April 1st: Wrapping up
Yes, the show was smaller than in recent years. Not that we heard complaints from any of the visitors. The exhibitors we talked to were more than happy as well.
Spotted in a corner of a large room was an unexpected device: a "flux capacitor," just ready to be placed in a specially prepared DeLorean (see Back to the Future). Be sure to read the spec sheet.
Note the show special, definitely a bargain! But where do you get the specially prepared DeLorean? By a happy coincidence, the DeLorean from the film (actually a replica) was downstairs.
The DeLorean was at the entrance of the Salon's Canada Pavilion, a showcase of audio products from Canada (there were plenty: Bryston, Simaudio, BISAudio, Totem, Linar, Classé, Muraudio, etc). Ah, but is the DeLorean Canadian? A number of visitors thought it was. Actually the car was made in Northern Ireland. It is easy, however, to confuse it with another ill-fated car with gullwing doors, the Bricklin, which was built in New Brunswick. It couldn't travel through time, though both cars appear to have come from the distant past.
For what it's worth, the DeLorean is not an audio product, and doesn't even appear to have a radio.
One popular attraction at the Salon is the opportunity to find recordings, and especially LPs. The supply was not that of recent years, not even at the huge room of Liberty Audio. Still, our colleague, Steve Bourke, was delighted to have found a copy of Victor Feldman's Secret of the Andes. We use it often in our equipment reviews, and especially in tests of loudspeakers.
And then there was Anne Bisson, at right, the popular jazz singer and composer who is often seen at audio shows in North America and elsewhere. She had arrived with her third CD, Tales From the Treetops. What she's holding is the sleeve from the LP version, coming soon.
As every year, the Salon presented awards for life's work to two notable members of the audio industry. This year's winners: Michel Girard of The Audio Group (distributor of Grado), and Saxe Brickenden of Evolution Audio (Savant, Sim2, Definitive Technology, etc.). Both have been around longer than we have. Much as we hate to admit, that's saying something.
April 1st: The Salon's final day
And that was it for the 2014 Salon Son&Image. It's also known as the Montreal Hi-Fi show...the English name has now been added to the logo.
We returned more than once to the room of On a Higher Note, where Philip O'Hanlon was spinning vinyl and playing both DSD and PCM music files. Except for the Vivid speakers shown below, the system was entirely from Luxman. If you associate Luxman with mass-market gear, or perhaps car audio, note that things have changed. The M900u power amplifier (at left) looks like a proper high-end amp, and it sounds the part too.
There was, as usual, a lot of expensive gear meant (one assumes) for the notorious 1%. Or at least the 5%. There was, however, an effort to offer good music at more plebean prices. One of them was from Import Hi-Fi, which was showing the little SR-B2 speaker you see at right. Well, there are lots of small speakers on the market, and its $549 price tag is unexceptional. However, it is from French manufacturer BC Acoustique, whose A3 speaker was on the cover of UHF No. 82, where it was reviewed with no little enthusiasm. And it's part of a trio, including BC Acoustique CD player and amplifier, going for a grand total of $1247. It was placed in an alcove of a very large room, which is why we can't really tell you much about its sound, but we applaud the effort.
And now let us go to the other extreme.
What you see at left is the NAIM Statement, a system including a server, a CD player and multiple class AB amplifiers, all for $240,000. Though NAIM is famous for speakers as well as electronics, the demo was done with Focal Grand Utopia speakers, which are large even for that good-sized room. We've long considered the Grand Utopias to be too big for their own good, but we have heard them sound spectacular (in Vegas, in the TAD room). Perhaps the acoustics were wrong, and that's what we suspect, because the bottom end was thin and uneven. We love the look, though.
Also expensive were Wilson't Sasha 2 loudspeakers (they would be called the Watt/Puppy 9's, if Wilson were still using that name), with a price just under $30,000. Driven by a D'Agostino Momentum amplifier and the (new) matching preamplifier, they sounded their best when playing Peter McGrath's wonderful live recordings ("I recorded this the day before yesterday," he would say, "and the bits aren't dry yet." The room was especially worth visiting when the crowds were small, and the noise levels were manageable.
