March 27th: Our Montreal Audio Fest blog is now complete
How was the born-again Montreal Audio Fest? Verily, it was a hit, a palpable hit. The Friday crowd looked like a Saturday crowd. The Hotel Bonaventure, which had been in renovation last year, had never looked better. And there were more great rooms than we had heard for a long time.
If you've followed the show's dramatic turnaround, you'll know what has happened over the past half decade. The Salon, as it was then called, was run with good success by Sarah Tremblay and Michel Plante. Both went to work for other people, and sold the Salon to Britain's Chester Group. This is just our point of view, but those people give mismanagement a bad name. Just 10 days before opening day last year, they cancelled the Salon. Sarah and Michell stepped in, relaunched the Salon under a new structure and a new name, and made everyone smile.
The emergency structure has now been made permanent. The Audio Fest is a non-profit organization with just one salaried employee, Sarah, It operates with the help of volunteers. Our own Kathe Lieber, for example, wrote the English version of the Audio Fest Web site.
This was the 30th edition of the Montreal show, and we talked to people who believe that it may have been the very best one ever. All augurs well for the next edition, and the ones to follow.
Our complete report will be in UHF Magazine No. 98, which is now in preparation. In the meantime, our show blog is on line.
As you know, we didn't cover CES in Las Vegas this year. The organizers seem more interested in such products as an Internet-connected hair brush (no, we're not joking) than in high-performance audio and the magic of high fidelity.
March 23rd: On with the show
When last year's Montreal show was cancelled by its British owners with 10 days notice, it looked like curtains. It wasn't. A last-moment effort was underway to save it, and it was one of the best shows anyone could remember. It's on again...and it's shaping up to be even better.
Click on the image to visit the Audio Fest Web site.
A reminder: the Hotel Bonaventure is one of the city's architectural wonders, right downtown, atop a Métro station.
Our show blog is already started, and you can consult it here. We'll be adding more during the weekend.
March 20th: Everyone's getting into turntables
Nearly everyone, but then the handwriting is on the wall. Streaming and electronic sales have the wind in their sails, we know that. We also know that the Compact Disc is being dethroned by its old rival, the LP. Since most turntables of the 1970's probably don't work anymore, what are you going to play the new releases on?
We do. We reviewed a pair of small Elipson loudspeakers, the model 1400, back when UHF Magazine issues were still in the single digits. They were small, smaller than the diminutive Totem Model One, which came out a couple of years later, but they were sweet, and we bought a pair. We still have them. Look behind you when you're watching a movie on our Kappa home cinema system, and there they are.
But Elipson was then only a speaker company. It still is, but it has branched out into wireless audio, and now turntables. The Omega 100 turntable ($699 Canadian), shown here, is also available in black (we like the red one, though). There's a version with its own phono preamplifier, and yet another with Bluetooth. That's right, you can send its signal to your speaker across the room. Not our thing, but we can see its appeal.
March 14th: Phono cartridges at the store
For a long time, our Audiophile Store's phono page had been listing cartridges from Goldring. But we sold the last of our stock, and, despite our best efforts, we have not been able to get more.
But we still have some terrific cartridges. The image shown here is of the Rega Apheta, one of the company's newest line of moving-coil cartridges. Remember when Rega meant entry level? Not true anymore.
But there's another Rega cartridge at the store, the Exact. It's an MM (moving magnet) unit, but it has a feature we don't think you should be without: a profiled stylus.
Why is that important? The usual elliptical stylus touches each groove wall at just one point. The elongated stylus plays more of the groove, for lower noise and more dynamics. It can even play the undamaged portions of the groove of certain used LPs.
And of course we still have the London Reference, based on the original Decca design. When we tested it, we loved it so much that we bought one.
March 10th: Jumpers over at the store
Our Audiophile Store is an important part of UHF Magazine, because it helps to finance the magazine. That, in turn, helps us to remain independent.
The store offers a number of cables, both interconnects and speaker wires, all of them recommended by us (if we don't like something, we won't list it). What we hadn't had for a long time was jumpers. If your speakers have two pairs of binding posts but your cable has just a single pair of wires, what do you do? Leave those awful gold-colored connection plates that came with the speakers?
We finally have our own jumpers. The wires are Ohno continuous-cast single-crystal copper. The connectors you see here are Furutech, and connect under pressure. You can also order them with Furutech spades instead, or you can get them with the locking bananas at one end and spades at the other. We expect that will be the most popular version.
We wanted the jumper sets to come in under $200 (Canadian), and we did it. They're available now over at our cable page.
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March 6th: Ready for the Montreal Audio Fest
That's of course the new name of the 30-year-old Montreal high-end show. After last year's announced cancellation, and its rescue with the last-moment creation of a non-profit organization, it's back. And probably better than ever. If you don't know the whole story, and perhaps even if you do, download (as a PDF) the UHF Magazine article The Montreal Miracle.
Yes, tou read right: free admission. You can invite friends and acquantances, and they won't have to reach for their wallets...unless, of course, they want to buy tickets for a draw to win great products.
Or to add to their music collection. There will be vinyl from several vendors, both new and used.
The Hotel Bonaventure, by the way, is an architectural marvel, atop a gigantic concrete convention centre. It's right downtown, accessible by Métro and other public transportation. It's worth the trip.
Click here for the Audio Fest site.
March 2nd: The Montreal Miracle
That's what everyone was calling it a year ago. The Montreal Salon Son & Image was about to celebrate its 30th anniversary. Then, with 10 days warning, its British owners cancelled it. One reason: a number of exhibitors had vowed never to deal with those organizers again.
Then came the miracle. In a week and a half, the show's original owners rescued it. A non-profit organization was set up. Recalcitrant exhibitors were lured back. And it turned out to be one of the best shows in its history. It was, in fact, an audiophile love-in.
