The other recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2011 SSI was Vince Bruzzese of loudspeaker manufacturer Totem, which will be celebrating its 25th anniversary next year. To tell the truth, this surprised me. No, not the fact that he was given the award, which was certainly well-deserved, but it seems like yesterday that I first encountered Vince at the Toronto Show, where he was introducing a small speaker that sounded uncommonly good. Has it been really that long?
Simaudio, represented in my photo by Lionel Goodfield (left) and Dynaudio, represented by Mike Manousselis (right) often exhibit together, an arrangement that seems to represent the friendly relationships between people in these companies as well as the synergistic relationships between the products. They certainly sound good together, and both companies seem to be guided by a desire to offer not necessarily the cheapest possible products, but ones that offer high quality combined with good value.
Many speaker manufacturers give their various speaker lines fanciful names that make it difficult to determine a given speaker's position in the manufacturer's intended quality range. Polk, in contrast, simply places their speakers in three categories: Good, Better, and Best. I suspect this helps sales staff in stores enormously in communicating what the differences are between various speakers from Polk.
Some think that the high-end audio business is a competitive, cut-throat endeavor, leading to animosities, but this picture of (l–r): EveAnna Manley (Manley Labs), Dennis Had (Cary Audio) and Kevin Deal (Prima Luna) shows that it isn't always that way, at least for purveyors of tube equipment.
Ultra Systems' Robert Stein cornered me—in the nicest way possible—at the Stereophile/Home Theater party Wednesday night, telling me that he had a great new acoustical damping product that I should check out in his booth. I was going to give this one a pass until he mentioned that it's small, easy-to-install, and inexpensive.
It's no secret that brick-and-mortar stores have had a rough time lately, with closures at an alarming rate. It's rare to encounter a new store that is devoted to high-performance audio and video. A store that fits this description opened recently in the picturesque village of Unionville, just outside Toronto.
Atoll is a French company that I think of as offering affordably-priced equipment, and I suppose that's still where most of their market is, but they've also moved upmarket with the new CD400 CD player ($6800), IN400 integrated amp ($6000), PR400 preamp ($5600), and AM400 ($4000). (If there was a prize for the most sensible model names given to audio products, I would nominate Atoll for these new offerings.) The product literature is in French only, but the technical language of audio to a large extent transcends borders. I was amused by part of the description of the AM400, which said that it was "Amplificateur bridgeable en bloc mono." I doubt if you'd find "bridgeable" in your Larousse French dictionary.
Headed by the irrepressible Angie Lisi, Audio Pathways is the importer for some ultra-high-end gear as well as affordably-priced audio products, and usually has some new interesting goodies at every show. At $47,000, the new VAC Statement 250 stereo amp is right up there, but if the 225Wpc is not enough for you, it can be bridged to produce 450W. The Statement 250 is a two-piece affair, and is meant to be stacked, with the power supply on the bottom, isolated from the top piece with bearings (which reminds me of the Aurios accessory bearings that were very good but unfortunately are no longer available).
At CES, the Vandersteen/Audio Research room always strikes me as being like an oasis—and not just because of the potted plants they have in the room. And so it was in the room sponsored by New Jersey dealer Audio Connection at HE 2007: music presented without hype or bombast, and simply relaxing to listen to. The speakers were the Vandersteen 5As ($16,900/pair +$5000 for carbon fiber cabinets), with Audio Research PH7 phono stage ($5995), CD7 CD player ($8995), Reference 3 line-stage preamp ($9995), and Reference 110 amplifier ($9995). The analog front end was the Clearaudio Anniversary TT and Stradivari cartridge, with a Graham Phantom tonearm. Cables were Audioquest William E. Low Signature interconnect and Everest speaker cable.
After encountering booths of so many manufacturers I had never heard of, I got some comfort from seeing a familiar name from the world of audio: Velodyne. Well known for their subwoofers, Velodyne has entered the highly competitive earphone market. Their new $90 Vpulse's claim to fame isyou guessed itexceptionally powerful bass performance. Velodyne's David Short was most enthusiastic about it, and told me that although Velodyne is not about to go out of the subwoofer business, they're working on a wide range of headphones.