Rather less expensive was the system set up in the Son Idéal room. The starring role was given to the Harbeth 40 speakers (at right). They have an old-school look, like all Harbeths, and they certainly make a mockery of the term "bookshelf speaker," but they are delightfully musical. They were driven by a Pathos hybrid (tube-transistor) amplifier.
The source was interesting, too, the new Rega RP10, with its radically new frame and decoupling system. The price is likely to be in the range of $6000, but that's to be confirmed.
In one of the lobbies was a set of more conventional Rega tables, except that they weren't really conventional at all. They had been silkscreened with designs by artist Zylon. There will be three models produced in a quantity of 100 each. A likely collectors' item?
A few more details to come...
March 30th: Second day
It's always this way: the Montreal show is well attended, but by Saturday afternoon it's too well attended. It's difficult to get into rooms, and not much easier to get out. We're expecting sparser crowds Sunday, if only because we're in the midst of yet another major snowstorm.
The truly awful rooms which once dominated most audio shows are largely gone, now. There are, instead, rooms in which you take your seat and you don't want to leave.
The Tri-Art room is one of these. This relatively new company from Kingston (yes, Kingston, Ontario) makes offbeat but inexpensive components from bamboo. The rackful is shown at right. Note the Pebbles turntable and tone arm, which are available at just $1295. And it was making music, too, as was the rest of the gear.
We also enjoyed the On a Higher Note room. Philip O'Hanlon was there, with his trademark bow tie, and plenty of vinyl to play on his Luxman turntable. Also present was the Luxman DAC, which we had heard in prototype form last year. It was then the first DAC to decode DSD without converting it to PCM. The whole system sounded delightfully musical.
The speakers, one of which you see at left, was the Vivid Giya G3, designed in the UK but built in South Africa.
There were plenty of good comments about the Audio Note room. The equipment never seems to change, but it doesn't need to, because the room is an oasis of music. And isn't that what we want?
Much as we enjoy well reproduced music, we do think that live music is a good addition to an audio show. The Fidelio record label has done a new album with the folk duo June in the Fields, at right. Live-versus-recorded comparisons are never perfect, for all sorts of reasons, but Fidelio didn't embarass itself with this demo. Nice music, too.
Off for the final day. Picture us slogging through the snow. Around here, Spring's portrait can be found on milk cartons.
March 29th: Touring the Salon
First observation: this year's editionof the Salon is a little leaner than in recent years. A single example: Tri-Cell, which normally takes several rooms, was absent this year. Is it because of the proliferation of shows across the continent, and indeed across the world? Still, traffic was excellent, and we heard no great complaints from either visitors or exhibitors.
A second observation: it's a tradition that the Montreal show is accompanied by snow, but this is ridiculous. A large storm dumped plenty of snow on Montreal the day before the Salon (and it's not as though we were short of the stuff), and another storm is coming Sunday. The famed ducks, which live year round on the rooftop of the Hôtel Bonaventure, were difficult to spot, because they were hunkering down. And who can blame them?
Were there truly new products? Yes, notably the speaker at right: the Muraudio PX1. This is a Canadian speaker, built in Ottawa, and it is more than a little unusual. The dark top part is an electrostatic panel that performs "in the round," spraying sound through 360 degrees. It's good down to 450 Hz. The woofer you see is one of three, and so the Muraudio is an omnidirectional speaker across the band. It's made from aluminum, and, like all such speakers, it isn't cheap, starting at $58,000 for the passive (amplifierless) version. The music source was a Netbook, with Bryston electronics. It was easy to admire the blessed absence of a "sweet spot," since you can listen from almost anywhere in the room. The top end was clean and sweet, and bottom-end impact was very good. The speakers were, however, placed in a ballroom with rather dreadful acoustics. We'd love to hear them in a more congenial setting.
