The Art et Son Room

(All prices are in Canadian dollars unless otherwise indicated.)

You want magic? I’ll give you magic. It won’t cost you your soul, but it may touch it.

But first, the location: Montreal retailer’s Art et Son room, where I met Philip O’Hanlon of On A Higher Note, North American distributor of the BBC-inspired Graham Audio speaker line. Meeting Philip is always a magical experience, and this time was no different. He explained that Graham Audio took the “thin-wall” concept devised by the BBC for its speaker panels and made it better by adding a layer of bitumen-loaded felt, improving the speaker’s bass response, which is said to go down to 45Hz, and enhancing its midrange magic.

If I haven’t been obvious enough about it yet, magic was the theme at this Art et Son room, which exhibited a system that Philip has been touring North America with under the banner “The Midrange Magic Tour,” to spread the gospel of—wait for it—midrange magic.

According to the gospel of Philip, “The soul of the music is in the midrange. This is where most of the emotion, the passion, the joie de vivre is contained, the music that lifts our soul to the heavens with happiness or drags it down to the stygian depths of despair.” Amen.

Before I get into the sound of the system, allow me to introduce the other members of the band: Graham Audio’s LS8/1 loudspeakers ($12,500 including stands); a Bergmann Audio “Modi” air-bearing turntable and “Modi” linear tracking tonearm ($20,000) with a Hana ML cartridge ($1500); and a MoonRiver 404 Reference integrated amplifier ($6500; see the Stereophile review) with the optional internal phono MM/MC phono stage ($650). Those group members used Tellurium Q cables, interconnects & power cords and performed on either an Artesania Audio “Prestige” three-level rack ($6000) or a KRION turntable platform ($5300). Two members quietly sat out this show: a Chord “Hugo” TT2 DAC/Preamp ($7995) and a Melco N100 music server with 2TB storage ($2895).

How good was this band’s music? I hesitate to say this because I’m a grown man and an alleged professional, but as soon as Imelda May began to sing “Black Tears,” from her album Life, Love, Flesh & Blood featuring Jeff Beck, I felt a wall of tears—black or not—well up in the back of my eyeballs, and this is no metaphor. It was a beautiful, tender moment, but also disconcerting: People were sitting right next to me. And even though I tried to mentally prepare myself for the next needle drop, I had the same physical response listening to Montreal harpist Isabeau Corriveau’s Irish-lilted song, “Blackbird,” from her LP A Leap of Faith. Touching? You don’t know the half of it. Midrange magic is real.

As Philip is wont to say, and I couldn’t agree more: “Lovely!”

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