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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.