The Montréal Audiofest—an American in Montreal

The Montréal Audiofest—an American in Montreal

,
,

Audio show enthusiast and writer Mike Harkins travelled from his home in Austin, Texas, to the Canadian province of Quebec to visit the Montréal Audiofest, where he found the temperature in March to be a bit nippy. Welcome up North, Mike.

Mike took down notes and took pictures at the show which he graciously allowed us to publish for our readers. Enjoy.

hi-fi, high-end, audio, audiophile, Montreal Audio show, Audiofest, Focal, Harbeth, Wilson Audio, Monitor  Audio, Fyne Audio, Grado, Polk Audio, Simaudio Moon, Rhaido speakers, Muraudio, Gershman Acoustics, PS Audio aspen FR30, Hegel, Crystal Cable
Audiophile ducks feasting on an abundant supply of grain at the Hotel Bonaventure’s rooftop duck pond. Not seen in the picture were the hotel’s rooftop garden and massive trees, which brought a bit of nature into the sky for hotel guests.

After a two-year hiatus, the Montréal Audiofest 2022 took place on March 25-27 at the Hotel Bonaventure in downtown Montreal. Indoor public spaces in Montreal are restricted to mask wearers and crowded public events like these can easily spread the dreaded virus, so I appreciated seeing everyone in a mask.  It was this author’s first venture out of my COVID cocoon to an audio show since 2019’s grand finale Rocky Mountain Audio Fest in Denver.

Spring may have officially sprung elsewhere, but in Montreal, the colder-than-average temperatures showed that winter was still very much in control there. (On opening day, the high was 10°C—balmy by Montreal winter standards—ed.)

The Hotel Bonaventure is located on the building’s 10th floor, just below roof-level, although the main corridor and lobby of the hotel intersect with parts of the roof, where there are outdoor gardens with large trees, a duck pond, and a large, heated swimming pool. Ducks in the rooftop duck pond seemed to enjoy the weather and the abundant food supply. Swimmers who braved the frigid outdoor weather seemed to find the pool a treat, but looked eager to jump into a warm towel as soon as they left the water.

Fortunately, Montreal’s Underground City, a labyrinthian underground network of interconnected train stations, restaurants, commercial and residential complexes, performing arts venues, and hotels, protected us visitors from the above ground chill when we ventured out to nearby dining establishments. Still, despite the cool weather, I could not help but play tourist and see some of the attractions.  As a US citizen, I was required to get tested for COVID-19 to get into Canada, then again to re-enter the US—a hurdle that was worth it to be able to see and hear Montreal’s excellent audio show.

The nice thing about the floor arrangement of the Hotel Bonaventure is that one only had to go up or down a short flight of stairs to see and hear the exhibits in the regular rooms. And the larger rooms were located a full floor below the lobby level—easily accessible via an escalator. I found this a refreshing arrangement compared to the multi-floor one, where typically one’s audio show journey is constantly stymied by long waits at elevators.

The show featured several talks and conferences, as well as several musical events. Anne Bisson, a local favorite jazz singer/pianist, performed at the show. She also had her own booth where she signed her CDs and records and talked with attendees. Being on her home turf, her show on Friday, March 25, featured several of her friends and some piano and vocal accompaniments by her son, Samuel Jacques, who also happens to be in the audio trade. His specialty is room acoustical treatment, an area that is getting a lot of attention these days—for good reason.  It is often a weak link in the home audio environment.

There was also a recording studio room at the conference, where several artists recorded their sessions then played them back in Dolby Atmos to visitors. The entire room was huge, about 60 feet by 50 feet, so it had a nice reverberation that gave the place a live-acoustic feel. I didn’t get a chance to hear a final mix in Dolby Atmos, but I hope the recording engineer was good at filtering out the ever-present bass I heard that seeped through the walls from the other large, adjoining rooms. 

hi-fi, high-end, audio, audiophile, Montreal Audio show, Audiofest, Focal, Harbeth, Wilson Audio, Monitor  Audio, Fyne Audio, Grado, Polk Audio, Simaudio Moon, Rhaido speakers, Muraudio, Gershman Acoustics, PS Audio aspen FR30, Hegel, Crystal Cable

