It was probably the coldest, bleakest week of the year so far to travel to Montreal, Canada -- sunlight was minimal and temperatures dipped close to -30°C on some nights. But Philip O'Hanlon, owner of distribution company On a Higher Note, still saw it as his duty to travel from his home in Southern California to the Frozen North on January 23rd to conduct music and equipment demos over two nights at Coup de Foudre (CDF), which is his main dealer in the city. The modern-looking store is owned by Jennifer and Graeme Humfrey and is home to many well-known brands, including Luxman and Vivid Audio, which On a Higher Note distributes. There's also a mixing/mastering studio in the back -- so they know their sound.
Philip O'Hanlon and Jennifer Humphrey
Philip's first demo was in the evening on January 24th, so his day-early arrival allowed him to acclimate to the Canadian cold at least a little bit. I chose to arrive just a few hours before his first demo (I live in Ottawa, which is a two-hour drive away from Montreal), so I was just in time to meet up with him to go down to the store where he would fine-tune the demo gear before the crowd rolled in.
The folks at CDF prepared their large listening room for him with Vivid Giya G3 speakers ($40,000 USD per pair), as well as the brand new Luxman M-900u amplifier ($19,000) and matching C-900u preamplifier ($19,000), which Philip really wanted me to see. They were shown two weeks prior in Las Vegas at CES 2014, but weren't actually playing there, so this was, in effect, their true North American debut. Ahead of the preamp were three more Luxman components: the D-06 digital-analog-converter ($4990), which is capable of playing PCM-based files up to 32-bit/384kHz resolution, as well as DSD64 and DSD128 files; PD-171 turntable ($6400), which comes outfitted with its own arm to which they added a Clear Audio Aurum Beta cartridge ($600); and E-1 phono stage ($4000). The cabling that I could see was from Transparent Audio.
Philip simply had to add his MacBook Pro to the mix and make sure he could play every kind of file format at every resolution through the setup. Following his successful tests with his music collection, he tweaked the turntable so that if anyone wanted to hear an LP they could. After that was done, he listened to Graeme play guitar out front and waited for the spectators to arrive for an evening of music, drinks, and food.
Many people showed up, but that didn't surprise me -- CDF is a pretty popular store in Montreal, so they have a large, well-established clientele. However, I was surprised to see how attentive the audience members were during Philip's demo, which ran a full two hours with only a small break after the first hour. Pretty much everyone stayed right until the end. Most importantly, I didn't see one person hustling for the door like I have at other demonstrations.
Part of the reason for the success probably had to do with Philip's presentation -- he's an entertaining, engaging presenter who knows how to captivate audiences. But the other parts also had to do with the quality of the system and the nature of his music selections. For everyone there, including me, it was the first chance to hear Luxman's new amplifier and preamplifier, which, at least from what I could tell during my brief stay, sounded as good as they looked (truly exceptional casework, and I loved the meters behind beveled glass). It was also the first chance for many to hear Vivid Audio's Giya G3, which is a truly state-of-the-art loudspeaker. CDF has had other Vivid Audio models in-store before, but not this one, and even Jennifer and Graeme, who have seen a lot of speakers from various brands over the years, were duly impressed with how the pair sounded, and they were confident that G3s would be popular with their clients.
Take note of the beveled glass
Finally, and not insignificantly, Philip knows how to present a diverse music collection that keeps everyone entertained (he even burns demo CDs of his favorite tracks to hand out at the end), which made the music listening fun as well as informative. For example, he demonstrated the sonic differences between PCM and DSD files, which I know many found fascinating. Frankly, Philip's focus on music with this kind of demonstration is refreshing, since he really ties in what the goal with all this expensive high-end equipment should be -- great gear in the service of great music. In contrast, many presenters make it all about the gear. As all this was going on, I shot the images that accompany this article, as well as those in the gallery below, to give you a feel for how it all went down.
Philip's latest demo disc
After that first day's demo ended, I headed back to Ottawa. But before I left I heard Jennifer and Graeme warn Philip to expect the second day to be even better -- they had scheduled in more than twice as many clients. Probably a good thing -- Canada, at least in the dead of winter, isn't the most enjoyable place to be, but Philip O'Hanlon, fresh in from sunny California, certainly knows how to brighten things up on a cold, dark day with his unique brand of demonstration. If he comes to your area for a similar demo, make sure you check it out.
Publisher, The SoundStage! Network