I took this picture of a room at T.H.E. Show just because I thought it looked cool. The system featured old Apogees, long out of production. The music playing was pleasant. But what were these people selling? Maybe cables. Everyone sells cables. And then I looked at the sign on the door: N.F.S. Audio. N.F.S. Not For Sale. Here’s what a Google search turned up:
“We are a couple of Las Vegas audiophiles who love good music and wine. This will be our sixth year at T.H.E. Show. We hope to provide a fun and relaxing listening experience for show exhibitors and patrons alike. We'll have plenty of music and libations. Every year we bring an excitingly different stereo system with interesting visual effects. Come visit! . . . we'll pour you a glass. . ."
Blue Circle Audio first came to prominence (or perhaps notoriety) with whimsical products like an amplifier in a shoe and a preamplifier in a purse. Although the Music Pumps and the Music Purse are still available, according to their website , Blue Circle brought more conventional products to SSI 2013, and their demo room provided one of the show's most relaxing listening experiences. There is just something very soothing about a night sky as a background to musicand the music presented by the system (BC507 DAC, $2600, BC309 preamp, $8500, BC1022 amp, $7000, BC6040 power line conditioner, $4000, BIS Audio Maestro cabling, $9500, and Ledoux Acoustique DIVA speakers and GAiA subs, $21,000) showed that Blue Circle does not need quirky products to get our attention at SSI. The SHow continues today (Saturday) and tomorrow.
May Audio Marketing, owned and managed by Nizar Akhrass, has been a purveyor of audiophile recordings and accessories since . . . well...shortly after Thomas Edison demonstrated the newfangled device called the phonograph. Or at least so it seems. He and his family are still at it, and, in a move that will be applauded by the audiophile community, the organizers of SSI presented Nizar and his wife Alice with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the opening night reception. Well-deserved, I'd say.
"Head Monster" Noel Lee is known as a shrewd, successful businessman, but I think that if he had taken a different career path he could have made a great evangelist. His CES press conferences have very much feeling of revival meetings, and, like an evangelist, he works hard at whipping the crowd into a frenzy. Given the largely skeptical audience of media representatives, Lee is not always successful in this, but you certainly can't fault his enthusiasm. (Consumer electronics journalists are a tough crowd.)
I had a quick look in Nola's room, and as soon as I saw their giant speakers, I knew that these were not going to be in my designated "Under $15k" price range. Indeed, the speakers (whose name escapes me, but it has something to do with boxing) were just under $200k/pair. They sounded great, with tremendous dynamics, but I have trouble relating to speakers in that price range. "Do you have anything new and relatively affordable?" Yes, said Nola's Marilyn Marchisotto. The $9998/pair KO (another boxing reference) was being used in another room in demos by Nordost.
The first speaker I reviewed for Stereophile was the Alon IV by Acarian Systems, designed by Carl Marchisotto . I remember it as being a very good-sounding speaker, with outstanding bass, and the dipole midrange giving it an “open” sound. Through the years, for business reasons, the speaker brandname has changed (Nola is Alon spelled backwards), and the company is now called Accent Speaker Technology, but the speakers are still designed by Carl, and his wife, Marilyn, is the company’s wife president. Carl’s more expensive speakers still use the dipole midrange arrangement, but in the more affordable line he has turned to the more common unipolar approach, albeit with his own variations, like separate porting of bass drivers. The latest such speaker, introduced at the 2011 CES, is the Contender ($3400/pair), and it sound like. . .well. . .a real contender.
Made in Germany, available in 12 color combinations, the Lindemann Birdland series of loudspeakers is intended to appeal to the consumer who appreciates not only great sound but also stylish industrial design and German craftsmanship. Components include German-made ceramic drivers, German copper-foil inductors, cryogenically treated Swiss-made copper terminals, and various other audiophile goodies. The demo system featured the Dixie!, the smallest speaker in the series, with Lindemann digital source and electronics. The speakers had a sound that was notably free of cabinet resonances, and had much greater dynamic freedom than I would expect from a speaker of such relatively modest size. The speakers were not fazed even by Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man: the lowest octave was missing, but the sound did not otherwise lack in body or dynamic punch. At $9900/pair, the Birdland Dixie! cannot be considered a bargain, but it’s one of the best-sounding small speakers that I’ve heard.
Nordost provided the lanyards for the all badges (attendees, exhibitors, and press), with the Nordost name prominently displayed, and to the casual observer it might have seemed that everyone at SSI 2014 worked for Nordost! Not so, but Nordost cables were in a number of systems, and Nordost did brisk business at their booth selling cables and other accessories at a show discount.
Nordost can be usually relied on to provide effective demonstrations at shows, and SSI 2011 was no exception. The product demonstrated this time was the Sort Kone, which represents Nordost's latest thinking on component support. Nordost's Bjorn Bengtsson described the Sort Kone as a "directly coupled and mechanically tuned resonance control device, using a sophisticated new approach to the problem of supporting sensitive electronics." You can read all about the rationale for the design at www.nordost.com, but, whatever the theory, the bottom line is the sound.
The Montreal Sheraton Centre is a nice hotel, with hotel rooms that are reasonably well-suited to audio demonstrations, plenty of larger suites in which to set up more ambitious systems, friendly and efficient staff, fast elevators, and a great bar. The hotel's weak spot is the provision of places to eat. You can eat at the bar, which is all right as such things go, but there is no restaurant serving dinner, and there's a café serving breakfast that seems overpriced, and, judging by the "Complet" breakfast that I had on the first day, mediocre at best.* Fortunately, the Sheraton is in an area with a lot of restaurants within easy walking distance, and I found a place that served a better breakfast than the Sheraton at a lower price, in a charming atmosphere. I got good vibes just going into the Café Vasco da Gama, and I knew that I picked the right place when I got to the cash register. There in a large ice bucket, along with bottles of beer and some bottles of wine to be served by the glass, was a bottle of Veuve Cliquot champagne. Now, that's class!