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.
As last year, Totem Acoustics had by far the show's most aesthetically sophisticated exhibit: a trippy mix of shapes and textures both organic and industrial, in which lights, flowers, textiles, and scents shared senses with the sound. The latter, also in typical Totem form, was exceptionally involvingespecially the Beatles' "Within You, Without You," Insane Clown Posse's "Ain't Yo Bidness," and "lua" by Dudu (no relation) Salinas. At SSI Totem also introduced a product that's still in concept stage, called Totem Skin: a removable sock-style cover that transformed cabinetry into artliterally. Among the company's goals for this show, according to the Totem rep with whom I spoke, was to gauge consumer response to the Skins, and the reaction so far is positive.
Here we see John Atkinson caressing the relatively compact Vivid B1 loudspeaker ($15,000/pair). With the help of a second rear-mounted mid-woofer, the B1 produces a sound far larger than its modest proportions. On A Higher Note’s Philip O’Hanlon tells us that women, in particular, have been fond of this speaker.
Maybe I don't know everything after all. In all candor, Legacy loudspeakers had never struck me as the sorts of things I might like. But here at FSI, driven by an attractive Ayon Triton integrated amplifier ($8500), itself fed by an Ayon CD-5 CD player ($9450), I very much enjoyed the big Legacy Whisper XD speakers ($20,000/pair). I wasn't surprised by the punchy, wide-range presentation, but there was a lot more realistic texture and timbral color than I ever expected. And the very nice young couple who ran the suite were patient with my seemingly limitless supply of inane questions. A fine experience.
On a number of occasions I've heard the CD-77 CD player from Abbingdon Music Research sound wonderful: organic, textured, and altogether analogish. Today was no exception, as proven by the latest 77.1 version of the AMR player ($9995), distributed in the US by Avatar Acoustics. (Avatar also distributes the unique tuning accessories made by Franck Tchang of Acoustic Systems International.) Other components on dem were a beautiful tube preamp and power amp from Japan's Mactone (price to be determined) and Teo Audio's interesting new Runa loudspeaker (projected to sell for $12,000/pair), all wired together with the latest interconnects and cables from the Teo-distributed Liquid Cable. The system was invitingly detailed without a trace of tizz, and while I'm not the sort who obsesses over imaging, I admit that I was charmed by the Teo speakers' very inviting spatial qualities. Also on display but in use during my visit was the Feickert Blackbird turntable (approximately $7500), for which the word "interesting" seems a cruel understatement.
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).