Venerable British audio manufacturer, Naim, has an almost-equally-venerable new Canadian distributor, Plurison. Headed by the genial Daniel Jacqueson the right in the photo, with Doug Graham, Naim's International Export Manager on the leftPlurison's list of distributed brands includes Focal, Mordaunt-Short, MartinLogan, Pathos, YBA, Micromega, and a host of others. It must put Jacques in a quandary when he has to decide what product to take home to listen to on the weekend!
Analog stalwart Naim is now heavily into computer audio; new at SSI 2012 was their NDS streamer/DAC, which is to start shipping in May. This is their reference-level network player, which does all the things you expect a product like this to do, including Internet radio. The price of $13,000 does not include a power supply. In true Naim fashion, the NDS offers a choice of three power supplies, which range in price from $3k to $10k.
Naim had several products on static display, one of them looking like a small preamp but with an antenna sticking out in the back. I asked Terry Richardson of Audio Plus, North American distributor of Naim products, what this product was; he explained that it was called the Unity QUTE, and said that "it did everything except what a speaker does." Add a pair of speakers and you've got a sound system.
Conventional audio marketing wisdom has it that any new company with a single product, selling at a high price, will have a really rough time establishing distribution and picking up dealers. But this apparently did not deter Kim Neeper Rasmussen. The Neeper Perfection One is a two-and-a-half way floorstander of modest size, with a 1.5" ScanSpeak ring-radiator tweeter and two 5.5" custom ScanSpeak midrange/bass units, each speaker weighing 30kg (66 lbs). A major feature of the design is that the cabinet walls are all non-parallel to each other, an approach to resonance-control that Rasmussen considers to be vastly superior to the use of damping materials. The speakers are made in Denmark, and are priced at $20,000/pair.
Paradigm has some new active speakers, including the A2 ($300$350/pair, depending on finish) demoed here by Erin Phillips and Mark Aling using a Numark DJ mixing deck. Paradigm has also entered the earbuds market, with models ranging in price from $59 to $149. Like Paradigm's speakers, these were developed utilizing anechoic testing.
VTL announced a major upgrade to their TL-7.5 Reference Linestage Preamplifier (current gain technology, with dramatically lower noise floor), which is now the TL-7.5 Series II. They also have an upgraded version of the MB-450 monoblocks and a new 250Wpc MB-185. Pictured: VTL’s Bea Lam with the system that featured the TL-7.5/MB-450 combo driving Wilson Sophia 2s. Lovely sound.
Bryston is one of the most successful Canadian audio companies, and I think a major part of their success is due to the fact that they have a good sense of their market: not interested in fads, but moving with technology to the future, and meeting new trends in listening. Headphones have been around for a long time, but they've been usually peripheral to the interests of audiophiles. This has been changing, and Bryston has a new product to meet this challenge. The BPHA-1 ($1295) is a headphone amplifier that is said to work well with the new headphones that are difficult to drive. Bryston's James Tanner is holding up a prototype of the BPHA-1.
MartinLogan is famous for speakers that use electrostatic driversfull-range or in combination with dynamic woofersbut they have more recently broadened their offerings to include non-electrostatic models. According to MartinLogan's Peter Soderberg, their aim is to produce speakers that approach the sound of their electrostatic models, but at a lower price and easier to drive. He says that this has become possible with their version of the Heil tweeter (the original Oskar Heil patent having expired). He did a comparison for me between their top-of-the-line electrostatic CLX ($25,000/pair), supplemented by the Depth 1 subwoofer ($2000), and the new Motion 40 ($1995), which uses the Folded Motion (aka Heil) tweeter, in both cases driven by Anthem's new class-D amplifier, top-of-the-line Conrad-Johnson preamp, with a laptop as source. With Patricia Barber singing "Norwegian Wood," the tonal balance of these physically very different speakers was surprisingly similar. Peter Soderberg is pictured here with the CLX and the Motion 40, after what must have been an exceptionally amusing quip on my part.
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.