No longer new was that other Canadian speaker, the Bryston Model T Signature (so called because it was to be the first of a growing family of loudspeakers). It and the other speakers of the family have been well received by both critics and audiophiles, and James Tanner (seen here with his new non-NHL Bryston hockey sweater) says sales are way ahead of his original projections. The demo was of course done with Bryston's own gear, including its streaming system and a pair of 28BSST monoblocks. The full-on Model T, with external crossover, tops out at $7495. Not cheap, but not the most expensive toy in the store either.
Some rooms were still using actual CD players, but there seemed to be a preponderance of computers, and also of turntables. Spotted in more than one room is the Kronos Sparta (at right), which is hardly Spartan. The creation of Louis Desjardins, the first Kronos was launched at the Montreal Salon three years ago, and now pops up internationally as well. A notable feature is a second platter below the main one. It turns in counterclockwise fashion, to null out vibrations in the primary platter.
Other turntables include the $5200 11.1 table from Music Hall, which was known for entry-level tables, and a series of special-edition Rega turntables decorated by a well-known artist. More on this later.
March 28th: Salon Son&Image, day one
And we're off!
The long-running (and highly successful) Montreal high-end show opens at 11 am, and runs three days.
The Salon is under new ownership now, but the venue remains the same: the Hôtel Bonaventure, high atop the giant convention centre and shopping mall of the same name. For some years, the show was held at one of the two downtown Delta hotels. It was a great place for audio, because the hotel had originally been built to be a condo tower, with soundproof concrete partititions and a lot of non-parallel walls. The rooms were large, too, and room entrances were wide. The one down side: getting in and out was difficult, and an exhibitor could wait hours before getting an elevator.
From the Delta, the Salon moved to the Centre Sheraton, about which the less said the better, and from there to the Bonaventure.
It's an almost perfect venue. Place Bonaventure sits atop a Métro station, and connects underground with the railway station. Because it includes a trade and convention centre (Montreal's largest until they build the Palais des Congrès), it has plenty of industrial-scale loading docks. And the different levels of rooms are navigable without waiting for elevators.
Did we mention the four-season outdoor swimming pool? Or the rooftop wetland that is a favorite of local ducks?
See you there. Or, if you can't make it, see you here.
March 26th: No trade day this year
The pattern had been the same for years. The Montreal Salon would open on a Thursday dedicated to the trade and the press. The show would then open for the paying public on Friday, and run through Saturday.
We had always wondered about thetrade day's reason for being. It could give dealers a chance to tour the rooms of distributors and mannufacturers. But in many (or most) cases, the dealers are the exhibitors. Some exhibitors, therefore, didn't open on the trade day. They had to pay a supplement to participate, besides.
And so the Salon opens Friday at 11 a.m. You can tour the site and even buy your ticket on the Salon site.
Have you dropped by our Audiophile Boutique?
It's loaded with new and refurbished Moon products from Simaudio.
Amplifiers, preamplifiers, monoblocks, DACs, CD players,
all with factory warranty.
March 26th: A classic show under new ownership
Is it a sign of change? The number of high-end audio shows, in North America, Europe and Asia, is increasing. Date conflicts are harder to avoid ("we can't come in mid-April because we're at a show in Lahore"). At the same time, there seems to be consolidation going on. After more than a quarter of a century, the Montreal Salon is no longer independent.
First inaugurated in 1984 by our then-publisher, Michel Prin, the show became annual several years later run by his sister, Marie-Christine Prin. For some years a new company has been organizing it, with considerable success, under the tutelage of Michel Plante and Sarah Tremblay.
But last year Michel left the Salon to join the marketing division of Plurison/Audio Plus Services. And the Salon was purchased by a British organizer, The Chester Group. It runs shows in the UK, Australia and New York. Sarah Tremblay will manage not only this year's Salon but also New York's New-Tech, which takes place on the last weekend of September.
The Chester Group is also working with other show organizers, notably T.H.E.Show and the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, to co-operate...and also to avoid those problematic scheduling conflicts.
Le Salon Son & Image 2014 in Montreal runs from March 28th through 30th. These are our daily blog entries.