New Products at Montreal's Sonor Filtronique

Last May, after bringing our daughter to a writer's workshop in Vermont, my wife and I decided to continue on to Montreal, for a semi-unplanned weekend away. We arranged lodging at the Hotel Bonaventure, which canny readers know as the site of the annual Salon Son et Image, and we had an excellent time, punctuated with good wine, great food, brilliant art, distinctive architecture, and wonderful people. The food included a visit to Pagliaccio, which may well be the finest Italian restaurant in North America; the art included a good look at David Altmejd's Eye, across the street from the Musee des beaux arts, where an exhibit on orientalism was heavy-handed in its feminist spin but otherwise worthwhile; and the people included visits to the audio salons Coup de Foudre, which was then beginning its move to a new location, and Sonor Filtronique, where manager Dany Poulin (above) treated us with hospitality and music that were both first rate.

I promised to re-visit both, and an opportunity to return to Sonor Filtronique came sooner than expected: I was invited there for a September 4 new-product launch co-sponsored by AudioQuest, Wilson Audio, Audio Research, and dCS America. Encouraged by the dual prospects of good sound and a chance to enjoy the beautiful city of Montreal without an overcoat, I booked my train ticket right away.

I arrived at Sonor Filtronique a few hours before the event's scheduled start, in order to look and listen at leisure. (I think this was the original idea behind "press days" at hi-fi shows, a custom that has apparently gone the way of CD-marking pens.) My first encounter was with the new AudioQuest Niagara 7000 ($7995), an AC power conditioner designed by the company's Director of Power Products, Garth Powell. According to Powell, the Niagara 7000, which takes its name from the world's first hydroelectric AC power plant, is intended to remove information-obscuring noise from household AC, and to do so without limiting current.

While the AudioQuest Niagara 7000 contains active electronics, it has at its heart a pair of toroidal isolation transformers, each containing several hundred feet of wire; the latter specific is germane because that wire is coated with a polyurethane dielectric—and that dielectric is biased in a manner similar to that of the DBS systems incorporated into many AudioQuest cables. (The development of DBS pre-dates AudioQuest's hiring of Powell, who nevertheless points with enthusiasm to the technology's usefulness, which he regards as having to do with RF interference.)

On the Niagara 7000's rear panel are a rocker-style standby switch, an IEC socket for incoming AC power, and a total of 12 output sockets, arranged into two groups: a group of four sockets labeled High-Current/Low-Z Power Correction, intended for power amplifiers, and a group of eight sockets labeled Ultra-Linear Noise-Dissipation System/Dielectric-Biased Symmetrical Power, for use with components whose appetites for current are daintier. Spacing between all sockets appears sufficient for use with even the stoutest AC plugs. Apart from a rocker-style power switch and a scattering of indicator lights, the Niagara 7000's black-chrome front panel is more form than function, attractively so; it and the unit's steel-and-aluminum casework are manufactured in Asia, with all assembly conducted (haw) here in the US.

Especially in playback systems using amplification separates and multiple source components, comparison tests of AC-power conditioners aren't easy to do; so it was at Sonor Filtronique, where Garth Powell valiantly plugged and unplugged and plugged again, in his efforts to demonstrate the Niagara 7000's superiority to nothing at all (which is a strange thing to say, although I'm sure you know what I mean). I was present for one such test, with before-and-after auditions of a live recording, on CD, of the Shostakovich Symphony 15. Without the Niagara 7000, it sounded wonderful—colorful, dynamic, and very engaging—on a system comprising a Simaudio Moon CD player, Ayre Acoustics preamp and power amp, and Wilson Audio Sasha 2 loudspeakers. After the whole system was powered-down, plugged into the Niagara 7000, and powered back up, I heard subtle but definite improvements in some areas—treble notes in particular had a more realistic decay, and instrumental sounds had slightly greater spatial presence—although it seemed to me that bassoons and other instruments seemed to have less body and weight.

I spoke of that, and Garth Powell agreed with another attendee that an apparent decrease in loudness could result from a reduction of intermodulation products; we all listened again to the passage in question with the Niagara 7000 still in the system and the volume raised just one click. The treble range endured in sounding better than it did the first time around, and lower-pitched instruments now sounded fuller than ever.

My next stop was the listening room set up around the new Wilson Audio Sabrina loudspeaker ($15,900/pair): a product I heard during my Sonor Filtronique visit in May, now enjoying its official Canadian launch (and a fresh expert setup by Wilson Audio's sales manager, Peter McGrath, above). The 39"-tall Sabrina boasts a cabinet made using a new proprietary material—a blend that, according to McGrath, contains some wood fibers—alongside the similarly proprietary X-material that's employed in other Wilson loudspeakers. The new material is said to be easier to work with, requiring fewer person-hours and allowing Wilson Audio to sell the new model for less than any of the company's other full-range models. The Sabrina is also the first Wilson loudspeaker that can be shipped via UPS: It makes the trip in a newly designed, heavy-duty cardboard carton, rather than a heavy wooden crate.

The three-way Wilson Sabrina uses a variation of the company's current Coherent Synergy silk-dome tweeter, alongside a modified 5.75" ScanSpeak midrange driver and an 8" woofer that's essentially the same as the upper bass driver of the upmarket Wilson Alexia. Sensitivity is specified as 87dB, with a nominal impedance of 4 ohms and a minimum impedance of 2.53 ohms.

