Michel Plante, the President of Salon Son et Image, offered a pre-show glimpse of something new: the Personal Audio Zone, where visitors are free to try any of over 150 different pairs of headphones, representing nearly 30 different brands. During this morning’s setup, the ‘phones were being arranged on their tables in order of expense, from the $22 pair nearest the door to the $1600 pair at the far end of the room. Michel Plante said that he’s “trying to create a buzz about headphones, in order to attract younger listeners to the show,” and that he has made it as affordable as possible for headphone manufacturers to participate. (The Personal Audio Zone is staffed by SSI volunteers, not manufacturers or their reps.)
In yet another Coup de Foudre room, a Clearaudio record player acted as source for a Unico Nuovo integrated amplifier ($2400, with phono section), itself driving a pair of ASW 404 loudspeakers ($2000/pair). This relatively affordable system loaded the room nicely, and sounded hypnotically good on “Autumn Leaves” from the Cannonball Adderley album Somethin’ Else.
Bluebird Music, the North American distributor for Chord electronics (and other lines), along with Totem Acoustics and the Montreal retailer Audioville, put together this superbly clear and punchy yet unfailingly smooth system: a Chord Red Reference Mk.III CD player ($25,000), Chord CPA 5000 preamp ($20,000), Chord SPM 5000 Mk.II amplifier ($25,000), and Totem Element Metal loudspeakers ($13,000/pair). Neil Young's "Look Out for My Love," a song I've only recently come to appreciate (its mildly goofy arrangement put me off for the longest time), sounded especially greatno more so than during the entrance of the backing singers, when the sound of this Chord-anchored system seemed to double. Also in this system but not auditioned during my visit was the brand new Chord Music Streamer ($13,000), a CAT 5-happy player with BNC digital inputs that also contains the full Chord QBD76 D/A processor.
Another room that made no claim to being anywhere close to "entry level," featured the ultra-expensive Constellation electronics (Virgo preamplifier, $27,500, Centaur monoblocks, $54,000/pair, and Cygnus Media Player, $29,000). The speakers were the Magico S5s; at $29,500/pair, these are below the median of the Magico price range. The sound was admittedly lovely. Pictured (left to right) are Irv Gross of Magico and Peter Madnick of Constellation.
The US company Dupuy Acoustique demonstrated their stand-mounted MTM loudspeaker ($5500/pair) alongsideliterallya new product called the Daisy Reflector, which is said to allow a loudspeaker’s back-wave information to reach the listening area in manner originally intended: without time-delay or phase shift. According to designer Rudy Dupuy, it accomplishes this with a carefully designed and precision-machined core of acoustic foam, covered in fabric. Daisy Reflector prices vary with size; the one shown here is $995.
The display featuring Definitive Technology's StudioMonitor 65 speakers and Acurus A 2002 amplifier were not part of a designated "Under-$5,000 system," but, with the speakers priced at $1000/pair and the amp at $2499 (I didn't note the source or the preamp), it could have been. The speakers had a nice open sound, and played surprisingly loud in the large hall they were in. Saxe Brickenden (pictured) of Evolution Home Entertainment, the importer, was clever to set up the speakers on tall stands, so that the sound was at ear-level for people walking by.
Distributor Audio Plus Services made a fine, impactful, and well-balanced sound with the Focal Electra 1038 Be loudspeaker ($13,499). Driven by the impressive Devialet D-Premier integrated amplifier ($15,995), connected with Crystal Cable Reference loudspeaker cable ($6000 for a 3m pair), and fed from a MacBook running iTunes with Audirvana, this system did a good job on a version of Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man of unknown origin, in which kettledrums in particular really sounded like kettledrums, and not merely a very large inner-tube being struck with the blade of a shovel.
One could suggest that, having reviewedand admiredthe DeVore O/96 loudspeaker, I am predisposed to enjoying the newest model in that product line, the less expensive but similarly sensitive O/93 ($8400/pair). But even that wouldn’t explain my gut-level positive response to Tsege Mariam Gebru’s solo piano work The Homeless Wanderer (LP, Mississippi Records MRP-025) on the DeVore-fronted system in one of five rooms sponsored by Montreal dealer Coup de Foudre.
Glimpsed at SSI's Canadian Pavilion (see earlier stories): The 88dB, 6 ohm Dulcet loudspeaker ($1695/pair) from Reference 3A, a brand that began life in Europe, moved to Canada, and always specialized in SET-friendly speakers.
Dynaudio took a decidedly computer-oriented approach to providing a system for under $5000, with a choice between two powered wireless speakers: the Xeo 3 ($2300/pair) and the Xeo 5 (at $4500/pair, just under the $5000 limit). And these speakers are serious high-end products, not built-to-a-price budget offerings. You save on not having to buy an amplifier or cables (not always a trivial amount). The only catch is that there is no source component included; it's assumed that the consumer already has a suitable computer and/or iPod, iPad, or similar device.
Like a Studebaker Avantior perhaps even the Concordethe shape of an Elipson loudspeaker from 60 years ago is jarring, albeit impressively so, in its anacronicity: The French design and manufacturing firm has been ahead of the curve for that long. At SSI they had a number of fetching designs on static display, including the Planet L seen here, a two-way coaxial design that's now manufactured in China. For 2013 a pair of Planet Ls can be bundled with a similarly stylish (round, of course) amplifier/CD player for $2500, with stands adding another $300.
Early on the show’s first day, the first up-and-running system I encountered was in the Nordost room, where a Moon Evolution 750D D/A converter/disc player ($13,000) and the same company’s 125 Wpc 700i integrated amplifier (also $13,000) drove a pair of Dynaudio C2 Signature loudspeakers ($15,000/pair), using Nordost Frey 2 interconnects and speaker cables and, of course, a full brace of QRT accessories. Playing a Baroque-ensemble recording of unknown origin, the system sounded delightfully clear, open, and un-harsh, with considerable spatial depth.
When in London, do take in the British Museum, where you’ll find the uncannily well preserved human remains that have come to be known as Lindow Man. (I could recount the circumstances of the discovery of the corpse, but it’s just too horrible to tell...) As with most Druids from a thousand years ago, he was rather small, and because the corpse was cut in two during its discovery (whoops: I let that slip by mistake), you’ll find the remains of Lindow Man encased in a small illuminated box with a glass topvirtually identical to the Gutwire display cases I found in SSI’s Canadian Pavilion.
The first Gershman speaker I heard was the GAP 828 (maybe in 2004). The GAP 828 has been tweaked over the years, but this is the first time that the changes resulted in a change in model designation: it's now called the GAP 888 ($25,000/pair). The midrange and the tweeter are the same, but there's a new woofer, and consequent changes in the crossover, with some changes in the use of stuffing in the speaker. I've always enjoyed the sound of the GAP, but this was the best that I've heard it soundand the associated components were moderately-priced Quad electronics and CD player.
Here’s Philip O’Hanlon of the California-based distribution company On a Higher Note, looking like he just stepped out of a Donovan album. His system he demonstrated for Montreal retailer Coup de Foudre, which I’ll describe in another post, comprised Luxman source components and electronics and Vivid loudspeakers, wired with Cardas cablesand it sounded great, especially considering that Philip’s gear had just arrived the night before!