The most expensive system at the show, costing about US$200,000, was this all-McIntosh system, based on two of the company's three-chassis monoblock amplifiers, their four-chassis preamplifier, and their speakers with too many drive-units to count. (Okay, there are 110 per channel—40 tweeters, 64 midrange units, and six woofers!)
No show report can be considered complete without at least one picture of an esoteric tube amplifier, and I wouldn't want to break with this tradition. The Wavac HE 833Ver 1.3 is the stripped-down version of the $350,000/pair SH-833 that was reviewed by Michael Fremer and caused some readers apoplexy. This one is a mere $140,000/pair, the lower price reflecting less elaborate power supplies. A bargain, I'm telling you! I have no reason to believe that this would measure any better than the one reviewed by Mikey, but I must say that the sound of the Verity Lohengrins driven by these amps, using a dCS digital source, was—apart from some bass softness, which could even have been room-related-absolutely terrific, certainly one of the best sounds at the show. Go figure.
The Elac FS 609 XP-1 is a speaker that has intrigued me since I first saw it, but somehow never got a chance to listen to it. On the Friday, my first day at FSI, I was in the room where they had a pair of these speakers, but, wouldn't you know it, they were not the ones being played. Then, on Sunday morning, I saw Vince Scalzitti, the importer, and said "Vince, do you by any chance..." but he didn't let me finish. "You want to hear the bigger Elacs, right? They're playing in the room next door." And indeed they were. Demo'd by the genial Jack Bakerdjian of Audio Gallery, a Toronto Elac dealer, the FS 609 XP-1 (catchy name, what?) driven by Korato tube electronics sounded quite promising, with a very spacious sound, even though the room was almost certainly too small for them. The FS 609 XP-1 ($17,000) uses an improved version of the famous Heil driver, with an omnidirectional supertweeter on top.
"What did you think of the Sonus Faber/Ayre system?" I always feel like I'm being put on the spot when being asked this kind of question, and I usually say something vaguely positive but noncommittal. "Um, it sounded nice." I had listened to that system only briefly at that point, and had just a general favorable impression. I went back later, listened some more, and came to the conclusion that this was one of the most natural-sounding systems at the show. Not loud and spectacular in an obvious way, just "natural." But then I don't think I've ever heard a non-musical-sounding Sonus Faber speaker, and these Amati anniversarios (to be reviewed by John Atkinson in the May issue of Stereophile) were perfectly complemented by Ayre C-5xe universal disc player (Stereophile's Joint Product of 2005), K-1xe preamp and V-1xe power amp.
Manufacturers exhibiting at FSI for the first time have often told me that the Montreal-area audiophiles attending the show seem to be an unusually enthusiastic and knowledgeable group. This impression is confirmed by the existence of the Montreal Audiophile Association. The Association—which always has a booth at FSI—is a highly active one, with over 100 members. They meet twice a month (they rent space in a school for this purpose), one meeting devoted to equipment (eg, talks by audio designers) and the other to classical music (eg, comparison of recordings of piano concertos). Pictured: members Yves Lepage, who is also an occasional contributor to Son & Image magazine, and webmaster Serge Tremblay. A fun pair of guys—I quite enjoyed talking to them.
Aside from a few grumbles about the small size of some of the rooms, the 2006 FSI was a resounding success with exhibitors as well as attendees. Show organizer Marie-Christine Prin has managed to maintain the show's appeal to hard-core audiophiles while broadening the show's coverage to include products for the video/MP3/iPod generation. As always, Marie-Christine and her stalwart assistants, Céline Roy, and Diane Hébert, joined for this show by Sarah Bouhali and Elisa Fernandez, ran the show with grace and efficiency. Merci!
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.
Bang & Olufsen, a company that usually gives audio/home entertainment shows a wide berth, had an extensive display, featuring their futuristic-looking omnidirectional speakers. I enjoyed the sound—maybe because they were playing Frank Sinatra.
Bruce Edgar has been refining his Edgarhorn loudspeakers, available in kit form, for a good number of years now, and I've noticed a steady improvement in the sounds he's been getting at shows. The ones I heard at the Montreal Show were the best-sounding yet.
Dan Wright of ModWright started out modifying CD/SACD players and D/A converters (I still use the ModWright version of the Perpetual Technologies D/A converter), and his success in this area has encouraged him to come out with products of his own. New at the show was the SWLP 9.0SE prototype phono+line stage preamp (about US$4000).