Addressing the matter of the Sabrina's low-for-Wilson price, Peter McGrath said, "We don't like the term 'entry-level'—we think this is, quite simply, the speaker to buy at this price." Those remarks proved appropriate: Heard with Audio Research amplification and a dCS Puccini disc player/DAC combination, there was nothing entry-level about the Sabrina—which exceeded my previous-favorite Wilson, the Sophia 3, in coherency. The Sabrina also matched the Sophia's facility for color and texture, and may even have matched the its bass extension and power, at least in Sonor's room. (If it didn't reach as low as the Sophia, the Sabrina came within a hare's hair of doing so.)

The latter quality was evident on an SACD recording of organist Bram Beekman playing a program of French music: The pair of Sabrinas had no trouble reproducing the sound of a 16' stop (32Hz fundamental), and, in doing so, loaded the room in a manner that simply felt right. After that, the Sabrinas melted what little steel remained in my heart with the feeling, flow, and very convincing spatial presence they brought to a CD recording of the late Lorraine Hunt Lieberson singing the Handel aria Ombra mai fu. The latter's orchestral accompaniment was perfect, right down to the very non-hi-fi sound of substantive and downright chunky flutes. I love chunky flutes!

In the above I mentioned Audio Research amplification—which happened to be the third of four new products being launched at Sonor Filtronique: the new Audio Research GSi75 (price awaiting confirmation), which combines a 75Wpc stereo integrated amplifier with an onboard phono preamplifier and a 24-bit, 384kHz DAC, the latter capable of native DSD playback. The foregoing explains the S, the i, and the 75 in the new model's name; the G stands for Galileo, itself the namesake of ARC's recently introduced G series of products, with distinctive neo-retro styling by designer Livio Cucuzza.

The Audio Research GSi75 uses a pair of KT150 pentode tubes per channel, operating in class-A/B and driven by one 6H30 dual-triode per channel. The phono-stage boards, which are located near to the amp's RCA input jacks, are solid-state; so, too, is the DAC board and its associated headphone amplifier, although you probably didn't need me to tell you that. Operating voltages for the fixed-bias GSi75 are user-adjustable, in a manner that combines old and new technologies: The amp's remote handset and front-panel LED display are used to select the tube to be adjusted, while the associated trim-pots are accessible on the left and right sides of the chassis. (The display can also tell the owner the number of hours of use on each output tube: a balm for the unduly concerned.)

To distinguish the GSi75's contribution to the sound from that of the equally new Wilson Sabrina loudspeakers—or any of the other unfamiliar products in this unfamiliar room—is no easy task, at least until Stereophile gets its collective hands on a review sample of this lovely amp, which I hope will happen soon. For now, suffice it to say the sound of this demonstration was colorful, musically alive, and punchy in the best possible way—the latter quality very evident while playing Keith Richards's great "Words of Wonder": The Audio Research amp allowed every drumbeat, every staccato organ chord, every stabbing guitar line and every note of Keef's own remarkably good electric bass playing to sound just as it should.

And that brings me to the last of the four new products being launched at Sonor Filtronique, the dCS Rossini DAC/CD player ($28,499). I confess, I have not in recent years kept up with the dCS line, having only experienced their multibox flagship digital source, the Vivaldi, at audio shows and the like. According to dCS America's General Manager, John Quick, the Rossini is the first new product to be "trickled down" from the Vivaldi—whose price ranges from $35,000 to $108,000, depending on configuration—and uses the same FPGA-based Ring-DAC technology. The Rossini has Ethernet connectivity, plus inputs for USB, SP/DIF, and AES/EBU connections; it has its own clock, of course, but also has the ability to lock onto a stand-alone dCS clock. Its onboard disc player is CD-only, but its DAC is capable of up to double-DSD playback. (The Rossini is available without a disc transport, for $23,999.)

The dCS Rossini also presents the user with two options for controlling his or her music library: a proprietary dCS app, and—unsurprisingly—Roon. (See Michael Lavorgna's review on our brother site, AudioStream and Jon Iverson's review in the October issue of Stereophile, which will hit newsstands next week.)

John Quick gave me a quick (sorry) tour of both; while using the latter and, at the same time, nattering away about my daughter's fondness for early-'70s David Bowie, we stumbled upon the album The Man Who Sold the World and its great opening track, "The Width of a Circle." (This, apparently, is how Roon is supposed to do things—and I'd say it does them quite well.) We cranked the volume for the full-bore Rossini experience, courtesy of Audio Research amplification and Wilson Alexia loudspeakers, and I soon found myself utterly bereft of socks. Through this system, the charmingly dated and artfully compressed recording broke through the nostalgia barrier and held me utterly rapt; the sound had drive, color, and—especially in the attack components of Tony Visconti's bass playing and Bowie's own enthusiastic acoustic-guitar strumming, near-analog levels of touch.

How did dCS pull it off? As we all come to know, casework costs are the major factor in any audio-component price, so dCS designed for the Rossini a more easily made enclosure. That said, two things are remarkable: Like all of their other casework, dCS still makes the new stuff in Cambridgeshire, UK—and, if you ask me, the Rossini's faceplate, with its fluted cutaway, is actually more fetching than that of its dear siblings.

By the time I had done all of my listening, gathered all of my techno-weenie data, and taken all of my photographs, the guests began arriving at Sonor Filtronique—a little early, in fact. Being the early-to-bed type, I did not stay for the duration, but I'm told that over 40 attendees came by for a look and a listen and some food and wine—Montreal being enduringly well known for all four.

volvic's picture

Great people, great products, one of the many things I miss about my hometown. Never been to Il Pagliaccio will make reservations when I am there in late October.

Allen Fant's picture

Really great info here- AD.
It is of interest to me, wether or not, the new conditioner from Audioquest steals current from the system?