I walked into the Reference 3A room to be greeted by an impressive orchestral piece. I heard massed strings and scintillating cymbal crashes and booming percussion, all presented with great impact, drama, and scale. Speakers were the Reference 3A Grand Veena ($7995/pair), rated at 89dB efficiency and utilizing five “seamlessly integrated drivers,” including a Murata Exciter for the highest frequencies. Designer Tash Goka explained that the angle of the Grand Veena’s front baffle and the precise positioning of the speaker’s drivers work together to achieve a coherent phase response.
I started my day the right way: listening to a good LP of acoustic music. In one of three Coup de Foudre rooms I listened to Skip James's final album on a system comprising the new Brinkmann DD turntable (price TBD) with an EMT TSD 15 fineline phono cartridge ($1800), Auditorium 23 step-up transformer ($995), Leben RS30 EQ moving-magnet phono preamp ($2595), Leben CS300 XS integrated amplifier ($3495), and DeVore Fidelity 3XL loudspeakers ($3700/pair without stands), the latter of which were capable of allowing the music to sound surprisingly, delightfully big. Cables were all by Auditorium 23, and the source and amplification components were supported by a typically beautiful Sapele rack from the Box Furniture company.
Grant Fidelity purchasing manager, Rachel Zhang, explained that her company wants to bring “a self-servicing, consumer electronics distribution model to high-end audio.” All of Grant Fidelity’s products are available factory-direct; and, instead of the traditional dealer network, Grant Fidelity utilizes private, home-based demonstrators. The goal is to make available more affordable products for a younger and more varied audience, Zhang said.
Because I have a review pair at home, I was eager to hear how the new Wilson Sasha loudspeakers ($26,995/pair) would sound under show conditions, in the largest Coup de Foudre room. Driven by a Brinkmann Oasis turntable ($13,700), Brinkmann 10.5 tonearm ($6300), Brinkmann EMT cartridge ($4300), VTL TL5.5 preamp ($8000 with phono), Berkeley Alpha D/A converter (45700), Pathos Adrenaline amplifiers (price unknown!), and all Transparent Audio cabling, the Sashas were just as colorful, dramatic, and involving today as they've been for the past several weeks in my own listening room. Of course today's performance owed a great deal to the quality of the recordings made by master recordist Peter McGrath of Wilson Audio (left), whose sessions with Cuban-born pianist Jorge Luis Prats were nothing short of sensational. On the right, making sure I didn't miss the VTL preamp, is VTL's Luke Manley.
Following Michel Plante's speech at the opening night reception, the Give Band played a great set of world-musicinfluenced rock that, thankfully, was not too loud. (The FoH mixer must have been an audiophile.) The band's CD AudioPhylanthrope, recorded and mastered at the world-famous Guy St-Onge's studio, was launched at SSI as the Show's reference recording. The Give Band are performing at 9pm tonight (Friday, when the Show closes) in the Lounge Stereo Plus on SSI's lower floor, so if you are at the Show, you still have a chance to check them out.
SSI 2010 also marks the North American debut of the active-suspension, self-powered DSPeaker Servo loudspeaker ($3500/pair), designed and manufactured in Finland and distributed in the US by Simplifi Audio. Lead designer Toni Liitola explained that the use of Active Suspension Compliance Management works to tame acoustical and mechanical non-linearities of the driver/enclosure system, while DSP-based waveform shaping enables a “transient-perfect sound.” The Servo uses Seas drivers made to DSPeaker’s specifications; internal amplifiers are made in-house. In addition, the speaker’s built-in Anti-Mode room correction eliminates room resonance, allowing the speaker to be placed almost anywhere in a room. In support of his claims, Liitola was happy to share several waterfall plots and step-response graphs.
Faithful readers of these show report blogs may recall that last year I missed the TorontoMontreal train I was scheduled to take, and had to wait two hours for the next one. This year, I was determined that history was not going to repeat itself, and I ended up getting to the train station nearly an hour before the train's departure. Maybe next year I'll find a happy compromise. . .
