Klaro Audio debuted its Summus loudspeaker ($3300/pair CAN), designed and manufactured in Montreal. This compact floorstander stands 36” H by 6.5” W by 10” D, and has a rated efficiency of 89dB; it uses single-wire binding posts from Furutech and its Russian Birch Plywood cabinet is available in Piano Black, Cherry, Mahogany, Tasso Brown, or Terra Natural finishes. Mated to the CEC TL51XR belt-drive CD player ($2200), Jadis JS1 Mk.III DAC with separate power supply ($18,000), and Jeff Rowland Continuum integrated amplifier, the Klaro Summus, pictured here with Jacintha looking on, impressed me with its large, smooth sound.
I walked into Jay Rein’s Bluebird Music room and was immediately taken by the hard-rocking sound of Led Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick,” reproduced with appropriate drama, impact, and scale. Here we see Rein standing beside Spendor’s new A9 loudspeaker ($7295/pair). Introduced at this year’s Bristol Show, the A9 made its North American debut at SSI 2010, and sounded excellent, driven by Exposure’s new 3010S2 series: 100W monoblocks ($2595/pair), preamp ($1395), and CD player ($2195). The S2 series replaces Exposure’s Classic line and represents a 50% power increase for one-third less money, Rein told me. Van den Hul’s D352 speaker cables and D102 interconnects ($929) tied this impressive system together.
Leema Acoustics’ Mark Perfect dwarfs the little Leema Xero ($1400/pair), driven by Leema’s own Tucana II 150Wpc integrated amplifier ($8000) and Antila Multi-DAC CD player ($6000), all producing a surprisingly BIG sound with tightly focused images placed within a fairly wide and deep soundstage. Perfect explained that Leema takes its name from design partners Lee Taylor and Mallory Nicholls, recording studio engineers who met during their tenure at the BBC. Designed and manufactured in Wales, the Leema Zero uses custom-made Audax drive units, and has a rated sensitivity of 85dB.
Leben Hi-Fi’s CS600 integrated amplifier ($5895), distributed by Tone Imports, produces 32Wpc and is a gorgeous piece of art, recalling the industrial design of 1950s and 1960s American hi-fi. We didn’t listen to the CS600 at SSI 2010, but I had a lot of fun just looking at it. Watch out for John Marks’ review in our June issue.
Simaudio, represented in my photo by Lionel Goodfield (left) and Dynaudio, represented by Mike Manousselis (right) often exhibit together, an arrangement that seems to represent the friendly relationships between people in these companies as well as the synergistic relationships between the products. They certainly sound good together, and both companies seem to be guided by a desire to offer not necessarily the cheapest possible products, but ones that offer high quality combined with good value.
The Focal Electra 1037 Be that was reviewed by Michael Fremer a while back has been superseded by the Electra 1038 Be II ($13,500/pair). The major change is the upgrading of the beryllium tweeter to the level of the units used in the Utopia series. There is also the inevitable crossover change, and the manufacturing of the midrange and woofer drivers has been made more precise. Here's Daniel Jacques of Audio Plus/Plurison, the North American Focal importer, with the Electra 1038 Be II.
In addition to ingenuity in dealing with setup problems, Grant Audio had another claim to show exhibitor fame: their sign said "Nothing Over $2500," In fact, most of their productssome designed by Ian Grant in Canada but made in China, and others of Chinese design as well as manufacturewere well under $2500. One of the more expensive items was the W30GT: tube-based integrated amplifier designed by Ian Grant that includes a phono stage and a DAC. It's $1950.
I have always been seduced by the silky sound of the true omnidirectional MBL upper-frequency drivers, and SSI was the first outing by the new North American distributor for the German brand, GTT Audio. The new MBL 126, shown in the photo and priced at $12,500/pair, is a smaller development of the 121, with side-firing 5" woofers complementing the midrange and HF drivers. The 126 was being demmed with the MBL preamp and monoblock power amps that so impressed Michael Fremer when he reviewed them a couple of years back, hooked up with Kubala-Sosna Elation series cables. Listening to a Reference Recordings classical orchestral disc, the sound was as expansive as I always hear from MBL's speakers.
Place Bonaventure is located about halfway between St. Catherine street (which I think of as the center of downtown) and Old Montreal, near the river. As such, it's nearly in the shadow of St. Patrick's Basilica. I went for a walk Friday morning before the show started, but my walk was not as long as I had planned: the temperature had taken a big dive overnight, and so it was very...shall we say...bracing. But at least it didn't snow, as in previous SSIs.
To Kevin Mokry and Meghan Hutchinson, I’m just another old dude at a hi-fi show. Which is awesome, because I’m tired of being the new guy, and I’m always happy to see young, enthusiastic faces enjoying high quality sound. Kevin is just 18 years old and already deep into hi-fi and A/V gear, selling for his dad at Quebec’s Centre Hi-Fi, and Meghan is very impressed by the robust bass of Monster’s Beats by Dr. Dre headphones ($350).
As a Quad ESL enthusiast, I know how difficult it is to blend subwoofers with very good, very fast loudspeakers. Consequently, I was impressed with the new A225-M powered subwoofer from the Swiss company PSI, on demonstration at the Simplifi Audio room. Used with the Gradient Helsinki loudspeaker, of which I also have some experience, a pair of PSI subs ($4500 each) provided lots of deep, impactful bass with no apparent change in the Gradients' timbral character: very impressive. The subwoofer was housed within one of the the same IKEA units as Simplifi's Tim Ryan was using for component stands, to show that high-quality sound can still be domestically acceptable.
Audio show exhibitors have a lot of obstacles to contend with: equipment not showing up or showing up damaged, problem with room acoustics, problems with the electrical supply, equipment malfunctioning just as the show starts, and countless others. Ian Grant of Grant Fidelity told me that when he first set up his turntable front end it was picking up the signal from a local radio station! Being an ingenious engineering-type, he located the source of the interference (he could see the station's antenna from the hotel window), and got some building insulation material that had aluminum foil as part of its construction, and taped it to the hotel window. Voilà! Problem solved!
I was immensely impressed by the dCS Puccini SACD player and U-Clock when I reviewed the British combination last December. But as the physical discs becomes a legacy source of music, there was obviously a need for a related D/A product. SSI saw the public debut of the dCS Debussy ($10,999 with remote), shown off here by Tempo Marketing's John Quick. The Debussy basically combines the D/A, DSP, and analog board from the Puccini with the true asynchronous USB input topology from the U-Clock in a slim, attractive package. There are two AES/EBU and two S/PDIF inputs, as well as USB, and there is also a word-clock input to allow the Debussy to be controlled by an external master clock unit. Two digital filters are included, one a conventional symmetrical type, the other a variant of the increasingly popular minimum-phase "apodizing" type.