The Montreal audio-video store Coup de Foudre has a reputation for assembling ambitious music systems in the Hilton's Longueuil salon during SSI. Although this year was no exception, the cost of that system had been scaled-back somewhat for 2012with interesting results.
The loudspeaker of choice was the Wilson Audio Specialties Sophia Series 3 ($18,550 per pair in Macadamia finishwhich bore a striking resemblance to the metallic brown paint on my long-gone 1985 Alfa-Romeo GTV6). Wilson Audio's Peter McGrath, also the recordist behind most of the music selections I enjoyed in that room, said there have been no running changes in the Sophia since the introduction of the Series 3.
This Devialet D-Premier D/A integrated amplifier seemed to be flashing its own price: $16.5k, for which the lucky owner gets 240Wpc, sleek styling, and a great deal of up-to-date technology, including 192/24 WiFi capability. I had hoped to learn more about the D-Premier (and the impressive Focal loudspeakers it was driving), but the pleasant young fellow who was running the booth couldn't make himself understood over the very loud playback levelsand the latter finally drove me from the room. John Atkinson will be reviewing the Devialet D-Premier, which he says combines a highly linear class-A amplifier with a class-D output stage in a topology somewhat similar to the late Peter Walker's "current dumping" circuit, in a summer issue of Stereophile.
One of the many rooms sponsored by Montreal retailer Coup de Foudre was dedicated to the new DeVore Fidelity Gibbon 88 loudspeaker ($5000/pair), which replaces the Super 8 in DeVore's line. The 88 uses an entirely new woofer, which designer John DeVore says was influenced by the recent work he did on the DeVore Orangutan model; technical distinctions include a paper (instead of plastic) cone and a larger motor overall than its predecessor, with double the voice-coil travel. Consequently, sensitivity is up in the Gibbon 88, to approximately 91dB.
"The World's First Audiophile Case for the iPhone 4S/4," said the sign. I was intrigued. What does being an audiophile have to do with the choice of iPhone case? It turns out that this case is claimed to improve the sound of music played back from an iPhone through earphones. A collaboration between a company named Divoti and Gutwire, well-known for their affordably-priced cables, the case is made of pure titanium, with some germanium dots in the back. It sells for $180. I asked how titanium and germanium was supposed to improve sound, and was told that it had something to do with negative ions being generated, counteracting the positive ions that are supposedly generated by electronic devices like an iPhone.
Another high-end turntable that impressed me was the Dr. Feickert Analogue Firebird. This is a new model, with new bearing, new platter, new motors (three of them), and all kinds of other refinements. The price is a relatively-affordableby ultra high end turntable standards$12,995. The tonearm mounted was a Dr. Feickert Analogue DFA 12.0, the number in the model name referring to the length in inches. The turntable can accommodate two tonearms, of various lengths.
I think after every audio show I've attended there was some product that I realized too late I should have checked outtypically, when somebody later said to me "Did you hear the XXXX speakers? I thought they were great!"
After CES 2012, there was one productactually, a line of productsthat I had fully intended to seek out, but somehow this intention did not translate into action. It was on the plane returning home that I realized that I missed seeing the new wireless speakers from Dynaudio. I made a note to myself to make sure that one of the first rooms I'll visit at SSI 2012 would be Dynaudio's.
Another interesting product featured in the Canada Pavilion was the exaSound e18DAC ($1999). It is, as the name implies, a DAC, but it's much more than that. Featuring a maximum 384kHz/32-bit sample rate and bit depth, it can function in stereo and 8-channel modes, and has a formidable list of technical specifications, including a 0.13ps master clock with 3 precision quartz oscillators, 17 power filtering stages, galvanic isolation between the USB subsystem and the DAC circuits, true asynchronous USB interface, hardware volume control implemented by the DAC chip for the highest S/N ratio, and has a high-quality headphone amplifier.
What's 2" long, comes out in May, and responds to external stimulus by changing color? The AudioQuest Dragonfly ($250), a USB D/A converter designed for the company by Wavelength Audio's Gordon Rankin (and whose proprietary software allows it to function as a true asynchronous DAC). The Dragonfly, which is powered by the USB bus, performs at 44.1, 48, 88.2, and 96kHz; the dragonfly icon on its plastic case (not shown here) indicates the sampling rate in use by glowing green, blue, amber, or white, respectively. Features include separate clock oscillators for 44.1/88.2 and 48/96; a 64-position analog volume control that overrides the digital volume control in iTunes/etc.; and proprietary USB input and 3.5mm output connectors.
Gala-Solo is a Canadian speaker company that intends their products to be suitable for both the pro and audiophile markets, the "M" that's part of each speaker model's name standing for both "Monitor" and "Music." The M3 ($3600/pair) is a two-way, three-driver system, using pro drivers. The 6.5" bass drivers from PHL France feature a patented "intercooler" process. The tweeter, pictured above, from Acoustics Beyma (Spain), has an aluminum diaphragm and voice-coil. Rated sensitivity is 94dB, and the maximum level is 116dB. It was pointed out to me that this maximum level specification is particularly important: some speakers may produce 94dB for a 1W output, but, unlike the M3, they won't play much louder than that without distorting.
At $42,000/pair, Gershman's Black Swan is a loudspeaker that's designed to fill large spaces, and one might think that they would not be at their best in a smallish room like that one at SSI. Not only that, but the room had no acoustical treatment whatsoever. Still, I was surprised at how good these speakers sounded in this apparently less-than-optimal environment. Maybe the rest of the system (Evolution S45 tube integrated amp, $16,900; Stello CD player, $3800) had something to do with it.
Here's the obligatory "People Buying Records" picture, and even though it was taken on Friday, which is usually the show's least-busy day, I had no trouble finding an opportunity to take a suitable picture. There were also quite a few people at the CD racks, but, overall, I'd say there were more LP buyers than CD buyers in evidence. Make of that what you will. (It may be a reflection of the fact that LPs are not as widely available.)
Canada's D2MK Solutions exhibited the interesting new Waterfall Victoria ($6000/pair), a two-way dynamic loudspeaker from France that features an all-glass enclosure. Supporting electronics included the Cary Audio SA2002 solid-state amplifier ($3995), Cary SLP05 preamp (5$8500), and Cary Xciter D/A converter ($1500), the latter playing music files from a laptop computer.
Tim Ryan of SimpliFi Audio demonstrated the always-enjoyable Gradient Helsinki loudspeaker ($6000/pair) in tandem with Gradient's SWS dipole bass speakers (also $6000/pair, outboard crossover included), to excellent effect. Ryan says the SWS, to whose development the late Peter Walker contributed, also works a treat with the Harbeth P3 and other smallish speakers from that line. (That's exactly how he said it, too.)
Every hi-fi show seems to harbor a few restful rooms where the music is well selected and the playback quality is serenely good; at SSI, the exhibit space shared by Scandinavian manufacturers Hegel and Amphion served that purpose for me. (The white fabric walls probably added to the sense of calm.) The Amphion Argon7 L loudspeakers ($6k$7k/pair, depending on finish) sounded clear, smooth, and altogether lovely with Hegel amplification and digital source components.