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.
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.
Avatar Acoustics' Darren Censullo brought to Montreal a variety of new iFi products, including a rack system that can hold up to four of the company's Micro-series products. Two versions are available: one without cables ($99) and the one shown here ($149), which includes two short cables and one long, wrap-around cable. In the foreground is another new iFi accessory: their in-line USB iPurifier ($99), which is said to be effective on DC power and digital signal alike.
Among the many SSI rooms sponsored by Canadian distributor Plurison was a ballroomthe Verdun, to be precisewhere the signage promised MartinLogan loudspeakers on demonstration. I stepped a short distance inside and was swallowed by darknessand sound. I followed the latter, turned left, and felt more than saw a row of theater-style seats, most of them filled with people who were enjoying Avatar on a large screen. The sound was indeed impressive, but it was impossible to see, let alone photograph, the gear being demonstrated, and I could locate neither personnel nor literature. Unsure how to illustrate such an experience, I grabbed my chance and, on the way out, photographed the next guy going in.
With Bam Bam and Pebbles as product names, I thought I was merely stating the obvious in a previous show report when I suggested that the designer of Tri-Art Audio products must be a Flintstones fan. I mentioned this to the Tri-Art people at SSI 2014, asking whether they were paying royalties for using these names, and was told that they never thought of any connection with the Flintstones: Bam Bam is a reference to the use of bamboo in their products. (I still don't know how "Pebbles" comes into it.)
Mark Waldrep of AIX Records didn't bring to SSI any new releases, per se; instead, he brought along a renewed enthusiasm for debating the controversies within the high-resolution music communityand an invitation for showgoers to visit him on www.realhd-audio.com, where they'll find up-to-date news and views on all things HD, as well as a selection of free high-definition-audio sample files.
The "Swiss Army Knife" metaphor has been applied to many audio products, but the metaphor has never been more apt than referring to the new Cocktail Audio X30 ($1899). Made in Korea and imported to North America by Audio Plus/Plurison, the X30 is described as an "all-in-one HD music server/network streamer/CD storage." However, that doesn't describe all of its capabilities. If you look at the connections in the back (bottom of the picture), you'll see speaker connections, so it's also an amplifier. (I'm not sure, but I think the number in the model designation indicates the watts per channel.)
Here we see Steven Huang of Audio Sensibility waiting on a customer at his SSI display. His Toronto company offers custom cables at sanely low pricesstarting at $129/meter for their entry-level interconnectand sweetens the deal with custom-machined stainless steel (not aluminum, or even aluminium) connector shells and a 30-day money-back guarantee.