These three cities are the background for three European audio shows. All three cities are close enough to our hometown Rotterdam to drive down to, attend and go back home the same day. But that is no fun at all. A far better alternative is to add another hobby to the audio hobby: hotels and restaurants. After counting the available euros and checking out the best deals based on frequent flyer redemptions, membership rewards and the like, we decide to make it so.
Paris, city of romance and other pleasures, is first. The Salon Haute Fidelite 2005 is a rather obscure audio show. Obscure in the sense that not much -- if any -- information about it can be found on the Internet. Promotion for the show works through the Haute Fidelite magazine and yes, it's in French. This monthly publication is worthwhile reading and Redacteur en Chef Laurent Thorin and his staff manage to produce a publication with industry news, reports, specials and of course reviews every time. The latter stand out because of their honesty and something we particularly like - the aproche systeme. The system approach means that the subject of the review is included in two different audio systems, one about 150 to 200% more expensive than the other.
For R&R, we drove down to Paris early and checked into our favorite Scribe hotel. This classic hotel has all the charm a hotel should have and, via our mileage and card tricks, is always a great pied-a-terre for a few days. The old Opera is very close and so are the shopping paradises of Galleries Lafayette and Printemps. A 15-minute walk takes the traveler to the Champs Elysees with the Virgin and Fnac mega stores that are very well stocked with world music. Food can be found in abundance starting at the Gourmet annex of Gallery Lafayette, with many large and small eateries combining very reasonable prices and good quality. As we arrived later in the evening after our four-hour drive, we headed straight for Chez Clement around the corner. This is a traditional restaurant and part of a chain from Brittany. Here we enjoyed some late-night dining of oysters and champagne at a very competitive price. Their Clement-labeled champagne comes from a great cave and sets you back about the same amount of rubels as a store-bought bottle.
|At show time, we descend on the other side of Paris, the Rive Gauge, and look for the Sofitel Forum hotel. In 43 rooms and displays, the Salon presents what's going on in musical France. The idea that French audiophiles only listen to SETs
|and horns is not true. However, French audioteur Jean Hiraga has done his utmost to make this combination popular again more than 10 years ago. The basement area offered some larger rooms around a court with static displays. In their center, a familiar face was having fun.
|Todd Garfinkle was clearly in his element introducing young and old listeners to his m.a. recordings. In the Thiel room, a pair of CS2.4s was equipped with Murata super tweeters for the
|ultra-high frequencies and with additional Thiel subwoofers for the other extreme of the sound spectrum. Every time we hear super or ultra tweeters, it produces a strange sensation inside our heads we do not fancy.
|The B&W room with amplification by Classe sounded much friendlier even though they played "in the surround". Just as in the Fostex room [left], all the music we listened to thus far was classical. And contrary to any other show we've ever attended, a record was played straight through from beginning to end. The audience enters a room, sit down and listens for the whole side of an LP or even a complete CD. The expression on their faces was serious and focussed.
When we played some tracks from our 2005 demo CD with tunes apparently strange to certain listeners -- though many of the musicians are in fact French -- some rooms emptied in a hurry. One of the rooms with pleasing results was the Crystal Cable room where Manger Zerobox 109 loudspeakers formed the end of the chain.
French speaker builder Triangle offers little- known, very affordable high quality models and displayed almost their entire range. Especially the Celius 202 deserves more attention.
Peter Thompson of Plinius came all the way from New Zealand and his amplifiers were used in a couple of rooms. The combination of Plinius with a pair of prototype Jean-Marie Renaud Concorde Reference loudspeakers raised goose bumps. Some classical music can really rock.
The room with bi-amped Vincent amplifiers and either B&W Signature 805 or Elipson Futura loudspeakers showed that even within a reasonable budget, much musicality can be found. But the most fun we had was in the Acoustic System room.
In this room, jeweler/metalurgist/guitarist/acoustician Franck Tchang [left] demonstrated his latest Music Link Conspiracy loudspeakers. In combination with a dCS front-end and Karan amplifiers, this room rocked. We played almost all tracks from our compilation CD and Franck had the time of his life.
The good sound in the room was not only a result of the main equipment listed but also Franck's magical acoustic treatments of Acoustic System resonators. Those tiny copper, gold or platinum cups which are attached to the walls helped a lot. By removing or even turning just one of the resonators, the acoustic environment collapsed completely or changed for the worse. We made an appointment with Franck to visit him later this year for a closer look at this mysterious room tuning system. We still don't know how it works - only that it does.
On the 18th floor of the hotel, 10 small rooms with demonstrations of realistically priced equipment were housing 6 people max at any given time, a far more balanced approach considering normal Parisian apartment living.
At the end of the show, the seriousness and quietude of the attendees morphed into enthusiasm. Everywhere in the hallways and other public spaces, groups of attendees and here and there exhibitors got involved in intense audio discussions in the typical French way - with lots of gesticulating and everyone talking at once, a very positive atmosphere to be sure.