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.
The female staff members of Salon Son & Image are easily recognizable by the blue wigs they wear. I don't know whose idea this representsMichel Plante or Sarah Tremblay would be my guessbut it's a great way of signalling that the show is going to be FUN. The charming Claudia L'Ecuyer (pictured) prepared my badge. In the background, getting his badge is Jim Griffin of Griffin Audio, Canadian distributor of ProAc loudspeakers.
Michel Plante, President of SSI, can usually been seen rushing around, dealing with one crisis or another. He somehow injured himself the day before the show's opening (he doesn't know how) to the point that he was on crutches, but this hardly seems to have slowed him down. He took in stridewell, so to speakjibes about "break a leg" not meant to be taken literally.
Sonor-Filtronique is a Montreal dealer whose product lines are some of the most prestigious available, including Audio Research, Ayre, Boulder, Sonus Faber, and VPI. They had samples from all these at SSI 2012, but the once that caught my eye was a turntable: the Kronos, a $30,000 high-tech wonder, designed in Quebec by Louis Desjardin, in collaboration with Fidelio Audio. Its major design claim to fame is the secondary platter (below the one that the record is placed on), which rotates in the opposite direction, an approach that is said to cancel unwanted vibrations. The unit on demo had an SME tonearm mounted.
Another high-end turntable that impressed me was the Dr. Feickert Analogue Firebird. This is a new model, with new bearing, new platter, new motors (three of them), and all kinds of other refinements. The price is a relatively-affordableby ultra high end turntable standards$12,995. The tonearm mounted was a Dr. Feickert Analogue DFA 12.0, the number in the model name referring to the length in inches. The turntable can accommodate two tonearms, of various lengths.
I know that Sennheiser has an ever-expanding line of wireless headphones, and I've seen these at CES. Something I haven't seen before, was a package labeled Duo Cinema. This is a kit that includes two sets of HDR 170 wireless headphones and a base unit, for $599.95. These are intended to be used for home theater; the base unit can accommodate two more sets of headphones. The Duo Cinema package is available only in Canadaso no wonder I didn't see it at CES. It's shown here by Nadine Girard- Business Director, Retail Strategy of Sennheiser Canada.
Atoll is a French company that I think of as offering affordably-priced equipment, and I suppose that's still where most of their market is, but they've also moved upmarket with the new CD400 CD player ($6800), IN400 integrated amp ($6000), PR400 preamp ($5600), and AM400 ($4000). (If there was a prize for the most sensible model names given to audio products, I would nominate Atoll for these new offerings.) The product literature is in French only, but the technical language of audio to a large extent transcends borders. I was amused by part of the description of the AM400, which said that it was "Amplificateur bridgeable en bloc mono." I doubt if you'd find "bridgeable" in your Larousse French dictionary.
Analog stalwart Naim is now heavily into computer audio; new at SSI 2012 was their NDS streamer/DAC, which is to start shipping in May. This is their reference-level network player, which does all the things you expect a product like this to do, including Internet radio. The price of $13,000 does not include a power supply. In true Naim fashion, the NDS offers a choice of three power supplies, which range in price from $3k to $10k.
At $42,000/pair, Gershman's Black Swan is a loudspeaker that's designed to fill large spaces, and one might think that they would not be at their best in a smallish room like that one at SSI. Not only that, but the room had no acoustical treatment whatsoever. Still, I was surprised at how good these speakers sounded in this apparently less-than-optimal environment. Maybe the rest of the system (Evolution S45 tube integrated amp, $16,900; Stello CD player, $3800) had something to do with it.
What's 2" long, comes out in May, and responds to external stimulus by changing color? The AudioQuest Dragonfly ($250), a USB D/A converter designed for the company by Wavelength Audio's Gordon Rankin (and whose proprietary software allows it to function as a true asynchronous DAC). The Dragonfly, which is powered by the USB bus, performs at 44.1, 48, 88.2, and 96kHz; the dragonfly icon on its plastic case (not shown here) indicates the sampling rate in use by glowing green, blue, amber, or white, respectively. Features include separate clock oscillators for 44.1/88.2 and 48/96; a 64-position analog volume control that overrides the digital volume control in iTunes/etc.; and proprietary USB input and 3.5mm output connectors.
Munich-based T+A, which is distributed in North America by Dynaudio, displayed a prototype of their forthcoming DAC 8 D/A converter, which is projected to sell for under $3000. Built around dual 32-bit Burr-Brown DAC chips, the DAC 8 offers a choice of true balanced or single-ended operation, with all proprietary digital filter designs and sampling rates up to 192kHz.
Happily, the big Coup de Foudre also included an analog front: a combination turntable and tonearm package from German manufacturer AMG, bundled with a Benz LP phono cartridge ($21,500 for the package).
The VTL MB185 Series IIIs, which sounded great driving the Wilson Sophia Series 3 loudspeakers, offer a choice between XLR and RCA inputsand, according to designer Luke Manley, they can develop fully balanced performance with single-ended inputs. Their EL34-based output sections can also be switched between triode and tetrode operation.
The Montreal audio-video store Coup de Foudre has a reputation for assembling ambitious music systems in the Hilton's Longueuil salon during SSI. Although this year was no exception, the cost of that system had been scaled-back somewhat for 2012with interesting results.
The loudspeaker of choice was the Wilson Audio Specialties Sophia Series 3 ($18,550 per pair in Macadamia finishwhich bore a striking resemblance to the metallic brown paint on my long-gone 1985 Alfa-Romeo GTV6). Wilson Audio's Peter McGrath, also the recordist behind most of the music selections I enjoyed in that room, said there have been no running changes in the Sophia since the introduction of the Series 3.
In the Audioville room, Chord Electronics of England demonstrated their Red Reference CD player ($26,000), now in Mk.III form. Refinements include a fully motorized transport door, plus a true asynchronous USB input. The player's D/A section, which offers up to 192kHz capability, eschews the use of DAC chips from other manufacturers, its pulse array being designed and constructed entirely by Chord. Styling is on a par with the underlying technologywhich is to say, a bit breathtaking.