It was a really good show. That was the opinion of the people I spoke to at the 2011 SSI, including veteran as well as first-time exhibitors, and members of the public. Even the Trade Day, which in the past was not very popular, was busy enough that it felt like it almost could have been one of the public days. The Lifetime Achievement Awards ceremony was extremely well-attended, as the above photo illustrates. There was a kind of back-to-the-basics feel to the show, with a strong emphasis on music presented in two-channel stereo, and almost nothing in the way of surround sound. (Sorry, Kal!)
I was never happier to be an audiophile than when my train stopped at the US/Canada border on my way home. The customs officers who boarded our train were quite serious-minded, and as I waited in my seat I heard them grill other passengers regarding the precise nature of the Canadian goods they harbored. When it came my turn, a surly-something man in a black uniform examined my Customs Declaration, saw that I was bringing some new LPs into the US, and broke into a friendly smile: “What vinyl did you get?” We chatted amiably for a moment about old Quads and Garrard 301s before he went on to crack other skulls than mine. (Just kidding. In fact ours was the rare trainin my experience, at leastfrom which no passengers needed to be removed for lack of a passport.)
My best sound at the 2011 SSI? No doubt about it, it was the late Leonard Shure performing Beethoven's Op.109 Piano Sonata courtesy of the immense VTL Siegfried tubed monoblocks driving even more immense Wilson Alexandria X2 loudspeaker via Transparent Audio cables in Coup de Foudre's large room on the Hilton Bonaventure's mezzanine floor. This was the last room I visited at SSI and provided a fitting climax to what had been a great Show.
Let’s get right to it: The Coup de Foudre system comprising DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/96 loudspeakers ($12,000/pair), Leben CS300XS integrated amplifier ($3795) and RS30EQ phono preamp ($2795), Hommage T2 phono transformer ($4995), EMT TSD-15 phono cartridge ($1800), Brinkmann Bardo I turntable with Origin Live Encounter arm ($7990 and $2000, respectively), and Box Furniture 3S3 stand ($2300) was nothing less than wonderful: easily in the show’s Top Five, and quite possibly the best of the bunch. The star was the latest pre-production iteration of the O/96, a 96dB sensitive (geddit?) loudspeaker that uses a 10" paper-cone woofer and a 1" silk-dome tweeter in a wide-faced (geddit?) box with a birch-ply baffle and MDF everything else. Their presentation was solid, substantial, rich, and colorful, with great touch, timing, and, above all, dynamics. Flesh and blood? The system was like a day at the butcher shopbut everyone was smiling, and there were no straw boaters.
The trouble with audio showsapart from the cheap call girls and the occasional gangland-style executionis the fact that, even in nice hotels, the smallest rooms tend to sound like crap. So it was at the Hilton Bonaventure, where acoustical challenges plagued no exhibitor more than Audio Note. Their excellent AN-E loudspeakera pair of which I own and loverequires that both units in a stereo pair are sited close to their respective corners. That proved impossible at the Hilton, but Audio Note’s Dave Cope compensated brilliantly and made a fine sound nonetheless with a pair of AN-E Lexus Signatures in striking maple veneer ($15,200/pair), photographed here by JA and driven by the Jinro integrated amplifier that I reviewed in the March 2011 issue of Stereophile.
On Sunday at 2pm, John Atkinson gave an illustrated talk entitled "How to measure loudspeakers and what the measurements mean." The scheduling was not ideal, just three hours before the show's closing, and the door to the meeting room where the talk was held was locked, and could be opened only from the inside or with a special card, which was not provided. As a result, attendance at the talk was not as great as it might have been, but the people who were there listened with rapt attention. One person told me afterwards that he has a book on loudspeaker measurement that he's had difficulty understanding, but, having heard JA's presentation, it made much more sense to him. Other than the specifics of how loudspeakers are measured, I thought the most interesting part of JA's presentation was . . .
Master recordist Rene LaFlamme of Fidelio Records marked the release of his first LPa remastering of Melanie Barney’s and the Buzz Brass Ensemble’s colorful recording of Holt’s The Planetsby adding to his demonstration system an interesting new turntable called the Kronos. Designed and manufactured in Montreal by Louis Desjardins and photographed here by JA, the Kronos is described as the first commercial turntable to use both a fully sprung suspension and a system of twin counter-rotating platters. (The perpetually fascinating 47 Laboratory 4724 Koma turntable, reviewed in Stereophile by Michael Fremer, pioneered the latter but lacked the former.)
