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.
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.
The party on the Trade Day of the show, hosted by SSI, is always well attended, and provides a good indication of the general mood. This time the mood was decidedly upbeat: people in the trade looking forward to having a good show.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
The speaker of choice in the Audioville room was the brand new KEF Blade ($30,000/pair): a consumer-friendly version of something that started life as a KEF concept speaker. (In particular, in order to reduce costs, the latter's carbon-fiber enclosure has been replaced with one made of a composite resin.) Mid frequencies and treble are handled by the metal-diaphragm KEF UNI-Q array, while low frequencies are given over to two pairs of side-mounted 9" drivers, working in tandem so that bass energy is neither wasted nor allowed to travel through the enclosure structure to modulate the higher frequencies.