Montreal Salon Audio, Day Two, Part Two (and The End)

Although I'm not one of those people who dismisses Tom Cruise—he's a very capable actor, he works hard at his craft, he has a track record of choosing good material, and his personal beliefs are his own damn business—there's no denying that the addition of Simon Pegg has transformed the Mission: Impossible franchise into mandatory viewing for fans of films that are fun. So it was at Montreal Salon Audio, in the room sponsored by the French company Devialet: the opening scene of MI: Rogue Nation on a surround-sound system using multiple Devialet Phantom powered loudspeakers (starting at $US1990 each) had this home-theater agnostic on the edge of his seat. And I give the Phantom extra points for resembling, in use, the head of a praying mantis that's about to explode: how can one not like such a thing?

Speaking of wireless playback gear, Montreal Salon Audio marked the Canadian debut of Naim Audio's Mu-so Qb ($CDN1299), a smaller and less expensive version of the original Naim Mu-so. Like its older brother, the self-amplified Mu-so Qb contains multiple loudspeaker drive-units of varying size, concealed behind a removable stiff-foam grill, itself available in several different colors. Neither specs nor a demonstration were available, but we hope to receive a review loaner in the very near future.

There were traditional-style Naim products at the show, as well, including their NAC 272 preamp/DAC ($CDN7495)—which Doug Graham, Naim Audio's International Sales Manager, describes as "future-proof"—supplemented with its optional power-supply upgrade, the XPS-DR ($CDN7995). Output power was provided by the Naim NAP 250-DR stereo amplifier ($CDN7495), and the loudspeaker of choice was the Focal Sopra No.2 ($CDN16,500/pair). The presentation was lively without being relentlessly so, with lots of musical drive. The sound was also characterized by a greater amount of timbral color than I'm used to hearing from the brand—and seeing as how, according to Graham, the Focal loudspeakers in use were voiced with Naim electronics, I suppose that isn't terribly surprising.

Speaking of speakers: Graham also mentioned that, as of now, Naim Audio is out of the loudspeaker business, having phased-out their last model, the S-800. Thus ends a memorable venture that began in 1986, with the Naim SBL. (Roy George, who designed the SBL and its direct descendants, continues to work for Naim.)

The Mont-Royal dealer Codell Audio represented Linn Products, Ltd. at the show, and I was happy to see they'd brought along an LP12—this one fitted-out with a Kore subchassis, Lingo 3 power supply, Trampolin 2 baseboard, Akito tonearm, and Krystal MC cartridge ($CDN9600 altogether).

During my visit to the Codell room, music was supplied not by the LP12 but by Linn's Akurate Exakt DSM ($CDN4000), a phono preamp-equipped music player designed to work only with Linn Exakt active loudspeakers—which, in this system, were represented by Linn's three-way floorstanding 530 Exakt self-powered loudspeakers ($CDN15,200/pair), for which a very wide variety of fabric wraps are available. (Again, "Something for everyone"!) The sound was bass-boomy (coulda been the room) but otherwise spacious and, in all honesty, inviting. And I rather liked the color.

By now, the day was drawing to a close, and I didn't have much time to listen at the suite of rooms sponsored by Montreal dealer Son Ideal, who always make an excellent sound at the show, usually with Harbeth loudspeakers and Rega electronics and record players. (In fact, if I'm not mistaken, they were in the very same room as last year's show: I recognized the faux-digliani painting in the corner.) All I can tell you is that the Harbeth Super HL5Plus loudspeaker ($CDN6300/pair, stands additional) sounded every bit as good as it did when I reviewed it for Stereophile, especially driven by the Rega's flagship integrated amplifier, the Osiris ($CDN12,000)—and the Son Ideal staff is to be commended for their excellent taste in music.

On my way downstairs to the planned Montreal Salon Audio reception and awards ceremony, I once again ran into vintage-audio dealer Christian Fatu, whom you'll remember from last year's show report. Fatu, seen here brandishing an Altec 1005 horn, says that he recently purchased a 4000-square-foot storage space's worth of vintage audio goods; I for one will keep an eye on

Also on my way to the show, I ran into IsoAcoustics' President, Dave Morrison, whom I think I've met before. With the aid of two pairs of very small Focal loudspeakers and a Micromega integrated amp, Morrison demonstrated for me—right there, in the hallway!—the difference made by having a pair of IsoAcoustics Aperta isolation stands (starting at $US200/pair) underneath one of those pairs of speakers. The difference was subtle but undeniable, and very much for the better, the sound becoming more spacious and open with the stands. Cool.

