Montreal Audiofest 2024 : by Jean-Denis Doyle

Focal-Naim, a world to discover.

North American distributor Focal-Naim was, as usual, well represented at the Salon Audio de Montréal, with a huge hall featuring numerous demonstrations.

The first booth that caught my eye was the one dedicated to the various models of Focal headphones. I spent some time listening to Focal‘s Clear MG model, whose particularly well-balanced sound seduced me. What’s more, this model is extremely comfortable to wear and easy to forget, thanks to its exceptionally comfortable design.

At the booth, there was a veritable army of Naim Uniti Atom Headphone Edition, one for each of the headphones presented for listening. I can’t say enough about my boundless admiration for this device. Not only is it a formidable headphone amplifier, it’s also a remarkable network player and a superb preamplifier, which can also be used as is, in your audio system. As the owner of a Naim Uniti Atom Headphone Edition, I have nothing but praise for this device. A veritable war machine, it does so many wonderful things, but unfortunately has slipped under the radar of many audiophiles.

It was also an opportunity to discover Naim‘s Uniti Nova Power Edition. This all-in-one device is likely to become the king of this category, thanks in part to its powerful amplification section. The latter, based on 150 W class D modules is in itself a surprising novelty for Naim. I’m confident that Naim‘s engineers have implemented it wisely, and the result should be on a par with the brand’s amplifiers. What we heard at the show already augured well. My colleague Michel Dallaire, who has the unit in his possession for a forthcoming test bench, will soon have the opportunity to talk to you in greater depth.

It was also an opportunity to see and hear for the first time, Naim‘s brand-new 300 Series. Naim‘s NSS-333 network player, NAC-332 preamplifier and NAP-350 amplifiers powered a stunning pair of wall-mounted Focal loudspeakers. A great listening experience for those looking for this kind of product.

Of course, a visit to Focal-Naim wouldn’t be complete without a listen to Focal‘s Grande Utopia EM Evo loudspeakers. Amplified by Naim‘s Statement and complemented by Naim‘s ND-555 network player, this system impressed with its virtually infinite dynamics and incredible impact. A listening experience that certainly left no one indifferent!

• • •

Innuos, online music playback taken to another level.

One of the most interesting and relevant demonstrations at the Salon Audio de Montréal was certainly that offered by Portuguese manufacturer Innuos. This manufacturer, highly specialized in high-end network players, offered visitors the chance to compare three network player models from its Pulse range. After all, there’s the age-old question: is a high-quality network really worth the investment?

According to popular belief, digital data is just digital data. So, if it’s complete and bit-perfect, there’s no point in investing too much money in a top-of-the-range network drive. Not so sure, and theInnuos team was busy proving the contrary all weekend long.

Thanks to a well-organized demonstration, it was possible to compare the effect on sound quality of the audio system on show. Three network players were available for listening. First the Pulse Mini, then its big brother Pulse, and finally the top-of-the-range Pulsar fromInnuos. With each change of player, it was easy to perceive a substantial improvement in sound quality. Not only did the timbres become fuller with each change, it was easy to perceive a considerable widening of the soundstage as well as an increase in depth. It was a very convincing demonstration!

Audiophiles should also take the time to discoverInnuos‘ splendid application. Indeed, the Sense application is certainly at the cutting edge of current technology. Particularly well maintained, it receives many relevant updates on a regular basis, thanks to constant interaction between Innuos and its users.

Truly, products to discover before investing in a network player.

• • •

At Motet, little prodigies of great talent.

Canadian distributor Motet had a few surprises in store for Montreal showgoers. Since Motet is the distributor of the legendary PMC loudspeaker brand, it was the perfect opportunity to present the new Prodigy line. For the moment, this new line consists of just two models: the small bookshelf-style Prodigy1 and the freestanding (floorstanding) Prodigy5. PMC plans to add further models to complete the range in the near future.

This new series of loudspeakers is very reasonably priced, but still manufactured by PMC in England. These are two-way models whose drivers have been manufactured by PMC specifically for this series. The Prodigy1 model will be offered for the modest sum of $2,500 per pair, and the Prodigy5 column loudspeakers will run at around $4,000 per pair. To the delight of audiophiles, these loudspeakers incorporate many of the technologies already present on PMC‘s higher-end models, such as the front-firing laminar port. Of course, since these are PMC loudspeakers, both models use the transmission line principle for bass frequency tuning. They are offered only in a satin black finish, which gives them the appearance of professional studio speakers. In the listening room, the small, free-standing (floorstanding) Prodigy5 loudspeakers succeeded in filling the huge hall with music. The audience simply couldn’t believe the finesse and tonal qualities of these small columns loudspeakers.

Motet had another booth where the team presented FiiO products. This range of products for mobile listening includes numerous portable digital audio players and a complete line of high-quality in-ear headphones. What caught my eye was FiiO‘s small CP13 portable cassette player. It’s the rebirth of the 1980s cassette Walkman, and time will tell if the market takes the bait. Priced at $150 and available in a range of colors, this little device is sure to appeal to a younger clientele with a thirst for vintage trends. Still, hats off to the FiiO team for their audacity!

• • •

At Phonographe and Luna Cables, exceptional musicality.

Montreal distributor Phonographe and manufacturer Luna Cables presented a fabulous audio system with a totally enchanting tone. It included a Master Series 14-4 turntable from The Wand, a phono preamplifier and hybrid integrated amplifier from Thoress, and EVO-1 loudspeakers from AudioNec. The whole set was connected, of course, with Orange Series Luna cables.

Everything, absolutely everything, about this audio system was out of the ordinary, starting with the turntable. With its huge, belt-driven 14″ platter, superb carbon-fiber unipivot arm and solid plywood wood base, The Wand‘s 14-4 turntable really stands out from the crowd, and offers some of the highest sound quality available. All it needed was a simple Denon DL-103 cartridge, and its addictive musicality shines through. What’s remarkable is the almost total absence of surface noise during disc playback. Luna‘s Rouge step-up transformer certainly had something to do with this.

The signal from the turntable was then fed to the Thoress phono preamplifier. This entirely hand-crafted device from Germany is a true jewel of high-level electronics. Just look at the incredible care taken in its assembly, where everything is done point by point, without any printed circuit boards. What’s more, this device offers a highly flexible adjustment palette for different cartridges. Next up was the Thoress hybrid integrated amplifier, which is certainly not lacking in interest either, as it manages the tour de force of offering the sound of a Single-Ended tube amplifier with the control and power of a transistor amp.

Finally, AudioNec‘s extraordinary Evo 1 loudspeakers completed the set. These French-origin loudspeakers are very special indeed, and this was the first time they had been presented in Montreal. Based on a pair of cylindrical transducers with a vertically placed voice coil, this transducer emits both front and rear frequencies in a range from 400 Hz to 10 kHz. It is complemented in the bass by a 10″ woofer and in the extreme treble by a high-quality conventional tweeter. The beauty of these AudioNec loudspeakers is that they can be upgraded to higher EVO models simply by adding bass modules. An ideal way to upgrade your speakers while protecting your initial investment, which is quite brilliant!

The sound of this set left me speechless. Probably one of the best at the show, with perfect tonality, impeccable detail and a perfect balance between musicality and resolution. My Best of the Show, easily!

More to come soon …