So another SSI has come and gone. On the downside, the trade-only day was slow, a surprising number of SSI stalwartsLegacy, Luxman, Vivid, Reference 3a, Ocellia, AvantGarde, and Antique Sound Lab among themwere missing in action, and the blue-wig thing is getting kind of old. On the up side, there was good traffic on the consumer days, the food and drink were greateven on-site at the Hiltonand the Coup de Foudre party was a blast (thank you, Graeme, Jennifer, et al). I was genuinely impressed by several new products, especially the Michael Tang tonearm, AudioQuest Dragonfly USB DAC, LM Audio 211IA integrated amp, Audio Note DD 4.1x CD player, and Naim NDS two-box network player. And, best of all, it was good to see some old friends, many for the first time since SSI 2011. It was a busy, fun time, a sort of a four-day moment, and I congratulate organizers Michel Plante and Sarah Tremblay for succeeding once again.
On the morning of the last day of the show, I went around one more time, looking for anything that I might have missed, and re-visiting some exhibits that I particularly enjoyed. To this end, I stuck my head in the MBL room, hoping to get another listen to the small MBL126 speaker that had impressed me earlier. Alas, the speakers playing were the big ones, but Jeremy Bryan of MBL said that if I came back in 5 minutes, he would have a special listening treat for me.
The Light Harmonic DaVinci USB is perhaps the most unusual-looking DAC I've seen, with the top of the unit that can be rotated. It's a non-upsampling, non-oversampling, no-negative-feedback design, with up to 384kHz/32-bit capability. The DaVinci uses three transformers in the power supply: one for digital, one for analog, and one for USB and control. This looks like a very serious design, and the price is correspondingly serious $20,000.
Gala-Solo is a Canadian speaker company that intends their products to be suitable for both the pro and audiophile markets, the "M" that's part of each speaker model's name standing for both "Monitor" and "Music." The M3 ($3600/pair) is a two-way, three-driver system, using pro drivers. The 6.5" bass drivers from PHL France feature a patented "intercooler" process. The tweeter, pictured above, from Acoustics Beyma (Spain), has an aluminum diaphragm and voice-coil. Rated sensitivity is 94dB, and the maximum level is 116dB. It was pointed out to me that this maximum level specification is particularly important: some speakers may produce 94dB for a 1W output, but, unlike the M3, they won't play much louder than that without distorting.
ASW is a line of speakers imported to Canada from Germany by Tri-Cell, and was, for me, something of a find at SSI 2012. The speaker demonstrated was the Cantius 404 ($1950/pair), their entry-level floorstander. With an older-model Clearaudio turntable as source, and a Unico Secondo ($2000) hybrid integrated driving the speakers, the LP of Willie Nelson singing "Stardust" sounded sweetly musical, with excellent imaging.
Speaker manufacturers at audio shows often go to considerable trouble to make sure that their products sound good in the exhibiting rooms, but their efforts usually stop there. Totem is one of the few manufacturers that go beyond being concerned with sound quality; their exhibits are aimed at creating a total environment, in which the visual aspect is as important as the auditory. This was the case at SSI 2012, as you can see in the picture. The speakers included two Element Metals for the front, one Element Wood for center channel, two Tribe 5s for the rear, and two Storm subs.
Headed by the irrepressible Angie Lisi, Audio Pathways is the importer for some ultra-high-end gear as well as affordably-priced audio products, and usually has some new interesting goodies at every show. At $47,000, the new VAC Statement 250 stereo amp is right up there, but if the 225Wpc is not enough for you, it can be bridged to produce 450W. The Statement 250 is a two-piece affair, and is meant to be stacked, with the power supply on the bottom, isolated from the top piece with bearings (which reminds me of the Aurios accessory bearings that were very good but unfortunately are no longer available).
As you can see in the picture, Angie loves Jeff Rowland Design Group products, such as the Aeris DAC/preamp ($12,000), which made its debut at SSI 2012. The Aeris features a substantial external power supply, and has the usual array of inputs, including the now-mandatory USB.
