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.
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.
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.
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.)
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) . . .
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.
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.
Clarity Audio's large room featured three systems set up along three of the walls, one featuring Nola speakers, one featuring Eggleston speakers, and one featuring the YG Anat 2 Studio speakers seen in the photo. Connected to stylin' Jones 300W monoblocks ($24,000/pair) and a Jones Pre-S-1 preamplifier with Kubula-Sosna cable, the sound of a woman singing Sting's "Roxanne" and John Lennon's "Come Together," accompanied by double bass (Musica Nuda), was palpably real. However, although YG introduced a new version of the Anat at January's CES featuring machined aluminum cones, the speakers at SSI were the older Series 1 model.
On my last day at the show I got to meet the founder and chief designer of Gradient, Jorma Salmi: a trim, quietly intense man with a boyish mop of hair. I introduced myself and complimented the originality of his designs; Dr. Salmi looked at me over the tops of his steel-rimmed glasses, smiled kindly, and said, “A little strange, aren’t they?” A moment later he quoted Becket, saying that, in his next design, he would “fail better.” What a cool guy!
Venerable British audio manufacturer, Naim, has an almost-equally-venerable new Canadian distributor, Plurison. Headed by the genial Daniel Jacqueson the right in the photo, with Doug Graham, Naim's International Export Manager on the leftPlurison's list of distributed brands includes Focal, Mordaunt-Short, MartinLogan, Pathos, YBA, Micromega, and a host of others. It must put Jacques in a quandary when he has to decide what product to take home to listen to on the weekend!
Verity Audio’s entry-level Finn ($6495/pair) was an intriguing beast: a 91 dB sensitive loudspeaker that sounded open, authoritative, and smooththe latter quality more so than the dearer Verity Sarastro II, which sounded overly sibilant in another room. (But the good Lord knows that might have been caused by something else in the chain, so do keep these comments in perspective.) Music was supplied by digital files on a MacBook Pro (running Amarra playback software), addressing the digital inputs of a Musical Fidelity M6CD CD player ($2499), while the controller was Musical Fidelity’s new M1 CliC ($1999). Power was supplied by another new Musical Fidelity product, their M6500 integrated amplifier ($6995): a seemingly sweet-sounding 500Wpc monster that’s dual-mono from A through Z.