
JD: I saw these on static display at CES. These are real lookers with their chiseled, heavily lacquered, exotic wood cabinets.
Clark: Summum Acoustique were showing the top of the line Canadian made Appassionata 4-way speakers, priced at a cool $72,000. This beauty has sculpted wood modules and ceramic drivers. They were driven by Summum electronics and were sounding great.
JD: Clark, I had never heard of these or Summum before. I wasn't as impressed with the appearance of the cabinets, thinking they look a little too much like a DIY speaker. Woodgrains didn't match up..colors varied. I agree that they sounded good though. Maybe you can contact this Canadian company about some reviews.
Clark: Also sounding good were Rockport's new Ankaa speakers at 26.5 G's with their side-firing woofers.
JD: I think for the money, the Gemme Katana's blew these away. The Katana's are bigger with more elegant finish and will sell for only $9,500 with ceramic drivers. I liked the Gershman's better, too. In fact, there were a number of speakers for less than $26 I liked better. Compare these to the big Ushers in the shoehorn room that cost the same $26,000. I'm just sayin'....
Clark: If money and size are no object then perhaps a top of the line Jadis system will do. Double chassis mono amps and preamps brings the box count up to 11!
JD: One of the top eye candy rooms, for sure.
JD: We have gotten several emails from our readers asking about the Dueval Planets, but I really couldn't offer an opinion because I had never seen them, let alone heard them. When I saw that they would be playing in Montreal, I was anxious to hear them. At $1,495 CDN, the Planets are aptly named because of their orbiting globes that disperse the sound from the up-firing 5" woofer (I still can't get over calling a 5" driver a "woofer") and 1" tweeter into an omnidirectional pattern. I now know why everyone has been asking about them - they are pretty amazing. The soundstage, of course, was huge and the low end was solid. They reminded me in a way of the open baffle Nola's Clark and I have reviewed. Listening to the Planets, even under show conditions, you didn't really care much about the technology or even the appearance. You just had the overwhelming sense of the performers and their music. They just drew me in and captivated me.
As fascinating as the Planet's were, conversing with Pascal Ravach who distributes the German speakers in Canada proved even more engaging. Pascal has a Zen-like philosophy in listening and buying audio gear. In fact, in the hall outside his room, he had several posters on the wall explaining in it in detail. One paragraph that, as a pianist, really struck me: "Putting together a system should be made in a calm, rational and simple manner. One should evaluate a component the same way they would evaluate a piano or…a nice meal for that matter. When choosing a piano for example, would one ask what is the tension applied to the strings, what brand of felt is used for the hammers or at what temperature was the varnish applied? Hopefully not. The buyer plays the piano, listens and decides."
Having been through the piano picking experience many times, I can tell you he's right. Not surprising since it turns out he is a trained pianist, too. I remember piano salesmen telling me all the things he mentioned - string tension, the brand and type of felt and such. But none of that mattered when I sat down to play the thing. All the hype and tech talk is meaningless if the piano gets in the way of me becoming one with it. Period. Mr. Ravach and I talked for at least 20 minutes about all kinds of things and I found him to be very much a kindred spirit. My neck was sore from nodding so much. I look forward to working with him on a future review.
Also on display was the bigger Bella Luna. Same basic sound character but bigger for bigger rooms.
JD: Gemme (sounds like Jim) Audio, from right here in Montreal, has quickly become one of my favorite speaker makers. A new company, they have taken the audio world by storm with stunning reviews which almost always end up with the reviewer buying the pair he reviewed. Dealers and distributors all over the world are taking them on quickly. We have reviewed both of the company's current models - the Tanto and Vivace. Breaking the trend, I did not buy either of them, but only because I knew a new speaker - the Katana (pictured left) - was coming. VP Jean-Pierre Boudreau has promised us the first one off the production line. The new Katana defines what "mirror finish" means as you can see with the lovely wife of the US distributor reflected in its baffle. If the white cones make you think they might be ceramic, you'd be right. But the $9,300 price per pair is nowhere near something like the Kharmas.
Speaking of the Kharmas, I have to tell you what John Marks of Stereophile told me. He was in the room listening to a pair of $$$$$ Kharmas when something happened that sent a severe, ear killing transient through them. He watched in horror as the fine china-like cones exploded into a million pieces of glass. Great flibbidy-flabbity! With all the incredible rush to set up a room and high-powered components in a matter of a few hours, it's amazing that does not happen more often. The Kharma folks said that replacements were being airlifted overnight, so catastrophe was somewhat averted.
Sitting next to the Tanto's, you see the Katana's are taller and also deeper. How did they sound? The famous ultra-low bass that dwells in the low 20Hz was there just as in the Tanto's and even the Vivace which has only a single 3.5" driver. All I can say is, I am even more anxious for them to arrive in a few weeks.
But that's not all the news from Gemme. The Tanto's and the Vivace's, even though they are only about a year old, have been completely restyled to more resemble the Katana's sleek, swept back sexiness. "The sound is the same", said Robert Gaboury, the genius behind the VFlex system in the Gemme's.
"Okay", I queried, "How much are they going up in price?
"Pas du tout - not at all", he smiled.
There was yet another surprise lurking in the room. Sitting innocently on the extreme left and right were a pair of small white stand mounts."I want you to hear these and tell me what you think". "What are they?" I inquired. "These have no name yet. C'est une expérience", he shrugged.
JD: These Lamm's sounded like lions driving the big Verity Sarastro IIs ($40,000/pair). At $130,000, the 2-chassis ML3 Signature monoblocks will give you 28 watts each, but what a 28 watts they are. I had never seen the single big tube in the output chassis, but Vladimir told me it was a Russian GM70. There are also four 6N30P "super tubes" to soup them up. The power supply chassis features a ration of 12AX3's.
The ML3 Signature runs a single Russian GM70 directly heated output tube (introduced in 1948, the year I was born) with 1200V on the plate to give 28 watts into 8 ohms. The GM70 is driven by four paralleled 6N30P "Super Tubes," with a single 12AX7 as the input stage. The choke-smoothed power supply in a separate chassis uses four 12AX3 diode tubes as a bridge rectifier to derive the high-voltage rail for the output tube, with another two 12AX3 tubes supplying DC to the front-end tubes.
As Clark and I listened, we heard a little problem with the low end that we were sure was a room anomaly. Vladimir must have heard us because he came over and whispered in his thick Eastern European accent, "You know the bass is not mine, don't you"? He confirmed that there was a room fault that was not his fault. Still, this room was easily one of the better if not the best sound at the show for me.
Clark: Leben Hifi from Japan is designed and owned by Mr. Taku Hyodo a renowned engineer known for his work with Luxman. The gold and green look is attractive in a classic way.
JD: Despite the green & gold (my high school's colors) decor, the 28wpc Leben CS600 looks like an interesting integrated. At $5000, it's hand-built in Japan with point-to-point wiring and features EL34 tubes. It reminds me of the Luxman integrated under review right now, but lacks the Lux's big blue meters. The Luxman is solid state though, so it would be interesting see how this tube integrated compares. Driving a pair of Proacs, the sound as best as I could tell at a show, was pretty impressive. We'll see if we can get one for you.
Note: Someone accused us of "borrowing" a picture from another publication, so we have removed it and replaced it with the um...other three...we took.
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