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.
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.
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.
The magic numbers, for Salon Son et Image, are 25, 100, and 10,000. Canada's first and largest high-end audio show, whose 25th-anniversary show arrives March 2325 (press day March 22) in downtown Montreal's Hilton Bonaventure, expects to set a new attendance record as up to 10,000 visitors explore 100 exhibit rooms.
The Light Harmonic DaVinci USB is perhaps the most unusual-looking DAC I've seen, with the top of the unit that can be rotated. It's a non-upsampling, non-oversampling, no-negative-feedback design, with up to 384kHz/32-bit capability. The DaVinci uses three transformers in the power supply: one for digital, one for analog, and one for USB and control. This looks like a very serious design, and the price is correspondingly serious $20,000.