As expected, there was a large presence at the show of English- and French-Canadian manufacturers, distributors, and dealers. But products from the UK, France, the US, and the far east were also well represented. Here are a few products that caught my eyes and ears:

hi-fi, high-end, audio, audiophile, Montreal Audio show, Audiofest, Focal, Harbeth, Wilson Audio, Monitor  Audio, Fyne Audio, Grado, Polk Audio, Simaudio Moon, Rhaido speakers, Muraudio, Gershman Acoustics, PS Audio aspen FR30, Hegel, Crystal Cable
Muraudio’s electrostatic SP1 speaker system proved to be a worthy attraction at the show. Its unique structure uses a diaphragm that is slightly barrel-shaped to provide reproduction that closely approximates a point source. Imaging from this system was rock solid, even when heard off-axis. But like most diaphragm loudspeakers, they do need a little space around them to perform their best. The SP1 is available in a range of finishes, including the sunset finish pictured here.
hi-fi, high-end, audio, audiophile, Montreal Audio show, Audiofest, Focal, Harbeth, Wilson Audio, Monitor  Audio, Fyne Audio, Grado, Polk Audio, Simaudio Moon, Rhaido speakers, Muraudio, Gershman Acoustics, PS Audio aspen FR30, Hegel, Crystal Cable

Polk Audio’s new Legend Series model L800 loudspeakers feature a unique set of midrange and tweeter drivers that are configured to eliminate crosstalk between both channels to enhance stereo imaging.

