The trouble with audio showsapart from the cheap call girls and the occasional gangland-style executionis the fact that, even in nice hotels, the smallest rooms tend to sound like crap. So it was at the Hilton Bonaventure, where acoustical challenges plagued no exhibitor more than Audio Note. Their excellent AN-E loudspeakera pair of which I own and loverequires that both units in a stereo pair are sited close to their respective corners. That proved impossible at the Hilton, but Audio Note’s Dave Cope compensated brilliantly and made a fine sound nonetheless with a pair of AN-E Lexus Signatures in striking maple veneer ($15,200/pair), photographed here by JA and driven by the Jinro integrated amplifier that I reviewed in the March 2011 issue of Stereophile.
Let’s get right to it: The Coup de Foudre system comprising DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/96 loudspeakers ($12,000/pair), Leben CS300XS integrated amplifier ($3795) and RS30EQ phono preamp ($2795), Hommage T2 phono transformer ($4995), EMT TSD-15 phono cartridge ($1800), Brinkmann Bardo I turntable with Origin Live Encounter arm ($7990 and $2000, respectively), and Box Furniture 3S3 stand ($2300) was nothing less than wonderful: easily in the show’s Top Five, and quite possibly the best of the bunch. The star was the latest pre-production iteration of the O/96, a 96dB sensitive (geddit?) loudspeaker that uses a 10" paper-cone woofer and a 1" silk-dome tweeter in a wide-faced (geddit?) box with a birch-ply baffle and MDF everything else. Their presentation was solid, substantial, rich, and colorful, with great touch, timing, and, above all, dynamics. Flesh and blood? The system was like a day at the butcher shopbut everyone was smiling, and there were no straw boaters.
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.
I was never happier to be an audiophile than when my train stopped at the US/Canada border on my way home. The customs officers who boarded our train were quite serious-minded, and as I waited in my seat I heard them grill other passengers regarding the precise nature of the Canadian goods they harbored. When it came my turn, a surly-something man in a black uniform examined my Customs Declaration, saw that I was bringing some new LPs into the US, and broke into a friendly smile: “What vinyl did you get?” We chatted amiably for a moment about old Quads and Garrard 301s before he went on to crack other skulls than mine. (Just kidding. In fact ours was the rare trainin my experience, at leastfrom which no passengers needed to be removed for lack of a passport.)
It was a really good show. That was the opinion of the people I spoke to at the 2011 SSI, including veteran as well as first-time exhibitors, and members of the public. Even the Trade Day, which in the past was not very popular, was busy enough that it felt like it almost could have been one of the public days. The Lifetime Achievement Awards ceremony was extremely well-attended, as the above photo illustrates. There was a kind of back-to-the-basics feel to the show, with a strong emphasis on music presented in two-channel stereo, and almost nothing in the way of surround sound. (Sorry, Kal!)
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.
A few years ago, back when Salon Son & Image was called Festival Son & Image, Frch manufacturer Cabasse demonstrated their flagship La Sphère speaker systemwhich is still in the line, and currently sells for $168,565/system. It was most impressive sonically, and look was certainly unique, but with a tax-in price that's close to $200k, this is not a speaker that sells in large numbers. But lovers of the Cabasse sound can rejoice: for less than the Quebec provincial sales tax and Canadian federal Goods and Services tax on La Sphère ($22,756), you can get the Cabasse Artis Riga ($11,805/pair) and Santorin subwoofer ($5065). And the sound of this demo system (with McIntosh electronics)while perhaps not at the level of La Sphèrewas very nice indeed: open, non-boxy, and with great imaging.
ProAc is an English loudspeaker manufacturer that doesn't change models willy-nilly: if it works well and people buy it, then why change it? And if change comes, it should be purely evolutionary, perhaps a refinement of the crossover, or drive units replaced by improved versions of the same models. So, for ProAc, replacing the popular Response D38 with the D40 ($12,000/pair) represents. . .
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.
John Atkinson (right), Art Dudley (center), and I had a good time at Stereophile's "Ask the Editors" session on Saturday afternoon, and, judging by the response, so did the people who asked the questions. The questions ranged from the general/philosophical, like whether it makes sense to use the "absolute sound" of unamplified music as the only reference in evaluating audio components, and the specific/technical, like the advantages/disadvantages of USB connections for high-performance audio.
As at previous Montreal Shows, parts and drive-unit distributor Solen Électronique had a room to show off their gear to DIY enthusiasts. But even anachrophile Art Dudley was puzzled by the center of this whizzer-cone fitted drive-unit sitting in his hand.
Hop hop hop! Who is Richard the bunny visiting today? It’s the Oracle Audio Technologies room, where veteran designer Jacques Riendeau introduced a relatively affordable new turntable called the Paris. Available in a variety of configurationsand colorsthe fully-loaded version of the Oracle Paris offers an acrylic-and-aluminum platter (plus Delrin record clamp), a sophisticated suspension system, a new Oracle-designed carbon-fiber tonearm, and an Oracle MC cartridgeall for $3150 without the cartridge or $5000 with. I was impressed with the Paris samples on display, and Jacques Riendeau has promised that a review sample will follow in short order.
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.