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.
A sign that says "Warning! Extreme Lifelike Sound Levels" is like waving a red cape in front of a bull. Who would be dissuaded from entering a demo room just because you're going to encounter lifelike sound levels? Not me! And are they overstating how loud a sound they're talking about?
The Rogue Hydra is a 100Wpc amplifier that combines a tube input with a class-D output section (using only the module's MOSFET output, bypassing the rest), with about 2dB of negative feedback. If Rogue is lucky, then this will appeal to both audiophiles that are tube fans and those that are fans of modern digital technology. If they're not lucky, then tube fans will reject it because it includes the evil of digital, and digital fans will reject it because it includes technology that they regard as obsolete. Ultimately, it's the sound that mattersand, according to Rogue's Mark O'Brien, it's an effective combination of the tube sound with the power of solid-state.
"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.
Another product imported by Mike Tang is the Carot One ($399, $370 tax-in show price), which can be used as an integrated amp, preamp, power amp (6Wpc), or headphone amp. It uses a single 6922 tube, with a class-D output section. It's so cute that you want to buy one whether you need it or not. It's pictured here, with my iPhone included to provide a sense of scale.
The ever-enthusiastic Mike Tang, of Mike Tang Audio, had a system to warm the hearts of anachrophiles: Thorens TD124 with custom tonearm to match the Decca cartridge, Meridian MCD CD player (no modifications), Marantz 7C tube preamp, with the new parts of the system consisting of a Feastrex CV4055 power amp (8W, $5500), and Feastrex NF5 driver ($4500/pair, $7000 installed in a custom cabinet.
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...!
Canada's D2MK Solutions exhibited the interesting new Waterfall Victoria ($6000/pair), a two-way dynamic loudspeaker from France that features an all-glass enclosure. Supporting electronics included the Cary Audio SA2002 solid-state amplifier ($3995), Cary SLP05 preamp (5$8500), and Cary Xciter D/A converter ($1500), the latter playing music files from a laptop computer.
New at SSI was Rethm's first foray into amplifier design: a 16Wpc single-ended integrated amp called the Gaanam ($7750), built around the Russian 6C33C tube and featuring an outboard power supply, 6922-based preamp stage, and an all-transformer driver stage. Using a Lector CD player and Rethm's own all-silver speaker cable ($1250 for an 8' pair), the combination of Maarga speakers and Gaanam amp sounded spacious, clean, well textured, and very tactile, with fine bass extension and bass color; my impression was that the consistently large crowd of listeners in this room agreed.
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.
I think after every audio show I've attended there was some product that I realized too late I should have checked outtypically, when somebody later said to me "Did you hear the XXXX speakers? I thought they were great!"
After CES 2012, there was one productactually, a line of productsthat I had fully intended to seek out, but somehow this intention did not translate into action. It was on the plane returning home that I realized that I missed seeing the new wireless speakers from Dynaudio. I made a note to myself to make sure that one of the first rooms I'll visit at SSI 2012 would be Dynaudio's.
After having been at the show for some time, I received an email from John Marks, fellow Stereophile scribe, urging meand Art Dudley, who got the same emailto try to listen to the Bricasti DAC that John Atkinson reviewed in February, which he said was adding five minimum-phase filters, as well as offering an optional asynchronous USB input. As it happened, I read the email just as I was walking by the Bricasti room, and I took this to be a sign that I should follow JM's recommendation.
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.)
In years past, the Montreal record shop Aux 33 Tours operated a generously sized retail booth at SSI, and I invariably helped them to lighten their vinyl load. I was disappointed that they weren't selling records at this year's showuntil I noticed their display in the Hilton's hallway: All day Friday and Saturday, they offered a free shuttle service for people who wished to visit their store. (Sadly, the time was too short for me to take that ride.)
Working alongside Steve Silberman of AudioQuest, Wavelength Audio’s Gordon Rankin offered a series of talks on computer audio for Mac users, while Jim Hillegass, the founder and CEO of JRiver Inc., offered corresponding seminars for users of Windows-based computers. My schedule allowed me to hear only a brief portion of Gordon Rankin’s Saturday seminarand, regrettably, none of Jim Hillegass’s talksyet even so, I learned things I’d never come close to knowing before. (An exemplary gem: When it comes to RFI rejection, Apple’s laptop computers are considerably better made than the company’s desktop models.)