The big news at this years Festival Son & Image (FSI, aka "The Montreal Show")
was the change in venue. After many years at the Delta Hotel in downtown Montreal, the Show moved this year to another downtown hotel, the Sheraton Montreal.
Tweaks have acquired a bad reputation in certain sectors of the audio world, probably with some justification. Warming the cartridge to exactly the right temperature, suspending cables from the ceiling (but not with cotton string; it sounds grainy and dry), stroking CD cases with a "magic" brush, drinking "polarized" (or is it de-polarized?) water before a listening session---gimme a break!
All right, it's time to play The Price Is Right: Audiophile Edition. Take a look at the speakers in the picture. What do you think they would sell for? To help you with the bidding, I'll tell you that each speaker has a 12" Peerless bass driver, 6.5" midrange with a Kevlar cone, and a titanium-aluminum cone tweeter, all mounted in separate resin-moulded cabinets. Each speaker weights about 150 lbs and the cabinet is beautifully finished.
Nordost's Lars Kristensen can always be relied on to give an enthusiastic and instructive demonstration, and so it was at SSI 2010. I missed the first part of the demo, but I was there for what I was most interested in: the effects of the Quantum Qx2 ($1700) and Qx4 ($2700) Resonant Technology "power purifier" devices that Art Dudley has written about. I can't say that I really understand the technical explanation of how these devices work, but the demonstration showed that they certainly do work, the soundwhich without the Quantum devices was actually better-than-averageacquired greater dynamic freedom, sharper imaging, and the soundstage became more spacious.
Aragon is back! Originally marketed as a kind of common man's Krell (the first Aragon amplifier and preamp were designed by Krell's Dan D'Agostino), Aragon electronics attained considerable popularity, but the brand disappeared from the audiophile landscape a few years ago. But it's back, with new, improved products that build on their history, the amplifiers featuring the familiar "V" on the top of the chassis.
The rebirth of Reference Recordings is one of the feel-good stories of audio. Here’s RR’s Marcia Martin, holding up two of their new releases, from pianist Joel Fan and from Keith Lockhart conducting the Utah Symphony in works by Bernstein.
French manufacturer YBA has kept a low profile for several years now, but the brand has been re-launched, with Yves-Bernard André still in charge of design. The reference line products are made in France, but the production of the other YBA products is in Asia. I know that production of YBA's affordable Audio Refinement had problems with that arrangement, but they've apparently learned their lesson, and the new production will have much greater control effected by Yves-Bernard himself. The Passion 650 amplifier ($6999), shown in the photo, was on static display.
Press conferences can sometimes be tedious affairs, with the presenter going on-and-on about his company's past accomplishments, and how even greater things are coming in the future. But this description did not apply to the press conference for Usher Audio Technology at this year’s CES. This was more like an informal party for friends than the prototypical press conference. People stood around and chatted for a while, and then Atul Kanagat of MusikMatters, Usher’s North American distributor, talked briefly about how Usher’s line of high-value/high-performance loudspeakers is intended to bring more music lovers into the hobby. We then listened to some music through some very-nice-sounding Usher speakers. Pictured are PR consultant Jonathan Scull (whose name should be familiar to Stereophile readers, Usher chief engineer Joe D’Appolito (whose name should be familiar to students of speaker design), Tsai Lien-Shui (President of Usher), and Atul Kanagat.
Loudspeakers based on the Lowther full-range driver have a considerable following—our own Art Dudley included—but most will admit that the driver has its limitations, including some midrange resonant peaks and less-than-impressive bass response. These have been addressed in The Second Rethm by a set of modifications to the driver and the availability of an extension to the cabinet that produces better bass response. I heard a couple of the Rethm speakers (I don’t remember which models) a few years ago at CES, and was not too impressed, but I quite liked the sound of The Second Rethm with the cabinet extension. The extension adds $2000 to the $7500/pair price, but I suspect it’s worth it.
Audiopax, the Brazilian manufacturer of the Model 88 single-ended tube amplifier that I reviewed most favorably three years ago, introduced the Model 55 amplifier at T.H.E. Show. Solid-state rather than tubed, the 55 is still single-ended and still features the unique "Timbre Lock" control. According to designer Eduardo De Lima, this MosFET design sounds very close to the Model 88. Price is $11,990/pair (compared to the $14,990/pair of the current Model 88 Mk.II).