I had enthused over the sound being produced by French company Focal's top-line Grande Utopia EMs ($180,000/pair) in our report from the 2008 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, so the first room I went to at the 2009 SSI was the room featuring the exact same pair of Grande Utopias. In Denver they had been driven by Boulder source and amplification components; in Montreal, amplification was all YBAPassion 1000 monoblocks and Passion preampcabling was AudioQuest, and the source was the excellent sounding Esoteric P-01VU transport ($32,000) and D-01VU dual-mono D/A converter ($32,000), clocked by the G-0Rb high-precision master clock ($16,000).
I am led by the sound of intricate rhythms and interesting textures, and I find myself in the Audio D'Occasion suite, where Radiohead's Amnesiac is ripping into a pair of Thiel CS3.7 floorstanders, sending the speaker's impressive corrugated drivers into a mad dance. I take a seat.
I adored the sound in the small Son-Or-Filtronique room with the Audio Research VSi60 integrated amplifier, Audio Research CD8 disc player ($10,000), Verity Audio Finn loudspeakers ($6000/pair CAN), and Shunyata cables. Adored it.
An Audio Show wouldn't be an Audio Show without live music, to allow Showgoers to recalibrate their ears. The 2009 SSI featured two concerts, one by jazz pianist and singer Anne Bisson, the other by the Michel Donato Trio, seen here, with Donato on double bass, Jon Gearey on guitar, and Marin Nasturica on accordion. Both acts have audiophile sound-quality CDs available from Montreal's Fidelio Audio, and other news from SSI was that these recordings are now available as 24-bit, 96kHz files.
The trend toward smaller, less imposing systems is continued at SSI by Verity Audio, showing their gorgeous Parsifal Ovation Monitor ($9000/pair). While Simaudio and Dynaudio were showing what can be achieved at the lower end of the price scale, Verity, Nagra, and dCS put together a room-friendly system made to slay giants.
All right, so maybe I should have followed the recommendation that passengers should get to the train station at least 30 minutes before departure. But, really, does anyone but terminally obsessive-compulsive individuals do that? The train going from Toronto to Montreal was scheduled to leave Toronto at 9:30am. I was planning to be at Union Station in Toronto by 9:15. But with this and that, and delays here and there, when I got to the Via Rail ticket office to exchange my computer printout for the actual ticket it was 9:29 by their clock.
Totem's Vince Bruzzese was happy to tell me about the Wind Design, an enhanced version of the company's flagship floorstander. It uses a "skid plate" decoupling system with a front "claw" which is user-adjustable to complement the phase interactions between the speaker and various associated electronics. Totem strives to create loudspeakers that will mate happily with all sorts of associated equipment, and today they were making music with an Arcam FMJ disc player and Bryston amplification.
Son-Or-Filtronique's Dany Poulin stands with the Verity Audio Finn. Paired with the Audio Research VSi60 integrated amplifier and CD 8 disc player, the Finns, which are rated at 91dB efficiency and use a rear-firing woofer, were making some gorgeous sounds.
At the 2008 FSI, the hornloaded Avantgarde speakers from Germany were being demmed in one of the large rooms in the Centre Sheraton's downstairs convention area. At the 2009 SSI, Avantgarde were exhibiting in a conventional hotel room, but the three-way Duo Grossos ($37,500/pair), driven by Avantgarde Model One monoblocks and an Avantgarde Model One preamplifier, with an Audio Aero Prestige SACD player as source and all Nirvana SX cabling, sounded more coherent than I remember from last year's Show. Playing "The Mooche" from the Stereophile Editor's Choice CD, I was struck by how un-hornlike the system sounded: uncolored, sweet, full-range, but with the excellent dynamics I have come to expect from horns. The upper bass was a bit over-generous at first, but adjusting the crossover of the active B231 woofer, which uses two 12" drivers, took care of that.
Okay, so the system in the big room from Montreal dealer Coup de Foudre was very expensive, and the room's acoustics I knew from the 2008 Show were excellent, but the sound was both my best at show and the best I heard in that room. Not only did Peter McGrath's high-resolution recordings, played back from his Sound Devices recorder feeding the very promising Playback Designs' D/A processor, reproduce with extraordinary dynamics and a superbly transparent window into the soundstage, my own recordings sounded the best I have experienced, with the audiophile attributes supporting/reinforcing rather than getting in the way of the music. And that was from CD!