Salon Son & Image 2013 Coverage Part 1

Are you a serious music buff and catch yourself playing air guitar sometimes? Do you love your movies so much that you can’t resist repeating your favourite character’s lines at the dinner table? If so, then you really need to make it a habit to visit a consumer electronics show that allows you to discover the latest audio video gear. The 26th edition of the Salon Son & Image (SSI) took place between March 21st and 24th in downtown Montreal. The show is one of only two shows of its kind held in Canada – the other one being TAVES, which returns this November in Toronto.

SSI was hosted once again at the Hilton Bonaventure Hotel, which is very conveniently located in downtown Montreal – a hop, skip and a jump from the Montreal Central Station. Montreal is a beautiful city with a unique personality and European-like flavour, which provides a wonderful atmosphere for the SSI. Not only can you get your fill of the latest in audio equipment and accessories at the SSI but you can also get your fill of some Quebec specialties such as smoked meat sandwiches, bagels and poutine – we certainly did. As well, Montreal is a place to find live music – it permeates the city in the form of jazz, folk and rock shows that visitors can attend all night long, if they will.

The first day of the show was a professional day, reserved for members of the industry and the media. It’s a busy day of setup and final tweaks in preparation for the public opening. A traditional evening reception was held, giving the industry and media attendees some time to mingle over hors d’oeuvres and cocktails. Two Lifetime Achievement Awards were presented to a couple of very well respected industry professionals who have without-a-doubt put their heart and soul into supporting the industry and their clients. The first award went to Angie Lisi, who owns three stores/businesses in the Toronto area (Angie’s Audio Corner, American Sound of Canada and Audiopathways) and has been in the business for 30+ years and; the second award went to Brian Russell, President of Bryston Limited, a man and a company that have provided incredible service to professionals and consumers. After the awards, things were given a healthy kick-start with an energetic live music performance by Hans Wilwright.

Our exploration of the show began with the floor that offered all the large rooms and exhibit spaces. First up was one of the three rooms presented by Audiopathways, a Canadian distributor of many high-end audio and home theatre brands. This large room contained a 5.1 channel home theatre system which consisted of Definitive Technology speakers, a NAD Master Series Blu-ray player and HT processor, a multi-channel Acurus amp, a JVC projector and of course a big screen. Every evening, visitors of the show were invited to watch a screening of the Sound City Blu-ray – a “rockumentary” directed by Dave Gohl about the legendary Sound City Studios. Unfortunately we were too busy covering the show to catch one of the showings. In addition to offering a chance to listen to the Acurus amp within the system, Audiopathways showed some of its other brands in the room in static displays, including Aragon (Acurus’ sister brand which offers an even higher level of performance) and Bel Canto. Inside the same room, there was also a 2-channel music system that visitors could listen to by RJH Audio, with owner Ron Harper on-hand to answer questions. RJH Audio demonstrated both its The Reference One and The Songbird loudspeaker models, as well as a brand new audio rack which is available in a large number of wood veneers. Last but not least, the room contained a Definitive Technology display and Saxe Brickenden, VP of the company which distributes the brand in Canada, walked me through the various products. The home theatre speakers demonstrated in this room consisted of the bi-polar BP-8080ST tower speakers and the CS-8080ST centre channel, which radiate sound both forward and to the rear, and contain dual built-in powered subwoofers. These speakers are said to offer a large sweet spot, a deep soundstage and a great bass response, without the need of a separate, dedicated subwoofer. Also on demo inside this room were the new Definitive Technology StudioMonitor 65 bookshelf speakers connected to an Acurus amp and a variable output Bel Canto CD player. Rounding out the Definitive Technology display were a number of in-wall speakers.

Audiopathways owner Angie Lisi was nice enough to explain to me what they were showing in the other two rooms, on a different floor of the hotel. One room contained the Raidho S 2.0 floor-standing speaker ($15,000) from Denmark backed by Audia Flight electronics from Italy – the STRUMENTO N°4 stereo power amplifier ($22,000), STRUMENTO N°1 preamplifier ($18,000) and CD One M CD player ($8,500). There was also another music source, a laptop computer, running through the CD player’s DAC. Everything was wired up with Transparent Audio Reference Series cables, totaling some $25,000. I sat down for a few minutes and listened to music that offered a wonderfully balanced sound, with great high frequency details, an extended bass and an awesome soundstage. Lisi mentioned that the next day, they would be demonstrating the VAC Phi 300.1a tube power amp ($30,000) and the Signature Mk IIa preamp ($18,000).

