On the morning of the last day of the show, I went around one more time, looking for anything that I might have missed, and re-visiting some exhibits that I particularly enjoyed. To this end, I stuck my head in the MBL room, hoping to get another listen to the small MBL126 speaker that had impressed me earlier. Alas, the speakers playing were the big ones, but Jeremy Bryan of MBL said that if I came back in 5 minutes, he would have a special listening treat for me.
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.
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.
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).
California-based Constellation Audio, represented by the well-known engineer Peter Madnick, supplied the amplification for the Magico Q3 loudspeakers. On audition were their Virgo preamplifier ($19,000) and Centaur amplifier ($24,000), set up with elegant looking (and apparently effective) loudspeaker cables and interconnects from Argento Audio of Denmark. Source components were the C1 D/A converter and D1 disc transport from CH Precision of Switzerland.
Loudspeaker specialists Magico were on hand with their recent Q3 ($38,950/pair), which boasts a 90dB sensitivity rating and 5 ohm nominal impedance: not quite SET territory, but easily the California firm's most sensitive speaker yet. Magico rep and fellow bluegrass fan Irv Gross put the Q3 through its paces for me; I was impressed with its speed, scale, drama, and sheer gripnot only in the lowest frequencies but all the way up through its well fleshed-out treble range.
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.
One of the more controversial products at this year's SSI was the demo of "Axial Triphonic Speakers" by Lys Audio. According to company president Jacques Gérin-Lajois (given a running translation from French by one of his associates), this is based on a patent that was obtained 65 years ago, but has not been put into practice until now. As I understand it, it involves starting with a monophonic source, obtained by summing the stereo channels (or multiple channels), and then splitting the mono signal into bass, midrange, and treble, sending these to the appropriate speakers. Depending on the impedances, you can use just one amp to drive all three speakers, or (as was the case with the SSI demo), one amp for the midrange and treble, and another for the bass.
Long-time audiophile and Bryston's VP of Sales, James Tanner, has turned his hand to speaker design, and the result, now in advanced prototype form, was introduced at SSI 2012. Dubbed the Model T (the initial of his last name, and because it will come in any color as long as it's black), this is a tall floorstander, with custom drivers made by Canadian speaker manufacturer, Axiom, and features Bryston's BDX-1 digital crossover. The DSP controls of the BDX-1 allow correction of both phase and frequency response; the latter is said to be 17Hz25kHz, ±¼dB. Tanner told me that he's not entirely happy with the performance of one of the drivers, which is being revised to have a "quicker" response. The Model T is a sealed-box system, with a sensitivity of 93dB. The projected price, including the BDX-1 digital crossover, is $10k/pair.
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.
The curiously named Line Magnetic company of China has begun making a series of relatively affordable tube electronics, all hand-wired, and all with styling details that recall classic products from the first half of the 20th Century. LM's model 211IA integrated amplifier ($1650) was used to drive the new Gibbon 88s from DeVore Fidelity. Each channel of the amp produces 32Wpc from a pair of EL34s running in Ultralinear modethe 211IA can also be switched to triode operationwith all-tube preamp and driver stages and a silicon-rectified power supply.
One of the many rooms sponsored by Montreal retailer Coup de Foudre was dedicated to the new DeVore Fidelity Gibbon 88 loudspeaker ($5000/pair), which replaces the Super 8 in DeVore's line. The 88 uses an entirely new woofer, which designer John DeVore says was influenced by the recent work he did on the DeVore Orangutan model; technical distinctions include a paper (instead of plastic) cone and a larger motor overall than its predecessor, with double the voice-coil travel. Consequently, sensitivity is up in the Gibbon 88, to approximately 91dB.
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.