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.
The mystery of the Sanyo JCX 2600K stereo receiver that I wrote about in an earlier blog posting is solved. I went back to the booth of Aux 33 Tours, a Montreal store that sells used new CDs and LPs, and there it was, combined with a Revolver turntable. Aux 33 Tours' Christian Provost told me that they bought the Sanyo receiver from a widow whose husband had been a music lover/audiophile. In addition to a record collectionwhich they boughthe had two of these receivers, one that he had used on a regular basis, and the other that he kept as a spare, in case the first one broke down. It was still in the box, sealed in plastic. That's the unit that was at the show. No wonder it looked to be in good shape! The picture shows Christian Provost playingwhat else?a record.
Barrie, Ontario, about an hour's drive from Toronto, with a population of about 130, 000, is not a city that I associate with the design and manufacture of high performance audio equipment. It doesn't have even a single "real" audio store, just Best Buy, etc. But, as I found out at SSI 2010, Barrie is the home of McAlister Audio, maker of the OTL-195 monoblock amplifier and a prototype preamp. The designer is Peter McAlister, who produced his first prototype output-transformerless power amp ten years ago. The OTL-195 puts out 150W, and appears to be a very sophisticated design: fully balanced, able to drive 4 ohm loads, a circuit that tracks the signal level in the driver stage and modulates the control grids of output tubes, and various other circuit refinements. The OTL-195 is hand-built by Peter McAlister himself, and utilizes high-quality parts. The price is $8500/pair. As I mentioned in the blog posting below, the King Sound Prince IIs sounded great driven the McAlister OTL-195s.
May Audio Marketing, owned and managed by Nizar Akhrass, has been a purveyor of audiophile recordings and accessories since . . . well...shortly after Thomas Edison demonstrated the newfangled device called the phonograph. Or at least so it seems. He and his family are still at it, and, in a move that will be applauded by the audiophile community, the organizers of SSI presented Nizar and his wife Alice with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the opening night reception. Well-deserved, I'd say.
I was happy to meet 29-year old Robert DeKoninck, who has been working at Montreal’s Son Ideal hi-fi shop for three years, here seen with Harbeth’s Compact 7ES-3 loudspeaker ($3600 CAN) on Noel Nolan’s Skylan stands ($520 CAN). Robert’s longtime love for music (he’s a drummer) eventually led him to hi-fi; he’s been an audiophile for about seven years. This is encouraging. When I was 22, I had just started working for Stereophile, and I had little idea about what it meant to be an audiophile! Robert says he sees more and more young people coming into the shop, and he’s encouraged by both the resurgence of vinylRobert only listens to vinyl at home and doesn’t even own a CD playerand the latest trends in computer audio. These seemingly disparate interests, he feels, will lead more young people to the hobby.
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.
I got to see and to hear the legendary Platine Verdier turntable in the Excel Stereo suite, and though language differences and crowd noise confounded my efforts to learn either its current price or the name of the curious birdsong-and-fiddle record being played, I was delighted to see it in use with a proper (12") tonearm and Ortofon SPU pickup head. Seems I didn't leave civilization behind after all!
Coming soon to a salon near you: a 45Wpc integrated amp that even a schoolteacher can afford. Advanced Acoustics, whose products are designed in France and manufactured in China, showed a prototype of their forthcoming MAP-101, which sounded decent driving a nondescript pair of tiny tabletop speakers. And if that sounds like darning with faint praise, consider that Advanced's MAP-101 is intended to sell for only $649. Alors!