This year's Festival Son & Image switched venue from the Delta to the Sheraton on Boulevard Rene-Levesque. The majority of the two-channel audio gear was relegated to the higher floors away from the boom and thud of home theater on the lower salon levels. While the Sheraton is a nicer hotel than the Delta, most of the two-channel rooms were tiny. And I mean tiny. In some rooms, you were lucky to squeeze in more than a half-dozen people at a time. Of course with rooms that small, many vendors experienced difficulties in achieving decent sound. Many found firing speakers across the long dimension preferable to the short one. A couple of adventurous souls used the 45° and even the 22° angle for decent speaker setup. The trick was not to excite room nodes too much, arrange seating for near-field listening and to get showgoers into the room rather than listening in doorways which is more or less like standing in the reflex port of a loudspeaker. Having said that, I rarely give much consideration to show sound as the shock of moving from one sonic presentation to another becomes overwhelming after a spell - unless it is truly transcendent. For me, the main purpose of shows is to see the toys and chat with distributors and manufacturers and perhaps secure future review material.

I understand the show's organizers widened the scope to include digital photography, Xbox/Playstatio-n and computer-based entertainment. However, apart from a tiny Xbox demo, some digital cameras and a Mac display, there really wasn't much to separate this show from previous years. I suspect many vendors chose to wait and see how FSI 2006 turned out before committing to future shows. That's too bad because the place was packed with lots of inquisitive showgoers. Many of the rooms were so jammed, I never got into them. Unfortunately, I had to leave early so I didn't get to see as much as I would have liked. As in previous years, FSI attracts a wide range of people, not just audio- obsessed middle-aged men with expanding waistlines. Women, whole families with strollers, teenagers... you name it, they were there. There were a couple of US-based audio firms showing here for the first time and they expressed surprise and enthusiasm about the variety and number of visitors.

I'd like to thank the organizers of this show for their efforts. Festival Son & Image is certainly one of the better organized and planned shows I've attended. While the rooms might have been a bit small, I can't fault the show staff as they were wonderful on all counts.

The highlight of the show for me was going out for dinner Friday night with Louis (Omega Loudspeakers), Noel (Skylan), Vinnie (Red Wine Audio), Tom Hills (Hudson Audio), Wes Bender and Dave from Queens who was clearly not having a good time north of the border. We spent a couple of hours looking for a mythical Thai restaurant that Wes was sure was just around the corner from the hotel. We never found it. However, we did have an eventful late-night walk along Rue St, Catherine. If you know Montreal at all, there is a stretch of St. Catherine that is best avoided unless you're into live sex shows or buying crack cocaine.

On our meandering quest, poor Dave from Queens was accosted by just about every crack head and junkie in Montreal. Furthermore, we were almost soaked with several gallons of foul-smelling effluent that sloshed out the rear of a passing garbage truck. After a couple of hours, we did find a nice Thai restaurant on St. Dennis that hadn't closed for the night (I thought Montreal was open all night). As I mentioned earlier, Dave from Queens was clearly less than impressed. It all started the day before when Wes and Dave were 'detained' by the nice people at Canada Customs for further questioning. Truth be told, if these two suspicious-looking characters showed up at my kiosk, I'd detain them too and probably throw in a thorough cavity search as well. So after the ordeal at the border, walking around the nasty side of Montreal accosted by every homeless person in Canada and nearly contaminated by a rancid garbage truck, Dave's dinner was "terrible" (we all enjoyed ours) and to top it off, the restaurant wouldn't take his AmEx card. At that point, Dave turned to me and with exasperation, uttered in his wonderfully colorful New Yawker accent, "I can't get back to America fast enough". Don't let one bad experience put you off, Dave. Montreal is usually a beautiful city. Come check out the Jazz festival in the summer. I promise you'll have a grand time.

Charisma Audio displayed JAS Odin loudspeakers (CDN$7,799), Shanling's funky-looking CD-T300 CD player (CDN$7,999), Audio Space PRE-2 preamp (CDN$3,499) and the mondo-sized Audio Space Reference One monoblocks (CDN$23,999). Also on display was a cool-looking $400 iPod-based desktop system featuring speakers and woofer module with tube-based amp section.

