Leema Acoustics’ Mark Perfect dwarfs the little Leema Xero ($1400/pair), driven by Leema’s own Tucana II 150Wpc integrated amplifier ($8000) and Antila Multi-DAC CD player ($6000), all producing a surprisingly BIG sound with tightly focused images placed within a fairly wide and deep soundstage. Perfect explained that Leema takes its name from design partners Lee Taylor and Mallory Nicholls, recording studio engineers who met during their tenure at the BBC. Designed and manufactured in Wales, the Leema Zero uses custom-made Audax drive units, and has a rated sensitivity of 85dB.
I walked into Jay Rein’s Bluebird Music room and was immediately taken by the hard-rocking sound of Led Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick,” reproduced with appropriate drama, impact, and scale. Here we see Rein standing beside Spendor’s new A9 loudspeaker ($7295/pair). Introduced at this year’s Bristol Show, the A9 made its North American debut at SSI 2010, and sounded excellent, driven by Exposure’s new 3010S2 series: 100W monoblocks ($2595/pair), preamp ($1395), and CD player ($2195). The S2 series replaces Exposure’s Classic line and represents a 50% power increase for one-third less money, Rein told me. Van den Hul’s D352 speaker cables and D102 interconnects ($929) tied this impressive system together.
Klaro Audio debuted its Summus loudspeaker ($3300/pair CAN), designed and manufactured in Montreal. This compact floorstander stands 36” H by 6.5” W by 10” D, and has a rated efficiency of 89dB; it uses single-wire binding posts from Furutech and its Russian Birch Plywood cabinet is available in Piano Black, Cherry, Mahogany, Tasso Brown, or Terra Natural finishes. Mated to the CEC TL51XR belt-drive CD player ($2200), Jadis JS1 Mk.III DAC with separate power supply ($18,000), and Jeff Rowland Continuum integrated amplifier, the Klaro Summus, pictured here with Jacintha looking on, impressed me with its large, smooth sound.
Leben Hi-Fi’s CS600 integrated amplifier ($5895), distributed by Tone Imports, produces 32Wpc and is a gorgeous piece of art, recalling the industrial design of 1950s and 1960s American hi-fi. We didn’t listen to the CS600 at SSI 2010, but I had a lot of fun just looking at it. Watch out for John Marks’ review in our June issue.
I was immensely impressed by the dCS Puccini SACD player and U-Clock when I reviewed the British combination last December. But as the physical discs becomes a legacy source of music, there was obviously a need for a related D/A product. SSI saw the public debut of the dCS Debussy ($10,999 with remote), shown off here by Tempo Marketing's John Quick. The Debussy basically combines the D/A, DSP, and analog board from the Puccini with the true asynchronous USB input topology from the U-Clock in a slim, attractive package. There are two AES/EBU and two S/PDIF inputs, as well as USB, and there is also a word-clock input to allow the Debussy to be controlled by an external master clock unit. Two digital filters are included, one a conventional symmetrical type, the other a variant of the increasingly popular minimum-phase "apodizing" type.
I have always been seduced by the silky sound of the true omnidirectional MBL upper-frequency drivers, and SSI was the first outing by the new North American distributor for the German brand, GTT Audio. The new MBL 126, shown in the photo and priced at $12,500/pair, is a smaller development of the 121, with side-firing 5" woofers complementing the midrange and HF drivers. The 126 was being demmed with the MBL preamp and monoblock power amps that so impressed Michael Fremer when he reviewed them a couple of years back, hooked up with Kubala-Sosna Elation series cables. Listening to a Reference Recordings classical orchestral disc, the sound was as expansive as I always hear from MBL's speakers.
Barrie, Ontario, about an hour's drive from Toronto, with a population of about 130, 000, is not a city that I associate with the design and manufacture of high performance audio equipment. It doesn't have even a single "real" audio store, just Best Buy, etc. But, as I found out at SSI 2010, Barrie is the home of McAlister Audio, maker of the OTL-195 monoblock amplifier and a prototype preamp. The designer is Peter McAlister, who produced his first prototype output-transformerless power amp ten years ago. The OTL-195 puts out 150W, and appears to be a very sophisticated design: fully balanced, able to drive 4 ohm loads, a circuit that tracks the signal level in the driver stage and modulates the control grids of output tubes, and various other circuit refinements. The OTL-195 is hand-built by Peter McAlister himself, and utilizes high-quality parts. The price is $8500/pair. As I mentioned in the blog posting below, the King Sound Prince IIs sounded great driven the McAlister OTL-195s.
As a fan of electrostaticsI used to own KLH Nines and original Quad 57sI was intrigued by the favorable reports of the King Sound Prince II full-range electrostatics in both the 2010 CES and the Axpona show reportss, and was pleased to find out King Sound listed on the list of exhibitors at SSI 2010. It was one of the few exhibits that I actually sought out rather than just allowing myself to find it in the course of walking the show floor. And I was most impressed. The soundwith electronics from McAlister, a company that I'll be writing about in a separate blog entryhad the clarity and lack of "speaker" coloration that reminded me of the KLH Nines and Quads, but the speaker seemed to be able to play louder than than these classic 'static designs. The retail price of $6500/pair seems very reasonable. I think I've found my next speaker to review. Or maybe the King II, which is just being introducedbut it may be too big for my room.
May Audio Marketing, owned and managed by Nizar Akhrass, has been a purveyor of audiophile recordings and accessories since . . . well...shortly after Thomas Edison demonstrated the newfangled device called the phonograph. Or at least so it seems. He and his family are still at it, and, in a move that will be applauded by the audiophile community, the organizers of SSI presented Nizar and his wife Alice with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the opening night reception. Well-deserved, I'd say.
Introduced at January’s CES, Sennheiser’s RS 180 wireless headphones ($500) are so light and comfortable, you hardly know you’re wearing them. Rechargeable batteries are concealed within the right earcap, which also holds controls for volume and balance. The ‘phones have a range of 100m, and offered a full, round sound with impressive imaging.
To Kevin Mokry and Meghan Hutchinson, I’m just another old dude at a hi-fi show. Which is awesome, because I’m tired of being the new guy, and I’m always happy to see young, enthusiastic faces enjoying high quality sound. Kevin is just 18 years old and already deep into hi-fi and A/V gear, selling for his dad at Quebec’s Centre Hi-Fi, and Meghan is very impressed by the robust bass of Monster’s Beats by Dr. Dre headphones ($350).
I was happy to meet 29-year old Robert DeKoninck, who has been working at Montreal’s Son Ideal hi-fi shop for three years, here seen with Harbeth’s Compact 7ES-3 loudspeaker ($3600 CAN) on Noel Nolan’s Skylan stands ($520 CAN). Robert’s longtime love for music (he’s a drummer) eventually led him to hi-fi; he’s been an audiophile for about seven years. This is encouraging. When I was 22, I had just started working for Stereophile, and I had little idea about what it meant to be an audiophile! Robert says he sees more and more young people coming into the shop, and he’s encouraged by both the resurgence of vinylRobert only listens to vinyl at home and doesn’t even own a CD playerand the latest trends in computer audio. These seemingly disparate interests, he feels, will lead more young people to the hobby.
In the Son Ideal room, Harbeth’s Compact 7ES-3 loudspeakers were being driven by Rogue Audio’s Cronus Magnum ($2200), which swaps the standard Cronus’s EL34s for beefier KT90s, delivering 90Wpc for a more extended top end and more robust bottom, Robert DeKoninck told me. I’ve been interested in Rogue Audio for awhile, and hope to listen to a Cronus soon.