MONTREAL AUDIO FEST 2018
Art's First Day in Montreal, Part 1
Art Dudley | Mar 24, 2018
Mere weeks before I traveled to Montreal, I received review samples of Luna Cables' Red speaker cable ($CAD3600/2M pair), and have I been extremely impressed: the cotton-sheathed Reds, which are hand-made with tinned-copper conductors, seem to love my system, and vice-versa, wildly saturated tonal colors being the pairing's most apparent windfall. So it was with pleasure that I saw that same cable being used in the room Luna Cables shared with Yamaha, whose flagship NS5000 loudspeaker ($CAD17,000/pair, plus $CAD600/pair for their custom Skylan stands) sounded fine: on Louis Armstrong's "St. James Infirmary"—the rare, perhaps even unique show-demo chestnut that is both sonically and musically transcendent—I once again heard a convincing portrayal of the recording space. Even more convincing were the presence of the musicians and the sheer believability of the music. I remembered thinking, when I heard the same speakers last year, that the sound occasionally came close to being spitty without quite doing so—and this year, that tendency, if it had existed at all, was nowhere in sight. (If there was a flaw, it was a very light excess of bass—and I enjoyed it, God help me.)
The source component in use was a vintage (ca 1984) Yamaha GT-750 direct-drive turntable, whose stock arm was fitted with a Koetsu Black cartridge; this also did a fine job with the posthumous George Harrison collection Early Takes Volume 1, which was a revelation for me. (On an alternate take of "I'd Have You Any Time," the drums leapt from the mix with good, attention-grabbing, soul-stirring impact—and the system teased from George's performance of an Everly Brothers number a sincerity, a heartfelt quality, that I find difficult to describe, but that brought me this close to tears. Nice.
By the way, Yamaha's new GT-5000 turntable—with belt-drive rather than direct-drive—will be available later this year.
Art's Day 2 in Montreal, Part 1
The last room I visited before my lunch break was the one sponsored by Ontario-based Muraudio, who made their debut a few years ago at the Montreal show (then called Salon Son et Image), and who specialize in designing and making electrostatic panel loudspeakers with a considerably wider-than-average listening window. Their newest and most affordable speaker, the SP1 ($US14,700/pair), melds a curved electrostatic element with four 6" aluminum-cone bass drivers. Combined with a Simaudio Moon integrated amplifier and Luna Cable Orange speaker cables, the SP1s were very impressive, and made some of the most refined, convincing sounds of the show—and, indeed, in terms of spatial performance, there wasn't a bad seat in the house, and the hand-off between electrostatic and dynamic drivers was undetectable.
Singing voices, on a recording that turned out to be by the Wailin' Jennies—a talented group, in spite of their wince-inducing name, that Janet has seen in concert here in the Albany area—were silky-real, with natural-sounding timbres, good distinctions between head tones and chest tones, and sibilant sounds that were, for once in hi-fi, utterly perfect. On an orchestral number they were similarly natural and convicting: bass notes weren't as powerful as on various large all-dynamic systems, but I was never unsatisfied. The Muraudio room was one that I had to force myself to leave.
Art's Saturday in Montreal, Part 2
Art Dudley | Mar 27, 2018
I began my Saturday afternoon with a visit to the Montreal Audio Fest's Audiofilles room, the name being a pun (en Francais, bien sur) on audio girls. For the occasion, a number of partnering manufacturers contributed elements of what turned out to be a fine-sounding system: an Oracle Paris MkV turntable with tonearm and Paris PH200 phono preamplifier; McIntosh MB50 streaming audio player and MA7200 integrated amplifier; Luna Cables Orange interconnects, speaker cables, and AC cords; Modulum equipment supports; and a pair of Totem Forest Signature loudspeakers, in high-gloss mahogany finish.
Not seen in the photo above is a contribution from Quebec-based Dutailier: their Orlando glider chair and matching footrest, which I found most comfortable. (The lovely Melanie Landry, an associate of the Audio Fest's organizers, took a photo of me in that chair, but I have chosen not to post it, as the look on my face is too stupidly happy.) I should note that sitting was not an option when the system was used to play the mid-'70s hit "Play That Funky Music" by Wild Cherry. Indeed.
Robert Schryer's Sunday Morning at the Montreal Show
Robert Schryer | Mar 26, 2018
This year, Montreal retailer and perennial Montreal audio show exhibitor Filtronique occupied two showrooms spaced apart by a flight of stairs. Fronting the main floor's system was a pair of Tempus III speakers (CA$20,000/pair), each a four-way design weighing 165 lb, made by California-based manufacturer Ryan, a name that was unknown to me.
The speakers were fed by what seemed all the rage at this year's fest, ie, integrated audio components, and here it came in the form of a 75Wpc, KT150-tube based Audio Research GSi75 integrated amp (CA$21 000), while a Merrill Williams R.E.A.L. 101.3 turntable (CA$9600, without arm) was used as the source. What I heard from this combination was a spacious soundstage, well-defined musical lines, tonal neutrality, and a somewhat laid-back musical ease.
As soon as I'd reached the top-floor vestibule leading to the second listening room, it was obvious to me, by the reverberating boominess I was hearing—imagine bass waves rolling into each other and piling up in the corners of walls—that the speakers in that system could have used more breathing space. Still, after I'd sat a minute or two in the listening chair, the system's richly layered, colorful musical palette won me over and made this my favorite of the two Filtronique systems. No, it didn't sound as tonally neutral as the downstairs system, but it beat the latter at penetrating my cynical heart.
The less is more maxim applied equally to this room, where an Ayre VX-5 150Wpc amp ($11,000) was being fed by an Ayre QX-5 serving as both music streamer and preamp (CA$11,000). Speakers were a pair of Magico A3s (CA$12,700/pair), about which I will state this unequivocally: these were the best Magicos I've heard, at a price that seems, in light of their performance, utterly sensible.
I would also be remiss if I didn't mention that cabling for both Fitlronique systems was handled by Luna Cables, a local company whose products I've heard elsewhere to great effect and that I think deserve to be reviewed by someone at Stereophile. Just kidding, Art.