The show's 6pm closing time had now come and gone, and people were milling around at the bottom of the escalators, drinks in hand and smiles in place. (Professionalism prevents me from repeating an especially good joke I heard that evening, involving those escalators and a company of which no one seems terribly fond.) Then, after a few announcements, show organizer Michel Plante presented a Lifetime Achievement Award to long-time Quebec retailer John Banks (above), who founded the much-loved Audio Centre chain of stores, and in so doing gave many present-day industry leaders their own start in audio. Indeed, the applause for Banks was long and obviously heartfelt, and as I passed among the revelers and asked for more details, I heard one story after another about the man's selflessness and dedication to consumer audio in Quebec. (And it turns out that at least two members of his sales force are now married to people whom they'd met as customers.)

Among the folks who took the microphone to speak about John Banks were Reinhard Goerner of the distribution company Goerner Audio (left) and Rich Zidel of Zidel Marketing. And here I must make a confession: Immediately after listening to the Harbeth speakers in the Son Ideal room, right before heading downstairs to the ballroom area, I visited the Goerner Audio room, where I enjoyed Wilhelm Backhaus, Karl Böhm, and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra performing the Brahms Piano Concerto 2 through a system that included an Acoustic Signature Wow-XXL turntable ($CDN5000) and TA-1000 tonearm ($CDN2200), London (née Decca) Jubilee phono cartridge ($CDN4000), all Grandinote electronics, including the compact Shinai monoblock amplifiers ($CDN17,000/pair), and the Wiener Lautsprecher Manufaktur Rudolf loudspeakers ($CDN28,000/pair). It sounded magnificent—so magnificent that I stayed longer than I meant to, listened through to the end of the first movement, and thanked Goerner and got up and left . . . and utterly forgot to photograph the system.

I am mortified. I am also tempted to lay no small amount of blame on the excellent playback quality. That said, and with extra apologies, I wish I had also photographed the Funk Firm Bo!ng isolation devices ($CDN260–500 per set, depending on turntable weight) that were under the feet of the Acoustic Signature turntable, and the Funk Firm Achromat platter mat ($CDN150), which seems to have been the most popular accessory of the show.

Finally, a word of thanks for Michel Plante (above) and Sarah Tremblay (who doesn't stand still long enough to be photographed). Without hope of pay or profit, they and their volunteers not only revived a show that days earlier had been declared dead, but propelled it to seemingly new heights of attendance and enthusiasm. (The latter quality was off the charts, and far higher than I observed at last year's show.) And in doing so, they drew upon the tremendous support of Plurison's Daniel Jacques, to whom all SSI fans owe a debt of thanks.

Spring without an audio show in Montreal is unthinkable, and Michel Plante assures me that Montreal Salon Audio will return next year to the Bonaventure Hotel.

volvic's picture

Was in town visiting the folks but the weatherman put the fear in me and prompted me to leave town prematurely. Shame, was looking forward to going and saying hello to Mr. Dudley. Next year.

rschryer's picture

As a Montrealer and hopeless romantic, I'm not ashamed to say that the last two paragraphs of this report put a lump in my throat. Beautiful report of a hi-fi show endowed with heart and humanity. This year, especially, the Montreal Audio Fest felt like the little show that could, and the enthusiasm felt over its three-day run was in no small part due to a general sense, among exhibitors and attendees, of relief. Bravo to all involved, and thanks, Art and Stereophile, for your continued coverage of, and support for, a show that some in the industry had so flippantly written off.

volvic's picture

See you there next year!

rschryer's picture

I expected you there this year but you never showed up :-)

volvic's picture

Blame the weather man/person who said there was a big storm coming to NYC. Had to bolt after 36 hours. Next year, it's a promise.

Allen Fant's picture

Good to read about Naim & Focal being a sonic match.
What brand of cabling?

Nordoen's picture

... was all Super Lumina.

eriks's picture

It will be interesting to see how well the Sopra's do going through the press and fan base. "Color" is definitely going to be a useful adjective for this line, in multiple ways.