Robert Schryer's Second Day in Montreal

As I expected, the show on Saturday quickly devolved into a fisticuff free-for-all, especially in rooms exhibiting the level of pricy gear no one gets to hear in real life except at an audio show, with desperate patrons taking it upon themselves to physically remove "seat campers" out of listening chairs meant for all. Just kidding, of course. Well, mostly kidding. Indeed, as far as I know, it never came to punches or hostile seat take-overs among audiophiles; the prevailing mood on Saturday was one of joviality and eager anticipation. Rudeness was low, attendance high, coffee aplenty, and industry types seemed busy doing their industry thing. All of it good news.

But a busy audio show also means limited seating space and constantly obstructed listening lines, so along with the standard audio-reporting caveat—that hotel rooms are bad audio rooms—please keep in mind that what I claim to hear in an exhibitor's room is not a review of the system's sound quality, but a personal, bullet-point impression of that system's sound over a five-minute period from a less than ideal listening position in a room filled with strangers meandering around me.

There is no more succinct way for me to describe the sound I heard in Hegel's room than as fun! And while I do mean fun in a more physical sense, I don't mean it in a pejorative, small-"a" audiophile one. In my book, any sound system worth its salt should properly communicate the emotional thrust of the music it is reproducing, and if the thrust of that music is designed to make you bob your head or drum your hands on your lap and a particular system manages to do this, than that system is doing exactly what it's supposed to do.

And what the Hegel system did was turn a live recording of a guitar-shredding Chicago blues player into an explosive, hotel-room-filling event. The sound was dynamic as all get out, head-bobbingly propulsive, and though slightly coolish in character, excitingly expressive. The gear recipe to this musical fun-romp was a Hegel Mohican CD player (CA$5999), Hegel P30 preamp (CA$8999), 350Wpc Hegel H30 amp (CA$17 000), and PMC MB2 SE 3-way, stand-mount speakers (CA$38 500/pair, stands included), with XLO cabling throughout. A frenzied drum solo sounded so viscerally real that I almost expected to be hit by a flying drum stick.

Along with being an accomplished cellist, recording artist, and regular cellist guest performer at the Montreal Audio Fest, Vincent Bélanger recently became spokesperson for Audio Note UK, in whose showroom this year Vincent could be seen mingling with attendees, but not, as in previous years, playing music for them. That role was performed by a complete AN system: CDT Zero II CD Transport (CA$3500), DAC 0.1x DAC (CA$2250), M1 preamp (CA$1800), and a 3.5Wpc, single-ended, class-A, P1 PP power amp (CA$$4000). Vincent's bowed cello through a pair of the 93dB AN AZ2 Hemp speakers (CA$3000/pair) sounded a bit boxy and boomy, but also richly textured and butterscotch smooth.

Neat Acoustics was showing off their diminutive Iota Xplorer speakers (CA$6000/pair), whose Air Motion Transformer tweeter (akin, structurally, to something between an electrostatic membrane and a magnetic tweeter) and bass/midrange driver are positioned side-by-side rather than vertically. The speaker's dual-woofer configuration is said to enhance lower bass response, but there's still so much a 2.5' tall speaker can muster in bass oomph or, for that matter, image height.

Still, music that was streamed via a laptop into a PS Audio Stellar Gain Cell DAC/preamp (CA$2000) and a pair of Stellar M700 mono amps (CA$4000/pair) sounded sweet and detailed, with glare-free highs that seemed to sparkle forever.

Montreal retailer Codell Audio showcased a system that seemed to achieve a sweet spot for those who want a simple, unobtrusive system to accommodate their living space without skimping on sound quality. The assembled gear included a Naim Core music server (CA$3795), an 80Wpc Naim Uniti Nova integrated amplifier (CA$7995), and a pair of Dynaudio Special Forty speakers (CA$4000/pair). Despite its compact size and simplicity, Codell Audio's system left a big musical footprint, one wide and abundant with musical delicacy.

edesbiens's picture

I agree the PMC / Hegel room was great made the music shine. But not so much better than most because of the Hegel... it's the PMC speakers and the setup of the room. They've got my money for my next speakers though I'm looking at their twentyFive Range...
Oh and what was

live recording of a guitar-shredding Chicago blues player

I listened to some great Steve Gadd
Keep up the great reporting
P.S. IMHO Verity Audio had the Best Sound

Enrique Marlborough's picture

Or maybe it's better because of the XLO cabling...

RH's picture

^^^^ LOL

Audiophile humor....