Festival Son and Image high-end audio show Montreal 2011

Day 1:

I started going to audio shows not long ago, maybe 2005. It was after the kids were old enough to allow the time and leaving for a weekend did not mean my wife had to take up the parenting slack. Around 2005 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest was just getting going and the annual Stereophile's Home Entertainment show was the big on in the US. T.H.E. show was not practical for many. HE died in 2008 and for a while it looked like the US was going to be without a show for the masses. But today we have RMAF getting larger every year, THE show now open to the public; SSI in Montreal is a valid option for the north east, AXPONA in Atlanta and now NY. Some smaller shows are cropping up in Michigan and DC and now San Francisco. What a turnaround!

Today I am at Salon Son and Image in Montreal at its new digs in the Hyatt. For me is was an easy trip this year as my company has been sending me on long trips so I have tons of miles for this kind of thing. So from DC, Montreal is just an hour flight and a quick bus ride to the center of town. But it is great to get away for fun. And fun is what SSI is all about. As usual my friend Bob from New Jersey joined me.

Right now I am coming in from dinner. As usual Montreal has a number of great restaurant choices. We took a walk up to a restaurant called Beaver Hall with oddly was right next to a strip joint. But the food was excellent.

At first glance SSI feels smaller this year as the rooms are on single floors but the layout is deceiving and I think it about as big as last year. Also, SSI has more dealers showing than RMAF where the manufacturers show. Ever show has a flavor or feeling and this is good. Hotel prices are a little steep with a beer costing $8 and a basic hamburger $16. Better to head out and pay a little more but get real restaurants.

Overall sound this year seems pretty good. There are the usual rooms with bad music which really perplexes me. If the rep in the room cannot understand the basics of music and sound, how to best show a system, then how can we trust him/her to sell us the right equipment? A memorable example was the Sonus Faber room, the one with the smaller floor standers. They were playing some decent track and then the rep cuts it off and puts on some absolutely horrid non-music. I looked at him and said "well that will clear out the room" just as 6 people jumped up to leave. Then I asked "what are you trying to show with this track?" and he said "that the speakers are effortless". Effortless! With this noise? I don't get it.

The Good:

I think the most interesting room so far is the Audio Arts Voxative Ampeggio speakers. This is a German made single driver speaker and they were running a 5 watt tube amp. Now I am not a single driver guy and will state flat out I have never heard a single driver speaker I would want to own or be stuck in front of for more than 5 minutes - until now. I have never been able to stand these stupid flea watt amps until now. This system was simply amazing. Perfect midrange with decent bass; reasonable highs and excellent immediacy. This really bent my mind and I probably spent a good 45 minutes or more in the room. I will return tomorrow.

Another mind bender was in the Dynaudio room. The rep took my test disk and said he would play it once and then demagnetize it and play it again just to show me that I could hear a difference. Now demagnetizing a plastic disc with aluminum foil embedded in one side is makes no sense to me. This is one of those tweaks that simply cannot work in our physical world. I know that and you are not going to convince me otherwise. So I go though my tracks, he pulls out the disc and demags it. About 10 seconds into the track damn if I did hear a little more detail. I sat there telling myself this is the placebo effect and cannot be true but it was. I slowly slip into the dark cesspool of audiophalia neurosis.

Another good room was the Wilson Maxx room. I am not usually a big fan of the Maxx because the sweet spot is often so small and I feel like every time I move my head the sound changes. But this time it was very good and I did not get that sensation. They let me play my own tracks, a rarity with Wilson.

The Klipsch room was playing loud home theater tracks and I could not enter.

YG Acoustics still has not impressed me. These speakers don't like hotel rooms - reminds me of an old girlfriend.

Cabasse also was not working for me. They have a small unit and it was not working in the hotel room.

The Legacy Whispers actually sounded very good, they are usually not my cup of tea but they were working here. There is a new model out, the XD or something like that and the woofer complement is different. So maybe this new model worked out what I didn't like before. I will give them another listen tomorrow.

The big Sonus Faber room was really good. They also were playing some horrid track when we walked in and I asked the rep to change it I am getting a lot bolder about this. He put on a Holst Planets with organ LP just issued and for sale in the lobby and it was fabulous. You could make out all the instruments; it was clear and very listenable.

Lots of Totem rooms but I have not been in one yet, too many odd tracks and too loud.

Jeff Joseph, you know I am sold on your speakers already so here is another show where you're doing well. This time Jeff has two rooms, one with the Pulsar and one with some mini floor stander, both very good.

Another mind bender was in some room with $1800 headphones. I was just trying them out with my test tracks and they sounded great but I noticed a whole very faint section of music in one of my main tracks I have not noticed before. I thought I knew this track thoroughly.

Got to spend a good amount of time in the Burmester room with my tracks. Excellent!

That is it for now. A great day in Montreal!

Returned to the Voxiativ speakers and they were still really interesting. I did get to play my test disc and found one cut (Melody Gardot, Who will Comfort Me, this has her singing on top complex band section) that showed this speaker had trouble building a solid bass sections on more complex pieces. Still a very interesting speaker.

Helsinki room was not working here. I heard these at another show and they were better.

Returned to the Sonus Faber room and still love them.

Bob actually brought some LPs to test and it was really odd that all four of his LPs sounded thin and lifeless on a number of systems. So I guess his records are worn out? I figured I should buy a new remastered LP so I could test this reference on my system. But after thumbing through tons of LPs I could not find one I really wanted to own. I am done buying records because they sound good, they have to be music I want. I almost bought the Holst Planets from Fidelio but I already have a Planets and I really don't listen to it much so I am not buying just because it is an audiophile LP.

Went to the Stereophile "ask the editors" and they were not amused when I ask what the exit strategy was for Libya. All kidding aside, they gave a good talk, unfortunate there were not a lot of people in the audience. They talked a lot about selecting gear and music they like that moves them to that absolute perfect sound. Many items and tracks have merit and need to be judged on that.

We were lucky and got into the Vivid room and we got 30 minutes of just us and my test disk. I heard this speaker a couple of years ago and thought they were pretty bad. Stereophile recently did a rave review so I really wanted to hear them again to hear what all the hoopla was about. This time they really were great and had incredible imaging. Not the last word in bass but they roll off smoothly so the bass was not corrupt, just not there so it was less noticeable than many other high F3 speakers. A good listen.

Once things got rolling there were a lot of people around and it was hard to get into rooms.

Overall a great show. I head back to the real world first thing Sunday so this is it!

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Copyright: Peter J. Smith 2011 Return to helarc.com