At the end of last month’s article about my trip to France to visit speaker maker Focal, I stated that “I’ll travel to pretty much any company of any size, even if it’s in the middle of nowhere, if it means that I can learn something new about the hi-fi industry.”
Hi-fi component manufacturer Simaudio is located in Boucherville, Quebec. With a population of just over 40,000, this could be a small city in the middle of nowhere but it’s actually a suburb of Montreal. The two cities are situated so close by that when I’m driving to Boucherville, I’m not even sure where Montreal—population close to two million—ends and Boucherville begins. It all sort of blends together. As a result, when I’m going to visit Simaudio, which I’ve done dozens of times in the last 25 years, I usually tell people I’m driving to Montreal, because it’s easier than trying to explain where Boucherville is. My most recent trip was in early December.
The main reason I went to Simaudio last month was to see firsthand how the business had adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as learn what happened at the firm after the loss of Louis Lemire, the company’s CEO and one of its major shareholders. Louis died on September 23, 2021, due to a sudden (and non-COVID-19-related) illness. His death at the age of 55 was obviously shocking for the people who work at Simaudio, but during my visit I learned that the other two shareholders, Costa Koulisakis and Thierry Dufour, were able to pick up the ball and run with it, with Dufour moving on from his previous role as head of the engineering department to become CEO.
It wasn’t surprising to find out that COVID-19 has affected Simaudio, as it has for all companies around the world—sometimes positively, as you’ll read later—but I wanted to know more about its impact. The province of Quebec had some of the strictest lockdown measures in all of Canada, which made manufacturing exceedingly difficult. During the winter of 2020–2021, in the early days of the pandemic, the province went as far as implementing a nighttime curfew. But Quebec was also one of the most ambitious provinces in Canada when it came to reopening businesses, even hosting an indoor concert featuring Ricky Martin and Enrique Iglesias at Montreal’s Bell Centre—the hockey arena that’s home to the Montreal Canadiens—in October 2021. That was the first large music event in the province since the COVID-19 lockdowns began. My wife went to the show and fortunately didn’t get sick.
That concert, and my visit to Simaudio, was before the beginning of this Omicron mess we’re now living through, which has brought back restrictions in many places around the world. In Quebec, schools, bars, and theaters were ordered shut on December 20 until early January. But on December 6, everyone I talked to at Simaudio was upbeat because Quebec was trending in the right direction as far as COVID-19 was going. The company had weathered the worst of it and the people there had found ways to work efficiently despite the restrictions. I also found out that the company’s sales have been strong since COVID-19 became a thing—and have remained that way.
Hearing about the strong sales didn’t surprise me. That’s because all through the COVID-19 pandemic I’ve been hearing that many companies have been having record-breaking sales. But not all. Without disclosing names, I’ll say there are some common attributes of the companies that have had stellar sales: an established brand name, which is important for consumer recognition; a good reputation for product quality, which is particularly significant when purchasing hi-fi products unheard; and a line of well-known and desirable products, which will always attract customers.
Simaudio is positioned well when it comes to these things. The company began in 1980 as Sima Electronics—named after its founder, Victor Sima, who left the company a few decades ago. In 1990, the company was renamed as Simaudio. So the company’s history stretches back more than 40 years, and it currently makes more than 20 hi-fi-related electronics products marketed under the Moon brand name, which sell in 43 countries. Most of the products are backed by a lengthy ten-year warranty, which is reassuring for customers.
While Simaudio’s longevity and product range are noteworthy, they aren’t what impressed me the most in early December. Instead, it was the scale of the company’s manufacturing, which seems to increase each time I visit, with Simaudio now being one of the most vertically integrated companies in the hi-fi business. For example, at the very back end of Simaudio’s 40,000-square-foot factory is a large machine shop, where most of the metalwork for the electronics is produced. Toward the front, just behind the administrative offices, is the engineering department, where, at times, I’ve seen ten or more engineers working. Near the engineering department is where all the circuit boards get made—something that, not many years ago, Simaudio outsourced, but has now brought in-house for improved efficiency and quality control. The rest of the factory is used for assembling the products, testing them, and then packaging and shipping them to the company’s global network of dealers. A lot happens right there—and for this, the people at Simaudio are justifiably proud.
