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).
As usual with shows of this type, many of the systems demoed at FSI cost tens of thousands of dollars. However, Angie Lisi of Audiopathic, distributor of some stratospherically-priced equipment, made it a point to assemble a relatively affordable yet highly musical-sounding system, consisting of the Manley Stingray integrated amp ($2250), Totem Rainmaker speakers ($1198/pair), and an Accuphase CD player. Oh, did you want to know the price of the CD player? Umm—$6995. When I pointed out to Angie the incongruousness of having this expensive CD player as part of the system, she replied—somewhat sheepishly, I thought—"It was the cheapest CD player I had around."
John Meyer's Newform Research's ribbon/cone hybrids have been around for a while, and, like Bruce Edgar's Edgarhorns, every revision I've heard sounded better than the previous one. The latest R645v3 has undergone some very significant changes: the midbass/bass box is now sealed rather than ported, with additional bracing and damping (Corian top), and the result is much-improved blending with the ribbon and greater transparency throughout the lower midrange. Sold factory direct, $3484 delivered makes the R645v3 an astonishing bargain in today's marketplace. The partnering electronics undoubtedly made a major contribution to the fine sound of the Newforms, and are interesting in their own right: they signal the return to the business of Richard Dolan, whose PM1 preamp was highly regarded in the 1990s. The Newforms were driven by Dolan Audio SMM-120 monoblocks (US$11,500/pair), with a prototype line stage (about US$7500), Shanling CD player source.
Fidelio Records, based in Montreal, has an impeccable—um—record of producing CDs and SACDs of the highest technical and artistic quality. Their latest SACD of the Nemesis percussion ensemble, played back on Verity Parsifal Ovation speakers ($24,000), with a gaggle of Nagra electronics and Esoteric SACD player, made one of the best sounds I heard at the show. Fidelio recording engineer René Laflamme did a comparison for me of the SACD and the backup analog master (Nagra open-reel), and I have to admit I preferred the clarity of the SACD.
The two most expensive systems at the show, each costing about US$200,000, were the all-McIntosh system, and the system using Pierre Gabriel Grand Master speakers and Jadis electronics/digital source. (Actually, the Pierre Gabriel system was "only" US$180,000, so you can afford a trip to France with what you would save over the McIntosh.) Did they sound impressive? Yes, but, personally, I have trouble relating to any system whose price is so far beyond the reach of ordinary audiophiles. Having said that, it's good to have systems like this at shows, so that people can judge for themselves what they offer in the way of sound quality. M. Gabriel himself was on hand to demonstrate the system featuring his speakers.
Linn Products has moved in a major way into multichannel and multi-room systems, but some new products demo'd at FSI showed that they haven't abandoned the part of their customer base that just wants to listen to music in high-quality two-channel, in one room. For these folks, Linn had the Majik line: CD player ($4250), preamp with MM/MC phono stage ($3800), and 100Wpc amplifier ($3100). Very nice, well-balanced sound through Espek speakers ($5800), with an LP12 phono source.
The German Canton line of speakers has a new flagship: the Vento Reference 1 DC ($30,000). Looking closely at these beautifully finished speakers, I noticed that in the back panel of each the speaker there were about a dozen signatures. Could it be that some FSI visitors have been engaging in some audiophile graffiti? No. These are the signatures of the speaker's designers, including Canton's chief engineer Frank Göbl, and the people who built these specific speakers. I really like that.