One of the things I look forward to at these shows is a visit to the Wilson Audio room, and the chance to listen to master recordings made by Peter McGrath. The system at this year's FSI, in the room sponsored by dealer Coup de Foudre, featured the WATT Puppy 8s and Watchdog subs, VTL TL-6.5 preamp and MB-450 amps, with Nordost interconnects and Transparent speaker cables. (I guess they didn't want to be accused of favoritism when it came to cable choice.) As usual, the sound was clean and dynamic, with a deep soundstage, and voices sounding very natural. Peter played a recording he had made of Renee Fleming singing Richard Strauss's Four Last Songs heartbreakingly beautiful. Luke Manley (VTL, left) and Peter McGrath (Wilson, right) are looking appropriately pleased.
In a show that is distinguished by very good signage, Blue Circle's room is marked by what designer Gilbert Yeung proclaimed "the ugliest signs in the show." Yeung, an indefatigable self-promote, arrived at FSI, only to discover the show had provided no signs for the room. Yeung ran with the concept, deliberately lettering his own signs in a childish "Chinglish."
Not too long after I got my first audio magazine job in 1976, I reported on the founding of a new speaker company, Harbeth, featuring the designs from ex-BBC engineer Dudley Harwood, who had pioneered the use of polypropylene as a cone material. Dudley is long since retired but I have followed his company's progress with interest since it was acquired by Alan Shaw, and the little Harbeth HL-P3ES2 has long been a favorite of mine. Harbeth's Canadian distributor, Planet Sound, was demonstrating the larger Super HL5 speakers (around $5000/pair), the next step up from the Compact 7ES-3 that has been a favorite of both John Marks and Sam Tellig in Stereophile's pages. The sound with Audio Research electronics (CD3 Mk.3 player, LS26 preamp, and Ref.110 power amplifier) suffered a bit from a rather boomy room acoustic, but Ella Fitzgerald dueting with Louis Armstrong worked her magic.
Never mind all those fancy audio components; this is all you need. Well, maybe not if you're the typical Stereophile reader or FSI attendee. This RCA console stereo (model SFA 1091) is circa-1968, and I note that it's "All Transistor." It was a part of a display of vintage audio equipment at FSI from the Emile Berliner exhibit at the Montreal Musee des Ondes.
Is $140,000 the new price point for loudspeakers? No, that's not quite right—unlike the KEF Muon, the price of the GamuT S9 El Superiores is "only" $130,000/pair. Like the KEF model, this is intended to push the boundaries of what's possible in loudspeaker design, but the two speakers bear absolutely no resemblance to each other. GamuT's speakers use the principle of distributed resonance in the design of their speaker cabinets, allowing the natural resonance of each part of the cabined to decay undamped, but distributing these resonances over such a wide are that the overall frequency response remains linear, but without what designer Lars Goller's feels is the "unmusical" sound of highly damped enclosures. Here's Lars with the S9. And, yes, the speakers did sound quite wonderful.
The Galactus-sized Audio Research Reference 610T monoblock amplifiers ($20,000/ea) put out 600W. They require 8 matched pairs of 6550C output tubes, one 6550c regulator, one 6H30 as an amplifier regulator, a pair of 6550Cs as drivers, two 6NIP input tubes, and a 6H30 follower—that's a ton of tubes.
Yeung was demonstrating a few new Blue Circle products, an inexpensive USB DAc and the $4895 95Wpc FtTH integrated amplifier. Yeung calls the FtTH his "statement" preamp, saying that it employs Blue Circle's True Balanced Audio technology, which, he says, "drives both the positive and the negative output terminals for better control of the loudspeakers."
I was as impressed as Robert Deutsch had been with KEF's $140k/pair Muons, and enjoyed a couple of tracks from the late Joe Zawinul's Faces & Places CD, Musical Fidelity's new 750k Supercharger monoblocks driving the speakers to satisfyingly high levels. Except there was no CD playing. It turned out I was listening to a 320kbps AAC file on an iPod sitting in the Wadia dock you can see in the photo. This takes an I2S digital output from a late-generation iPod and KEF were using the S/PDIF datastream to drive the digital input of the Musical Fidelity CD player at the top of the equipment stack. Given how much ink I have spilled recently on the dangers of lossy-compressed file formats, my face must have been as red as the room’s illumination had been at the time.
"Cinema—musique—beaux-arts." That's what it says on Mario Boisvert's business card. His Montreal store, Le Ren Art Bleu, sells LPs, CDs, original art, and Blu-ray discs. How is that for diversification? He had some of each at FSI—with just about the lowest priced I've seen for Blu-ray discs.
GamuT makes electronics as well as speakers, and they introduced a new model at the show. The Si100 is a $120Wpc integrated, similar in design—and, they claim, sound—to their $11,000 Di150, but priced at $6200. (I was going to say "only," but, of course, $6200 is still a good bit of change for most people.)
KEF showed their $140,000/pair Muon "concept" loudspeaker in a suite at the Hilton at the 2008 CES, but my assignment for the show report blog was electronics, so I so I passed on visiting the KEF suite. Big mistake! As the show went on, I heard several of my Stereophile colleagues raving about the KEF Muon, but by that time it would have been too inconvenient to go back the Hilton. But when I heard that KEF would be demonstrating the Muon at FSI, I was sure to check them out.