On Saturday at noon, the John Atkinson trio (JA on bass, Bob Reina on piano, and Mark Flynn on drums) performed their own takes on some jazz standards, to the appreciation of a fairly substantial audience. (As usual, Saturday was the best attended day at FSI.) There were also two original items on their program: one of which was a tribute to Frank Sinatra, composed by Bob Reina. It's an interesting piece, with no actual quotes from any of the numbers that are associated with Sinatra, but somehow capturing the spirit of the songs in his repertoire. I think Ol' Blue-Eyes would have approved.
Red Wine Audio has been expanding their range of battery-powered audio electronics: they have the Isabella preamp, with optional built-in DAC; Signature 30.2 power amplifier, with optional volume control, and Signature 70.2 monoblock amplifiers. The system at FSI used Omega Super Hemp speakers, which use a driver that in the version demoed at the show was equipped with an Alnico magnet structure, and it sounded very nice indeed.
The Montreal Sheraton Centre is a nice hotel, with hotel rooms that are reasonably well-suited to audio demonstrations, plenty of larger suites in which to set up more ambitious systems, friendly and efficient staff, fast elevators, and a great bar. The hotel's weak spot is the provision of places to eat. You can eat at the bar, which is all right as such things go, but there is no restaurant serving dinner, and there's a café serving breakfast that seems overpriced, and, judging by the "Complet" breakfast that I had on the first day, mediocre at best.* Fortunately, the Sheraton is in an area with a lot of restaurants within easy walking distance, and I found a place that served a better breakfast than the Sheraton at a lower price, in a charming atmosphere. I got good vibes just going into the Café Vasco da Gama, and I knew that I picked the right place when I got to the cash register. There in a large ice bucket, along with bottles of beer and some bottles of wine to be served by the glass, was a bottle of Veuve Cliquot champagne. Now, that's class!
The warm-up phenomenon—where a system sounds better after it's been on for some time, the time being much longer than would be accounted for by anything in the measured performance—is well-known to audiophiles, and it often manifests itself at shows. This was the case with the system in the Avantgarde room: Avantgarde Duo Mezzo loudspeakers ($47,250/pair), Avantgarde One preamp ($37,500) and One power amp ($45,000), with Brinkmann analog and Audio Aero digital front ends. I heard the system early on the first day of the show, and although it didn't sound bad, it didn't sound as great as I'd heard Avantgarde speakers sounding. Could it be the room or perhaps the setup? Avantgarde Acoustics designer Matthias Ruff was on hand; between him and Jody Hickson of Globe Marketing, Avantgarde's new North American distributor, they should have been able to sort out the setup, but the sound was definitely disappointing, being on the dry side, a characteristic I don't associate with Avantgarde speakers.
Attention Screen is the band that includes Stereophile's own Bob Reina on piano, Chris Jones on bass, Don Fiorino on various string instruments, and Mark Flynn on drums. (Their recent CD, Live at Merkin Hall, recorded by John Atkinson, is available from Stereophile.) They gave a concert at FSI, and although the attendance could have been better—publicity for the music events at the show was rather sparse—it was clear that those in the audience were enraptured with Attention Screen's intense, almost entirely improvisational brand of jazz.
At the "Ask the Editors" session on Saturday afternoon, Stereophile editor John Atkinson asked each of us on the panel—John Marks, Wes Phillips, and myself—what systems featuring low-priced equipment particularly impressed us at the show. There were actually several such systems that I could have named—but the one that first came to mind was the system based on the Rogue Cronus tube-based integrated amp ($1750, 55Wpc, includes a phono stage and headphone amplifier, with PSB Alpha B1 speakers ($279/pair). A nice, well-balanced sound, very easy on the ears. Mind you, they had an Oracle turntable as the front end, which might be classified as cheating, but, hey, it's an audio show.
What does this photo of the bar in the Sheraton illustrate? Well, I could say that it provides further confirmation of the fact that it snowed in Montreal. But the real reason is that I just like this shot, taken with the Sigma 15mm fisheye on the Canon 5D, and thought that audiophiles that are also into photography (and there are many such in my acquaintance) might enjoy seeing it.
Conventional audio marketing wisdom has it that any new company with a single product, selling at a high price, will have a really rough time establishing distribution and picking up dealers. But this apparently did not deter Kim Neeper Rasmussen. The Neeper Perfection One is a two-and-a-half way floorstander of modest size, with a 1.5" ScanSpeak ring-radiator tweeter and two 5.5" custom ScanSpeak midrange/bass units, each speaker weighing 30kg (66 lbs). A major feature of the design is that the cabinet walls are all non-parallel to each other, an approach to resonance-control that Rasmussen considers to be vastly superior to the use of damping materials. The speakers are made in Denmark, and are priced at $20,000/pair.
It's been said often enough to be considered as a truism that FSI is an occasion for snow: at the show's opening, during the show, or at least when the show is closing. But it looked like this year was going to be an exception; the weather forecast for the three days of the show called for temperatures well above freezing, with rain on Friday.
The first evening of the show, I had a most pleasant dinner with John Atkinson, Stereophile associate publisher Keith Pray, columnist John Marks, and the folks from Dynaudio and Simaudio. During the pre-dinner conversation, John Marks illustrated a point he was making by singing a bit, ably demonstrating his ex-choirboy credentials. His performance was apparently noticed by the people at the next table; at the end of the meal, one of the ladies at that table came over to us and said that this was her friend's birthday, and asked if the gentleman who was singing before could sing "Happy Birthday" to her.