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.
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.
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 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.
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!
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.