How's this for a killer deal? JAS CD player with HDCD decoding, upsampling, tube output stage and heavy duty metal remote for CDN$1199. Stay tuned for a review. Charisma Audio is now the official Canadian distributor for Chinese brand Audio Space. How does an EL 34 tube integrated with headphone output, switchable triode/UL mode and variable feedback all for CDN$1599 strike you? My dad has owned an Audio Space amp for over two years and continues to enjoy it immensely. This is a well built, reliable brand and I'm happy that it now has stable support in Canada. I don't think there has been a better time to get into tubes than now..

Quinceton Corporation, distributor of Air Tight and Isoclean, teamed up with Aurora/Ontario retailer Ovation Audio and put together a lovely system featuring Air Tight amplification, JAS speakers, McIntosh CD player and Isoclean power conditioning. The Air Tight amps were a special edition of the ATM-211 monos with NOS tubes and Black Gate cap upgrades. Several months ago, I had a long listening session with Air Tight gear driving a big pair of Tannoys from their Prestige line and thought music playback was utterly captivating with this combo. Admittedly, the JAS speakers don't quite float my boat like the big Tannoys but they sure sounded good with this premium Japanese brand. Take a look at the Zen-like attention to detail on the interior of this ATC-1 preamp. Also on display was a wide range of Isoclean accessories including those surprisingly effective aftermarket fuses which have been the focus of much debate and ridicule from the cranky old ladies who clog up the online forums with their vitriol.

This is probably the third or forth time I have heard Art Audio, Gill Audio and Ars Aures together. No matter how small or difficult the room may have been, this combo somehow always manages to make magic. Neither of these lines is currently available in Canada yet but they can be purchased direct from Landes Audio in New Jersey. One of the combinations they demoed featured the Art Audio Carissa SET (US$5,500) with Ars Aures F1 (US$2800) stand mounter plus an interesting looking cable loom, K Works Blue Shadows (US$1000/1m/pr interconnect, $1500/8'/pr speaker cable) which feature Litz wire in a proprietary winding scheme that is encased in a rope-like PE sleeving. Instead of shielding, the interconnect is protected along its entire length with an RF-absorptive material while the speaker cables reject RF via Ferrite blocks attached to the amp end of the cable. This combo via Gill Audio's Alana preamp was a terrifically synergistic match. Furthermore, the amps and speakers are available in matching colors including the various Ferrari and Jaguar automotive lacquer schemes. Landes Audio is offering a $10,000 package containing the smaller F1s, the 16wpc Carissa SET plus the cables. And in matching colors, too. Throw in a preamp of your choice and you're done. You can save bills by omitting a preamp altogether - order the Carissa with optional volume attenuation. Until there are Canadian dealers, Landes will sell direct to Canucks at a slightly discounted price. I'll have plenty more to say at a later date when I receive the whole kit and caboodle for a system review.

Feeling horny? Then strap on a pair of these bad boys. The Edgarhorn Titan II (US$9,500) uses conventional high-sensitivity drivers such as Fane tweeter, JBL 2441 mid and EVM15 woofer in a straight horn configuration. The fridge-sized box in the middle is a sub. Bruce Edgar is a legend in DIY audio circles for designing horn speakers that don't seem to exhibit the unique distortions of most horn designs. I certainly didn't hear any in this room. I've listened extensively to one of his DIY designs at Audio Oasis in Toronto and they sounded great to me as well. I would have liked to have stayed longer in this room and chat with Bruce, but I was pressed for time. Sharing the room with Bruce was Dan Wright of ModWright Audio who is one of the most pleasant people you could meet. Dan was introducing two new preamps in his 9.0 Series products. Many readers are familiar with Dan's award-winning SWL 9.0SE preamp (US$2,200) which is named after his son, Spencer Wright (9.0lbs at birth). Dan is one proud dad! Damn it and Jesus Christ would be the names of my audio components if I named them after my kids.

The SWP 9.0SE (US$2,500) is a stand-alone tube hybrid MM/MC phono preamp with internal power supply, variable gain and cartridge loading. The SWLP 9.0SE (US$3,995) is a full function preamp with internal phono stage, external power supply, tape out/monitor input, HT bypass, mute and remote. ModWright's phono circuit is based on a three-stage split RIAA passive filter design with zero feedback. Tubes include a pair each of 6C45s, 6N1Ps and 5687s. The MC gain stage is a hybrid tube-FET and does not use step-up trannies. Hmmm, since Srajan doesn't own a vinyl rig (at least not yet), I will selflessly allow myself to be available to do the honors on this attractively priced full function preamp. Unless of course, one of my compadres hasn't already beaten me to it [not, it's yours - Ed.].