hi-fi, high-end, audio, audiophile, Montreal Audio show, Audiofest, Focal, Harbeth, Wilson Audio, Monitor  Audio, Fyne Audio, Grado, Polk Audio, Simaudio Moon, Rhaido speakers, Muraudio, Gershman Acoustics, PS Audio aspen FR30, Hegel, Crystal Cable
Moon 860A v2 power amplifiers powered a pair of Raidho TD 4.2 loudspeakers via Nordost Valhalla 2 cabling.
hi-fi, high-end, audio, audiophile, Montreal Audio show, Audiofest, Focal, Harbeth, Wilson Audio, Monitor  Audio, Fyne Audio, Grado, Polk Audio, Simaudio Moon, Rhaido speakers, Muraudio, Gershman Acoustics, PS Audio aspen FR30, Hegel, Crystal Cable
Gershman Acoustics was showing off its Posh model speakers. Driven by a Krell 300-i integrated amp, the speakers were positioned far from walls, allowing them to deliver a spacious soundstage, along with a smooth and undistorted presentation.
hi-fi, high-end, audio, audiophile, Montreal Audio show, Audiofest, Focal, Harbeth, Wilson Audio, Monitor  Audio, Fyne Audio, Grado, Polk Audio, Simaudio Moon, Rhaido speakers, Muraudio, Gershman Acoustics, PS Audio aspen FR30, Hegel, Crystal Cable
Note the Posh’s segmented design to allow for a more integrated wave front at the listening position.
hi-fi, high-end, audio, audiophile, Montreal Audio show, Audiofest, Focal, Harbeth, Wilson Audio, Monitor  Audio, Fyne Audio, Grado, Polk Audio, Simaudio Moon, Rhaido speakers, Muraudio, Gershman Acoustics, PS Audio aspen FR30, Hegel, Crystal Cable
Well-known Canadian brand Totem featured their small tower model, the 88db Sky Tower. The speakers retail for $2,600/p. and have a claimed bass response that extends to a respectable 35Hz.
hi-fi, high-end, audio, audiophile, Montreal Audio show, Audiofest, Focal, Harbeth, Wilson Audio, Monitor  Audio, Fyne Audio, Grado, Polk Audio, Simaudio Moon, Rhaido speakers, Muraudio, Gershman Acoustics, PS Audio aspen FR30, Hegel, Crystal Cable
Toronto-based distributor Don Rhule showed off one of the more anticipated speaker models at the Montreal Audiofest, PS Audio’s new flagship aspen FR30. The company promises to develop other models in the aspen line at a lower price point than the FR30s, which retail for $40,000/p. One of PS Audio’s goals in designing the FR30 was to make a better speaker than the reference Infiniti RS1 behemoths the company keeps as a reference at their facility in Boulder, Colorado. Having heard the RS1 speakers, albeit a few years ago, I would venture a “Mission accomplished!” The FR30s were playing quite loudly when I auditioned them, so I was glad to hear a requested track being played with which I was familiar. The track features a bass drum, which the aspens played with appropriate authority, along with several solo instruments that were solidly portrayed inside a realistic, well-delineated soundstage.
hi-fi, high-end, audio, audiophile, Montreal Audio show, Audiofest, Focal, Harbeth, Wilson Audio, Monitor  Audio, Fyne Audio, Grado, Polk Audio, Simaudio Moon, Rhaido speakers, Muraudio, Gershman Acoustics, PS Audio aspen FR30, Hegel, Crystal Cable
Hegel, a well-known manufacturer of high-end amplifiers, streamers, and processors demonstrated several of their products in one of the larger rooms at the show.
hi-fi, high-end, audio, audiophile, Montreal Audio show, Audiofest, Focal, Harbeth, Wilson Audio, Monitor  Audio, Fyne Audio, Grado, Polk Audio, Simaudio Moon, Rhaido speakers, Muraudio, Gershman Acoustics, PS Audio aspen FR30, Hegel, Crystal Cable
One can’t help (at least I can’t) but love a little speaker that looks as good as the Crystal Cable Arabesque Minissimo Diamond loudspeakers shown here. An example of what great deals can be had at a show like the Montréal Audiofest, the Minissimo pair, which was on quiet display, normally retails for $28,000 Canadian, or about $22,400 US, but were on “yard sale” at the show for a mere $13,000. I’m sure this turned out to be a true bargain for some enthusiastic audiophile anxious to capture a piece of mini perfection.
hi-fi, high-end, audio, audiophile, Montreal Audio show, Audiofest, Focal, Harbeth, Wilson Audio, Monitor  Audio, Fyne Audio, Grado, Polk Audio, Simaudio Moon, Rhaido speakers, Muraudio, Gershman Acoustics, PS Audio aspen FR30, Hegel, Crystal Cable
Fyne Audio’s F1-5 features a single full-range driver and a “presence” control at the speaker’s front to allow one to adjust the sound to the room’s acoustics.
hi-fi, high-end, audio, audiophile, Montreal Audio show, Audiofest, Focal, Harbeth, Wilson Audio, Monitor  Audio, Fyne Audio, Grado, Polk Audio, Simaudio Moon, Rhaido speakers, Muraudio, Gershman Acoustics, PS Audio aspen FR30, Hegel, Crystal Cable
A close-up of the Fyne Audio F1-5’s single driver.
hi-fi, high-end, audio, audiophile, Montreal Audio show, Audiofest, Focal, Harbeth, Wilson Audio, Monitor  Audio, Fyne Audio, Grado, Polk Audio, Simaudio Moon, Rhaido speakers, Muraudio, Gershman Acoustics, PS Audio aspen FR30, Hegel, Crystal Cable
French speaker manufacturer Focal has been making drivers for themselves and other companies for years. Here is a photo of one of their drivers mounted into one of their newer wall-mount models. When driven hard, paper cones tend to break up. Focal has experimented with several paper formulations, including sandwich papers, such as the design shown here. These new paper constructions are said to improve the properties of the drivers by eliminating cone break-up distortion.
hi-fi, high-end, audio, audiophile, Montreal Audio show, Audiofest, Focal, Harbeth, Wilson Audio, Monitor  Audio, Fyne Audio, Grado, Polk Audio, Simaudio Moon, Rhaido speakers, Muraudio, Gershman Acoustics, PS Audio aspen FR30, Hegel, Crystal Cable
According to Harbeth’s website, the English company is focused heavily on providing good sonic value using objective measurements rather than subjective or emotional experiences. Shown here is a Harbeth Monitor 30.2 40th Anniversary Edition standmount.
hi-fi, high-end, audio, audiophile, Montreal Audio show, Audiofest, Focal, Harbeth, Wilson Audio, Monitor  Audio, Fyne Audio, Grado, Polk Audio, Simaudio Moon, Rhaido speakers, Muraudio, Gershman Acoustics, PS Audio aspen FR30, Hegel, Crystal Cable
Wilson Audio, the company previously known for the most expensive loudspeakers on the market, now makes products such as the Sasha DAW, pictured, for those who don’t have six figures to spend on loudspeakers but still want that Wilson trademark coherent sound. The Sasha DAW was named after the late David A. Wilson, founder of the company.
hi-fi, high-end, audio, audiophile, Montreal Audio show, Audiofest, Focal, Harbeth, Wilson Audio, Monitor  Audio, Fyne Audio, Grado, Polk Audio, Simaudio Moon, Rhaido speakers, Muraudio, Gershman Acoustics, PS Audio aspen FR30, Hegel, Crystal Cable
Focal showed off its Maestro Utopias. The speaker uses a high-mounted midrange driver, a mid-mounted tweeter, and bass drivers below that, a configuration that delivered a smooth and seamless presentation.
hi-fi, high-end, audio, audiophile, Montreal Audio show, Audiofest, Focal, Harbeth, Wilson Audio, Monitor  Audio, Fyne Audio, Grado, Polk Audio, Simaudio Moon, Rhaido speakers, Muraudio, Gershman Acoustics, PS Audio aspen FR30, Hegel, Crystal Cable