Proving the claim for increased sales were the numerous products under construction, as well as the number of parts, including completed circuit boards, ready for assembly. There seemed to be way more than I’d ever seen before—meaning the company is selling tons of gear. When I commented on the volume of production, Dominique Poupart, Simaudio’s chief product manager, simply said: “We’re doing very well.”
What’s more, the company’s products have been selling well, even though there haven’t been any new product launches since the 680D streaming DAC, which debuted in October 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic is obviously partly to blame for the lack of new products coming out—firstly, because of the workplace restrictions. Then came the parts shortages currently plaguing companies worldwide, which Simaudio, despite manufacturing so much stuff on site, isn’t unaffected by. But according to Poupart, right now the company is focused on ensuring they can fulfill their existing product line for consumers. He also said that some products using Simaudio’s MiND 2 streaming platform have been refined during the pandemic and that both the iOS and Android versions of the MiND Controller app have been improved over this period by the addition of AirPlay 2 and Spotify Connect support.
But, rest assured, there will be new Simaudio products coming in 2022. I caught a glimpse of some of the developments while I was there and was surprised, because they could lead the company in different directions while leaving the current product line intact. It’s too early to talk about anything new right now, though, because nothing will debut until the spring. Therefore, I plan to visit Simaudio again, perhaps in a month or two, to gather more information and report back with details of what you can expect.
Triangle at Centre Hi-Fi
It’s a 20-minute drive from Boucherville to the center of Montreal, so after I finished at Simaudio for the day, I drove downtown, checked into a hotel, and ate dinner at a great Polish restaurant in the Old Port area of the city. I slept fabulously because I was so damn tired, woke up refreshed, ate an excellent breakfast, and drove to another Montreal suburb, Boisbriand, to visit the Centre Hi-Fi store that’s located there. Triangle, a speaker maker hailing from France, was conducting demos for customers, all arranged by Centre Hi-Fi and the brand’s Canadian distributor, Motet Distribution, which is owned by Lily Luo.
In general, I don’t make it a point to go into hi-fi stores anymore because I usually get depressed and sometimes feel odd even being there—they are almost always run by older men, typically have very little stock on the floor, aren’t often that clean, and usually have barely any customers. And when I do go into one and tell whoever is working there that I’m just looking around, I still feel like they’re watching me like a hawk in the hope that I’m bluffing and will actually buy something. I suspect this is because they haven’t seen any other customers in the longest time. And why is that? Because most hi-fi stores aren’t happening places anymore.
In contrast, when I go to a great record store that also happens to sell hi-fi, like Ottawa’s The Record Centre, which I wrote about last February, it’s the exact opposite—the workers are men and women who are typically younger than you’ll find at the hi-fi retailers, there are lots of products in stock, and there are usually so many customers that it’s actually difficult to move around. And if the staff are watching someone like a hawk, they’re probably on the lookout for theft.
Much to my surprise, the store in Boisbriand—one of 12 Centre Hi-Fi outlets in Quebec—didn’t give me the negative impression that I’ve had from many hi-fi stores I’ve visited in the last few years. While the people working there that day were indeed all men, there were plenty of them, and many were in their 30s. I also found the store to be large, clean, orderly, and well stocked. And while the store did have dozens of widescreen TVs for sale, I could see way more hi-fi products than home-theater gear when I looked around. They also had hi-fi equipment costing hundreds, thousands, and tens of thousands of dollars per piece from an impressive number of brands, including Triangle, of course, but also from KEF, Totem Acoustic, Wilson Benesch, T+A, McIntosh Laboratory, Lumin, Arcam, Audiolab, Pro-Ject Audio Systems, and many others. The store can accommodate a wide range of budgets and brand tastes.
Impressed by what I saw, I struck up a conversation with Daniel D'Alimonte, who now owns the Centre Hi-Fi chain. He explained to me that it was his father, Rocco, who started the business in 1985, grew it to more than 30 stores in the heyday of bricks-and-mortar retailing, then retired. Rocco was also there, and told me that he would’ve been content to sell the business to someone else when he retired. However, his son still wanted to make a go of it, so he let Daniel take over. I think that was a wise move, because I found Daniel to be enthusiastic, full of ideas, and eager to show off the equipment they had in the store—he seemed to be a gearhead at heart, which you need to be to sell hi-fi. But he also seemed realistic about the current state of storefront retailing, and he knows that if you want to capture the attention of customers, it takes advertising and marketing, as well as investing in events like this one with Triangle, via Motet Distribution.
