I finally got to hear a mono system at SSI, but not in the manner that I or the exhibitor might have wanted. Halfway through the show, Audio Note's Dave Cope suffered the loss of one Empress Silver monoblock amplifier ($10,000/pair), apparently owing to an AC power surge. The Empress Silver, seen here alongside the outlet of infamyand a coil of Audio Note's new Isis LX 168 copper-Litz speaker cableis a new single-ended mono design with a 5U4G rectifier tube, a 6SN7 input tube, and parallel 2A3 triodes, for a total of 8Wpc. This was a disappointingly bad break for a company that has, in the past, won more than its share of Most Enjoyable System of the Show awardsalthough I must say that a mono recording of Count Basie's "88 Basie Street" was nonetheless fine when played through the surviving channel.
"Women in Audio" was the title of the panel discussion, the panel consisting of four women of varied backgrounds who have been in the audio business for some time (left to right): Anna Popova (Conceptas cables), Agata Mossop (Lenbrook Industries), Gabi van der Kliej-Rijnveld (Crystal and Siltech cables), and Angie Lisi (American Sound and Angie's Audio Corner retailers, and AudioPathways, distributor). The lively discussion covered a variety of topics, including whether male customers tend to "test" female sales staff on their technical knowledge (the answer: yes, but if you know your stuff they will respect you), and how to attract more women to participate in the audiophile hobby (the incorporation of music into a couple's or family's lifestyle had broad support).
The striking Kronos turntable that I first saw at the 2012 Montreal show was on display again, but this time it had a new tonearm. Designed by André Thériault, this prototype tonearm is distinguished by its simplicity, with only 11 parts used. No name yet, and it's expected to sell for about $8000. That's André Thériault in the picture.
The display featuring Definitive Technology's StudioMonitor 65 speakers and Acurus A 2002 amplifier were not part of a designated "Under-$5,000 system," but, with the speakers priced at $1000/pair and the amp at $2499 (I didn't note the source or the preamp), it could have been. The speakers had a nice open sound, and played surprisingly loud in the large hall they were in. Saxe Brickenden (pictured) of Evolution Home Entertainment, the importer, was clever to set up the speakers on tall stands, so that the sound was at ear-level for people walking by.
Like a Studebaker Avantior perhaps even the Concordethe shape of an Elipson loudspeaker from 60 years ago is jarring, albeit impressively so, in its anacronicity: The French design and manufacturing firm has been ahead of the curve for that long. At SSI they had a number of fetching designs on static display, including the Planet L seen here, a two-way coaxial design that's now manufactured in China. For 2013 a pair of Planet Ls can be bundled with a similarly stylish (round, of course) amplifier/CD player for $2500, with stands adding another $300.
MBL finished the job that Oracle Audio began with Anne Bisson (below): They spoiled me not only with live music, but with music by a world-class cellist, Montreal's Vincent Bélanger. Jeremy Bryan, the CEO of MBL North America, took the added step of inviting Bélanger to come by early and record, on ¼" analog tape (15 ips), extra cello parts for various pieces in his repertoire; thus when M. Bélanger set about to perform for a handful of fortunate show attendees, he did so alongside his recorded self, the latter portrayed with what can only be described as surprising realismdynamically, timbrally, and spatiallyby MBL's largest hybrid loudspeaker, the MBL 111 ($42,000/pair), which uses, from 600Hz and up, the same driver complement as even their most expensive loudspeakers.
What with CES a little more than two months ago, and the Chicago AXPONA show just two weeks ago, it was difficult for SSI 2013 to claim new product introductions. Typically, the most they could claim was "First time in Canada." But there was at least one product introduction that was billed as World Premiere: the Arteluthe Satie, the entry-level speaker in the company's AirForce line, made entirely in Montreal. It's a fully active design, with two built-in 175W amplifiers in each speaker, no passive elements in the signal path, high sensitivity, and claimed 30Hz20kHz bandwidth. All this technology, and only $7999/pair. There are two other speakers in the line: the Alegria and the Kantante, both fully active, with a top price of $15,000. The photo shows designer Robert Gaboury.
Aragon is back! Originally marketed as a kind of common man's Krell (the first Aragon amplifier and preamp were designed by Krell's Dan D'Agostino), Aragon electronics attained considerable popularity, but the brand disappeared from the audiophile landscape a few years ago. But it's back, with new, improved products that build on their history, the amplifiers featuring the familiar "V" on the top of the chassis.
At SSI I had the opportunity to hear the slightly more comfortable cousin of the Definitive StudioMonitor 45 loudspeaker that recently impressed Stephen Mejias: the same company's StudioMonitor 65 ($1000/pair). Partnered with a 150Wpc Acurus 2002 integrated amplifier and Bel Canto CD player, the 65s were exceptionally well balanced and pleasantly explicit on Diana Krall's "Boulevard of Broken Dreams." I added it, on the spot, to my cumulative mental list of good-quality affordable loudspeakers.
The management of SSI requested exhibiting manufacturers, distributors, and retailers to set upin addition to whatever equipment they wanted to demonstratean entry-level system, with a total price of $5,000 or less. Some high-end audio manufacturers had nothing that would qualify, but others stepped up to the plate. Totem and Creek had a nifty little system that featured a pair of Totem Arros, Creek CD player and integrated amp, which have a combined price of $4,100, leaving $900 for cables, etc.
The Oracle Audio system that sounded so lovely included the two most recent entries in the company’s Paris line of products: the Paris CD 250 CD player and Paris DAC 250 D/A converter, both pictured above ($3750 apiece). Other highlights were the current Oracle Delphi turntable with Oracle SME arm and Benz-made Corinth Reference cartridge (a $22,500 package), Paris phono stage ($1795), Delphi SI 1000 MOSFET integrated amplifier ($12,500), and Focal Grand Utopia Scala loudspeakers ($32,000/pair), with all-Kimber Kable wiring.
Dynaudio took a decidedly computer-oriented approach to providing a system for under $5000, with a choice between two powered wireless speakers: the Xeo 3 ($2300/pair) and the Xeo 5 (at $4500/pair, just under the $5000 limit). And these speakers are serious high-end products, not built-to-a-price budget offerings. You save on not having to buy an amplifier or cables (not always a trivial amount). The only catch is that there is no source component included; it's assumed that the consumer already has a suitable computer and/or iPod, iPad, or similar device.
When in London, do take in the British Museum, where you’ll find the uncannily well preserved human remains that have come to be known as Lindow Man. (I could recount the circumstances of the discovery of the corpse, but it’s just too horrible to tell...) As with most Druids from a thousand years ago, he was rather small, and because the corpse was cut in two during its discovery (whoops: I let that slip by mistake), you’ll find the remains of Lindow Man encased in a small illuminated box with a glass topvirtually identical to the Gutwire display cases I found in SSI’s Canadian Pavilion.