Can the experience be repeated? Just watch! The Montreal Audio Fest, as it is now called, is returning, to the same hotel (the Bonaventure, right downtown). The list of exhibitors is already impressive. And admission is free. Got a friend who is audio-curious, but not enough to pay $20 to enter? All are welcome.
We're taking the opportunity launch the first of what will be a series of articles, this one titled, appropriately, Miracle in Montreal. This article won't be in any of UHF Magazine's print or electronic editions, but it's free to download. Just click on the image at left, and the PDF version of the full article will be on its way to your computer or tablet. We have the basic story of the rescue, of course. Then you can follow our colleague, Albert Simon, as he shepherds his guest about the Audio Fest and records what he likes and what he doesn't.
We will of course be at the Audio Fest. And our full report will be in issue No. 98 of UHF, coming soon.
We're looking forward to it. For the first time in more than a quarter of a century, UHF didn't cover CES in Las Vegas. The high-end audio section of CES is dying. But don't conclude that high-end audio itself is dying. Come to the Audio Fest and see for yourself.
February 27th: Why HMV failed
Some countries, notably the United States, haven't had real record stores for years. In the US, the Virgin Megastores closed nearly a decade ago. Canada still had HMV, which stands -- or used to stand -- for His Master's Voice. The employees found out from the radio that the company was broke, and their jobs were toast.
At first glance, the reason appears obvious. Most of the music consumed today (“consumed” seems like the right word) is bought on line, or even streamed from Apple Music, Spotify, etc. Who needs record stores? Yet there are other reasons, which were obvious to us during a visit just a week before the closing announcement. The management was disconnected from reality, and just didn't know what it was doing.
People are still buying music in physical form, but what is that form? CD sales are way down, and they've been caught up by the resurgent LP. When we visited, there must have been 200 CDs for every LP. Indeed, we had to ask where the LPs were, because the section was so unobtrusive.
We looked at Blu-ray films too. The collection was tired, and many were on clearance. One display offered three films for $18. That sounds all right, but it had only four titles. We left empty-handed.
And that HMV store, like record stores of 40 years ago, was playing music at ear-splitting volume, presumably to cater to what it believes younger customers want. But of course they had no younger customers. Those customers listen to music on their phones, and they sure as hell don't go to HMV.
So what happens to HMV's 70 stores?
A small chain called Sunrise Records, which has a handful of stores in Ontario, has plans to take over the leases, and expand again. Their plan: selling LPs.
February 3rd: In the midst of listening sessions
We began the sessions with the unit you see here, the Bryston BDA-3. We had reviewed the BDA-2 in an earlier issue of UHF, and we can say that the third incarnation of this converter is a mighty leap forward. As usual, we don't give “stars” or other numerical ratings to products we review, because that would take away the nuances we strive to add to our reviews. Suffice it to say that this is a very good product.
Well, we should possibly add one more nuance: we liked the BDA-3 enough to have purchased one for our reference system. And, to add one more nuance, one of our panelists, Albert Simon, bought one as well.
We're continuing our sessions. Today: loudspeaker cables.
January 4th: CES is on
There's no lack of stories from CES, many of them centering on improbable gadgets. Last night's CES Unveiled was full of them. But, fun though they are, that's not what we're eager to talk about.
Today is the first of two press days before the actual CES opens on Friday. We'll be filing stories all week, starting with the Samsung press conference, first up this morning. Our reports can be found on our Vegas blog. Check back for new reports.
The gleaming hotel and casino at right is the Mandalay Bay. At one time, the press days were at the Venetian, the same hotel where the “high performance audio” exhibits will be. But as the events got bigger, more room was needed, and so the press days were moved to the Mandalay Bay.
The convention centre at the hotel is simply huge. That's not a surprise, because Las Vegas is very much a convention town. For the poor journalists, that's a pain, because between the parking lot and the convention halls is a couple of kilometers of hallway.
Been there, done that. We're not walking those halls this year (for the first time in 26 years), but we'll have the stories anyway.
December 23rd: Goodbye Reine Lessard
Our former associate editor, and so much more, Reine Lessard, died this morning after a long illness.
The photo shown here is from 2005, the last time UHF Magazine had its own exhibition room at the Montreal show. For many of our readers, the show was a unique opportunity to meet the woman whose articles they had read and appreciated in our pages. When she joined the (always small) UHF team in 1992, she brought with her a cornucopia of talents. She was an accomplished classical pianist, specializing in Chopin. She was a fine painter too, with an artist's sensitivity. Above all, she was a magnificent writer, able to bring a musical work to life in words that glowed.
She was then new to high-end audio. After one long group listening session, she exclaimed, “Wait until my family learns that I spent the day comparing the sound of cables!” But she heard the differences with no problem, and she translated what she heard into elegant prose that left plenty of room for the emotion that is at the heart of music.
She also wrote about music itself, in an extraordinary series of long-form articles published over more than 60 issues of the magazine. She wrote in depth about countless musical instruments, from the cello to the pipe organ to the accordion to her own beloved piano. She delved into the careers and works of composers of all musical genres: Vivaldi, Chopin (of course), Bizet, George Gershwin, Leonard Cohen, and The Beatles. She probed the origins of jazz, and of rock'n'roll. She made you want to dig out your copies of music you hadn't listened to in a long time.
She retired from the magazine because of ill health in 2008. Even then, she continued to collaborate on musical subjects, and she always took delight in seeing her byline in the magazine.
She died early this morning, accompanied by her son, the poet Jean-Marc Lefebvre. The last sounds she heard were Nocturnes by Chopin.
We are richer for Reine's presence, and we are convinced that many of our readers feel the same way. We will miss her.
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