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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.