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.
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.
At last year's SSI, the show management asked exhibitors to assemble systems that are "entry level" in a high-performance audio context, costing less than $5000. (We can argueand some people didabout whether <$5000 is a realistic figure for "entry level," but, audiophiles being the way they are, you're going to get an argument regardless of the figure.) In any case, relatively few exhibitors followed through with this last year. At SSI 2014, show management made more of a concerted effort to persuade exhibitors to participate, and indeed there were a lot more of the little blue "$5000 System" signs throughout the show.
Also new from iFi Audio is the first of their Nano-series products, the lithium-battery-powered iDSD Nano ($189), a 24/384 DAC that offers DSD processing in a remarkably tiny package. Contrary to the evidence on Darren Censullo's finger, it does not bite.
No audio show would be complete without a new or revised speaker model from Gershman Acoustics. At SSI 2014, the new offering from Gershman was the Avant Garde R-1 ($8000/pair), replacing the previous R-44. It's a fairly unobtrusive tapered-toward-the-top floorstander, and was sounding lively and open with Audio Flight electronics. Gershman has also moved into component supports with their Levitation Vibration Control devices that use opposing magnets. As you can see in the photo, they now have a version of these devices for cables.
Evolution Home Entertainment's Saxe Brickendenwho was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award during the SSI partydisplays the Massfidelity Relay ($249), a combination Bluetooth receiver and 24-bit D/A converter intended for wireless streaming from your iPhone to your hi-fi.
I admit some confusion: According to the product sheets found near this static display, almost every one of Tri -Art Audio's 20 products is named either Pebbles or Bam Bam. That said, here is the Ontario-based company's $1150/pair mini-monitor. It is named Bam Bam. Bob Deutsch was similarly puzzled by the company's dem room.
It's a fondly regarded part of every SSI: a single large ballroom given over to small exhibitssome active, most of them passiveof products that are designed and made in Canada. Among the most striking sights in this year's Pavillon du Canada was something that I can describe only as The Big, Orange Turntable, which sat near the center of the floor: unlabeled, unattached to any other components, and apparently unrelated to any known exhibits. Big, Orange Turntable, we salute you.
I have experienced my first cable demo in French. The very animated and enthusiastic Bruno Delorimier conducted a Nordost interconnect comparison for an appreciative audience of Quebec audiophiles, using a pair of Dynaudio Confidence C1 loudspeakers ($8500/pair, plus $600 for stands), and all SimAudio Moon electronics. Going from Nordost's Blue Heaven ($350/1 meter pair) to their monofilament-technology Heimdall (ca $800/1 meter pair), the differences in rhythmic nuance and sheer touchin favor of the Heimdallwere apparent, regardless of language.