GamuT makes electronics as well as speakers, and they introduced a new model at the show. The Si100 is a $120Wpc integrated, similar in design—and, they claim, sound—to their $11,000 Di150, but priced at $6200. (I was going to say "only," but, of course, $6200 is still a good bit of change for most people.)
Is $140,000 the new price point for loudspeakers? No, that's not quite right—unlike the KEF Muon, the price of the GamuT S9 El Superiores is "only" $130,000/pair. Like the KEF model, this is intended to push the boundaries of what's possible in loudspeaker design, but the two speakers bear absolutely no resemblance to each other. GamuT's speakers use the principle of distributed resonance in the design of their speaker cabinets, allowing the natural resonance of each part of the cabined to decay undamped, but distributing these resonances over such a wide are that the overall frequency response remains linear, but without what designer Lars Goller's feels is the "unmusical" sound of highly damped enclosures. Here's Lars with the S9. And, yes, the speakers did sound quite wonderful.
One of Gershman Acoustics's dem rooms was next door to my hotel room. I was well aware, therefore, the night before the Show opened, of the pains the Canadian speaker company was taking to get the best sound from their affordable Sonogram loudspeakers (CDN$3695/pair). The result, using a system based on Audio Research CD3 Mk.2 player, LS26 preamplifier, and Reference 110 power amplifier, and Gershman's own cables was impressive.
Not too long after I got my first audio magazine job in 1976, I reported on the founding of a new speaker company, Harbeth, featuring the designs from ex-BBC engineer Dudley Harwood, who had pioneered the use of polypropylene as a cone material. Dudley is long since retired but I have followed his company's progress with interest since it was acquired by Alan Shaw, and the little Harbeth HL-P3ES2 has long been a favorite of mine. Harbeth's Canadian distributor, Planet Sound, was demonstrating the larger Super HL5 speakers (around $5000/pair), the next step up from the Compact 7ES-3 that has been a favorite of both John Marks and Sam Tellig in Stereophile's pages. The sound with Audio Research electronics (CD3 Mk.3 player, LS26 preamp, and Ref.110 power amplifier) suffered a bit from a rather boomy room acoustic, but Ella Fitzgerald dueting with Louis Armstrong worked her magic.
The Galactus-sized Audio Research Reference 610T monoblock amplifiers ($20,000/ea) put out 600W. They require 8 matched pairs of 6550C output tubes, one 6550c regulator, one 6H30 as an amplifier regulator, a pair of 6550Cs as drivers, two 6NIP input tubes, and a 6H30 follower—that's a ton of tubes.
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.
KEF showed their $140,000/pair Muon "concept" loudspeaker in a suite at the Hilton at the 2008 CES, but my assignment for the show report blog was electronics, so I so I passed on visiting the KEF suite. Big mistake! As the show went on, I heard several of my Stereophile colleagues raving about the KEF Muon, but by that time it would have been too inconvenient to go back the Hilton. But when I heard that KEF would be demonstrating the Muon at FSI, I was sure to check them out.
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.
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.
It is to be expected at Shows that cost-no-object systems will sound great. But it is also a joy to listen to modest systems that over-achieve. In one of the two rooms sponsored by Bluebird Music, a pair of Neat Motive 2 tower speakers (CDN $2195/paor) made sweet sounds driven by the Exposure 2010S integrated amplifier that had so impressed Art Dudley in November 2005 and the English company's matching 2010S CD player. System price with Chord Company Chameleon Silver Plus interconnect and Carnival 2 speaker cable was a very affordable CDN $5274. I listened to my recording of Hyperion Knight playing the three Gershwin Preludes and was impressed by the balance of performance on offer.
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.
The Montreal Sheraton Centre is a nice hotel, with hotel rooms that are reasonably well-suited to audio demonstrations, plenty of larger suites in which to set up more ambitious systems, friendly and efficient staff, fast elevators, and a great bar. The hotel's weak spot is the provision of places to eat. You can eat at the bar, which is all right as such things go, but there is no restaurant serving dinner, and there's a café serving breakfast that seems overpriced, and, judging by the "Complet" breakfast that I had on the first day, mediocre at best.* Fortunately, the Sheraton is in an area with a lot of restaurants within easy walking distance, and I found a place that served a better breakfast than the Sheraton at a lower price, in a charming atmosphere. I got good vibes just going into the Café Vasco da Gama, and I knew that I picked the right place when I got to the cash register. There in a large ice bucket, along with bottles of beer and some bottles of wine to be served by the glass, was a bottle of Veuve Cliquot champagne. Now, that's class!