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.
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.
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.
As a fan of electrostaticsI used to own KLH Nines and original Quad 57sI was intrigued by the favorable reports of the King Sound Prince II full-range electrostatics in both the 2010 CES and the Axpona show reportss, and was pleased to find out King Sound listed on the list of exhibitors at SSI 2010. It was one of the few exhibits that I actually sought out rather than just allowing myself to find it in the course of walking the show floor. And I was most impressed. The soundwith electronics from McAlister, a company that I'll be writing about in a separate blog entryhad the clarity and lack of "speaker" coloration that reminded me of the KLH Nines and Quads, but the speaker seemed to be able to play louder than than these classic 'static designs. The retail price of $6500/pair seems very reasonable. I think I've found my next speaker to review. Or maybe the King II, which is just being introducedbut it may be too big for my room.
Introduced at January’s CES, Sennheiser’s RS 180 wireless headphones ($500) are so light and comfortable, you hardly know you’re wearing them. Rechargeable batteries are concealed within the right earcap, which also holds controls for volume and balance. The ‘phones have a range of 100m, and offered a full, round sound with impressive imaging.
In the Son Ideal room, Harbeth’s Compact 7ES-3 loudspeakers were being driven by Rogue Audio’s Cronus Magnum ($2200), which swaps the standard Cronus’s EL34s for beefier KT90s, delivering 90Wpc for a more extended top end and more robust bottom, Robert DeKoninck told me. I’ve been interested in Rogue Audio for awhile, and hope to listen to a Cronus soon.
Simaudio had two product introductions at the show that conform to this approach: the Moon 400M is a 400Wpc fully balanced mono power amp selling for $2995 each, and the Moon 350P preamplifier (also fully-balanced), $1995 without phono stage and CN$2795 with. Dynaudio had the new Focus 220 Mk.II floorstander ($3600/pair) and the DM 2/6 ($800/pair). The DM 2/6 is the least expensive Dynaudio speaker, and although the drivers are not quite at the level of their more expensive brethren, Dynaudio's Mike Manousselis told me that they're still made in the same factory in Denmark, and follow the core Dynaudio technical quality. Lionel Goodfield (Simaudio) and Mike Manousselis look pleased with their new products.