SSI 2015, Saturday Afternoon
Steve spoke eloquently and entertainingly about all things computer audio, listing his most fervent recommendations (I believe he had just mentioned Quad-core processors when I took this shot), describing the pros and cons of locally-connected and network-connected DACs and storage devices (choice quote: "A local USB hard drive will push all its noise onto the USB bus, and you'll be asking the USB bus to work much harder than it needs to"), and performing comparisons between various products. Incidentally, according to Tidal's Director of Sales and Marketing, David Solomon, the service will soon begin streaming files with Meridian's MQA technology; after that, 24/96 and, ultimately, 24/192 streaming will be available from Tidal by the end of the year.
Next door to the St. Pierre, Simaudio demonstrated their brand-new Moon 280D, a 32-bit/DSD256 D/A converter that's priced at $CAD2200 on its own, or $CAD2800 when expanded with the MIND: Simaudio's Moon Integrated Network Device, which enables wireless streaming. Amplification was provided by a Moon 340i integrated amplifier ($CAD4700), which drove a pair of DALI Rubicon 6 loudspeakers ($CAD7000), with cabling by BIS Audio. The sound was finesmoothly detailed, with good color and textureand the user interface provided by the MIND's iPad app was pleasant to use, and seemed well laid-out.
At the Woo Audio display in the Frontenac Roomwhich is actually a sort of a conference room, with lots of comfortable seats around a very long tableI was met with a mildly overwhelming number and variety of products. So when I was approached by a very nice Woo rep, I told him, not unkindly: "I can't really photograph everything in this room: Please tell me which of these products is the most exciting." He did soand he was right: The soon-to-be-released Woo Audio WA-8 ($US1500, projected) is a battery-powered tube headphone amp, said tubes being Russian-military subminiatures. The WA-8 also includes a built-in USB DAC, and it offers the user the ability to switch between two-tube and three-tube operation. (The former conserves battery lifeand, in any event, sonic distinctions abound.) The WA-8 was solid and hefty, and appeared very well-madeand it sounded amazing colorful when playing a file of the Steinberg/Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra recording of Beethoven's Symphony 4.
Next to the Frontenac room is a slightly smaller demonstration area, formally referred to on the map as K5but informally and quite accurately referred to as underneath the escalator. This space was occupied by an apparently new loudspeaker company called ClaeCast, representatives of which were not on hand when I stopped byand so I was unable to learn much of anything about them. But their loudspeakers, which appeared to use a ribbon array for higher frequencies, sounded snappy and impactful and believableall the way from the downstairs entrance to the escalator! Perhaps consequently, the display did not lack for visitors, some of whom appear to have torn their garments, so vigorous was their search.
"I finally broke into the prison/I found my place in the chain," Leonard Cohen sang of an "old revolution," yet his words suit the shift in modern listening habits, from the social to the personalor at least they fit my attitude toward same. So be it: Headphones are the way of the world, and on Saturday afternoon I found myself in SSI's Personal Audio Zone, where headphone specialists showed their wares. I didn't bother revisiting those manufacturers whose headphones I'd already seen elsewhere in the show, but I did pay a visit to the booth sponsored by Audeze, which was as busy as Penn Station on a Friday evening. During a rare break in the lull, I photographed Audeze's energetic and extremely kind Tony Hamilton and Tasvee Uka, both of whom insisted on tidying-up the place before I clicked the shutter.
I learned a new word at SSI 2015: Arboform. That's the trade name for the German liquid-wood product from which are molded the earcups of the AudioQuest NightHawk headphones ($US599)the first such products from the cable specialists, due out later this year. Designed by polymath Skylar Gray, the NightHawks are a semi-open designthe cups' outer grillework, which is 3D-printed, is said to mimic the underlying structure of a butterfly's wing, in order to diffuse sound as the latter diffuses lightand an elastomer suspension, not unlike that of a shock-mounted microphone, connects each earcup to the headband structure.
Whether owing to the latter, or because of the NightHawk's notably soft, anatomically correct, protein-leather earpads, the new AudioQuest headphones were easily the most comfortable ever worn by this personal-audio cynic. And their sound, when driven by the Woo Audio headphone amplifier seen above ($US999), was rich and refined and, above all, clear. Extra points for the product name, which does, subtly and subconsciously, connote the idea that headphone use is best reserved for when everyone else is asleep.