Grant Fidelity's sign says "No Retail Mark-Up, Free Shipping, 1st Class Service," and "High End, Not High Prices." The products, as you might have guessed, are made in China, but what else is new? At previous shows, most of their products had the Grant Fidelity brand name; this time, it was Opera Audio Consonance. The pictured Consonance LP12.1 Die Walküre turntable can accommodate three tonearms, and, with a single W/T1288 tonearm, sells for $3200. That's not super-cheapwhich actually gives me more confidence in the quality of the product. I was told that the turntable and arm are made in the same factory that manufactures the latest version of the Well Tempered turntable/tonearm.
This year's SSI included a Canada Pavilion exhibit, honoring Canadian manufacturers of audio products. One of these was Simaudio. This was my first chance to get a close look at the Signature version of their 600i 125Wpc integrated amp. It's $14,200 in ultra-shiny gold finish that's a photographer's nightmare. I mentioned to Simaudio's Lionel Goodfield my difficulty in getting a decent photo of the 600i Signature, and he said that it took their professional product photographer several hours of fiddling with various lighting accessories to get a product picture that they could use. That made me feel better.
Another interesting product featured in the Canada Pavilion was the exaSound e18DAC ($1999). It is, as the name implies, a DAC, but it's much more than that. Featuring a maximum 384kHz/32-bit sample rate and bit depth, it can function in stereo and 8-channel modes, and has a formidable list of technical specifications, including a 0.13ps master clock with 3 precision quartz oscillators, 17 power filtering stages, galvanic isolation between the USB subsystem and the DAC circuits, true asynchronous USB interface, hardware volume control implemented by the DAC chip for the highest S/N ratio, and has a high-quality headphone amplifier.
This Devialet D-Premier D/A integrated amplifier seemed to be flashing its own price: $16.5k, for which the lucky owner gets 240Wpc, sleek styling, and a great deal of up-to-date technology, including 192/24 WiFi capability. I had hoped to learn more about the D-Premier (and the impressive Focal loudspeakers it was driving), but the pleasant young fellow who was running the booth couldn't make himself understood over the very loud playback levelsand the latter finally drove me from the room. John Atkinson will be reviewing the Devialet D-Premier, which he says combines a highly linear class-A amplifier with a class-D output stage in a topology somewhat similar to the late Peter Walker's "current dumping" circuit, in a summer issue of Stereophile.
More real-world-priced, making its Canadian debut at SSI 2012, was another Audio Pathways import, the Bel Canto C7R receiver ($3300). Yes, that's right, a receiveralthough it doesn't look like any receiver I've seen. Based on the C5i integrated amp ($2250), which has digital as well as analog inputs and a phono stage, the C7R adds an FM tuner to the package. And while it may seem a bit steep to pay an extra $1050 to get an FM tuner, the tuner itself is a high-end design, and the C7R includes several refinements compared to the C5i.
A tonic for the homesick: I entered the Audio Note room and saw, in the far corners, a pair of their reliable AN-E Spe/HE loudspeakers ($9000/pair): the very speakers I own and love. (This pair was veneered in a strikingly grained raw rosewood, while mine are done up in glossy yew.) There, too, was the brand new Audio Note CD 4.1x CD player ($12,000), my review sample of which arrived at my home on the very day I left for Montreal (this according to my wife). The sound in this room was so extraordinarily goodwith especially fine bass reach and dramathat I feel compelled to tweak, slightly, the positions of my own AN-Es when I get home.
Tim Ryan of SimpliFi Audio demonstrated the always-enjoyable Gradient Helsinki loudspeaker ($6000/pair) in tandem with Gradient's SWS dipole bass speakers (also $6000/pair, outboard crossover included), to excellent effect. Ryan says the SWS, to whose development the late Peter Walker contributed, also works a treat with the Harbeth P3 and other smallish speakers from that line. (That's exactly how he said it, too.)