Monitor Audio’s Platinum series speakers are shown here near the River Thames, a nice backdrop in the company’s exhibit room. This flagship model required no subwoofer to move the air needed to reproduce authentic bass slam. It also offered a large and spacious soundstage.

hi-fi, high-end, audio, audiophile, Montreal Audio show, Audiofest, Focal, Harbeth, Wilson Audio, Monitor  Audio, Fyne Audio, Grado, Polk Audio, Simaudio Moon, Rhaido speakers, Muraudio, Gershman Acoustics, PS Audio aspen FR30, Hegel, Crystal Cable
This Jean Nantais Reference Lenco MkII turntable fitted with a Bird of Prey tonearm and a Miyajima Infinity cartridge was one of the many turntable setups at the Montréal Audiofest playing music to a transfixed audience.  Vinyl lovers had ample opportunity at the show to see and hear the latest in analog sound reproduction. And the show’s marketplace had many vinyl records on sale for the avid record collector inside each of us. 

Wrap-up

The Montréal Audiofest had a lot of stuff on display—headphones, tubes, amps and preamps, analog and digital sources, cables—to suit all tastes.  Accessories of all types were also well represented, including power conditioners, speaker and equipment stands, furniture, record cleaners, and everything that an audiophile would need to keep his home setup in tip-top shape.

And, like I mentioned, a wonderful advantage to going to shows like these is the specials!—merchandise on sale at bargain show prices. In my case, I picked up a couple of HQ CDs from Anne Bisson.  And I found a pair of ISO-Acoustic speaker stands that were perfect for my Legacy Calibre XDs at home—just what the doctor ordered!   

I’m glad to see audio shows such as the Montréal Audiofest returning. Although the Montreal show was not the biggest I’ve been to, it allowed me to see a lot of interesting products. It was also a relief to not get bogged down in traffic jams at elevators. Plus, the show had several unique demonstrations and performances that enhanced the show’s value for me and others.  Fantastic job, Montréal Audiofest! I’ll be sure to swing back on what will hopefully be a warmer spring day.

2024 PMA Magazine. All rights reserved.


Dear readers,

As you might know, PMA is an independent consumer audio and music magazine that prides itself on doing things differently. For the past three years, we’ve dedicated ourselves to bringing you an authentic listening experience. Our commitment? Absolute authenticity. We steer clear of commercial influences, ensuring that what you hear from us is genuine, unfiltered, and true to our values.

However, independence comes with its challenges. To continue our journey of honest journalism and to maintain the quality of content you love, we find ourselves turning to you, our community, for support. Your contributions, no matter how small, will help us sustain our operations and continue to deliver the content you trust and enjoy. It’s your support that empowers us to remain independent and keep our ears to the ground, listening and sharing stories that matter, without any external pressures or biases.

Thank you so much for being a part of our journey.

The PMA Team

If you wish to donate, you can do so here.

Search for a Topic

and receive our flipbook magazines early

SIGN UP TO RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER

Email field is required to subscribe.