What with CES a little more than two months ago, and the Chicago AXPONA show just two weeks ago, it was difficult for SSI 2013 to claim new product introductions. Typically, the most they could claim was "First time in Canada." But there was at least one product introduction that was billed as World Premiere: the Arteluthe Satie, the entry-level speaker in the company's AirForce line, made entirely in Montreal. It's a fully active design, with two built-in 175W amplifiers in each speaker, no passive elements in the signal path, high sensitivity, and claimed 30Hz20kHz bandwidth. All this technology, and only $7999/pair. There are two other speakers in the line: the Alegria and the Kantante, both fully active, with a top price of $15,000. The photo shows designer Robert Gaboury.
John Atkinson (right), Art Dudley (center), and I had a good time at Stereophile's "Ask the Editors" session on Saturday afternoon, and, judging by the response, so did the people who asked the questions. The questions ranged from the general/philosophical, like whether it makes sense to use the "absolute sound" of unamplified music as the only reference in evaluating audio components, and the specific/technical, like the advantages/disadvantages of USB connections for high-performance audio.
ASW is a line of speakers imported to Canada from Germany by Tri-Cell, and was, for me, something of a find at SSI 2012. The speaker demonstrated was the Cantius 404 ($1950/pair), their entry-level floorstander. With an older-model Clearaudio turntable as source, and a Unico Secondo ($2000) hybrid integrated driving the speakers, the LP of Willie Nelson singing "Stardust" sounded sweetly musical, with excellent imaging.
When I went into VMAX Services' room, they were playing a recording of "Mona Lisa" that wasn't Nat King Cole's but had the same spirit. The speakers were small bookshelf units (stand mounted, of course) and they sounded exceptionally good. Who is the singer, I asked VMAX's Richard Kohlruss, and what are those speakers? He showed me the CD: Verve ERCD 6671, vocals by Densil Pinnock, guitar by Bill Coon.
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.
Atoll paired up with ProAc, assembling a system that, knowing something about these brands, I would guess would be a fine-sounding one, but it was only on passive display. Not the most effective way to attract new consumers, I'd say. The star of this system was the ProAc Tablette Anniversary ($2295/pair), the latest version of a speaker that has had enormous following over the years, and was combined with the Atoll CD30 CD player ($899) and Atoll IN30 itegrated amp ($799).
Attention Screen is the band that includes Stereophile's own Bob Reina on piano, Chris Jones on bass, Don Fiorino on various string instruments, and Mark Flynn on drums. (Their recent CD, Live at Merkin Hall, recorded by John Atkinson, is available from Stereophile.) They gave a concert at FSI, and although the attendance could have been better—publicity for the music events at the show was rather sparse—it was clear that those in the audience were enraptured with Attention Screen's intense, almost entirely improvisational brand of jazz.
How do you convince people that there's more to good sound than MP3s played on an iPod speaker dock? Events like the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest and the Montreal Salon Son & Image allow attendees to experience high-performance audio in a no-sales-pressure setting, but they're mostly preaching to the converted. The people who attend these events are already interested in good sound. But what about the general public?
Toronto-area audio dealer Audio Excellence decided to tackle the problem last year by setting up a booth at the annual National Home Show in Toronto, reportedly with great success. I heard that they were planning to exhibit again this year, so I decided to check it out.
The Avantera ($24,000$26,000/pair, depending on finish) is the speaker from German manufacturer Audio Physic that replaces their Avanti and Caldera models. (Avant-i and Cald-era combined gives you Avantera.) It's Audio Physic's 25th Anniversary model, and features the aptly-named Hyper-Holographic midrange driver and tweeter. The sound of the system, at a price not for the faint-hearted (Acoustic Signature Storm turntable, $7500; Trigon Chonolog CD player, $8995; Trigon Dialog preamp ($8495); Trigon Monolog Power Amps ($9495 each); Creative Reference Plus audio rack ($10,500); Creative Audio Amplifier bases ($1000 each) was exquisiteclearly a candidate for best sound of the show.
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.