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.
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.
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.
Partygoer Vince Scalzitti's Tri-Cell Enterprises is Canadian distributor for no fewer than 19 product lines, from Acapella to Vandersteen. Vince is so low-key that he hardly seems to be in a business that involves sales, but he's highly successful at it.
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.