Audiopathways’ third room also utilized speakers from Raidho, this time the C 1.1 stand-mount model ($18,000) on an equally impressive looking stand, alternated throughout the day with the D-1 bookshelf model. Most of the electronics in this 2-channel system were courtesy of Jeff Rowland, including the Model 625 power amp, Corus preamp and Aeris DAC. The source was an Esoteric P-05 SACD transport. Like inside the previous room, everything was wired up with Transparent Audio cables. Static displays also showed products from Bel Canto and Sutherland, among others.

It was nice to see Canadian distributor Erikson Consumer again at the show this year, after a few year absence, with two (small) rooms. One room focused on Arcam electronics and Mission speakers. Visitors of the first room were given a chance to listen to Arcam’s new A19 integrated amp ($1,100), D33 DAC ($3,300) and CD37 SACD player ($2,500) connected to a pair of prototype Mission SX series speakers. In all, three pairs of prototype SX series speakers were shown, ranging in price from $2,500 to $3,500. The opposing wall of the room had an Arcam Solo Neo lifestyle music system ($2,000) which has a built-in CD player, AM/FM tuner, network audio capability, USB inputs, along with a two channel integrated amp (50-watts/ch), fed into Mission bookshelf speakers. There was also an Arcam Solo Mini system (CD player, AM/FM tuner, iPod interface, USB inputs, 2×25 watts amp) on top of the Solo Neo. Other products on static display inside this room included three different Arcam DACs, including the irDAC ($750), airDAC ($750, designed for Apple AirPlay devices), rBlink DAC ($259, designed to stream audio wirelessly from Bluetooth devices). Also on display were the Arcam AVR400 AV Receiver and the BDP300 3D Blu-ray player; and a SonLink DAC ($319) designed to extract better quality audio from Sonos multi-room players. Arcam produces some wonderful audio components and it would have been great to see more of them on demonstration at the show but sadly most were only shown in a static display in this small and somewhat crowded room.

Erikson Consumer’s second room introduced a new brand distributed by the company in Canada, called AudioXperts. This lifestyle audio brand produces a product called the 4TV Audio Entertainment Console, a slim cabinet that incorporates a 5.1 speaker system and electronics and sits on top of a TV cabinet and under your flat-screen TV. There are two different models to choose from, the 4TV 2112 ($1,999 US) and the two-piece 4TV 5122 ($3,999 US). These consoles are ideal for anyone who wishes to add a 5.1 sound system to their TV in a compact space.

Acoustic Technologies, a Montreal based audio/video retailer and service provider, showcased numerous new products at this year’s show in a large booth. Visitors of this display had a chance to listen to the Canadian-made Meitner Audio MA-1 DAC ($6,995), the Alpha Design Labs (ADL) GT-40 DAC/preamp/headphone amp as well as the prototype ADL H118 headphones ($295, coming this April). The music was fed by a Wyred 4 Sound Music Server 1TB, which as the name implies offers 1TB of on-board storage for music. Look out for a review of the ADL H118 headphones in CANADA HiFi when they become available. Another prototype ADL product shown at this booth was the ADL X1 portable headphone amp, alongside other existing ADL products like the GT-40 USB DAC (with phono stage), Esprit DAC/ADC (with preamp), as well as the Cruise and Stride headphone amps. Like all ADL products, ADL cables offer the same quality as we’ve come to expect from the company’s high-end Furutech brand but at much more affordable price points. Acoustic Technologies had plenty of ADL cables for all your portable and home needs, ranging between ($80-$120, for 1.2 meter lengths). Another interesting device demonstrated at this booth was the Darbee DVP 5000 video enhancer ($345) connected to a Sharp LED TV. This device is designed to improve the quality of any TV or projector picture, especially in the dark and light portions of the image. The DVP 5000 also claims to reduce the side effects of 3D sources that some viewers experience. It plugs in between your video source (or AV receiver) and your display. Check out a review of this device in the latter pages of this issue. Also on display was a simple, but very attractive, equipment rack from a brand called Solid Rack; hand-crafted in Montreal, suitable for both audio and video setups. Other brands presented at this booth included Carrot One (headphone amps) and Wyred 4 Sound DACs and music servers.

