Sunday in Montreal with Robert Schryer

If there's one thing that brings me more joy than seeing a lot of happy people at the Montreal Audio Festival, it's getting a seat in an exhibitor's room. Unfortunately, I often can't have it both ways. Those same happy people, if there are enough of them, will make it so there's no chair left for me to sit in.

One way to improve one's sitting chances is to go on Sunday, generally the day with the least amount of show goers. I call it the Sunday rule.

Except that some rooms stubbornly refuse to abide by the Sunday rule. They're always packed. It doesn't matter that they're located in a nook at the end of a deserted hallway, their place is a constant hub of visitors who hog the chairs or block the room's entrance. Sometimes I wonder if some of these same people aren't Saturday-crowd leftovers who never left.

These rooms are the star rooms. The standing-room rooms. The in-rooms.

One such in-room was the one shared by Joseph Audio and VPI Industries. One obvious reason for this is that it was one of the few rooms at the show that had one of those big, state-of-the-art playback systems that none but the most well-heeled among us can afford. I mean, how often does one get to listen to a $150,000 system, or even be in the same room as one?

But there was more. Rumor in the hallways had it that VPI's flagship Titan turntable ($US50,000 w/JWM Memorial tonearm and Lyra Etna cartridge) was going to face off with a 1977-model Technics RS-1500US open-reel recorder ($US1500 original retail) in a series of sound-quality shootouts. This was the stuff of cowboys and squinting stares and bated breath.

In a split second of perfect timing and quick reflexes, I managed to get a front row seat to one of these showdowns, where I also had a clear view of the supporting electronics. These included the Joseph Audio Pearl 3 speakers ($US31,500/pair), a duo of Moon 880M monoblocs ($US45,000/pair), a Moon 740P Preamp ($US9,500), and a Moon 810LP phono stage ($US13,000). Transparent Audio handled cabling duties.

Then came the moment of truth. The same track—Hugh Masekela's Stimela—was played first from the 45rpm LP, then the tape (both formats were produced by Analogue Productions). The verdict? Each delivered sound you might consider selling a kidney for—majestic, bountiful, intricately woven—but were I forced to choose one over the other on audio quality alone, the tip of my 10-gallon hat would have gone in the direction of the Technics, which sounded, in direct comparison to the Titan, slightly less compressed on loud passages and less mechanical overall. Ironically, this doesn't make the Technics the better value, once the paucity of reel-to-reel tapes available for purchase is factored in.

The next room I visited—this one belonging to Bleu Stéréo—was another of those hard-to-get-into hot spots, and it, too, perhaps not coincidentally, had a VPI turntable—the almost 10 times less-expensive-than-the-Titan Prime ($CDN6100 w/JMW-10 3D tonearm and MoFi MultiTracker cartridge), which was coupled to a BAT VK-P6 phono stage ($CDN4400).

A pair of Elac 506-VX speakers ($CDN15,000/pair) were being driven with gusto or delicacy, depending on the recording, by a 150Wpc BAT VK-225 SE power amp ($CDN6500), and a BAT VK-23 SE preamp ($CDN6500). The attendant sound was rich, captivating, and sensual—a fine note to end the show on.

Final words? Montreal's audio show seems to have made a comeback of sorts. There certainly appeared to be more attendees at this year's show—and a much happier vibe—than when the Chester Group ran things. And this is no knock on the Chester Group—they are what they are, event promoters whose job it is to profit from exhibitor room rentals and visitor fees. But is Chester's the best strategy for success for your run-of-the-mill local audio show? Or does it make more sense for the show to be run by a group whose primary interest is to bring audio retailers and customers together, rather than to make a buck off the backs of exhibitors and attendees? My answer to that is the reason I am hopeful for the future of Montreal's audio show.

And in case you're wondering: during my time with him, Art Dudley (above left, with me right) revealed himself to me to be a nice, funny (in an understated way), and thoughtful person. I am not, as Art might say, Mister Hugger or anything, but I do regret not having had the courage to hug him before we parted ways.

Jeff Joseph's picture

Just would like to thank Modulum Audio for the use of their equipment racks. And special thanks to Sarah & Michel for their devotion to our industry and the love of music we all share.