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.
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.
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.
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."
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).
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.
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.
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.
An amplifier producing nearly 400Wpc, weighing close to 100 lbs...from Rotel, of all people? Don't they know their place in the audio world? Next thing you know, Krell will start making integrated amplifiers! Oops—Krell is making integrated amplifiers...
Just in case you didn't know this when you bought the Parasound HCA-3500, it says on the cover of the owner's manual: "Designed in California, USA by John Curl." Described as an "audio design legend," an appellation with which he seems quite uncomfortable, John Curl has certainly been around the audio business longer than most. He's been employed by or has consulted for some of the biggest names in consumer and professional audio—including Harman/Kardon, Ampex, and Mark Levinson—and was the designer of at least two classic products: the Mark Levinson JC-2 preamplifier and his own Vendetta Research phono stage, still considered by many people to be the best phono stage ever built.