If one were to judge by the new product introductions from Ayre and Jeff Rowland Design, $18k seems to be the price point for high-end solid-state preamplifiers. Rowland's new Criterion preamp uses NiMH batteries in the power supply; these are more easily available than the lead-zinc ones that were used in Rowland's previous top preamp—and, of course, the design of the Criterion features a number of improvements from its predecessor. Rowland also introduced the new Continuum integrated amp, available in two version: 350Wpc ($7200) or 500Wpc
($8800), the latter featuring power-factor correction.
Although the term "professional" is often used as part of model designations in consumer electronics, the actual overlap between the audiophile consumer market and the real pro market is quite small. There are speakers in common use as studio monitors that no self-respecting audiophile would want to be caught dead listening to, and the typical audiophile loudspeaker would go up in smoke if asked to pump out the kind of volume that pro application routinely demands. To a lesser extent, the same applies to amplifiers: pro is pro and consumer is consumer, and ne'er the twain shall meet.
At $15,995/pair, the Tempus III is the top-of-the-line from Ryan Speakers. Their speakers have impressed me before as offering high quality for the price, but perhaps not world-beaters. The Tempus III is different. It uses proprietary drivers, including a new beryllium-dome tweeter, two side-firing woofers, and a midbass that covers the range from 100Hz to 350Hz.
An enterprise founded by brothers Trevor and Todd Ryan (left to right), Ryan Speakers proudly proclaims that their loudspeakers are "handcrafted in California." Looking at the Ryan 630 ($5000/pair), I remarked on the presence of felt around the tweeter, a technique pioneered by the late John Dunlavy. "Oh, yes," said Todd Ryan, "felt around the tweeter, offset mounting drivers; we use all the old tricks."
Esoteric's two-box (transport plus D/A converter) SACD player, feeding A70 amps (not sold in the US), an Audio Research Reference 3 preamp, and a pair of Aerial Acoustics 20T speakers combined to produce one of the smoothest, most musical sounds I heard at the show.
Remember the name: Salagar Sonics. It's the name of a new American speaker company, whose first product, the Salagar S210 ($7500/pair), still in prototype form, made a strong impression at HE 2007. It's an active two-way—digital crossover; the amp uses the latest B&O ICE module—with a Scanspeak AirCirc tweeter and a 10" Peerless VIFA mid-bass driver, in an unusually-shaped (and highly inert) enclosure. I thought these speakers sounded terrific: lively, low in coloration, and with excellent imaging.
Canada Hi-Fi, a print and internet magazine, is one of the sponsors of TAVES (editor Suave Kajko is President of TAVES), and had a booth at the show. Canada Hi-Fi is distributed free to audio and video stores in Canada, but if they decided to charge for their issues, with such charming representatives as Sarah Ferguson and Margaret Waymark, they would be signing up subscribers in no time.
Here's a photo of SSI's Sarah Tremblay and Stereophile's John Atkinson, who is covering the Show with Art Dudley and yours truly. JA will be presenting a seminar on how to understand loudspeaker measurements tomorrow (Sunday) at 2pm.
Sarah Tremblay and Michel Plante are the dynamic duo responsible for the success of SSI. Like the shark, they believe in always moving forward, coming up with new ideas every year, such as the focus on sub-$5000 systems and headphones at SSI 2013.