As we’ve come to expect from Oracle Audio, the company was demonstrating its latest audio components in a nice, spacious room. For the listening pleasure of its visitors, Oracle was demoing its flagship Delphi MK VI turntable with the company’s SME V tonearm and the Corinth phono cartridge ($22,500 for the complete package). This turntable was connected to Oracle’s own Si 1000 integrated amp through a Paris phono stage. To appeal to those with a smaller budget, Oracle was also playing its Paris family of components which included a turntable ($5,000 with arm and phono cartridge), a CD player ($3,500) and a USB DAC ($3,500). Regardless of the specific components playing, the sound was sent to your ears courtesy of the amazing Focal Scala Utopia speakers. Jazz performer Anne Bisson was also featured in this room, doing some live performances from time to time and offering her albums for purchase. Jacque said that a few new products are in the pipeline and we can expect to see most of them on demo for the first time at TAVES this November.

Plurison, the Canadian distributor of many fine brands from around the planet, always does a remarkable job of representing its brands at shows. This year the company offered visitors a chance to check out its brands in one large display area, as well as other rooms scattered throughout the show. Daniel Jacques, owner of Plurison, was kind enough to give me a rundown of the latest and greatest that the company was showing this year. Cambridge Audio introduced two new pieces at the show – the Azur 752BD universal 3D Blu-ray player, which offers many audio/video improvements and features over the model it replaces, and a new entry-level Azur 351R AV receiver ($879, the most affordable receiver from the company to date). For a taste of Cambridge Audio sound, visitors were invited to sit down in a full Cambridge Audio home theatre system, which featured the compact Minx series speakers. At the back of this home theatre a display area featured most of the other Cambridge Audio components. Another Plursion brand called Micromega continues to add components to its My Range of affordable hifi products – this time it was the Micromega MyZic headphone amp ($299). The other product in this series is the Micromega MyDac ($399). In the same display area visitors could also feast their eyes on the brand new Focal Chorus 700 series speakers, the brand’s attractively priced series that should appeal to many first time buyers. The new series promises many new sonic improvements and a further refined look. Although these new speakers were set up in a static display here, Jacques did mention that visitors of TAVES will get to hear them this November. Just beside these speakers were Focal’s compact speaker offerings including the Bird series. Two other brands – Pathos Acoustics, Crystal Cable – were also showcased in this area. A few steps down the hallway, Plurison also allowed visitors to listen to the Focal Electra 1038 Be speakers ($12,995), driven by the Devialet D-Premier intergrated amp ($16,000) – the sound in this room was just breathtaking. Topping it all off, Plurison also presented the Naim Audio brand in a two-room suite elsewhere in the hotel. One room had an amazing sounding all Naim setup consisting of the Ovator S-800 speakers connected to various Naim components, while the other room showed a static display of Naim electronics with experts that were happy to answer everyone’s questions.

The Nordost room is always a fun room to step into because the company engages its visitors like few other companies at these types of shows, thanks to the regularly run demonstrations/mini-seminars. The demo system this year consisted of Dynaudio C2 Signature speakers ($15,000), a Simaudio Moon Evolution 750D DAC/CD player ($13,000) and a Simaudio Moon 700i integrated amplifier ($13,000). All cabling was from the Nordost Frey 2 line of products, with QRT power products in place. The system sounded delightfully clean and offered a remarkably large soundstage. Nordost demonstrated throughout the weekend that the system can sound even better by integrating its products into the mix.

A well-dressed Michael Manousselis of Dynaudio North Amercia welcomed visitors into a well sized room. Here we found a gorgeous pair of Dynaudio Confidence C1 Signature bookshelf speakers ($8,500/pair) running on an Octave V110 integrated tube amplifier ($8,300 or $8,900 with phono) with digital files delivered through a T+A DAC 8 ($3,250). A pair of Dynaudio Xeo3 active wireless bookshelf speakers ($2,300/pair) and Xeo5 floorstanding networked active speakers ($4,500) stood proudly to the side. For those in search of a compact and low cost option, a T+A Cala integrated amplifier/streamer/tuner ($2,200) running though T+A CS Mini speakers ($900/pair) was setup on a table to the back, with display lights aglow. Dynaudio is the distributor for T+A and Octave products in North America.

