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.
Nordost's Lars Kristensen can always be relied on to give an enthusiastic and instructive demonstration, and so it was at SSI 2010. I missed the first part of the demo, but I was there for what I was most interested in: the effects of the Quantum Qx2 ($1700) and Qx4 ($2700) Resonant Technology "power purifier" devices that Art Dudley has written about. I can't say that I really understand the technical explanation of how these devices work, but the demonstration showed that they certainly do work, the soundwhich without the Quantum devices was actually better-than-averageacquired greater dynamic freedom, sharper imaging, and the soundstage became more spacious.
As Art mentioned, Totem always does an outstanding job of transforming a simple room into an environment, and at SSI 2010, they surpassed all of their previous efforts. Here’s a look at a row of Totem Tribe on-walls, dressed in new skins. As loudspeakers are often viewed as the most personal component of any system, it makes fine sense to offer the option of truly personalizing them with art. I can imagine buyers selecting fabrics that match their furnishings, or using their favorite artwork, or even creating their own designs.
“If you don’t mind, ladies and gentleman, I’m going to play you something you don’t ordinarily hear at an audiophile show,” states On A Higher Note’s Philip O’Hanlon, as he moves across the floor and inserts a disc into the lovely Luxman D-06 SACD/CD player ($8500).
I first heard the battery-powered amplification from Veloce at the 2009 SSI; this year the Philadelphia-based company was sharing a room with YG Acoustics, whose 3-way Kipod speakers ($38,500/pair) were being driven by the V6 mono 180W amplifiers ($12,500/pair) via Kubala-Sosna Emotion cables. A V.Y.G.R. Baltic M turntable, fitted with a 12" SME 312 tonearm and Air Tight PC-1 cartridge fed Veloce's new LP-1 transformer-based phono module ($3000) and the Veloce Platino LS-1 tube preamp.
The Multi Electronique suite was home to a tasteful, sedate display of Focal loudspeakers and Simaudio electronics, fed by an iMac computer running iTunes: just like home, except these guys had WAV files instead of the AIFFs that I prefer. The music selection was superb, and included the young jazz singer Melody Gardot, whom I hadn't heard before today, and the always interesting Dee Dee Bridgewater. Even without the luxury of an "audiophile" setupwhich is to say, these musical furnishings were arranged in the manner of a normal person's homethe sound of the Focal Chorus 826W ($3795/pair), Moon 3.3 DPX D/A converter ($4000), and Moon 3.3 amplifier ($4000) was utterly charming, and I left my comfy red seat with only the greatest reluctance.
The arrangement of Totem's new Tribe 5 wall-mounted speaker in on of their rooms at SSI raised my eyebrows. I asked Totem's main man Vince Bruzzese what gives? "We must reach out to non-audiophiles!" he said, adding that this was one of the impetuses behind the launch of the "skins" that Art Dudley wrote about above. "By arranging these speakers in an unconventional manner but showing that they can still play music, we reduce the fear non-audiophiles have." (My apologies if my paraphrase didn't capture the passion with which Vince spoke.) But the Trentemoller track I listened to, played on Chord CD transport, DAC, and amplifier, didn't sound any the worse for the unusual speaker setup.
The Luxman L-509u ($10,000) is rated to deliver 120Wpc into 8 ohms, and comes equipped with tone and balance controls, a front-panel headphone jack, MM/MC phono stage, and all kinds of rad buttons, knobs, and meters. No remote, though. You’re gonna have to get up and play with this sweet thing.