Canada's D2MK Solutions exhibited the interesting new Waterfall Victoria ($6000/pair), a two-way dynamic loudspeaker from France that features an all-glass enclosure. Supporting electronics included the Cary Audio SA2002 solid-state amplifier ($3995), Cary SLP05 preamp (5$8500), and Cary Xciter D/A converter ($1500), the latter playing music files from a laptop computer.
The ever-enthusiastic Mike Tang, of Mike Tang Audio, had a system to warm the hearts of anachrophiles: Thorens TD124 with custom tonearm to match the Decca cartridge, Meridian MCD CD player (no modifications), Marantz 7C tube preamp, with the new parts of the system consisting of a Feastrex CV4055 power amp (8W, $5500), and Feastrex NF5 driver ($4500/pair, $7000 installed in a custom cabinet.
Designer, manufacturer, and vintage audio maven Michael Tang brought so many cool things to SSI, I scarcely knew where to begin. The most compelling of all may have been his new Michael Tang Audio APS tonearm ($900), seen here with a vintage Thorens TD 124 turntable and Decca pickup head from his collection, along with his own custom-manufactured hardwood tonearm board. (Yes, I bought one of the latter while I was there.) The reach of the MTA arm may be limited, however: Its distinctive pickup connector is compatible only with obsolete Decca heads. Still...!
Another product imported by Mike Tang is the Carot One ($399, $370 tax-in show price), which can be used as an integrated amp, preamp, power amp (6Wpc), or headphone amp. It uses a single 6922 tube, with a class-D output section. It's so cute that you want to buy one whether you need it or not. It's pictured here, with my iPhone included to provide a sense of scale.
"The World's First Audiophile Case for the iPhone 4S/4," said the sign. I was intrigued. What does being an audiophile have to do with the choice of iPhone case? It turns out that this case is claimed to improve the sound of music played back from an iPhone through earphones. A collaboration between a company named Divoti and Gutwire, well-known for their affordably-priced cables, the case is made of pure titanium, with some germanium dots in the back. It sells for $180. I asked how titanium and germanium was supposed to improve sound, and was told that it had something to do with negative ions being generated, counteracting the positive ions that are supposedly generated by electronic devices like an iPhone.
The Rogue Hydra is a 100Wpc amplifier that combines a tube input with a class-D output section (using only the module's MOSFET output, bypassing the rest), with about 2dB of negative feedback. If Rogue is lucky, then this will appeal to both audiophiles that are tube fans and those that are fans of modern digital technology. If they're not lucky, then tube fans will reject it because it includes the evil of digital, and digital fans will reject it because it includes technology that they regard as obsolete. Ultimately, it's the sound that mattersand, according to Rogue's Mark O'Brien, it's an effective combination of the tube sound with the power of solid-state.
A sign that says "Warning! Extreme Lifelike Sound Levels" is like waving a red cape in front of a bull. Who would be dissuaded from entering a demo room just because you're going to encounter lifelike sound levels? Not me! And are they overstating how loud a sound they're talking about?
Two venerable British makeswho share a North American distributor and neither one content to rest on their laurelsteamed up at SSI 2012, the Tannoy Definition DC8T ($6200/pair) being combined with the Linn Akurate DSM digital streamer ($9200) and Linn Akurate 2200 integrated amp ($6000) to produce a very clean, dynamic sound.
Every hi-fi show seems to harbor a few restful rooms where the music is well selected and the playback quality is serenely good; at SSI, the exhibit space shared by Scandinavian manufacturers Hegel and Amphion served that purpose for me. (The white fabric walls probably added to the sense of calm.) The Amphion Argon7 L loudspeakers ($6k$7k/pair, depending on finish) sounded clear, smooth, and altogether lovely with Hegel amplification and digital source components.
One of the many rooms sponsored by Montreal retailer Coup de Foudre was dedicated to the new DeVore Fidelity Gibbon 88 loudspeaker ($5000/pair), which replaces the Super 8 in DeVore's line. The 88 uses an entirely new woofer, which designer John DeVore says was influenced by the recent work he did on the DeVore Orangutan model; technical distinctions include a paper (instead of plastic) cone and a larger motor overall than its predecessor, with double the voice-coil travel. Consequently, sensitivity is up in the Gibbon 88, to approximately 91dB.
The curiously named Line Magnetic company of China has begun making a series of relatively affordable tube electronics, all hand-wired, and all with styling details that recall classic products from the first half of the 20th Century. LM's model 211IA integrated amplifier ($1650) was used to drive the new Gibbon 88s from DeVore Fidelity. Each channel of the amp produces 32Wpc from a pair of EL34s running in Ultralinear modethe 211IA can also be switched to triode operationwith all-tube preamp and driver stages and a silicon-rectified power supply.
I've been an admirer of MBL's omnidirectional speakers, the latest 101E Mk.II reviewed by Michael Fremer in the April 2012, issue. These were demoed at SSI 2012, and sounded great, as always. While certainly an impressive illustration of the art and science of speaker design, for me, the 101E Mk.II, being priced at about $70k/pair, is a speaker that I just can't relate tothe audio equivalent of a Lamborghini.
What I found exciting at SSI was MBL's new entry-level "baby" speaker, the MBL126. With a new radial midrange driver and tweeter, and two 5" "push-push" drivers, with MBL's less-expensive electronics, the pair of MBL126s at the show had much the same sort of open, non-listener-position-dependent sound that characterizes it senior siblingsand the price is a relatively-affordable $11,800/pair.
Long-time audiophile and Bryston's VP of Sales, James Tanner, has turned his hand to speaker design, and the result, now in advanced prototype form, was introduced at SSI 2012. Dubbed the Model T (the initial of his last name, and because it will come in any color as long as it's black), this is a tall floorstander, with custom drivers made by Canadian speaker manufacturer, Axiom, and features Bryston's BDX-1 digital crossover. The DSP controls of the BDX-1 allow correction of both phase and frequency response; the latter is said to be 17Hz25kHz, ±¼dB. Tanner told me that he's not entirely happy with the performance of one of the drivers, which is being revised to have a "quicker" response. The Model T is a sealed-box system, with a sensitivity of 93dB. The projected price, including the BDX-1 digital crossover, is $10k/pair.
One of the more controversial products at this year's SSI was the demo of "Axial Triphonic Speakers" by Lys Audio. According to company president Jacques Gérin-Lajois (given a running translation from French by one of his associates), this is based on a patent that was obtained 65 years ago, but has not been put into practice until now. As I understand it, it involves starting with a monophonic source, obtained by summing the stereo channels (or multiple channels), and then splitting the mono signal into bass, midrange, and treble, sending these to the appropriate speakers. Depending on the impedances, you can use just one amp to drive all three speakers, or (as was the case with the SSI demo), one amp for the midrange and treble, and another for the bass.
I was delighted by the sound being made by Montreal dealer Audiophoniepartly, I admit, because they were demonstrating an all-new version of the venerable Spendor SP100, now in R2 form ($11,900/pair), an earlier version of which I owned and loved for years. Its tone, touch, spatial presentation, and vibe were all just about perfect. I will begyes, begfor the opportunity to write about the Spendor in the months to come.