Son Ideal demonstrated with the Harbeth P3ESR: a supremely musical loudspeaker in its own right, and one for which the Montreal dealer has shown a certain affinity over the years. At SSI the Harbeths were paired with brand-new Audiolab 8200 MB mono amplifiers (250W, $1099/each) and 8200 CDQ CD player/USB D/A converter ($1299), that venerable English brand having recently been revived by new owners. The 30-something fellow running the dem asked me to choose an LP from the good selection there, and I lighted upon a well-loved Neil Young album from the ‘70s. Then, while he cued that up, I found another Neil young faveand, after that, the first album by Crosby, Stills, and Nash. I broke from my reverie long enough to find myself on the receiving end of the sort of pitying look reserved for The Very Old.
On the evening of the first day of the show, John Atkinson, Art Dudley, and I attended a party at Coup de Foudre, one of Montreal's premier high-end audio retailers. There was much to admire there, not the least of which was listening to some of Peter McGrath’s hi-rez recordings on a system featuring VTL MB185 tube monoblocks driving Wilson Sashas and an Alpha DAC being fed USB data from Peter’s MacBook Pro via a Wavelength format converter.
What impressed me the most at the Coup de Foudre party was the recording studio that adjoins the retail store, operated by CdF's co-owner, Graeme Humfrey, who is also a much-in-demand recording engineer. His audio mixing room is filled to the brim with equipment, some of it the very latest, and some of it classics, such as multiple Pultec equalizers that are valued for their sound quality.
For the past three years or so, one of the highlights of SSI has been the concert by the Give Band, featuring singer Caroline St-Louis, who works by day as one of the Show’s blue-haired girls at the ticket desk. And so it was at SSI 2011. Last year, JA took some pictures at the concert with his point-and-shoot camera, but he was disappointed with the amount of blurring in his photos. This time, he had the same camera but brought a monopod to improve camera steadiness, and it worked. Here he is, showing his pictures to Caroline, and she's obviously pleased with the results.
Resident band at SSI is Give, featuring vocalist Caroline St-Louis and guitarist Stephen Ritch, who performed for trade and press attendees at the Awards party Thursday night. At the 2010 Show, SSI had their new CD available (a beautifully recorded album that proved that rock music doesn't have to be compressed to sound good); this year, the Show was selling a USB key of the Give Band's music.
Live music has always been a big feature of the SSI, and a treat this year for me was the pair of concerts presented by Cardas Audio featuring virtuoso electric bassist Dean Peer and drummer Bret Mann. It was hard to believe at times that there were just two musicians, such was the wall of sound being produced with tracks from Dean and Bret's Airborne album (now available on LP as well as CD and a 24/96 USB key). After the show I felt I had to count Dean's fingers, I was so sure there were more than five on each hand!
The Helium2 has long been one of Stereophile's long-term reference monitors, so I was expecting good sound when I went into the VMax Services room. And apart from the ubiquitous upper-bass boom that afflicted the standard-sized rooms at the Hilton Bonaventure, good sound was what I heard.
"Big sound, uncolored mids, very smooth highs" read my notes from the Lafleur room, scrawled on my pad while I listened to Muddy Waters' classic Folk Singer album. Canadian manufacturer Lafleur had made a big splash at the 2008 Montreal Show with the launch of its two-way X1 standmount and the company's 2011 room featured the X2 ($18,000/pair) driven by a Pathos hybrid integrated amplifier and a Clearaudio turntable.
The other system I auditioned in the Clarity room featured Nola Viper Reference speakers ($16,000/pair) driven by a Mimetism 7500 CD player and 7500 amplifier and with AC power conditioned, as it was for the YG/Jones system in the next story, by a Silver Circle Pure Power One isolation transformer (a Mikey Fremer fave).
Clarity Audio's large room featured three systems set up along three of the walls, one featuring Nola speakers, one featuring Eggleston speakers, and one featuring the YG Anat 2 Studio speakers seen in the photo. Connected to stylin' Jones 300W monoblocks ($24,000/pair) and a Jones Pre-S-1 preamplifier with Kubula-Sosna cable, the sound of a woman singing Sting's "Roxanne" and John Lennon's "Come Together," accompanied by double bass (Musica Nuda), was palpably real. However, although YG introduced a new version of the Anat at January's CES featuring machined aluminum cones, the speakers at SSI were the older Series 1 model.
The 2011 SSI was my first chance to see and hear the Limited Edition Les Paul Signature version of Thiel's well-received CS3.7 loudspeaker. The last complete design by the late Jim Thiel, the CS3.7 was favorably reviewed by Wes Phillips in December 2008. Wes concluded that he "loved, loved, loved the Thiel CS3.7!"
Venerable British audio manufacturer, Naim, has an almost-equally-venerable new Canadian distributor, Plurison. Headed by the genial Daniel Jacqueson the right in the photo, with Doug Graham, Naim's International Export Manager on the leftPlurison's list of distributed brands includes Focal, Mordaunt-Short, MartinLogan, Pathos, YBA, Micromega, and a host of others. It must put Jacques in a quandary when he has to decide what product to take home to listen to on the weekend!
Naim's line of Uniti network-enable music servers . . . er, renderers . . . er, digital music players, can be controlled by a uPnP app runing on iPads and iPhones. Doug Graham's iPad doesn't seem disturbed by his frantic handwaving as it hung in mid-air! New at the Show was the UnitiQute player, which combines a preamplifier with two analog inputs, five 24-bit/192kHz-capable digital inputs, a USB port, and WiFI and Ethernet network connections.
This looks like Jonathan Halpern, owner of the New York distribution firm Tone Imports, but it’s really the devil. Every time JA and I attempted to leave the Coup de Foudre room in which products by DeVore, Leben, EMT, Box Furniture, and Brinkmann were being demonstrated, the devil coaxed us to stay, just by playing one! more! song! We finally broke temptation’s chains and left to the strains of James Brown’s “Sex Machine”: JA and I had to literally back our way out of the room. Carefully.