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.
The product literature for Tri-Art Audio says that their products are "designed, fabricated, and assembled in Canada." What all these products have in common is that bamboo is used in their construction. Pictured: the Bam Bam TA-2 turntable and tonearm (price TBD). The Pebbles turntable and TA-1 tonearm ($1200) are available now. (I'm going to make a wild guess and suggest that the designer is a Flintstones fan.)
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.
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.
When Bryston's Model T speaker was introduced at SSI 2012, it was in the form of a prototype, on passive display. From a comment that I've seen by James Tanner (who headed up the design team for the Model T), at one point it was not clear whether this was going to be a commercial product or just a personal reference. But now it's full steam ahead for a line of Bryston speakers. Model T is available in three versions: the basic passive model, $6495/piar, the Model T Signature (outboard passive crossover, with custom-made air-core chokes and proprietary film capacitors, $7495/pair), and an active version ($9495/pair, requires six channels of amplification, not included). Other speakers in the line are the Middle T ($4600/pair), mini t, as well as home-theater-oriented speakers, a sub, and in-wall and on-wall speakers. Most of these are available now, and others are slated for shipping in May and a few in Q3. Bryston is definitely serious about their speaker line.
"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).
Recalling my very positive experience with the same company's AS-400 digital playback source/integrated amplifier, I found myelf attracted to the Micromega MyDAC ($399), a recently introduced asynchronous USB converter offering 24/192 performance and a color choice of black or, as seen above, Apple white.
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.
Audio Note has long been a believer in high-torque turntables, having brought to market a number of belt-drive designs that use multiple motors (à la the original Voyd). One of the less expensive such models in their line, the twin-motor TT Two ($3500), has now been upgraded, with a plinth made from the same veneered Russian-birch plywood as the company's well-regarded loudspeakers. (The sample here is in Rosewood.) And external power supply ($2400) is also available, either at the time of initial purchase or as a subsequent upgrade, providing greater electronic stability and easy speed selection. Seen with the TT Two are the Arm Three V2 captured-unipivot tonearm ($2000) and an Audio Note Io-I moving-coil cartridge ($4100)which, for SSI, drove an S4L silver-wired transformer ($6200).
In one of several rooms sponsored by Montreal’s Coup de Foudre, A href="http://www.stereophile.com/content/gift-flower-garden">Philip O’ Hanlon demonstrated a system comprising a Luxman PD-171 turntable/tonearm ($6400) with Brinkmann P1 phono cartridge ($2700), Luxman DA-06 DSD D/A converter ($6000), Luxman L550AX integrated amplifier ($5400), and Vivid B1 loudspeakers ($15,000/pair), with Cardas cables throughout. (The computer-audio source was an old MacBook running Audirvana playback software.) Not to take away from the goodness of the other gear, but I was once again mightily impressed by the manner in which the Vivid loudspeakers, in spite of looking like surprised Cyclopian aliens, delivered music with such human warmth and touch. (Lou Donaldson’s organ on “Alligator Boogaloo” sounded especially fine.)
Another Coup de Foudre room offered a system built around the curiously named but thoroughly engaging Twenty 23 loudspeakers ($4389/pair) from PMCwhich, I’m told, stands for professional monitor company. The amplifier in use was the less inscrutably named Integrated Amplifier from Brinkmann ($7499), while the source was the Unico CD Primo CD player ($1900). On a vocal number by Andrea Bocelli, percussion instruments sounded a bit compressedthat might be the fault of the recording, for all I knowbut I heard a great deal of realistic texture and color from this detailed but not at all light-sounding system.
AudioShop, the Canadian distributor for Cabasse loudspeakers, demonstrated the interesting combination of Cabasse loudspeakers with McIntosh electronics, focusing in particular on the latter company’s model 601 monoblock power amplifiers ($11,500/pair), driven directly by the MCD 1100 CD player ($10,000). The loudspeakers seen here (which, I’m told, sold for $16,000 per pair in passive form) sounded impressively punchy, but, with all due respect, this system was being played at a volume level I considered both uncomfortable and unrealistically loud, so I didn’t linger long.