Like many Stereophile readers, I read with great interest, and a certain amount of incredulity, Jason Victor Serinus's rather gushing CES report on the Sennheiser HD800 headphones. Now, I have a lot of respect for JVS's opinionswe share an appreciation of opera and other vocal music, and we're both great fans of Fritz Wunderlichbut, reading his report, part of me was intrigued and another part was thinking "Come on, Jason, these are just headphones, what's the big deal?"
It did not require great perspicacity to predict that SSI2009 would not be as well attended as last year's show. Things are tough all over. In any case, as I write this, on Saturday evening on a train en route to Torontoyes, I manage to catch the train this time!the show still has another day to go, and, as Michel Plante, with Sarah Tremblay the SSI's organizers, admitted, what often makes or breaks a show like this is the Sunday attendance.
I first heard the prototypes of the almost-all-glass Arabesque from Dutch wire manufacturer Crystal Cable at the 2009 CES, where they produced sound in the Audio Basics room that belied my negative expectations. Demmed at SSI with Simaudio 5.3 series CD player and amplification, the Arabesques, now in full production, again produced a promising sound. With my my recording of "The Mooche," from Editor's Choice, the Arabesques put me squarely in the church acoustic of Chad Kassem's Blue Heaven Studio in Kansas, where the recording was made.
René Laflamme's recordings on the Fidelio label have always been favorites of mine, though his choice of repertoirelike the new "It's a Small World" projectsometimes cause my eyebrows to raise. SSI was my first chance to hear high-resolution versions of some Fidelio recordings, played back from René's laptop feeding data via asynchronous USB to the dCS Scarlatti upsampler set to do nothing other than translate the USB datastream to AES/EBU at 96kHz to drive the dCS Elgar Plus D/A. As this has a volume control it was connected direcrtly to a pair of Nagra VPA tube monoblocks which in turn drove the Verity Sarastro 2 speakers that Fred Kaplan reviewed for Stereophile in April. Cabling was all-Shunyata. René uses all-tube microphones and records directly to a Pyramix digital audio workstation. The sound of a transcription for brass and organ of "Mars" from Holst's The Planets was to die for on this system, one of my "best of shows."
Son-Or-Filtronique's Dany Poulin stands with the Verity Audio Finn. Paired with the Audio Research VSi60 integrated amplifier and CD 8 disc player, the Finns, which are rated at 91dB efficiency and use a rear-firing woofer, were making some gorgeous sounds.
I adored the sound in the small Son-Or-Filtronique room with the Audio Research VSi60 integrated amplifier, Audio Research CD8 disc player ($10,000), Verity Audio Finn loudspeakers ($6000/pair CAN), and Shunyata cables. Adored it.
Box Furniture Co.'s Anthony Abbate started as an apprentice to furniture maker Robert Martin. A love for music, sound, and hi-fi would soon get Anthony building equipment racks for his personal system. Later, a chance meeting at Max Fish, the colorful little bar on Ludlow Street in the Lower East Side, with speaker designer John DeVore, would lead to a partnership with DeVore Fidelity, building John's handsome speaker cabinets. (Oddly, but perfectly, Anthony would later later discover that John had sold him some of his old hi-fi equipment. Their relationship was obviously a product of fate. And you can't mess with that.) Anthony's equipment racks and isolation platforms, like the speaker cabinets, are nothing exotic or gaudy. Instead, they are simply elegant. But not elegant in the precious sort of way. Elegant in that nothing is wasted. Elegant in that form matches function. Anthony's work simply is what it is; pure and honest lines, mortise and tenon construction, catalyzed finishes, handmade in Brooklyn, New York.
I am only familiar with the name "Solen" from the company's audiophile-quality capacitors and other passive components, so I wasn't sure what to expect when I entered the room labeled "Solen." The beautifully finished speakers, demmed with an Ayre C7-xe CD player, Accuphase preamp, and Rotel power amp, were one-off designs to show off what coud be achieved by the audiophile interested in "rolling his own." (Selections from AudioXpress magazine's library of speaker design books were also on show.) The large speaker with the outboard crossover sounded pretty good, I thought. It combined a JBL subwoofer with an Audio Technology woofer, ATC dome midrange, and Dynaudio Esotar tweeter.
The Pierre Gabriel speakers usually demonstrated at the Montreal show are normally humongous affairs, and, with partnering equipment by Jadis, the system price may leave you with little change from a $500k bill. I was surprised, then, to see a relatively modest-lookingbut still very-good-soundingspeakers playing in the Pierre Gabriel/Jadis room.
Is it just my perception, or do people who are looking through bins of LPs have a kind of happy excitement about them? The vinyl-buying folks at SSI sure seemed to be a really happy lot. Selecting CDs seems to be a much more matter-or-fact endeavor. And I can't imagine anyone getting too excited about the act of buying a new hard drive for their music server.
SSI had a display of vintage gramophones and radios, courtesy of Montreal's Emile Berliner Museum. They've had this for several shows now, and it's always wonderful to see these artifacts that tell the history of our hobby. The Museum is member-supported, and publishes a pamphlet, His Master's Voice, four times a year, in English and French.