JA’s Saturday Morning in Montreal

What would a Montreal show be without snow? The first day of the Montreal Audio Fest was bright and sunny, but as walked from my sleeping room to the ballroom to continue my reporting on Saturday morning, this is the sight that greeted me. “That’s nothing,” snorted native Quebeçois! (And I still find it weird to see trees growing on the top of a tower block—show venue the Hotel Bonaventure is 12 floors off the ground.)

First stop Saturday was the Audio by Mark Jones room, which was featuring the world premiere of Magico’s M2 loudspeaker ($57,000/pair plus $7600/pair for the outrigger stands). With front end an Aurender server and amplification from CH Precision, these sitting on Modulum tuned audio platforms and connected with Nordost cables, jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan’s “Candy” and Neil Young’s “The Way” were both reproduced with palpable imaging and a superbly uncolored tonal balance. The room was on the small side, but the sound was none the worse for that.

Next door, Kevro was showing the new Monitor Audio Gold 300 speakers (CDN$9000/pair), driving them with Rotel amplification. The Gold 300 was launched at the 2019 CES in January and features midrange and bass drivers using Monitor Audio’s RDT II (Rigid Diaphragm Technology) diaphragms, which sandwiches a Nomex-honeycomb core between a C-CAM (Ceramic-Coated Aluminium/Magnesium alloy) front skin and a woven carbon- fiber back skin. The MPD tweeter uses a “Micro Pleated Diaphragm,” ie, it is similar to the increasingly popular AMT designs. With the LP of Sonny Rollins’ classic Way Out West, played on a Roksan Xerxes 20 Plus turntable (CDN$4999), the Gold 300s, which looked beautiful in a tiger’s eye wood veneer, sounded simply superb—we have asked for a pair for review.

The Monitors were being demmed in one of the smaller rooms, but along the corridor, Ontario-based Tenor was showing off their amplification in a big room with, yes, a pair of Klipsch AK6 corner horns! Priced at $14,998/pair, this is a revised version of the original Klipschorn that has been in continuous production for 72 years, and features a fully enclosed low-frequency horn, to give more flexibility in room placement. And as you can see from the photo below, the upper-frequency driver uses a classic flared horn.

Tenor was using their Line 1/Power 1 two-chassis preamplifier (CDN$126,500!) with two 360M monoblocks (CDN$130,000/pair) , with wiring carefully dressed Kubala-Sosna cables. Tenor president Jim Fairhead played me “Me and My Shadow,” with actor Jeff Goldblum—who knew he was a jazz pianist, let alone a good one—dueting with Sarah Silverman, from the The Capitol Studio Sessions. Not a recording I knew at all, but this system produced a BIG sound.

Tenor was celebrating its 20th anniversary and on display at the front of their room were the first amplifiers Tenor had made, including Jim’s own OTL15, all with their traditional polished wood enclosures.

Bryston’s room was as big as Tenor’s but these tall towers were easily filling the space with a Leonard Cohen track when I entered. (Peculiarly, given that Cohen is a native son of Montreal, this was the only time I heard one of his songs at the show.) The system consisted of a pair of Bryston’s new 21B3 amplifiers, BDP-3 digital player, BDA-3 DAC, BP-26/MPS-2 preamplifier, BAX-1 digital active crossover, and Bryston balanced interconnects and speaker cables. AC power was treated with a Bryston BIT 20 Isolation Transformer.

The speakers? On closer examination, each appeared to be two Bryston Middle Ts, one mounted upside-down on top of the other. Bryston’s James Tanner explained that this is the middle model of three brand new T-REX systems, each of which combines a pair of their speakers in this fashion. The smallest is the Mini T-REX, which combines two Mini-Ts, the largest the Model T-REX, which puts one already tall Model-T on top of another. The Middle T-REX speakers being demmed costs $12,000/pair and as you can see from the photo of its rear, the upper speaker actually has the terminals at what used to be its top.

By doubling up the speakers I like this, you get lower THD at reasonable spls and having woofers spaced like this can, with care in placement, result in a more even low-frequency balance in the room. After Leonard Cohen, I listened to a track by John Lee Hooker, with Van Morrison guesting on vocals— the bass guitar was remarkably even and the overall imaging well-defined, despite there being no acoustic treatment in the room. And when Tanner played me an EDM track, “Electrified” from Boris Blank, who used to be half of Yello, the deep bass “gulps” made my intestines shake in sympathy. Oh yeah!

Back in our November 2018 issue, I reviewed the super-expensive Akira speakers from German company Tidal. (No connection with the streaming company.) The Wynn Audio room at the Montreal show featured the Tonda D loudspeakers (CDN$43,000/pair, “D” for diamond tweeter) from Tidal’s sister brand Vimberg. The rest of the system included a Metronome AQWO SACD player (CDN$22,800), a Karan Acoustics L Ref preamplifier (CDN$24,000), Karan Acoustics M2000 monoblocks (CDN$78,000/pair), and EntreQ grounding boxes. Wynn has just become the North American distributor for Crystal Cable, which is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year. All the cables in this system were Crystal’s limited-edition Future Dream series, which combine a mono-crystal silver conductor with a silver/gold alloy shield. (Prices, as you might expect from the use of precious metals, are relatively high, at CDN$7000 for a 1m power cord, CDN$12,600 for a 1m interconnect, and CDN$25,000 for a 2m speaker cable.)

An expensive system, but the sound was one of the best I experienced at the show, The midrange was clean and evenly balanced, perhaps a touch forward in absolute terms, but the highs were delicate, to die for, even. Ray Brown’s double bass on a track from his Soular Energy album sounded full-bodied yet well-defined.

Live music was being featured in the Studio Lounge but when I popped my head in, the audience was listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon in surround. Stereophile‘s Art Dudley may not like this album but it has been in heavy rotation since I first bought it too many years ago to admit. It offers true audiophile-worthy sound and the surround mix shines new light on the familiar sounds.

DSotM appeared to be played back from digital files, which gave the lie to the slogan in the show’s marketplace: “If It’s Not Vinyl, It’s Crap!” But there was much vintage vinyl on offer and Art Dudley came away with some rare finds.

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