Attention Screen is the band that includes Stereophile's own Bob Reina on piano, Chris Jones on bass, Don Fiorino on various string instruments, and Mark Flynn on drums. (Their recent CD, Live at Merkin Hall, recorded by John Atkinson, is available from Stereophile.) They gave a concert at FSI, and although the attendance could have been better—publicity for the music events at the show was rather sparse—it was clear that those in the audience were enraptured with Attention Screen's intense, almost entirely improvisational brand of jazz.
At the "Ask the Editors" session on Saturday afternoon, Stereophile editor John Atkinson asked each of us on the panel—John Marks, Wes Phillips, and myself—what systems featuring low-priced equipment particularly impressed us at the show. There were actually several such systems that I could have named—but the one that first came to mind was the system based on the Rogue Cronus tube-based integrated amp ($1750, 55Wpc, includes a phono stage and headphone amplifier, with PSB Alpha B1 speakers ($279/pair). A nice, well-balanced sound, very easy on the ears. Mind you, they had an Oracle turntable as the front end, which might be classified as cheating, but, hey, it's an audio show.
Both examples of the Verity Sarastro IIs ($40,000/pair) that I heard at FSI sounded amazing. I say this with some surprise, since I was never entirely comfortable with the original Sarastro. Go figure, new and improved.
Emanuel Lafleur had a pair of his $8000/pair (estimated final price) stand-mounted two-way X1 monitors set up in the press room. Great for reaching the press, not so great for good sound, since the press room was dominated by a huge roundtable right where the sweet spot would have been. Nevertheless, the X2s sounded impressive enough that both John Marks and I were captivated.
FSI has a very high percentage of good-sounding rooms, compared to most audio shows. True, the smaller hotel-roomed sized rooms above the concourse levels, all had a hooty 150Hz coloration, but that just meant that, when an exhibitor successfully dealt with it—as did Ken Rasmussen of Neeper—those rooms really stood out.
There were lots of turntables at the show, but the one that intrigued me the most was the Calibre Mk.101, from Audio Excellence, the Toronto-area dealer, which is making its first foray into the turntable business. The Calibre Mk.101 has a with a marble plinth, 1.5" thick acrylic platter, AC motor with speed regulation, high-quality polished bearing, and looks elegant without being ostentatious. The price of $1999 includes a good-quality arm, with further arm upgrades available. Audio Excellences stated aim in introducing the Calibre Mk.101 is "the best reproduction of records at the lowest price possible—making turntables we would own."
Conventional audio marketing wisdom has it that any new company with a single product, selling at a high price, will have a really rough time establishing distribution and picking up dealers. But this apparently did not deter Kim Neeper Rasmussen. The Neeper Perfection One is a two-and-a-half way floorstander of modest size, with a 1.5" ScanSpeak ring-radiator tweeter and two 5.5" custom ScanSpeak midrange/bass units, each speaker weighing 30kg (66 lbs). A major feature of the design is that the cabinet walls are all non-parallel to each other, an approach to resonance-control that Rasmussen considers to be vastly superior to the use of damping materials. The speakers are made in Denmark, and are priced at $20,000/pair.
I've heard demonstrations of Lyngdorf's digital room correction components before, and had been impressed by it, but never as much as at the demo held at this year's FSI. Adrian Low, whose Toronto store, Audio Excellence, is a dealer for Lyngdorf, played a recording of a male voice that was so bloated in the midbass as to be virtually unlistenable. That was with the Lyngdorf room correction bypassed. The sound was totally transformed when the room correction circuitry was engaged: the midbass boom, endemic to the smaller rooms on the Sheraton's upper floors, was gone, and while it was still clear that the performer was too close to the mike, producing the proximity effect that's a well-known consequence of this sort of miking, it sounded much more natural.
dCS is known for its superb-sounding but stratospherically-priced digital source components—prices in the $50k+ range for a transport/DAC combination. While their new Puccini one-box CD/SACD player won't be a candidate for Budget Component of the Year, its $22,000 price represents low end for dCS. But don't start spending all the money you've saved by buying the Puccini rather than the more expensive dCS offerings: there is a matching external clock component upgrade that will be available in the near future. No price has been determined yet, but you can be sure that it will not be in three figures.
It's been said often enough to be considered as a truism that FSI is an occasion for snow: at the show's opening, during the show, or at least when the show is closing. But it looked like this year was going to be an exception; the weather forecast for the three days of the show called for temperatures well above freezing, with rain on Friday.
What does this photo of the bar in the Sheraton illustrate? Well, I could say that it provides further confirmation of the fact that it snowed in Montreal. But the real reason is that I just like this shot, taken with the Sigma 15mm fisheye on the Canon 5D, and thought that audiophiles that are also into photography (and there are many such in my acquaintance) might enjoy seeing it.
Wadia was showing its almost ready-to-ship CD/SACD player, the $15,000 781. (A 781i with digital inputs and outputs is also in the works.) The 781 uses two signal processors feeding a programmable gate array and the company's proprietary DigiMaster 2.5 upsampling software. This, Wadia claims, results in a data rate of 1.4112 million samples per second. The 781 also sports Clocklink jitter reduction for both CD and SACD.
What's an audio show without a party? Sponsored by Stereophile, the party on the first day of the show was for the exhibitors, trade visitors, and the press, and featured the Quebec rock group Give, with lead singer Caroline St. Louis.
The first evening of the show, I had a most pleasant dinner with John Atkinson, Stereophile associate publisher Keith Pray, columnist John Marks, and the folks from Dynaudio and Simaudio. During the pre-dinner conversation, John Marks illustrated a point he was making by singing a bit, ably demonstrating his ex-choirboy credentials. His performance was apparently noticed by the people at the next table; at the end of the meal, one of the ladies at that table came over to us and said that this was her friend's birthday, and asked if the gentleman who was singing before could sing "Happy Birthday" to her.