Daniel and Lily Luo orchestrated the December 11 event, ensuring that they each had enough of their own staff at the store. Luo also brought Triangle’s export manager, Eric Dubouays, from France to answer questions from customers. Dubouays has deep knowledge of the company and its products, which I believe builds trust with consumers. Isabeau Corriveau, a Montreal-based harpist, was invited to perform live, rather than just having recorded music. At one point during the day, she played several Leonard Cohen songs, which made everyone stop and listen.
Harpist Isabeau Corriveau, and (L-R) James Legault (Centre Hi-Fi co-manager), Eric Dubouays (Triangle export sales manager), Olivier Murray (Centre Hi-Fi co-manager), Dylan Dacres (Motet product specialist), Daniel D'Alimonte (Centre Hi-Fi president), Kristian Black (Motet’s Quebec sales representative), and Lily Luo (Motet president).
For Triangle, I think events like this one are necessary to build the brand on this side of the Atlantic. The company just turned 40, and celebrated the milestone by releasing two 40th Anniversary Limited Edition speakers: the Comète bookshelf, which Diego Estan reviewed on this site, and the Antal floorstander. Even with a lengthy corporate history and hi-fi speakers that can fit into pretty much every budget—from the entry-level Borea BR02 at $549 per pair (all prices in USD as of January 1, 2022) to the flagship Magellan Grand Concert for $70,000 per pair (now discontinued but to be replaced)—it’s still not easy to get noticed by North American consumers because there are just so many speaker brands to choose from.
But Triangle speakers aren’t generic designs, which should help the brand catch some eyes. For example, the inexpensive Borea speakers, which combine Scandinavian design elements with French flair, have a look that sets them apart from other similarly-priced speakers from other brands. Triangle’s more expensive speakers are also distinctively styled. And the company has hung its hat on the use of paper cones for its midrange and bass drivers, while its tweeters always have some interesting design wrinkle, such as the unique phase plug on the Borea speakers and the use of a compression chamber on other speaker designs.
What counts most, though, is the sound, and this is where Triangle has already made a positive impression on North American ears in the last couple of years. Diego Estan thought that the $2400-per-pair 40th Anniversary Comète was “a must-hear if you’re shopping at this price point,” but it was the BR03, which sells for $649 per pair, that bowled both of us over. Diego reviewed that speaker for sister site SoundStage! Access, and was so enthused that I brought the review pair to my house afterwards to hear them for myself. After listening to them, I wrote a follow-up article about them in my “System One” column, which is on this site.
Neither Diego nor I found the BR03 to be perfect, but what we heard from the pair ranged from good to outright spectacular—so spectacular, in fact, that I would’ve sworn that the sound was coming from speakers many times the price. Suffice it to say that the BR03 can punch way above its weight. Therefore, if you want to sample Triangle speakers, the BR03 is a great way to start. But if you have a higher budget, don’t be shy—the 40th Anniversary Comète is worth listening to, and I can imagine other models are, too.
Here at the SoundStage! Network, we’re certainly going to explore the brand further, probably when new speaker models are released—and I might even visit the company in France at some point if there’s a chance to learn more about how and why Triangle does what it does. What Dubouays told me, however, is that while Triangle’s factory is in France, it’s in the middle of nowhere. But, as I’ve said before, that won’t stop me. Plus, I like France—though it’s a trip probably better left until summer or fall.
When and where?
This recent trip to Montreal and its suburbs was my third jaunt since September. When it was over and I was heading home, I was sure there’d be a fourth trip in January—maybe even overseas again—and a story about it for publication in February. Then Omicron hit and put me, along with so many other people around the world, on hold again when it comes to travel plans. Yet I’m hopeful that Omicron will pass, not long after this article is published, and we’ll soon be able to travel globally once again. The moment that happens, I’ll do my best to visit another hi-fi company, wherever it might be, and report on what I find.
. . . Doug Schneider