Part 3

Ottawa-based loudspeaker manufacturer Tetra showed off their first universal speaker, the new Manhattan 102U (US $675/ea) monitor for use in two-channel and multi-channel systems. The 102U can be placed on stands, bookshelves or even wall-mounted. As with Reference 3A's Dulcets, here was an example of a small speaker that projected a wide, deep and relatively full soundscape. Incidentally, Tetra gets my award for Best Business Card Ever. Rogue Audio's Magnum Tempest was connected to the Manhattans via Magnum's ribbon cables.

The room shared by Omega Loudspeakers, Eastern Electric and Hudson Audio Technologies was my favorite low-cost room of the show. Every component in this system (turntable excepted) retailed for less than US $1,500. You would never know it from the warm, pleasant and involving sound emanating from this good value system. No hifi histrionics here! This room was a perfect example of how one does not need to spend tens of thousands of dollars to obtain an emotionally involving audio system. Eastern's Minimax tube preamp, tube amp and tube CD player [below] were connected to Omega's Super 3bpc loudspeakers via Hudson Audio's affordable silver hybrid cabling. I see why Srajan and Stephæn were so enthusiastic in their reviews of the Minimax preamp and Omega's Grande 6 loudspeakers respectively. The three gents representing these marques here were among the friendliest and most easy-going exhibitors at the show.

Brinkmann USA's Laurence Blair gave an interesting demo comparing SACD and analog. Although Brinkmann's Balance analog deck retails for over $20,000 (w/ tonearm and cartridge), it didn't necessarily blow away its $2,000 digital companion. As Laurence admitted, one isn't necessarily better than the other - just different. But, if I had the money (ha!), Brinkmann's drop-dead gorgeous analog setup would be my choice as there was more of a natural flow and feel to music playback which SACD couldn't quite match. On the other hand, the SACD player was 1/10th the price so this indeed was an unfair comparison.

Also on display were Brinkmann's monoblock amplifiers, turntable tube power supply and phono stage. Brinkmann's products are unique with using clear top plates so you can see the attractive and tidy internal layout. I was a little disappointed that Brinkmann's integrated wasn't on hand as I'd heard many positive comments about it. I suspect that it's perhaps not as big a seller in North America where separates tend to generate greater interest than integrateds.

Europroducts Marketing displayed a wide assortment of Creek electronics, Epos loudspeakers and Eichmann cabling. Creek and Epos have long had an enviable reputation among budget-conscious audiophiles for delivering the musical goods without emptying the bank account. Eichmann isn't a company I'm too familiar with but their cable products from Down Under certainly seem to be attractively priced and user-friendly. No stiff dead anacondas here.

Montreal's Codell Audio featured a rhythmically exciting system with a Nottingham turntable and Naim Audio's Series 5 components hooked up to Spendor 3/1 speakers. This was another room where I could have spent a few good hours grooving to tunes. Not only was music playback quite good, Codell had made the extra effort to turn a bland, featureless room into something quite attractive by using a winningmix plant material, lighting and acoustic treatments.

Brosseau Audio-Video featured Linn's Unidisk 1.1 universal disc player, Kisto preamp/system controller, 2250 power amp and stand-mounted loudspeakers. Audioquest's CV-6 and Panther interconnects connected everything together in a domestically attractive system.

I briefly passed through Newform Research's setup of their ribbon hybrid R645v2s (CDN $3,284 delivered) driven by the very inexpensive Panasonic Xr45 digital amplifier and Pioneer DV-563A. Considering the bargain basement price of the electronics, this system really didn't sound bad at all. As with the Gradients below, the soundstage was remarkably wide, tall and deep. Newform's loudspeakers are designed with an external terminal plate not only to allow for easy tweak access but plug-and-play compatibility with future digital systems just starting to be introduced to market now.

Any room that featured Tenor Audio amplification of Verity Audio loudspeakers was an aural treat if a little beyond my affordable stomping grounds. Les was particularly impressed with both brands. So was I!

May Audio featured a complete Rega system that, like Naim, majored in pace, rhythm and timing. Rega's new R9 loudspeakers sounded big, bold and engaging.

Gradient's ingenious Revolution dipoles were a glorious surprise. I was aware of the name but had never listened to their products before. As far as I know, they are not widely available in North America. That's a pity because these unassuming boxes produced a huge, extremely well laid- out soundstage one could literally walk into. I couldn't believe the Revolutions could sound so good in what was clearly an acoustic nightmare of a room. Les was smitten within the first few seconds into the scherzo of Bruckner's 9th and I have since learned that he has secured samples for review. I would not be surprised at all if he later purchased them. Go seek out a revolution even if your name isn't Che.

All in all, Le Festival Son & Image was an enjoyable experience and I look forward to attending next year's installment. Hopefully other Canadian companies such as Bryston/PMC and API (Energy, Mirage, Athena) will find it worthwhile to participate - I was looking forward to see/hear what both firms have been up to.

I have since heard through the audiophile grapevine that many show regulars were a little disappointed at what they thought was a poor turnout by both industry and public. Since this was my first visit, I cannot really offer any insights safe to comment that I thought it was far better than any Toronto shows I've ever attended. In fact, at certain times, the crowds were so dense that I couldn't get into several rooms, including the Art Audio/Cabasse exhibit. I hope to at least have given you a decent overview of the show to pique your curiosity enough to consider investigating some of these brands. All had something worthwhile to offer. I know I'll definitely attend again next year and hope those of you who can will too.