For the past three years or so, one of the highlights of SSI has been the concert by the Give Band, featuring singer Caroline St-Louis, who works by day as one of the Show’s blue-haired girls at the ticket desk. And so it was at SSI 2011. Last year, JA took some pictures at the concert with his point-and-shoot camera, but he was disappointed with the amount of blurring in his photos. This time, he had the same camera but brought a monopod to improve camera steadiness, and it worked. Here he is, showing his pictures to Caroline, and she's obviously pleased with the results.
What impressed me the most at the Coup de Foudre party was the recording studio that adjoins the retail store, operated by CdF's co-owner, Graeme Humfrey, who is also a much-in-demand recording engineer. His audio mixing room is filled to the brim with equipment, some of it the very latest, and some of it classics, such as multiple Pultec equalizers that are valued for their sound quality.
On the evening of the first day of the show, John Atkinson, Art Dudley, and I attended a party at Coup de Foudre, one of Montreal's premier high-end audio retailers. There was much to admire there, not the least of which was listening to some of Peter McGrath’s hi-rez recordings on a system featuring VTL MB185 tube monoblocks driving Wilson Sashas and an Alpha DAC being fed USB data from Peter’s MacBook Pro via a Wavelength format converter.
Son Ideal demonstrated with the Harbeth P3ESR: a supremely musical loudspeaker in its own right, and one for which the Montreal dealer has shown a certain affinity over the years. At SSI the Harbeths were paired with brand-new Audiolab 8200 MB mono amplifiers (250W, $1099/each) and 8200 CDQ CD player/USB D/A converter ($1299), that venerable English brand having recently been revived by new owners. The 30-something fellow running the dem asked me to choose an LP from the good selection there, and I lighted upon a well-loved Neil Young album from the ‘70s. Then, while he cued that up, I found another Neil young faveand, after that, the first album by Crosby, Stills, and Nash. I broke from my reverie long enough to find myself on the receiving end of the sort of pitying look reserved for The Very Old.
Show organizer Michel Plante (left) announced on the Show's trade day that SSI would feature a silent auction for a pair of loudspeakers that had been donated by Totem and transformed into works of art by Quebec artists Zïlon and Éric Godin. The proceeds of the auction would benefit the new Dédé Fortin Foundation, named after a popular singer who committed suicide.One of the foundation's goals is to eradicate the stigma of mental illness so that people suffering from severe depression will seek treatment rather than take their own lives.
On display in the Burmester room at SSI was the new Phono Preamplifier 100 ($16,995$22,995), which, with its polished mirror finish, was almost unphotographable. The 100 features two inputs for MM or MC cartridges, and offers a wide range of gain and impedance settings. An optional onboard A/D converter allows owners to digitize their LPs and a unique auto-balance feature equalizes the two channels, to compensate for imbalanced cartridges.
I knew which was Joseph Audio's room without consulting the Show Guidethe sound of Louis Armstrong singing "St. James Infirmary," which has long been one of Jeff Joseph's dem staples, was audible along the corridor. Jeff's system featured the [Perspective] loudspeakers ($11,800/pair), powered by a Simaudio Moon 600i integrated amplifier with a Moon 650D player being fed USB data from Jeff's MacBook Pro. Wiring was all Cardas.
The impressive sound of the Focal Maestro Utopia III speakers in one of the SSI rooms being run by retailer Son-or-Filtronique was familiar from my July 2010 review but the small amplifier driving them via Crystal speaker cables was not. It was the Micromega AS-400 integrated amplifier ($4995), which Art Dudley will be reviewing in the July 2011 issue Stereophile. As well as the usual analog inputs, the AS-400 accepts WiFi audio data via a new version of the French company's Airstream module and uses a high-quality D/A section using Cirrus Logic DAC chips.
I had to make several attempts to visit the Son-or-Filtronique room featuring Sonus Faber's new Amati Futura speakers ($34,000/pair), but the line of would-be listeners patiently waiting outside the room was daunting. The Futuras were launched at last January's CES but not being demmed; at SSI, they were being driven by a Boulder 2060 amplifier, with a dCS Scarlatti and Boulder 1021 used as digital sources.
Here's a glamor shot of the Nagra 300B stereo amplifier in the Verity-Nagra room, this sample being one of the first production units. The integrated features four 300B output tubestwo each per channel in push-pulland will put out 20Wpc.
One of my favorite sounding rooms at SSI was the large suite featuring Verity Sarastro II speakers, the new Nagra 300B stereo amplifier that made its debut at the 2011 CES and a Nagra PLL preamp, with a Nagra CDP CD player and Nagra VI solid-state digital recorder being used for the front-end, all hooked up with Nordost Valhalla cables. The sound of a Jordi Savall ensemble performance of Vivaldi Oboe Concerto, played back on the Nagra VI with 24/48 resolution, was lifelike and easy on the ear, but without sounding either mellow or laidback. perhaps the sound was a little congested on the climaxes with larger-scale music, but this was one of the bigger rooms at the Hilton Bonaventure and the amplifier is limited to 20Wpc.
This relatively modest-looking system in yet another Son-or-Filtronique room at SSI produced some superb sound. The Vienna Acoustics Mozart Grand Symphony Edition speakers ($3500/pair) were being driven by an Ayre AX-7e integrated amplifier ($3500), with the source an Ayre DX-5 universal player being used as a DAC for USB data fed from Amarra running on a MacBook Pro. The USB data connection was AudioQuest's inexpensive Carbon and one AC cable and the speaker cable was by Shunyata. There was also a single Nordost Odin AC cable. If you consider that the Ayre player was being used to provide the same functionality as a $2500 Ayre QB-9, it could be argued that this single AC cable cost as much as the rest of the system together. "It gives an improvement in sound quality and that's justification enough," answered Vienna's Kevin Wolff when I queried him about the system's price balance with the Nordost.
MBL has had some changes in its North American distribution the past couple of years, but now has its own US subsidiary run by the affable Jeremy Bryan, an industry veteran. I have always loved the treble quality of the Berlin-based company's omnidirectional high-frequency "RadialStrahler" drive-units, and the Mk.2 version of the 101 speaker was sounding excellent at SSI, driven by two gigantic 9011 monoblock amplifiers (about to be reviewed by Michael Fremer), a 6010D preamp, a 1621A CD transport, and a 1611F D/A converter. Cabling was all Wireworld Eclipse.
Master recordist Rene LaFlamme of Fidelio Records marked the release of his first LPa remastering of Melanie Barney’s and the Buzz Brass Ensemble’s colorful recording of Holt’s The Planetsby adding to his demonstration system an interesting new turntable called the Kronos. Designed and manufactured in Montreal by Louis Desjardins and photographed here by JA, the Kronos is described as the first commercial turntable to use both a fully sprung suspension and a system of twin counter-rotating platters. (The perpetually fascinating 47 Laboratory 4724 Koma turntable, reviewed in Stereophile by Michael Fremer, pioneered the latter but lacked the former.)
On Sunday at 2pm, John Atkinson gave an illustrated talk entitled "How to measure loudspeakers and what the measurements mean." The scheduling was not ideal, just three hours before the show's closing, and the door to the meeting room where the talk was held was locked, and could be opened only from the inside or with a special card, which was not provided. As a result, attendance at the talk was not as great as it might have been, but the people who were there listened with rapt attention. One person told me afterwards that he has a book on loudspeaker measurement that he's had difficulty understanding, but, having heard JA's presentation, it made much more sense to him. Other than the specifics of how loudspeakers are measured, I thought the most interesting part of JA's presentation was . . .