SSI 2015, Friday Evening
I've never been wild about "Hotel California," which is one of those chestnuts that's overplayed in both the audiophile and non-audiophile universesyet the three-way, reportedly easy-to-drive Gershman Grande Avant Garde loudspeaker found the song's refresh button, revealing lots of nuance in the guitar playing and the vocal harmonies, without being too hi-fi about it. (I'm sure the use of the always-recommendable Naim CD5 CD player didn't hurt at all.)
I heard it from none other than Keith Pray, the publisher of Stereophile: "Have you been to the Audio Note room yet? That system sounds amazing!" Having purchased a number of Audio Note products for my own enjoyment, I'm no stranger to the brand's distinctively involving playback styleyet even I was mildly surprised at the realism of the music being made by the moderately priced system that was assembled and presented by the company's Dave Cope. In addition to a vintage Stellavox tape deck owned and modified by designer Charlie King, the system comprised Audio Note's CDT One/II transport ($US4100), DAC2.1x Signature ($US5500), P2SE Signature integrated amp ($US6000), and AN-J/D loudspeakers with hemp woofers ($US4000/pair), plus various Audio Note cables and AC cords. At one point during a (non-audiophile) recording, the sheer scale, presence, and weight of a string bass drew a scarcely audible gasp from some people in the very crowded room.
In writing about the distinctive-looking products of Tri-Art Audio, all of which are made with sustainable-yield bamboo, and all of whose model names include either the words Pebbles or Bam Bamnot the cultural reference you might expect, but that's a story for another dayI scarcely know where to begin: Their combination of open-baffle loudspeakers, battery-powered class-D amps, and record player with bamboo plinth, bamboo tonearm, and bamboo platter impressed the heck out of me. The watchword was detail, but detail without brightness or artificeand this system's spatial performance was remarkable: Even while sitting almost directly in front of one Tri-Art Bam Bam 5-Open loudspeaker ($CAD3400/pair), I heard exceptional depth-of-field, not to mention great touch, impact, and openness.
And the remarkable Bam Bam TA-2 12" tonearm ($CAD675), enjoyed with a good, God-fearing Denon 103 cartridge, must be seen to be believed. I really enjoyed the Tri-Art sound, howsoever different it was from my usual preferences, and the stuff is dirt-cheap for what it is.
Let's not beat around the bush: Sony went all-out on this show, with exhibits spanning three different upstairs rooms (one of which was a suite); a downstairs ballroom; a booth in the show's Personal Audio Zone, and the main-floor Le Portage hall. (The latter is the space that used to be occupied by May Audio Marketing, who skipped SSI for the first time in recorded history.) Not all were on my beat, but I did enjoy the sound of a Sony high-resolution system that was built around the company's recent SS-NA2ES loudspeaker ($CAD11,000/pair). A particularly well-informed Sony rep explained that the NA2ES is the baby brother of the SS-AR2 loudspeaker reviewed in our pages by John Atkinson, but "It's more tuned to hi-res listening." (JA reviewed the NA2-ES in September 2013. Perhaps most distinctive is the new model's three-tweeter "I-Array," in which treble drivers with subtly different characteristics from one another are combined to ensure good dispersion and detail.
This demo also marked my first experience of the Sony HAP-Z1ES file player ($CAD2000), which was reviewed for Stereophile by Kal Rubinson; both the front-panel user interface and the standard app were very much to my liking.