“If you don’t mind, ladies and gentleman, I’m going to play you something you don’t ordinarily hear at an audiophile show,” states On A Higher Note’s Philip O’Hanlon, as he moves across the floor and inserts a disc into the lovely Luxman D-06 SACD/CD player ($8500).
I walked into the Reference 3A room to be greeted by an impressive orchestral piece. I heard massed strings and scintillating cymbal crashes and booming percussion, all presented with great impact, drama, and scale. Speakers were the Reference 3A Grand Veena ($7995/pair), rated at 89dB efficiency and utilizing five “seamlessly integrated drivers,” including a Murata Exciter for the highest frequencies. Designer Tash Goka explained that the angle of the Grand Veena’s front baffle and the precise positioning of the speaker’s drivers work together to achieve a coherent phase response.
I had been impressed by Micromega's Airstream, the WiFi-connected DAC ($1595), when Jason Serinus and I heard it at Axpona at the beginning of March. But it was the French company's new owner, Didier Hamid, who caught showgoers' attention with the Airstream at SSI. Holding his MacBook Pro in his hand and playing songs from iTunes, Hamid dramatically demonstrated the benefits of doing away with wires. (The rest of the system included Focal 1038Be speakers driven by Micromega amplification; control of volume was provided by the iTunes level control on the laptop.)
The Stereophile Ask the Editors session at Showsin which John Atkinson (left), Art Dudley (center), Stephen Mejias, and I fielded questions from the audience at SSIin something that I enjoy a lot, and so, I know, do JA, AD, and SM. Through the years, I've learned that it's almost impossible to anticipate what the questions will deal with. And that was certainly true this time. The questions covered a wide range of topics: why are there so few active speakers on the market; why doesn't Stereophile review more vintage equipment; what system that we've heard (at the show or elsewhere) represents to us audiophile nirvana; music recorded in what format will be reproducible a thousand years from now; why is the interest in high quality audio less popular now than it was a few decades ago; has loudspeaker quality improved through the years; and many more. All thoughtful, interesting questions.
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.
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.
Simaudio had two product introductions at the show that conform to this approach: the Moon 400M is a 400Wpc fully balanced mono power amp selling for $2995 each, and the Moon 350P preamplifier (also fully-balanced), $1995 without phono stage and CN$2795 with. Dynaudio had the new Focus 220 Mk.II floorstander ($3600/pair) and the DM 2/6 ($800/pair). The DM 2/6 is the least expensive Dynaudio speaker, and although the drivers are not quite at the level of their more expensive brethren, Dynaudio's Mike Manousselis told me that they're still made in the same factory in Denmark, and follow the core Dynaudio technical quality. Lionel Goodfield (Simaudio) and Mike Manousselis look pleased with their new products.
As Art mentioned, Totem always does an outstanding job of transforming a simple room into an environment, and at SSI 2010, they surpassed all of their previous efforts. Here’s a look at a row of Totem Tribe on-walls, dressed in new skins. As loudspeakers are often viewed as the most personal component of any system, it makes fine sense to offer the option of truly personalizing them with art. I can imagine buyers selecting fabrics that match their furnishings, or using their favorite artwork, or even creating their own designs.
Son-or-Filtronique was celebrating its 41st year of being in business at SSI and the retailer's larger room featured Verity Sarasto Mk.2 speakers driven by Audio Research Reference 210 tube monoblockslove those green power metersand the relatively new Audio Research Reference Five preamplifier. Source was the fully-loaded, four-box dCS Scarlatti SACD/CD player that Michael Fremer reviewed last August. (My apologies S-or-F, but I didn't note the cables being used.) This was the last room I visited at SSI and all my notes said was "Wow!" So that's all I have to say here.
The Salon Son & Image has been organized for the past 4 years by Michel Plante and Sarah Tremblay, who were to be seen everywhere on the Show's opening day. I have been involved in running Shows for almost 30 years, and I must say that from the visitors' perspective and, I hope, the exhibitors', the 2010 event was superbly organized. Good signage, a great venue, and overall good sound, I take my hat off to Michel and Sarah. They even partnered with CEDIA for the first time at the 2010 Show to present "CEDIA University," a series of training seminars for custom installation. The evening of the first day, Michel thanked everyone in a short speech at the opening reception and wished them "Bon Salon!" before handing the stage over to the Give Band.
For a journalist at a trade show, few things are more awkward than entering a room and finding that the exhibitor and his staff are the only people there: No dealers. No customers. Just a few desperate souls ready to pin their last half-hope on a man with a badgeand the badge says Press.
One of my favorite moments of SSI 2010 came during Saturday afternoon's outstanding "Ask the Editors" session, when a member of the audience asked the panel about audio nirvana. What components or systems, if any, had helped us achieve that elusive, mythical state when everything is perfect and right? I sat up straight in my seat and buried my fingernails into the palms of my hands, anxious to offer a response. When my turn to answer came, I stuttered, overwhelmed by the moment, but I think I said enough to communicate the idea that audio nirvana is a fleeting target, one that depends more on the listener's mood and ability to be moved and less on the system or individual components within any particular system.
I started my day the right way: listening to a good LP of acoustic music. In one of three Coup de Foudre rooms I listened to Skip James's final album on a system comprising the new Brinkmann DD turntable (price TBD) with an EMT TSD 15 fineline phono cartridge ($1800), Auditorium 23 step-up transformer ($995), Leben RS30 EQ moving-magnet phono preamp ($2595), Leben CS300 XS integrated amplifier ($3495), and DeVore Fidelity 3XL loudspeakers ($3700/pair without stands), the latter of which were capable of allowing the music to sound surprisingly, delightfully big. Cables were all by Auditorium 23, and the source and amplification components were supported by a typically beautiful Sapele rack from the Box Furniture company.