So another SSI has come and gone. On the downside, the trade-only day was slow, a surprising number of SSI stalwartsLegacy, Luxman, Vivid, Reference 3a, Ocellia, AvantGarde, and Antique Sound Lab among themwere missing in action, and the blue-wig thing is getting kind of old. On the up side, there was good traffic on the consumer days, the food and drink were greateven on-site at the Hiltonand the Coup de Foudre party was a blast (thank you, Graeme, Jennifer, et al). I was genuinely impressed by several new products, especially the Michael Tang tonearm, AudioQuest Dragonfly USB DAC, LM Audio 211IA integrated amp, Audio Note DD 4.1x CD player, and Naim NDS two-box network player. And, best of all, it was good to see some old friends, many for the first time since SSI 2011. It was a busy, fun time, a sort of a four-day moment, and I congratulate organizers Michel Plante and Sarah Tremblay for succeeding once again.
Gala-Solo is a Canadian speaker company that intends their products to be suitable for both the pro and audiophile markets, the "M" that's part of each speaker model's name standing for both "Monitor" and "Music." The M3 ($3600/pair) is a two-way, three-driver system, using pro drivers. The 6.5" bass drivers from PHL France feature a patented "intercooler" process. The tweeter, pictured above, from Acoustics Beyma (Spain), has an aluminum diaphragm and voice-coil. Rated sensitivity is 94dB, and the maximum level is 116dB. It was pointed out to me that this maximum level specification is particularly important: some speakers may produce 94dB for a 1W output, but, unlike the M3, they won't play much louder than that without distorting.
One of the unofficial highlights of this year's SSI was the by-invitation-only party given by Montreal dealer Coup de Foudre. The genial hosts were Jennifer Cytrynbaum (Store Manager) and Graeme Humfrey (Product Specialist, Store Owner, jazz guitarist, and a recording engineer of 20 years' experience). They had great food and drinks, and they did their utmost to make sure that everyone has a good time. The picture shows Jennifer in her element, along with Wilson’s Peter McGrath (left), Wavelength’s Gordon Rankin (center) and Graeme Humfrey (far right).
VTL's Luke Manley was one of the many industry luminaries at the Coup de Foudre party.Through the control-room window of Graeme Humfrey's studio can be seen part of Graeme's large collection of classic pro-audio gear.
What would a high-end audio store party be without some live music? The musicians playing jazz at the Coup de Foudre party were keyboard artist Marie Claire Durand and bass player Martin Hezlop. They're also Graeme Humfrey's recording clients.
Every hi-fi show seems to harbor a few restful rooms where the music is well selected and the playback quality is serenely good; at SSI, the exhibit space shared by Scandinavian manufacturers Hegel and Amphion served that purpose for me. (The white fabric walls probably added to the sense of calm.) The Amphion Argon7 L loudspeakers ($6k$7k/pair, depending on finish) sounded clear, smooth, and altogether lovely with Hegel amplification and digital source components.
Retailer Coup de Foudre and Canadian distributor Tri-Cell built one of their exhibits around a pair of Joseph Audio Pulsar loudspeakers ($7000/pair, to be reviewed in the June Stereophile by Mikey Fremer), driven by the 70Wpc Brinkmann Audio Vollverstarker integrated amplifier (also $7000), with a MacBook Pro and a Wavelength Audio Brick D/A converter ($2200) as the digital source. As always, Jeff Joseph's room setup was difficult to fault, and the system was smooth, colorful, and dynamic: Listening to the Gypsy swing music of the Howard Fishman quartet, I was happier than I'd been all day.
I've been an admirer of MBL's omnidirectional speakers, the latest 101E Mk.II reviewed by Michael Fremer in the April 2012, issue. These were demoed at SSI 2012, and sounded great, as always. While certainly an impressive illustration of the art and science of speaker design, for me, the 101E Mk.II, being priced at about $70k/pair, is a speaker that I just can't relate tothe audio equivalent of a Lamborghini.
What I found exciting at SSI was MBL's new entry-level "baby" speaker, the MBL126. With a new radial midrange driver and tweeter, and two 5" "push-push" drivers, with MBL's less-expensive electronics, the pair of MBL126s at the show had much the same sort of open, non-listener-position-dependent sound that characterizes it senior siblingsand the price is a relatively-affordable $11,800/pair.
Here's the obligatory "People Buying Records" picture, and even though it was taken on Friday, which is usually the show's least-busy day, I had no trouble finding an opportunity to take a suitable picture. There were also quite a few people at the CD racks, but, overall, I'd say there were more LP buyers than CD buyers in evidence. Make of that what you will. (It may be a reflection of the fact that LPs are not as widely available.)
I was delighted by the sound being made by Montreal dealer Audiophoniepartly, I admit, because they were demonstrating an all-new version of the venerable Spendor SP100, now in R2 form ($11,900/pair), an earlier version of which I owned and loved for years. Its tone, touch, spatial presentation, and vibe were all just about perfect. I will begyes, begfor the opportunity to write about the Spendor in the months to come.
Rethm, most of whose distinctive loudspeaker designs have been designed and built around full-range Lowther drivers, has now switched to a driver design of their ownwhich, like Rethm's loudspeakers themselves, are manufactured in India. The Rethm Maarga ($8750/pair) supplements a 6" version of that new driver with an isobaric pair of powered, 6.5" paper-cone woofers.
Designer, manufacturer, and vintage audio maven Michael Tang brought so many cool things to SSI, I scarcely knew where to begin. The most compelling of all may have been his new Michael Tang Audio APS tonearm ($900), seen here with a vintage Thorens TD 124 turntable and Decca pickup head from his collection, along with his own custom-manufactured hardwood tonearm board. (Yes, I bought one of the latter while I was there.) The reach of the MTA arm may be limited, however: Its distinctive pickup connector is compatible only with obsolete Decca heads. Still...!
"The World's First Audiophile Case for the iPhone 4S/4," said the sign. I was intrigued. What does being an audiophile have to do with the choice of iPhone case? It turns out that this case is claimed to improve the sound of music played back from an iPhone through earphones. A collaboration between a company named Divoti and Gutwire, well-known for their affordably-priced cables, the case is made of pure titanium, with some germanium dots in the back. It sells for $180. I asked how titanium and germanium was supposed to improve sound, and was told that it had something to do with negative ions being generated, counteracting the positive ions that are supposedly generated by electronic devices like an iPhone.
Two venerable British makeswho share a North American distributor and neither one content to rest on their laurelsteamed up at SSI 2012, the Tannoy Definition DC8T ($6200/pair) being combined with the Linn Akurate DSM digital streamer ($9200) and Linn Akurate 2200 integrated amp ($6000) to produce a very clean, dynamic sound.