I’m going to begin this part of the coverage with a confession: I almost didn’t write this article. That’s because, although I got my feet under me to do the second part of the coverage more efficiently, I’ve seen so many products and talked to so many people at Montreal Audiofest 2022 that, as I’m typing this, I don’t feel like writing more—I’m spent.
But there were some analog-related products that absolutely needed to be covered for our readership, so I knew this article had to be written. This is the last article you’ll see from Montreal Audiofest 2022, which I thoroughly enjoyed and which surprised me, because although it wasn’t quite as big as past shows, all the enthusiasm from the exhibitors and attendees was there. Beforehand, I didn’t think it would be as good as it was. All prices are in Canadian dollars.
Oracle’s Jacques Riendeau and Stéphane Nadeau
When I went shopping for my first hi-fi system, in about 1980, the first high-end turntable I ever saw was the original Oracle Audio Delphi MkI, now a Canadian-made hi-fi icon. The physical beauty of that turntable resonated with me so much that I wanted to buy one then and there. I know that hi-fi is supposed to be purely about the sound, but the aesthetics of a product appeal to most of us as well. Unfortunately, I was 16 at the time and didn’t have enough money, so I wound up with a much-less-expensive model from B&O, which was still very good. Still, that Delphi and the various versions of it that have followed right up to the versions offered today—the MkVI Classic, MkVI Reference, and MkVI Signature—have remained, to my eyes, the most beautiful turntables on the market.
Oracle Audio’s next step down from the Delphi, the Paris turntable in all its version updates, has never held the same appeal to me. The various Paris models I’ve seen over the years have been nice enough to look at, but that’s all. Yet the special-edition Paris MkV HSP versions on display at Montreal Audiofest 2022—celebrating the album Histoires sans paroles - Harmonium symphonique, which has the artwork for Jean-Paul Riopelle’s painting Le Jacob-Chatou, from 1954, on its cover—looked flat-out gorgeous just sitting there. One turntable has the artwork itself on the plinth and the HSP (the first letters of the first three words of the album name) logo on the platter, while the other shows the logo on the platter and graphics associated with the album and project on the plinth. I couldn’t decide which I liked more. The album comes from Quebec’s GSI Musique and is available on vinyl, on CD, and as low-, standard-, and high-resolution downloads. A beautiful book for the music project was also on display.
If you’re not familiar with this album, you’re not alone. As I researched the album, I looked at the website for it to figure out what it’s about—and its significance—because I had no idea about the music before I saw this display. Frankly, the website didn’t help me much. The English text on the site describes it as “over 140 minutes of music performed by the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, led by conductor Simon Leclerc, who also orchestrated this symphonic adaptation.” Google’s translation feature told me that title itself translates to “stories without words—symphonic harmonium.” That’s not much to go on.
Thankfully, on the last day I finally found someone at Montreal Audiofest 2022 who was familiar with the project and could explain it succinctly. He told me that Harmonium was a 1970s progressive-rock band—he called them “the Pink Floyd of Quebec”—that was wildly popular in the province and gained some international acclaim. After their 1970s-era success, however, Serge Fiori, the lead singer and driving force behind the band, all but disappeared from public view. But he resurfaced about a decade or so ago to the delight of his fans. This album is essentially a symphonic interpretation of Harmonium’s music.
Curious if the turntables on display at Montreal were two-off samples and that would be all I’d see, I cornered Jacques Riendeau, who’s the brother of Oracle Audio founder Marcel Riendeau and is the company’s product designer and director of operations. He told me that in the coming months they will be available for $7777, complete with a tonearm and a Grado cartridge. Granted, these dressed-up versions of the Paris still aren’t a Delphi of any generation, at least for me, but they certainly have a lot of the beauty and desirability that Oracle Audio is known for, and, in time, they may even be collectable as well. Furthermore, I found out other companies might create HSP-version products, meaning one day there could be a complete HSP system. Stay tuned to see what happens.
Does Canada have another iconic turntable in the making? Sylvain Pichette, the owner of Stable 33.33, looks like he’s heading in that direction with his company. I encountered Sylvain several years ago at this show. Back then, he was showing some of the first turntables and accessories he’d designed, which certainly signaled some potential. At Montreal Audiofest 2022, he was still showing accessories, but he was most excited to show me his newest turntable, the 33.2 Mk2, which sells for $11,500 without tonearm and cartridge.
Sylvain says the 33.2 Mk2 took inspiration from the company’s flagship, the 33.1. It features a three-layered adjustable tonearm board for arms that are 9 to 12″, a 50mm-thick “translucent acrylic platter supporting 12 stainless steel weights mounted on the periphery for a total mass of 5.9 kg,” “a powerful 7.5 Watts AC synchronous motor coupled to a dual step pulley,” and “decoupling and adhesion provided by three polyurethane domes paired with a spring suspension wrapped in natural fibers to convert energy into heat and control movement.”
I have to say that the 33.2 Mk2 looks like a hell of a lot of turntable for the money, and since the company is now several years old with a number of products under its belt, it is probably a safe bet for those looking to invest big in vinyl playback. Stable 33.33 is located in Gatineau, Quebec, which is literally across the Ottawa River from where I live, in Ottawa, Canada, so it is mere minutes away. I left Sylvain’s exhibit telling him that I need to make the short trip over to Gatineau to see firsthand what he’s doing, because he appears to be well on his way to building a formidable turntable company and I want to know more.
Quebec-based singer Anne Bisson knows vinyl playback is growing. Being an audiophile, she also knows a thing or two about making high-quality recordings and having them pressed on premium vinyl. At Montreal Audiofest 2022, Anne was showing and selling her six albums on vinyl, including the one she’s holding up, Four Seasons in Jazz Live at Bernie’s, which not only has a pink-colored album jacket; it’s pressed on pink vinyl as well.
Finally, I’m finishing this report about how the SoundStage! Network recognizes achievement for a job well done. In the photo above, iFi Audio’s Miles Roberts, who’s head of the company’s global sales, is shown holding a 2021 SoundStage! Network Product of the Year trophy—the company earned it through the iPhono3 Black Label phono preamplifier ($1499), which Jason Thorpe reviewed on SoundStage! Hi-Fi on May 15, 2021. During the pandemic, we couldn’t deliver many of these award trophies in person, but now that hi-fi shows are starting up again, we’re happy that we’re able to—and we’ll continue to do so throughout this year.