While Sennheiser were showing their regular line at different quarters, they dedicated a room to their $68'000 flagship ESL headphone and amplifier combination. That buys a Carrera marble chassis, internal ESS Sabre DAC, chrome-plated brass knobs, Class-A Mosfet high-voltage amplifier integrated directly into the ear cups, precision-milled solid aluminium ear cups that act as amplifier heat sinks and luxurious Italian leathers. It's a premium statement offering with all the requisite bling that vies for state of the art in the sonics department. At the show it played deep, rich and dense with astonishing detail.

Solen are a Quebec company that supplies high-grade parts as well as finished product and kits. They had a substantial table display of raw drivers, plate amps and a good selection of the Chinese Topping electronics which are worthy little performers. The Solen reps were also doing speaker demos of their kit products. For those who don't mind some assembly, the quality of the parts is high and the sound at the show was very competitive.

Son Ideal brought out some British royalty, showing a very nice combination of Harbeth speakers, Rega electronics and a spiffy looking Rega turntable to reward the crowds with some civilized English sound.

Sonic Artistry were kicking hard with their Thrax Lyra loudspeakers at $26'000/pr Cdn. Giving power to the people was a pair of Thrax Teres Mono amps at $39'0007pr along with their Orpheus phono stage and Dionysus line stage at $26'000/ea. Tunes came from a magnificent Döhmann Helix 1 table at $52'000 Cdn (CB arms separate at $5'200 or $5'700) with a Charisma Audio Reference 2 MC cartridge at $3'800 Cdn. Nicely lit but unplayed in the corner were a pair of Davone Audio Solo loudspeakers in elegant Scandinavian style bent wood. They were impressive at TAVES but alas, silent here. Engineering guru Mr. Tom Kleinbeck was on hand to watch the proceedings and chat about his line of EnKlein cables (which are currently receiving very positive press) as well as his views on a variety of engineering missteps which have become entrenched popular procedure. The room was a colourful blend of good conversation, high spirit, and intimate sound that found the life in music and left the bombast behind.

In the SVS/Summit room, Mr. Yakoubian's latest offerings were shaking up the establishment. Here was a room geared more to the audio/video end and my first encounter with the newly launched Prime Elevation product, an adept little angled design to be mounted high and provide the gamut from multi-channel system to unobtrusive high-quality lifestyle stereo. Featuring a 4.5" polypropylene driver and a 1" aluminium dome, it belted out clean and robust with a response of 55Hz-25kHz ±3dB. At about $200/ea., it's a worthy addition to their overachieving Prime lineup. Also on hand were their Prime Towers at $1'000/pr and the Prime Centre at $350. The other product introduced was the SB16 Ultra subwoofer, SVS's new big mover and state-of-the-art shaker with 1500 watts of power, 50MHz Analog Devices DSP with 56-bit filtering and a smart phone app for bass management. It kicks down to 16 cycles with ease as I can attest since I occupied the hotel room directly across. The reps from SVS and Summit looked quite pleased with the demo runs. The sealed SB box version goes for $2'000 and PB ported for $2'500. Processing and amplification were courtesy of the Marantz SR5011 receiver and the highly regarded $900 Cdn Emotiva BasX A-700 multi channel amp. The SVS offerings have been consistently impressive with quality execution and sound at a high value. That proved true here as well. Now if I could only get the ringing from the John Wick soundtrack out of my ears.

Son Ultime were offering the epitome of luxury refinement with the $90'000 Kingdom Royal with all Krell electronics neatly wrapped in Wireworld cables in the Jacques Cartier room. This was true HighEnd eye and ear candy for the serious music lover and a pleasure to experience. To offset the withdrawal pains, two marvelous 100 Series turntables were on display from Elipson aimed at the aspiring audiophile, attractively priced and amazingly sophisticated. At the $500 mark the Alpha 100 has the nicety of motor suspension and aluminium tone arm. $700 ups the ante with a carbon fibre arm. Plus, if I understand correctly, there is a provision to order with a phono stage or even phono/USB/Bluetooth capability. That's sophisticated indeed.

Audioville/Audioquest fronted a substantial effort comprised the KEF Reference 5 and a full brigade of Mark Levinson components, including their massive first turntable, the $12'000 N° 515. It was good to see and hear the best of the new from some of the most respected classic old names in the business.

Totem Acoustics have become a longtime Canadian benchmark for pulling powerful full range music out of small cabinets. Their $1850/pr Cdn Sky was dazzling audiences with astonishing punch, detail and depth of bass. Most thought that a subwoofer was on duty. In fact, it was all clear Sky running so dark and deep. Also on hand was the new Totem Tribe Tower, fresh from the starting gate making big bold high-resolution sound that could encompass the room and whip bass down to 30 cycles with power. It starts at about the $5'000/pr depending on finish. Totem's Vince Bruzzese was happily conversing with the crowds and basking in their approval.

Tri Art were showing a woodworking feast of natural Bamboo and extremely natural sound. They occupied three rooms, the Bam Bam, the Goo Systems and the Pebbles. The Bam Bam was their premier room, housing an impressive $3'360/pr open baffle speaker that was immediate, open and musically convincing. The room held a veritable cornucopia of product, from turntable to electronics to cables. Goo Systems concentrated on audio/video support and the Pebbles room went for more modest floorstanding and monitor systems. Tri Art have a good reputation for slightly tongue-in-cheek natural product backed by solid engineering. It was always fun and musically rewarding to drop by.

Wynn Audio had a stable of exceptional HighEnd product at the show. The stunning Tidal Sunray flagship with the requisite caliber of support definitely hit upper echelon financial territory but as statement pieces, they define what the art of audio design can accomplish. The speakers clock in at $185'000/pr. The support pieces too were upward mobile. Names like Goldmund and Thales signified more premium product. To cite the Karan KA600 amplifier as singular example, its price is $40'000. Wynn Audio also stocks a good selection of more attainable product so that their flagship demonstrations serve to whet the appetite and inspire the soul. Both goals were intensely fulfilled.

Covering the fest from A to Z brings us to the last entry, Yamaha. The presentation in Montreal mirrored my experience at the Toronto venue, with Yamaha bringing out their top-line products and presenting them with top-line distinction. The flagship NS-5000 speakers run about $15'000/pr with stands, with an all Zylon driver array reputed to have the lowest driver coloration of any material. The big $7'000 AS-3000 integrated competes against many multiples of its price and the CD-S2100 CD/DAC at around $3,500 is musically adept and built like a vault. In this setting, with a laptop source, the sound could stand toe to toe with some of the best rooms at the show, playing with effortless passion, placement precision and solidity. This was a relatively attainable dream system by HighEnd standards and a rather enjoyable way to end the report.

For an audio show which last year survived a near death experience, the 2017 Montreal Audio Fest proved to be an extremely healthy patient. The organizers who risked so much in their leap of faith were justly rewarded this year. The enthusiastic crowds came in force, anxious to listen, constantly surrounding the exhibitors in a steady flood. On the floor it was all show but in the quiet moments and after hours, there was much camaraderie between sales competitors with humour, smiles and laughter. It's a small industry populated by passionate individuals and although they may fight for your same dollar on the public floor, that same passion for music and audio also unites them in a common bond. Some say that the interest in HighEnd is waning like the setting sun. The vitality of Montreal proved them wrong. Vive le Montréal Audio Fest!