Dynaudio's 30th-anniversary Sapphire speakers had impressed the heck out of the magazine's scribes at other Shows, so I made a point of taking a listen in the room the Danish manufacturer was sharing at FSI with home-team electronics manufacturer Simaudio. The system included Simaudio's Moon SuperNova CD player, Moon P-7 preamplifier, and Moon W-7 power amplifier, all wired with Siltech cable. The speakers are not that large, visually, and use a pair of 8" woofers per side, but they appear to have excellent bass performance, to judge by the ease they reproduced some subterranean stirring on a performance of Miles Davis' "So What" from a Flanger CD called Midnight Sounds. Then I noticed that there wasn't a CD playing!
Red Wine Audio has been expanding their range of battery-powered audio electronics: they have the Isabella preamp, with optional built-in DAC; Signature 30.2 power amplifier, with optional volume control, and Signature 70.2 monoblock amplifiers. The system at FSI used Omega Super Hemp speakers, which use a driver that in the version demoed at the show was equipped with an Alnico magnet structure, and it sounded very nice indeed.
Something I found fascinating about the Reference 3a Veena loudspeaker that Robert Deutsch writes about below is that it (almost) dispenses with a conventional crossover. The Murata supertweeter at the top is driven directly, as is the 8" woven–carbon-fiber-coned unit beneath the tweeter, which covers the range from 94Hz upward. The soft-dome tweeter is fed via a single capacitor, and the twin woofers have a simple 2nd-order low-pass filter. Tash Goka explained to me that saving money on the crossover allowed the designer to use high-quality internal components such as Bybee Quantum Purifiers, Mundorf silver capacitors, and van den Hul wiring. I agree with Robert that the sound of the Divergent system was surprisingly good.
Yeung was demonstrating a few new Blue Circle products, an inexpensive USB DAc and the $4895 95Wpc FtTH integrated amplifier. Yeung calls the FtTH his "statement" preamp, saying that it employs Blue Circle's True Balanced Audio technology, which, he says, "drives both the positive and the negative output terminals for better control of the loudspeakers."
John Atkinson opened Saturday afternoon's "Ask the Editors" session with a brief introduction in French—which got applause from the audience—but the rest of the session was conducted en anglais, and the quality of questions from the audience was easily up to best that I've experienced at such sessions at the Home Entertainment shows. The questions covered a wide range, dealing with topics such as the cost of producing LPs and SACDs, advances in loudspeaker technology, the sonic quality and pricing of cables, how to allocate resources in assembling a system, and discussion of what systems had particularly impressed us at the show. I think I can speak for John Atkinson, Wes Phillips and John Marks (as well as myself) in saying that we had a good time and were most impressed with the level of interest and dedication to good sound showed by the audiophiles participating in this event. Here's a picture of the Stereophile crew, taken just after the "Ask the Editors" session (from left to right): John Marks, yours truly, Wes Phillips, and John Atkinson.
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.
After seeing $140,000 speakers, it's always good to encounter products that really are affordable by almost any standard. I expect these $250/pair Scandyna Micropod SE speakers to say "Take Me To Your Leader," and I'd like to have a pair if only because they're just so cute. No idea of the sound, but they have an impeccable pedigree, with links to the legendary B&W Nautilus.
I was as impressed as Robert Deutsch had been with KEF's $140k/pair Muons, and enjoyed a couple of tracks from the late Joe Zawinul's Faces & Places CD, Musical Fidelity's new 750k Supercharger monoblocks driving the speakers to satisfyingly high levels. Except there was no CD playing. It turned out I was listening to a 320kbps AAC file on an iPod sitting in the Wadia dock you can see in the photo. This takes an I2S digital output from a late-generation iPod and KEF were using the S/PDIF datastream to drive the digital input of the Musical Fidelity CD player at the top of the equipment stack. Given how much ink I have spilled recently on the dangers of lossy-compressed file formats, my face must have been as red as the room’s illumination had been at the time.
In a show that is distinguished by very good signage, Blue Circle's room is marked by what designer Gilbert Yeung proclaimed "the ugliest signs in the show." Yeung, an indefatigable self-promote, arrived at FSI, only to discover the show had provided no signs for the room. Yeung ran with the concept, deliberately lettering his own signs in a childish "Chinglish."
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.
"Cinema—musique—beaux-arts." That's what it says on Mario Boisvert's business card. His Montreal store, Le Ren Art Bleu, sells LPs, CDs, original art, and Blu-ray discs. How is that for diversification? He had some of each at FSI—with just about the lowest priced I've seen for Blu-ray discs.
I wasn't familiar with Montreal-based Tenor Audio's amplifiers when I entered their room at FSI. But the sound of the new 350M hybrid monoblocks—tube front end, MOSFET output, 350W power, CDN$90,000/pair—with Avalon Eidolon speakers, an upsampling CD player from Audio Aero, all connected with Kubala-Sosna cables, was impressive. The sound of the JVC XRCD reissue of André Previn's Scheherazade was rich and expansive, but a little recessed. It was explained to me, however, that the speakers were still breaking in. Apparently a static discharge the previous day had caused a DC pulse to be sent to the Kharma speakers Tenor had first used in their room, destroying the midrange units. Ouch!
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.