With Bam Bam and Pebbles as product names, I thought I was merely stating the obvious in a previous show report when I suggested that the designer of Tri-Art Audio products must be a Flintstones fan. I mentioned this to the Tri-Art people at SSI 2014, asking whether they were paying royalties for using these names, and was told that they never thought of any connection with the Flintstones: Bam Bam is a reference to the use of bamboo in their products. (I still don't know how "Pebbles" comes into it.)
Victor Khomenko, the "VK" of Balanced Audio Technology's VK-5 preamp and VK-60 amplifier, was born in St. Petersburg (then Leningrad), and grew up two blocks from the Svetlana tube factory. He attended the prestigious Leningrad Polytechnic Institute and received an M.S. in physics and electronics, specializing in electronic emissions. He spent his early working life in the Russian electronics industry, then emigrated to the US in 1979—with $400, a family, no home, and no job.
Everybody wants to get into the act. Pro Audio manufacturer Behringer had several iPod/iPhone audio accessories, including the nifty Soundscape Air ($129), which features wireless speakers (good for up to 8 hours of playing, up to 150 feet from the base unit) that utilize inductive (ie, wireless) charging.
It's hard to know what the best strategy is for digital upgrades. Maybe you bought your first CD player when you became convinced that the format was going to succeed, and it seemed that players were about as good as they were going to get. Some time later, you tried one of the new outboard digital processors, and the sonic improvement was such that you just had to have it. Then you replaced the player itself with a CD transport, so you could benefit from improvements in servo control and digital output circuitry. At this point you were generally happy with your digital front-end—until you read about how 16-bit DACs (which is what your processor had) were old hat now that 20-bit DACs were available. But alas, your processor couldn't be upgraded, and was worth maybe 30% of what you'd paid for it. So you took a loss and bought a new-generation digital processor, and things were fine and dandy...for a while.
More real-world-priced, making its Canadian debut at SSI 2012, was another Audio Pathways import, the Bel Canto C7R receiver ($3300). Yes, that's right, a receiveralthough it doesn't look like any receiver I've seen. Based on the C5i integrated amp ($2250), which has digital as well as analog inputs and a phono stage, the C7R adds an FM tuner to the package. And while it may seem a bit steep to pay an extra $1050 to get an FM tuner, the tuner itself is a high-end design, and the C7R includes several refinements compared to the C5i.
"What did you think of the Sonus Faber/Ayre system?" I always feel like I'm being put on the spot when being asked this kind of question, and I usually say something vaguely positive but noncommittal. "Um, it sounded nice." I had listened to that system only briefly at that point, and had just a general favorable impression. I went back later, listened some more, and came to the conclusion that this was one of the most natural-sounding systems at the show. Not loud and spectacular in an obvious way, just "natural." But then I don't think I've ever heard a non-musical-sounding Sonus Faber speaker, and these Amati anniversarios (to be reviewed by John Atkinson in the May issue of Stereophile) were perfectly complemented by Ayre C-5xe universal disc player (Stereophile's Joint Product of 2005), K-1xe preamp and V-1xe power amp.
Beyond Frontiers Audio (BFA) was founded by two former senior designers of Sonic Frontiers, Zdenko Zivkovic and Glenn Dolick, with Matt Brazeau, formerly with Globe Audio, handling the marketing. BFA's first product is the Tulip ($17,000), an integrated amplifier (180Wpc) with built-in DAC. It looks like a very serious product, with a parts list that reads like "the best of high-end audio" (24-bit/192kHz Cirrus Logic and Burr-Brown DAC, Mundorf supreme silver/gold/oil capacitors, Sanken bipolar output transistors, WBT speaker connectors, Cardas input RCA connectors, 1600W toroidal dual primary power transformer, Swedish aircraft quality aluminum chassis, etc.). Amplifier gain is 100% tube (JJ Tesla ECC83S and E88CC with gold pins, cryogenically treated). There is no feedback of any type in the amplifier stages. "Proudly designed in Canada," the Tulip is presently assembled in Serbia, but the plan is to bring production to Canada.
Shanling is known for the striking industrial design of their tube electronics. Seen in the Music Hall room, the new A500 integrated amp ($6499) maintains the striking looks, but it's solid-state. Lots of nice blue lights, though.
On their website, the only products listed are cables and stepup transformers, but at TAVES, Blueberryhill Audio had a new speaker on demo. And what a speaker! The Rhapsody 3D has a bipolar arrangement of two 8" full-range Fostex drivers, supplemented by a Fostex supertweeter, and a servo-controlled powered subwoofer, with all the drivers in cylindrical cabinets. The sound was fabulous, with startling dynamics, great imaging, and bass that was tight, well-controlled, and extended. The Rhapsody 3D was being driven by an 8W 300B amp for the mid/highs and another 25W tube amp for the supertweeter (or maybe the other way around; my notes are not clear on this). Sold factory-direct at $15,000/pair, the Rhapsody 3D system provided for me one of the best sounds of the show.