Martensen Sound Distribution (M&M) was commanding a very large room filled with various products from the likes of Quadral, Advance Acoustic and Q Acoustics as well as the newly acquired line of Vincent Audio products. The main system could be heard from the hallway and was inviting, with a highly detailed and realistic signature. This system was a combination of Vincent Audio electronics – CD-S8 24-bit/192kHz vacuum tube disc player ($3,800) fed into a SA-T8 tube hybrid preamplifier ($2,800) which was controlling twin SP-T800 vacuum tube 200w/channel mono amplifiers ($2,750/each); and playing through Quadral Aurum Titan VIII 3-way 4-driver ribbon tweeter floorstanding loudspeakers ($24,000 to $26,000/pair). The sound of this system was very exhilarating. There were a number of new products in the room including the North American premier of Quadral Aurum electronics – A3 80 watt/ channel stereo integrated amplifier ($3,100), A5 100 watt/channel stereo integrated amplifier ($4,300) and C3 CDP ($2,500). From Vincent Audio, in a static display, was the new SV-237 hybrid tube integrated amplifier ($2,500) as well as a new Advance Acoustics x160 integrated amplifier with DAC ($700 to $800).

This year, SSI made a serious attempt to satisfy the ever growing headphone enthusiasts, both existing and new, by providing what was called the “Personal Audio Zone”. In one of the large rooms there were rows upon rows of tables and chairs setup, each seat having a unique set of headphones paired with it. This was an interactive setup, with all the headphones being available for visitors to see, wear, hear and taste…well maybe not taste. Though we heard the idea started small, the room ended up hosting 150+ headphones with over 15 different brand lines represented. We believe it may have been the biggest active display of its kind in North America – perhaps Guinness should have been called? What was great about the setup was that the headphones were being delivered a common music stream via a professional hardwired distributed audio arrangement. This meant that you could move from headphone to headphone and compare the sound directly. On the front-end was a laptop playing a mix of music through iTunes. In the room, a few new headphones caught our eyes such as the new Paradigm H15 ($199) and Furutech H118 ($299). A few stations with dedicated CD source and headphone amplifiers could be found in one corner of the room – the headphone amplification was via SimAudio 350p or WooAudio WA7 Fireflies. The brands we saw featured – forgive us for missing a couple – were: Martin Logan, Paradigm, Logic3, Yamaha, Audio Technica, PSB, Velodyne, Sennheiser, Beats, Sony, Furutech, Grado, AKG, Shure, House of Manley and JBL. Each headphone was accompanied by an information page that provided the brand, model and price, a much appreciated touch.

Liberty Trading is a distributor of audio products, accessories and music. Its large room was filled with a multitude of CD, SACD, HDCD, XRCD and vinyl music selections. A lovely little system sat in the foyer of the room, composed of April Music’s Aura Neo CD/DAC ($1,999) and Aura Groove integrated amplifier ($1,999), playing through Quad Classic 11L bookshelf speakers ($750/pair) with cabling by Gutwire. The sound was nimble and inviting. Inside the room, along with all the music titles, were a plethora of accessories, such as isolation cones, record cleaning paraphernalia, cables, speaker stands and system racks. On working display were a couple more systems that were in rotational play. The main featured system was made up of Quad Elite Series equipment, the 24bit/192kHz CDP/preamplifier ($1,899) paired with the QSP stereo power amplifier ($1,999) driving a gorgeous pair of Qual 25L Classic Signature tower speakers ($3,300/pair). Another system was a combination of April Music’s Aura Vita CDP/DAC ($399) with the Aura Vivid integrated amplifier with tuner ($1,599) driving a pair of Quad 11L Classic Signature bookshelf speakers ($1,095). Next to it was another system made up of a Stello Ai500 integrated amp (with DAC) and a Stello CDA500 CDP/DAC, connected to Quad 23L Classic Signature tower speakers. For Roksan fans, there was a full Roksan Kandy system, made up of the K2 CDP ($1,950), K2 integrated amplifier ($1,950) and K2 TR-5 bookshelf speakers ($1,999). This room was impossible to leave without something new in hand.