MBL has had some changes in its North American distribution the past couple of years, but now has its own US subsidiary run by the affable Jeremy Bryan, an industry veteran. I have always loved the treble quality of the Berlin-based company's omnidirectional high-frequency "RadialStrahler" drive-units, and the Mk.2 version of the 101 speaker was sounding excellent at SSI, driven by two gigantic 9011 monoblock amplifiers (about to be reviewed by Michael Fremer), a 6010D preamp, a 1621A CD transport, and a 1611F D/A converter. Cabling was all Wireworld Eclipse.
This relatively modest-looking system in yet another Son-or-Filtronique room at SSI produced some superb sound. The Vienna Acoustics Mozart Grand Symphony Edition speakers ($3500/pair) were being driven by an Ayre AX-7e integrated amplifier ($3500), with the source an Ayre DX-5 universal player being used as a DAC for USB data fed from Amarra running on a MacBook Pro. The USB data connection was AudioQuest's inexpensive Carbon and one AC cable and the speaker cable was by Shunyata. There was also a single Nordost Odin AC cable. If you consider that the Ayre player was being used to provide the same functionality as a $2500 Ayre QB-9, it could be argued that this single AC cable cost as much as the rest of the system together. "It gives an improvement in sound quality and that's justification enough," answered Vienna's Kevin Wolff when I queried him about the system's price balance with the Nordost.
One of my favorite sounding rooms at SSI was the large suite featuring Verity Sarastro II speakers, the new Nagra 300B stereo amplifier that made its debut at the 2011 CES and a Nagra PLL preamp, with a Nagra CDP CD player and Nagra VI solid-state digital recorder being used for the front-end, all hooked up with Nordost Valhalla cables. The sound of a Jordi Savall ensemble performance of Vivaldi Oboe Concerto, played back on the Nagra VI with 24/48 resolution, was lifelike and easy on the ear, but without sounding either mellow or laidback. perhaps the sound was a little congested on the climaxes with larger-scale music, but this was one of the bigger rooms at the Hilton Bonaventure and the amplifier is limited to 20Wpc.
Here's a glamor shot of the Nagra 300B stereo amplifier in the Verity-Nagra room, this sample being one of the first production units. The integrated features four 300B output tubestwo each per channel in push-pulland will put out 20Wpc.
I had to make several attempts to visit the Son-or-Filtronique room featuring Sonus Faber's new Amati Futura speakers ($34,000/pair), but the line of would-be listeners patiently waiting outside the room was daunting. The Futuras were launched at last January's CES but not being demmed; at SSI, they were being driven by a Boulder 2060 amplifier, with a dCS Scarlatti and Boulder 1021 used as digital sources.
The impressive sound of the Focal Maestro Utopia III speakers in one of the SSI rooms being run by retailer Son-or-Filtronique was familiar from my July 2010 review but the small amplifier driving them via Crystal speaker cables was not. It was the Micromega AS-400 integrated amplifier ($4995), which Art Dudley will be reviewing in the July 2011 issue Stereophile. As well as the usual analog inputs, the AS-400 accepts WiFi audio data via a new version of the French company's Airstream module and uses a high-quality D/A section using Cirrus Logic DAC chips.
I knew which was Joseph Audio's room without consulting the Show Guidethe sound of Louis Armstrong singing "St. James Infirmary," which has long been one of Jeff Joseph's dem staples, was audible along the corridor. Jeff's system featured the [Perspective] loudspeakers ($11,800/pair), powered by a Simaudio Moon 600i integrated amplifier with a Moon 650D player being fed USB data from Jeff's MacBook Pro. Wiring was all Cardas.
Show organizer Michel Plante (left) announced on the Show's trade day that SSI would feature a silent auction for a pair of loudspeakers that had been donated by Totem and transformed into works of art by Quebec artists Zïlon and Éric Godin. The proceeds of the auction would benefit the new Dédé Fortin Foundation, named after a popular singer who committed suicide.One of the foundation's goals is to eradicate the stigma of mental illness so that people suffering from severe depression will seek treatment rather than take their own lives.