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 was also impressed by the sound of the $7000/pair Joseph Pulsar stand-mount that Stephen Mejias blogged about. What was notable about the set-up was that, in order to tame the hotel room acoustic, Jeff had set-up the speakers, driven by Simaudio's new 175Wpc Moon 700i integrated amplifier via Cardas Clear cables, to fire across the room's diagonal. If you have problems getting an optimal transition between the mid-bass and upper bass in your room, you might want to try this set-up (significant other not objecting, of course).
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 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.
Nordost's Lars Kristensen can always be relied on to give an enthusiastic and instructive demonstration, and so it was at SSI 2010. I missed the first part of the demo, but I was there for what I was most interested in: the effects of the Quantum Qx2 ($1700) and Qx4 ($2700) Resonant Technology "power purifier" devices that Art Dudley has written about. I can't say that I really understand the technical explanation of how these devices work, but the demonstration showed that they certainly do work, the soundwhich without the Quantum devices was actually better-than-averageacquired greater dynamic freedom, sharper imaging, and the soundstage became more spacious.
Simaudio's products were featured in several rooms at SSI and on Saturday afternoon, the Montreal-based manufacturer celebrated its 30th anniversary by sponsoring a concert by Anne Bisson, a local and apparently very popular singer/pianist, to judge by the packed house.
As last year, Totem Acoustics had by far the show's most aesthetically sophisticated exhibit: a trippy mix of shapes and textures both organic and industrial, in which lights, flowers, textiles, and scents shared senses with the sound. The latter, also in typical Totem form, was exceptionally involvingespecially the Beatles' "Within You, Without You," Insane Clown Posse's "Ain't Yo Bidness," and "lua" by Dudu (no relation) Salinas. At SSI Totem also introduced a product that's still in concept stage, called Totem Skin: a removable sock-style cover that transformed cabinetry into artliterally. Among the company's goals for this show, according to the Totem rep with whom I spoke, was to gauge consumer response to the Skins, and the reaction so far is positive.
Simaudio, represented in my photo by Lionel Goodfield (left) and Dynaudio, represented by Mike Manousselis (right) often exhibit together, an arrangement that seems to represent the friendly relationships between people in these companies as well as the synergistic relationships between the products. They certainly sound good together, and both companies seem to be guided by a desire to offer not necessarily the cheapest possible products, but ones that offer high quality combined with good value.
I was intrigued by Grant Fidelity’s small B283 Mk.II tube processor ($225). Placed between a source component and integrated amplifier or between a preamp and amp, the B283 offers users the ability to “feel the difference of tube sound versus solid-state sound, and to experiment with tube-rolling,” Rachel Zhang explained. Interestingly, guitarists have also been known to use the B283 in front of their solid-state amps. Neat.
The arrangement of Totem's new Tribe 5 wall-mounted speaker in on of their rooms at SSI raised my eyebrows. I asked Totem's main man Vince Bruzzese what gives? "We must reach out to non-audiophiles!" he said, adding that this was one of the impetuses behind the launch of the "skins" that Art Dudley wrote about above. "By arranging these speakers in an unconventional manner but showing that they can still play music, we reduce the fear non-audiophiles have." (My apologies if my paraphrase didn't capture the passion with which Vince spoke.) But the Trentemoller track I listened to, played on Chord CD transport, DAC, and amplifier, didn't sound any the worse for the unusual speaker setup.
Although it was introduced at the January CES, SSI was my first opportunity to hear Wadia's cute 151PowerDAC mini amplifier ($1200). It combines a DAC, digital preamp and 25 Wpc power amp, and is housed in the same tiny package as Wadia's iTransport shown to its right. The PowerDAC was being used to drive ProAc's new floorstanding Studio 140 Mk..II speakers in the M-HiFi room at SSI, with XLO cables.
Faithful readers of these show report blogs may recall that last year I missed the TorontoMontreal train I was scheduled to take, and had to wait two hours for the next one. This year, I was determined that history was not going to repeat itself, and I ended up getting to the train station nearly an hour before the train's departure. Maybe next year I'll find a happy compromise. . .
On a number of occasions I've heard the CD-77 CD player from Abbingdon Music Research sound wonderful: organic, textured, and altogether analogish. Today was no exception, as proven by the latest 77.1 version of the AMR player ($9995), distributed in the US by Avatar Acoustics. (Avatar also distributes the unique tuning accessories made by Franck Tchang of Acoustic Systems International.) Other components on dem were a beautiful tube preamp and power amp from Japan's Mactone (price to be determined) and Teo Audio's interesting new Runa loudspeaker (projected to sell for $12,000/pair), all wired together with the latest interconnects and cables from the Teo-distributed Liquid Cable. The system was invitingly detailed without a trace of tizz, and while I'm not the sort who obsesses over imaging, I admit that I was charmed by the Teo speakers' very inviting spatial qualities. Also on display but in use during my visit was the Feickert Blackbird turntable (approximately $7500), for which the word "interesting" seems a cruel understatement.
Maybe I don't know everything after all. In all candor, Legacy loudspeakers had never struck me as the sorts of things I might like. But here at FSI, driven by an attractive Ayon Triton integrated amplifier ($8500), itself fed by an Ayon CD-5 CD player ($9450), I very much enjoyed the big Legacy Whisper XD speakers ($20,000/pair). I wasn't surprised by the punchy, wide-range presentation, but there was a lot more realistic texture and timbral color than I ever expected. And the very nice young couple who ran the suite were patient with my seemingly limitless supply of inane questions. A fine experience.