My best sound at the 2011 SSI? No doubt about it, it was the late Leonard Shure performing Beethoven's Op.109 Piano Sonata courtesy of the immense VTL Siegfried tubed monoblocks driving even more immense Wilson Alexandria X2 loudspeaker via Transparent Audio cables in Coup de Foudre's large room on the Hilton Bonaventure's mezzanine floor. This was the last room I visited at SSI and provided a fitting climax to what had been a great Show.
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 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 . . .
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.
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.
The first time I heard a PHY driver was in an enclosure designed and made by Ocellia Audio, 15-odd years ago. During the years since then, Ocellia head Samuel Furon has continued to refine his complex, intentionally thin-walled designs, and the line has expanded to include some new models. The latest of these is the Calliope.21 Signature ($14,000 as shown, with configurations of this model starting at $9900), which was demonstrated at SSI with an Ocellia Quero integrated amp ($14,000), prototype Ocellia Quero phono preamp (price TBD), and a vintage Platine Verdier turntable with EMT 997 tonearm and Ocellia-modified Denon 103 cartridge.
Naim's line of Uniti network-enable music servers . . . er, renderers . . . er, digital music players, can be controlled by a uPnP app runing on iPads and iPhones. Doug Graham's iPad doesn't seem disturbed by his frantic handwaving as it hung in mid-air! New at the Show was the UnitiQute player, which combines a preamplifier with two analog inputs, five 24-bit/192kHz-capable digital inputs, a USB port, and WiFI and Ethernet network connections.
I have a lot of respect for Dynaudio speakers, and have enjoyed listening to them at various shows, but I've never been as taken with one of their speakers as I was with the new Confidence C1 Mk.II ($8200/pair). With Naim amplification and digital source (including a Squeezebox Touch), the sound was simply exquisite, with highs that were revealing and yet not clinical. The legendary Esotar2 tweeter (shown in the photo) has apparently undergone some evolutionary development, and continues to maintain its status as the best dome tweeter in the world.
The title "Ask the Editors" suggests one-way communication: people in the audience ask questions, and, guru-like, Stereophile writers answer these questions. In fact, communication at these events goes in both directions. For example, at the 2011 "Ask the Editors" session, one of the attendees mentioned that he was really impressed with the demo of a speaker made by Live Audio, a company based in Quebec.
For big speakers, like the Legacy Whisper XD in the story below, the problem in setting up an effective demo in a show environment is that the room may be too small for the speaker. And then for speakers that are more modestly sized, if they're demonstrated in a big room, the speaker may not be able to play loud enough and the bass response may not be sufficiently powerful for the big space. The LSA (Living Sounds Audio) Group's demo featured the LSA2 Statement ($5999/pair) speakers driven by their own LSA Standard tube hybrid integrated amp ($6200) . . .
My reputation preceded me: Everywhere I went, people who knew me stopped and asked, “Have you heard the new Lowther yet?” The speaker in question was actually a Lowther-alike from the German firm Voxativ, named the Ampeggio ($29,750/pair), and as I told everyone who askedunsmugly, I hopeI’ve had a loaner pair in my house since mid-March.
Dear Mikey: I know you spend a lot more time outside of the US than I doheck, you probably get out of the house more often than Iso it’s with non-snotty glee that I must inform you: For once in my life I beat you to the draw on the coolest new analog toy in the known universe. At the Teo Audio room, Dr. Chris Feickert gave me a copy of his 7” Adjust+ Test Record ($20), which comes in a red jacket. Its use requires only that you download a special app from Apple App Store (search on “platterspeed”), fit your iPod/iPad/iPhone/whatever with an accessory microphone (I already have one for use with my über-cool Peterson strobe tuner app), cue up the Feickert disc, and measure away. Tests include wow and flutter, crosstalk, skating force, and channel balance. You’ll probably get one soon. Luv yaArtie.
The Helium2 has long been one of Stereophile's long-term reference monitors, so I was expecting good sound when I went into the VMax Services room. And apart from the ubiquitous upper-bass boom that afflicted the standard-sized rooms at the Hilton Bonaventure, good sound was what I heard.