What a cool piece of gear: Handmade in Plymouth, Minnesota, the Audio Research VSi60 vacuum tube integrated amplifier ($4000) is a fairly compact unit (14" x 8" x 16") that delivers 50Wpc. Its milled top plate has an inset AR logo, while its striking front panel has super-cool function and volume LEDs on the left and totally caressable, soft-touch buttons on the right.
All right, so maybe I should have followed the recommendation that passengers should get to the train station at least 30 minutes before departure. But, really, does anyone but terminally obsessive-compulsive individuals do that? The train going from Toronto to Montreal was scheduled to leave Toronto at 9:30am. I was planning to be at Union Station in Toronto by 9:15. But with this and that, and delays here and there, when I got to the Via Rail ticket office to exchange my computer printout for the actual ticket it was 9:29 by their clock.
This is my first time attending a Montreal hi-fi show, and so it makes sense that I would make some new acquaintances. It is a pleasure to meet Graeme Humphrey and Danny Labrecque of Coup de Foudre, a pretty sweet looking hi-fi shop in Montreal. Here Graeme and Danny assume a sort of pirate-gangster pose. They appear pretty tough, but they're actually quite gentle.
At the 2008 FSI, the hornloaded Avantgarde speakers from Germany were being demmed in one of the large rooms in the Centre Sheraton's downstairs convention area. At the 2009 SSI, Avantgarde were exhibiting in a conventional hotel room, but the three-way Duo Grossos ($37,500/pair), driven by Avantgarde Model One monoblocks and an Avantgarde Model One preamplifier, with an Audio Aero Prestige SACD player as source and all Nirvana SX cabling, sounded more coherent than I remember from last year's Show. Playing "The Mooche" from the Stereophile Editor's Choice CD, I was struck by how un-hornlike the system sounded: uncolored, sweet, full-range, but with the excellent dynamics I have come to expect from horns. The upper bass was a bit over-generous at first, but adjusting the crossover of the active B231 woofer, which uses two 12" drivers, took care of that.
The trend toward smaller, less imposing systems is continued at SSI by Verity Audio, showing their gorgeous Parsifal Ovation Monitor ($9000/pair). While Simaudio and Dynaudio were showing what can be achieved at the lower end of the price scale, Verity, Nagra, and dCS put together a room-friendly system made to slay giants.
You get used to hearing expensive over-the-top systems at an audio Show, but the real delight is discovering more affordable set-ups that sound better than you expect. Such was the case when I entered the Bluebird Music room, where the Spendor A6 two-way tower speakers were being demmed with Exposure's 3010S integrated amplifier and an Exposure CD player, wired with van den Hul cable. The total system prices was $7500, and, again playing "The Mooche" from Editor's Choice, I was struck by how seamless the presentation was, with natural tonal qualities, well-defined stereo imaging, and good dynamics, if not quite in the same class as the much more expensive system featuring the Avantgarde horns I had heard just before.
I had enthused over the sound being produced by French company Focal's top-line Grande Utopia EMs ($180,000/pair) in our report from the 2008 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, so the first room I went to at the 2009 SSI was the room featuring the exact same pair of Grande Utopias. In Denver they had been driven by Boulder source and amplification components; in Montreal, amplification was all YBAPassion 1000 monoblocks and Passion preampcabling was AudioQuest, and the source was the excellent sounding Esoteric P-01VU transport ($32,000) and D-01VU dual-mono D/A converter ($32,000), clocked by the G-0Rb high-precision master clock ($16,000).
I am led by the sound of intricate rhythms and interesting textures, and I find myself in the Audio D'Occasion suite, where Radiohead's Amnesiac is ripping into a pair of Thiel CS3.7 floorstanders, sending the speaker's impressive corrugated drivers into a mad dance. I take a seat.
The two Sashas of Obad Imports (l-r): Sascha Kuettel hefts the JohnBlue JB3 loudspeaker ($370/pair), while Sasha Obad struggles with the KingRex T20 amplifier ($259) and PSU power supply ($189). These units are just a little bit heavier than Michael Fremer's reference amplifiers.
Montreal's finest vinyl record shop (according to them, l-r): Simon, Pierre, and Tony. Aux 33 Tours has been operating for two years at its present location: 1379 Mont Royal Est, right here in beautiful Montreal. Owner Pierre Markotanyos had collected vinyl for more than 10 years before deciding to open his own shop. The store now carries approximately 80% vinyl, and has a healthy clientele.