The Bryston room had already captured a healthy audience by the time we arrived. You can always count on James Tanner and Brian Russell to put together something to captivate listeners and this year was no exception. There was James T. sitting at the iPad helm of the main system comprised of Bryston’s BDP-2 ($2,995) networked digital player, BDA-2 DAC ($2,395), BP26 preamplifier ($2,995) with MPS-2 ($1,695) commanding Bryston’s flagship amplifiers – twin 28B-SST2 monoblocks ($9,600/each). The speakers were none other than Bryston’s own Model T Signatures ($7,495) a 7-driver, 3-way speaker with external passive crossover. The Model T’s looked very attractive in a new exotic Zebrawood veneer finish, which by the way is a recycled product. And the sound – revealing and immediate with terrific transient response and overall ease. Dynamics, both micro and macro were riveting and the sound filled the room with fullness, richness and power. We requested some Stevie Ray Vaughan, which James graciously granted. During our conversation, James hinted at a possible new stereo preamplifer with integrated DAC that could leverage the SP3 platform – a stereo SP3 sans video and multi-channel capabilities. This could be a winner – we’ll just have to wait and see. In the room was also Bryston’s new Middle T, a 3-way, 4-driver, simplified version of the Model T for those with limits on their room or budget but not performance ($4,600). A number of other Bryston products were featured in the room including the Mini T bookshelf ($2,550) and TC-1 centre speaker ($2,495), as well as a BHA-1 ($1,295) headphone amplifier setup, running with Grado headphones.

A lovely room with wonderful sound and imaging was presented by Goerner Communication, featuring brands such as Audio Physic, Acoustic Signature, Funk, Trigon, Grandinote and Creaktiv. The room had constant traffic and you had to wait your turn for a seat but it was worth it. Featured was an analog front-end made up of an Acoustic Signature Storm turntable ($7,500) with Funk F-XR II 12” tonearm ($3,400), VdH Colibri XGW cartridge ($7,000) and Grandinote Celio phonostage ($8,750), as well as a digital source in the form of the Trigon Chronolog DVD/Music Server-CD/DVD player ($9,495). Preamplification was through a Grandinote Domino preamplifier ($16,660), into Gandinote Demone mono-bloc amplifiers ($49,000/pair) out through the all-new Audio Physic Virgo 25+ loudspeakers ($18,000 to $20,000/pair) which were debuted for the first time in Canada. The new Virgo 25+ incorporates a number of enhancements over the Virgo 25 and brings performance closer to that of the Avantara, the next model up in Audio Physic’s Reference line. All the equipment was placed on a Creaktiv Audio Line Active Plus rack ($2,200).

Radio St. Hubert, a local dealer had a couple of rooms at SSI. The first featured Monitor Audio Gold GX 200 speakers in a premium ebony high-gloss finish ($6,000/pair as shown, $5,000/pair standard). The GX 200s were run on NAD equipment – the C390 Direct Digital integrated amp, with a C546 BEE CDP, using AudioQuest’s new Castle Rock speaker cables ($1,500/6ft pair). A lower cost setup with Monitor Audio RX6 speakers ($1,599), fed by a NAD C356 BEE integrated amplifier ($799) sourced to a AudioQuest Dragonfly ($249) with AudioQuest Type4 speaker cable ($270/6ft pair), was setup at the side. In Radio St. Hubert’s second room there was an impressive pair of the new Totem Forest Signature speakers ($6,000/pair) in a high-gloss mahogany finish run on a Sugden Materclass integrated amplifier ($7,200) with the new Sugden Masterclass PDT4 CDP ($5,800). A set of Totem Rainmaker’s in cherry wood finish were set on static display atop an ingenious looking pair of stands, by Ardan, simply called “the stand” ($600/pair). The low-cost system in this room was made up of a pair of Totem Aero speakers ($1,800/pair) in black with Creek Evolution 2 CDP ($1,200) and the first Canadian showing of the new Creek Evolution 50A integrated amplifier ($1,300).

That’s it for part one of this feature – we hope you enjoyed it! The second part will be uploaded in the next couple of days. If you enjoyed this feature, please ‘Like’ the CANADA HiFi Facebook page Update: Part 2 of this feature is now online and can be read here:

In the meantime, we leave you with some of the other shots we snapped at this year’s show…