Are there too many audio shows? With the Chicago AXPONA having been held two weeks ago, the Montreal SSI having just concluded, and the New York Audio Show coming up in what their website currently indicates is 16 days, 21 hours, 51 minutes, and 9 seconds away, people are starting to wonder whether we're getting an overload on audio shows. This is a sentiment that I've heard expressed by manufacturers and distributorsand, from the business point of view, their concerns are well founded. Participating in shows is an expensive endeavor, and the benefits in terms of additional business, while real, are difficult to measure.
One of the by-invitation-only events of SSI is the party held by Montreal high-end retailer Coup de Foudrethe invitees being personnel of their suppliers and the media. This year's CDF party followed their usual formula of good food and drink and genial hosting by Graeme Humfrey and Jennifer Cytrynbaum. Who are the people in this picture? OK, I'll start naming the ones I know. That's Gerard Rejskind of UHF Magazine in the approximate center, next to the right (Gerard's left), Philip O'Hanlon of On A Higher Note, and the tall fellow with the scarf is John DeVore of DeVore Fidelity. Do you know any others?
One of the most memorable musical events of SSI 2013 was the "live-plus-recorded" mini-concert by cellist Vincent Bélanger, presented by MBL. There were several of these every day of the show; Art Dudley wrote about it in an earlier blog posting. I had attended one of these events last year, and ended up playing the celloafter a fashion. This time the special guest was Stereophile publisher Keith Pray, and, as you can see in the picture, he had a great time.
The English translation of the French word image in Salon Son & Image is "picture," or, well, "image." But it's been an open secret for some time that the show is much stronger on the son (sound) than on the image. I saw just one projection video setup at SSI 2013, and there were a few LCD/LED monitors, but no one seemed to pay much attention to them. However, SSI managed to enlist as an exhibitor Photo Service, a major camera store, which offers a wide range of products related to photography. This worked out extremely well for all concerned.
As discussed in an earlier blog posting by Art Dudley, one of the innovations of SSI 2013 was the Personal Audio Zone, staffed by SSI, where show attendees could listen to 150 different pairs of headphones, and was hoped to attract younger listeners to the show. I made two visits to the Personal Audio Zone: on the first visit, the place was nearly empty, so I recruited SSI staff member Catherine P. Lauzon to act as model for a photo.
Kudos Audio is a line of British speakers designed by Derek Gilligan, formerly of NEAT, which uses custom drivers made for them by SEAS. The one demoed at SSI 2013 was the X2 ($2900/pair), a modestly-sized floorstander, in a system that included a Mimetism 15.2 integrated ($6690). The source was a CD in a laptopnot conforming to audiophile ideals, but the sound did not seem to suffer from it.
French manufacturer YBA has kept a low profile for several years now, but the brand has been re-launched, with Yves-Bernard André still in charge of design. The reference line products are made in France, but the production of the other YBA products is in Asia. I know that production of YBA's affordable Audio Refinement had problems with that arrangement, but they've apparently learned their lesson, and the new production will have much greater control effected by Yves-Bernard himself. The Passion 650 amplifier ($6999), shown in the photo, was on static display.
Located in Kelowna, British Columbia, Resonessence Labs is the maker of the Invicta ($4000) described as a "technically excellent, audibly superior, Next Generation DAC." I can't comment on all these claims, but the Invicta is clearly a highly versatile device, with a wide assortment of inputs, including an SD card reader (FLAC, AIFF, and WAV on SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards), HDMI video output to show playlists on a TV monitor, and no fewer than seven digital filter options.
Audio Note has long been a believer in high-torque turntables, having brought to market a number of belt-drive designs that use multiple motors (à la the original Voyd). One of the less expensive such models in their line, the twin-motor TT Two ($3500), has now been upgraded, with a plinth made from the same veneered Russian-birch plywood as the company's well-regarded loudspeakers. (The sample here is in Rosewood.) And external power supply ($2400) is also available, either at the time of initial purchase or as a subsequent upgrade, providing greater electronic stability and easy speed selection. Seen with the TT Two are the Arm Three V2 captured-unipivot tonearm ($2000) and an Audio Note Io-I moving-coil cartridge ($4100)which, for SSI, drove an S4L silver-wired transformer ($6200).
I finally got to hear a mono system at SSI, but not in the manner that I or the exhibitor might have wanted. Halfway through the show, Audio Note's Dave Cope suffered the loss of one Empress Silver monoblock amplifier ($10,000/pair), apparently owing to an AC power surge. The Empress Silver, seen here alongside the outlet of infamyand a coil of Audio Note's new Isis LX 168 copper-Litz speaker cableis a new single-ended mono design with a 5U4G rectifier tube, a 6SN7 input tube, and parallel 2A3 triodes, for a total of 8Wpc. This was a disappointingly bad break for a company that has, in the past, won more than its share of Most Enjoyable System of the Show awardsalthough I must say that a mono recording of Count Basie's "88 Basie Street" was nonetheless fine when played through the surviving channel.
Recalling my very positive experience with the same company's AS-400 digital playback source/integrated amplifier, I found myelf attracted to the Micromega MyDAC ($399), a recently introduced asynchronous USB converter offering 24/192 performance and a color choice of black or, as seen above, Apple white.
"Women in Audio" was the title of the panel discussion, the panel consisting of four women of varied backgrounds who have been in the audio business for some time (left to right): Anna Popova (Conceptas cables), Agata Mossop (Lenbrook Industries), Gabi van der Kliej-Rijnveld (Crystal and Siltech cables), and Angie Lisi (American Sound and Angie's Audio Corner retailers, and AudioPathways, distributor). The lively discussion covered a variety of topics, including whether male customers tend to "test" female sales staff on their technical knowledge (the answer: yes, but if you know your stuff they will respect you), and how to attract more women to participate in the audiophile hobby (the incorporation of music into a couple's or family's lifestyle had broad support).
When Bryston's Model T speaker was introduced at SSI 2012, it was in the form of a prototype, on passive display. From a comment that I've seen by James Tanner (who headed up the design team for the Model T), at one point it was not clear whether this was going to be a commercial product or just a personal reference. But now it's full steam ahead for a line of Bryston speakers. Model T is available in three versions: the basic passive model, $6495/piar, the Model T Signature (outboard passive crossover, with custom-made air-core chokes and proprietary film capacitors, $7495/pair), and an active version ($9495/pair, requires six channels of amplification, not included). Other speakers in the line are the Middle T ($4600/pair), mini t, as well as home-theater-oriented speakers, a sub, and in-wall and on-wall speakers. Most of these are available now, and others are slated for shipping in May and a few in Q3. Bryston is definitely serious about their speaker line.
What with CES a little more than two months ago, and the Chicago AXPONA show just two weeks ago, it was difficult for SSI 2013 to claim new product introductions. Typically, the most they could claim was "First time in Canada." But there was at least one product introduction that was billed as World Premiere: the Arteluthe Satie, the entry-level speaker in the company's AirForce line, made entirely in Montreal. It's a fully active design, with two built-in 175W amplifiers in each speaker, no passive elements in the signal path, high sensitivity, and claimed 30Hz20kHz bandwidth. All this technology, and only $7999/pair. There are two other speakers in the line: the Alegria and the Kantante, both fully active, with a top price of $15,000. The photo shows designer Robert Gaboury.