A system with true high-end audio credentials that came in just under the $5000 limit was one based on the Dynaudio X14 ($1500/pair), with electronics by Atoll (ST 200 streamer, $2000, IN 100SE integrated amp, $1450). This was one of the side-of-the-room setups, so the potential sound quality was difficult to judge, but I've admired the sound of the X14 before, and from what I know of Atoll equipment, this should be a good combination.
I must admit that I was a bit worried when the change in ownership of Salon Son & Image was announced. What if the new owners want to move the show in directions that ruin what made the show successful in the first place? Having attended SSI 2014, I'm relieved to be able to say that the new ownership has followed the principle of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
A sub-$5000 system that apparently involved careful consideration of alternatives was the one assembled by Patrick Sareault, Director of Sales for Montreal area dealer Brosseau Audio Video. Serault told me that the first component he picked was the Hegel H-80 ($2000), a DAC/integrated amp (75Wpc) that had impressed him greatly. He combined this with the Dali Zenzor 7 loudspeaker ($1700/pair) and Marantz CD 5004 CD player ($550). That brought the price up to $4250. The next item in the system was one that's seldom considered in assembling an audio system, but which he thought was extremely important in getting the best sound: a high-quality AC duplex receptacle ($50, made by BIS Audio). Cables from BIS Audio brought the total up to $5000or a bit more, depending on the cables.
Audio Physic's sub-$5000 system featured the Audio Physic Classic Compact $2000/pair), Ava Media server/ripper/storage ($1600, new at the show), and Ava Media Maestro-50 50Wpc digital amplifier ($525). All AVA Media products are made (not just designed) in the UKunusual at this price level.
I think of Woo Audio as a manufacturer of fairly modestly-priced tube headphone amplifiers, so I was surprised to see in the Woo Audio exhibit something that was clearly more upscale. The WA5 is described as an "SET class-A transformer-coupled speaker and headphone amp." It's available as a base model at $3400, but the version with all upgrades (special tubes, etc.) brings the price up to $6400. The power output is 8Wpc, so your speakers had better have high sensitivity.
Sony's contribution to the sub-$5000 system endeavour was a combination of the HAP-S1 Hi-Rez digital playback/amplifier/HDD unit ($999) and a pair of SS-HA speakers ($698/pair). As you can see from the picture, the setup was not ideal for listening.
There is a long-standing tradition of a snowfall in Montreal during or just after the show; in fact, several people at SSI 2014 joked with me about whether there would be some "audio snow" this time. For a while, it looked like this year would be an exceptionand then the snow came down Sunday morning, blanketing the city.
Ledoux Acoustique speakers are handcrafted in Magog, Quebec, each speaker signed by designer Patrice Ledoux. The Ledoux Concert 5 ($1595/pair) formed the centerpiece of a sub-$5000 system that included a Ledoux Gaia-10 subwoofer ($1950, Cambridge 651A integrated amp ($795), and Blue Circle BC6000Si power line conditioner ($1295). If you do the math, you'll see that the total is $5635. I questioned M. Ledoux about this discrepancy, and he said that this system could be sold as a "show special" at $5000.
On my second day in Montreal I had an enjoyable conversation with Jean Barbeau of Solen Electronique, the Quebec manufacturing company whose capacitors and other passive components remain popular with hundreds of manufacturers (including the vintage-inspired Shindo Laboratory). Monsieur Barbeau, who co-designed the fine-sounding loudspeaker project being demonstrated in Solen's SSI room, observed that more and more young listeners have been approaching Solen in recent months for DIY parts and advice"A very healthy trend."
Now, that's a real speaker! Unless you examine it, or read the literature on the Tannoy Canterbury GR ($30,000/pair), you might think that you're looking at a speaker made more than a half-century ago: a very substantial floorstander that's wide as well as deep, making no concession to modern speaker design ideas like keeping as narrow a front baffle as possible.
Experience says that one must wait in line to hear the MBL system at any hi-fi show, and SSI 2014 was no exception. Similarly unsurprising was the realistically vivid sound on tap, with levels of color and texture that, in a strange way, stood in contrast to the resolutely smooth, monochromatic appearance of their gear. (Maybe that's intentional?) This year I was entertained by a variety of musical excerpts, including a snippet of Beethoven's Piano Concerto 2, through MBL's C31 D/A converter/CD player ($9200), C11 stereo preamp ($8800), C21 stereo amp (9200), and 116 F loudspeakers ($29,000/pair), with Siltech cables and a generous sprinkling of Shun Mook Mpingo discs.
Resonessence Lab, based in Kelowna, BC, is a company making cutting-edge digital equipment. The top of the line is the Invicta Mirus ($4995), a D/A converter that uses 8 DACs per channel, and handles DSD64/128, DXD, and claims THD of 0.0002% (114dB). In true trickle-down fashion, it has been joined by the Invicta ($599), still with the same DSD/DXD capability, and THD only a slightly less impressive 0.00032%. Their latest product is the Herus headphone DAC ($350), this one with THD a whopping 0.003% THD. They're shown right-to-left in the photo.
Although their sign suggested that this was a passive display, the Blue Circle Audio table in the Pavillon du Canada was anything but. The always-colorful Gilbert Yeung offered visible and audible proof that his line of PLC Thingee power-line conditionerswith prices starting at $CAD220 each for the four-outlet versions in the foregroundeffectively removed noise from household AC current. I was thoroughly impressed (not to mention entertained).
For whatever reason I didn't hear many word-of-mouth recommendations as I wandered the halls during the first two days of SSI; the few that did break through the haze pointed to two products: the Eclipse TD-M1 desktop loudspeakers in one of Coup de Foudre's rooms, and the Muraudio Domain floorstanding loudspeakers ($58,000 per pair): about as different as different can be. Just as I discovered with the Eclipses, the Muraudio speakers deserved the buzz.
The photography used in the display materials associated with Totem loudspeakers are of consistently very high quality. That said, during my stroll through the Pavillon du Canada at this year's SSI, I finally noticed something about the people in those photos: They are exclusively female, and they are almost always barefoot. As a male who is as ignorant of the principles of the psychology of marketing as he is hesitant to go barefoot anywhere but the beach, the bath, and the bed, I am puzzled (but not troubled).