The Antique Sound Lab AQ 1001 Mk.II integrated amplifier ($1995) did a fine job of driving Reference 3A’s Grand Veena loudspeakers to concert hall levels. The AQ 1001 Mk.II is rated to deliver 50W in pentode mode and 25W in triode mode, and offers manual bias adjustment for each tube. The latest incarnation of this long-standing design incorporates new output transformers with no negative feedback and a choke-regulated power supply for “a faster and more dynamic sound,” Reference 3A’s Tash Goka told me.
Shows like SSI are about the cutting edge in audio, with the latest and (purportedly) greatest on display and demonstration. Given this, I always get a kick out of spotting a piece of equipment that just does not seem to belong in such august company. This Sanyo JCX 2600K stereo receiver is from another eracirca 19781981 according to the ever-helpful Google search. Looks like it's in great shape. I spotted it on a shelf in an area of the show where they were setting up racks of LPs for sale. What was it doing there? I have no idea. Wonder how it compares sonically with the latest-and-greatest?
Next door to Cabasse, Samuel and Jean-Pierre of L'Atelier-Audio had somewhat less Englishand my command of French is virtually non-existent. But I had no trouble understanding the music played through their Ocellia Calliope 30 Twin Signature loudspeakers (exhibited in pre-production form, price TBD), driven by their Quaero 300B push-pull amps ($15,000/pair) and Quaero Signature preamp ($9000). As with all Ocellia loudspeakers, the very efficient Calliope 30 Twins use high-sensitivity drivers from the French company Phy, and the exquisitely beautiful cabinets are built with intentionally very thin walls, braced in a manner not unlike a guitar or violin, and equipped with an adjustable port/open baffle system for matching the loudspeaker to the volume of air in the listening room. The performance was lovely, insofar as I could tell in such an unavoidably setting, and I've requested a pair for review.
The Salon Son & Image has been organized for the past 4 years by Michel Plante and Sarah Tremblay, who were to be seen everywhere on the Show's opening day. I have been involved in running Shows for almost 30 years, and I must say that from the visitors' perspective and, I hope, the exhibitors', the 2010 event was superbly organized. Good signage, a great venue, and overall good sound, I take my hat off to Michel and Sarah. They even partnered with CEDIA for the first time at the 2010 Show to present "CEDIA University," a series of training seminars for custom installation. The evening of the first day, Michel thanked everyone in a short speech at the opening reception and wished them "Bon Salon!" before handing the stage over to the Give Band.
I was also impressed by the sound of the $7000/pair Joseph Pulsar stand-mount that Stephen Mejias blogged about. What was notable about the set-up was that, in order to tame the hotel room acoustic, Jeff had set-up the speakers, driven by Simaudio's new 175Wpc Moon 700i integrated amplifier via Cardas Clear cables, to fire across the room's diagonal. If you have problems getting an optimal transition between the mid-bass and upper bass in your room, you might want to try this set-up (significant other not objecting, of course).
From the perspective of an attendee, Salon Son & Image 2010 may be the ideal hi-fi show. While the Hilton Bonadventure is a massive, sprawling location, the exhibitor rooms on the main floor are clearly marked and easily identifiable by a specific color referred to in the official show guide: There are green, purple, red, and blue halls, all with pleasant lighting made to match. In the green hall, just around the corner from my own room, we find Audio D’Occasion, Cardas Audio, Hathor Acoustik, Joseph Audio, Sensational Musicale, and Verity Audio.
Today is Press Day at the 2010 Salon Son & Image, located at the extraordinary Hilton Bonadventure, a penthouse hotel perched above the Place Bonadventure exhibition center, built for the 1967 World’s Fair. At the moment, exhibitors and members of the press are just getting acquainted with the unusual hotel, which has an extremely tempting heated outdoor pool and garden views at every turn. Lines are just beginning to form at the registration desk, where I couldn’t help but say hello to the charming staff.