I had to make several attempts to visit the Son-or-Filtronique room featuring Sonus Faber's new Amati Futura speakers ($34,000/pair), but the line of would-be listeners patiently waiting outside the room was daunting. The Futuras were launched at last January's CES but not being demmed; at SSI, they were being driven by a Boulder 2060 amplifier, with a dCS Scarlatti and Boulder 1021 used as digital sources.
Michel Plante and Sarah Tremblay are the team responsible for the success of SSI, which takes place this weekend at the Hilton Bonaventure in downtown Montreal. You could see them working hard, going around, making sure that exhibitors and attendees were happy. The evening of the designated Trade Day of the show, Thursday 3/31, there was a party that included a speech by Michel It was in French, with the English translation on two giant screens, Michel claiming that he wanted to spare the audience from his heavy French accent. (In fact, his accent is very slight.) I was too busy taking pictures to follow all the points he was making, but it was all inspiring stuff about the future of the industry, and was well received by the large crowd.
I don't know who came up with the idea of having the female SSI staff wear blue wigsas they have been doing for the past two yearsbut I think the idea was a brilliant one. The blue wigs not only make the staff instantly identifiable, but they communicate a sense of fun, and that's just what the show is. It also helps that the staff are unfailingly pleasant and cheerful.
This was the first SSI without Nizar Akhrass, who passed away just weeks after the 2010 show. His distribution company, Liberty Audio (May Audio in the US) was in full force nonetheless, now headed by Nizar’s daughter, Juliawho’s expecting her first child in Mayand son, Nabil. Liberty’s stalwart brands were all there, including Audes (whose Naum Dorkhman demonstrated a striking new full-range floorstander), Roksan, Target, GutWire, and Harmonix. Veteran audio salesman Michael Tang was on hand to represent the Japanese accessory specialists Orb Audio (they of the nifty DF-03 Disc Flattener, which promises to do what its name suggests). Among Mike’s newest products was the Orb Sakura Static Charge Neutralizer ($299), intended to neutralize unwanted charges more effectively than Robert Shapiro and Johnnie Cochran put together.
It was a really good show. That was the opinion of the people I spoke to at the 2011 SSI, including veteran as well as first-time exhibitors, and members of the public. Even the Trade Day, which in the past was not very popular, was busy enough that it felt like it almost could have been one of the public days. The Lifetime Achievement Awards ceremony was extremely well-attended, as the above photo illustrates. There was a kind of back-to-the-basics feel to the show, with a strong emphasis on music presented in two-channel stereo, and almost nothing in the way of surround sound. (Sorry, Kal!)
On the evening of the first day of the show, John Atkinson, Art Dudley, and I attended a party at Coup de Foudre, one of Montreal's premier high-end audio retailers. There was much to admire there, not the least of which was listening to some of Peter McGrath’s hi-rez recordings on a system featuring VTL MB185 tube monoblocks driving Wilson Sashas and an Alpha DAC being fed USB data from Peter’s MacBook Pro via a Wavelength format converter.
This looks like Jonathan Halpern, owner of the New York distribution firm Tone Imports, but it’s really the devil. Every time JA and I attempted to leave the Coup de Foudre room in which products by DeVore, Leben, EMT, Box Furniture, and Brinkmann were being demonstrated, the devil coaxed us to stay, just by playing one! more! song! We finally broke temptation’s chains and left to the strains of James Brown’s “Sex Machine”: JA and I had to literally back our way out of the room. Carefully.
Totem was demonstrating its new Element series loudspeakers with the Classé CA-M600 600W monoblocks that I enthusiastically reviewed in the March issue of Stereophile. The three Element modelsthe Fire stand-mount at $5995/pair, the floorstanding Earth at $8995/pair, and Metal at $12,995/pairall use a new 7" woofer designed and manufactured in-house. But what's with the tie around the guy's head in the wall-sized photo?
Totem always makes a splash at shows; this time the demos featured the Element series that was introduced at the 2011 Las Vegas CES. As a nod to the Image part of the name of the show, they also had a huge screen with four commercial-grade projectors, and a very stylish video presentation. The man with the "Einstein" hair on the left side in the picture is Totem president Vince Bruzzese, one of the recipients of SSI's Lifetime Achievement awards.
The other recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2011 SSI was Vince Bruzzese of loudspeaker manufacturer Totem, which will be celebrating its 25th anniversary next year. To tell the truth, this surprised me. No, not the fact that he was given the award, which was certainly well-deserved, but it seems like yesterday that I first encountered Vince at the Toronto Show, where he was introducing a small speaker that sounded uncommonly good. Has it been really that long?
One of my favorite sounding rooms at SSI was the large suite featuring Verity Sarastro II speakers, the new Nagra 300B stereo amplifier that made its debut at the 2011 CES and a Nagra PLL preamp, with a Nagra CDP CD player and Nagra VI solid-state digital recorder being used for the front-end, all hooked up with Nordost Valhalla cables. The sound of a Jordi Savall ensemble performance of Vivaldi Oboe Concerto, played back on the Nagra VI with 24/48 resolution, was lifelike and easy on the ear, but without sounding either mellow or laidback. perhaps the sound was a little congested on the climaxes with larger-scale music, but this was one of the bigger rooms at the Hilton Bonaventure and the amplifier is limited to 20Wpc.
This relatively modest-looking system in yet another Son-or-Filtronique room at SSI produced some superb sound. The Vienna Acoustics Mozart Grand Symphony Edition speakers ($3500/pair) were being driven by an Ayre AX-7e integrated amplifier ($3500), with the source an Ayre DX-5 universal player being used as a DAC for USB data fed from Amarra running on a MacBook Pro. The USB data connection was AudioQuest's inexpensive Carbon and one AC cable and the speaker cable was by Shunyata. There was also a single Nordost Odin AC cable. If you consider that the Ayre player was being used to provide the same functionality as a $2500 Ayre QB-9, it could be argued that this single AC cable cost as much as the rest of the system together. "It gives an improvement in sound quality and that's justification enough," answered Vienna's Kevin Wolff when I queried him about the system's price balance with the Nordost.
My best sound at the 2011 SSI? No doubt about it, it was the late Leonard Shure performing Beethoven's Op.109 Piano Sonata courtesy of the immense VTL Siegfried tubed monoblocks driving even more immense Wilson Alexandria X2 loudspeaker via Transparent Audio cables in Coup de Foudre's large room on the Hilton Bonaventure's mezzanine floor. This was the last room I visited at SSI and provided a fitting climax to what had been a great Show.
Clarity Audio's large room featured three systems set up along three of the walls, one featuring Nola speakers, one featuring Eggleston speakers, and one featuring the YG Anat 2 Studio speakers seen in the photo. Connected to stylin' Jones 300W monoblocks ($24,000/pair) and a Jones Pre-S-1 preamplifier with Kubula-Sosna cable, the sound of a woman singing Sting's "Roxanne" and John Lennon's "Come Together," accompanied by double bass (Musica Nuda), was palpably real. However, although YG introduced a new version of the Anat at January's CES featuring machined aluminum cones, the speakers at SSI were the older Series 1 model.