The floorstanding Canalis loudspeakers in the Spiral Groove room, driven by Qualia digital source and amplification, were new to me, but were sounding clean, uncolored, and dynamic on the classic LP of Massenet’s Le Cid from Louis Fremaux and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, played on a Spiral Groove SG1.1 player fitted with an Ortofon Anna cartridge. Like all Canalis speakers, the new Amerigo ($10,000/pair) was designed by Joachim Gerhard (erstwhile designer of AudioPhysic and Sonics) and manufactured in the Bay Area by Spiral Groove, and should be available in March.
I was mightily impressed by the sound of the bus-powered, $399 DACport USB-input headphone amplifier when I reviewed it in June. So when I was looking round the CanJam exhibit, I checked out the Centrance booth. There sat Michael Goodman, the Chicago company's managing director, with a new product with a very familiar form factor. The $795 DacMini headphone amplifier/preamplifier is the size and shape of the Mac mini computer, and offers two line-level inputs as well as USB, Toslink, and S/PDIF electrical digital inputs. Versions are planned with a power amplifier section and an iPod dock.
It is inarguable that the quality of magnetically recorded sound has improved immeasurably in the last 101 years. 101 years? Yes, according to a fascinating account in the May 1988 issue of the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society, it was in 1888 that the Cincinnatti-based engineer Oberlin Smith experimented with recording information on steel wire by drawing it across the corner of an electromagnet around which a coil had been wound. Smith only carried out experiments without producing a practical recording system, and it wasn't until 1898 that the Dane, Valdemar Poulsen, was granted a German patent for a "Method for the reception of news, signals, and the like."
The penultimate room I went into on the RMAF's final day was being shared by SMc Audio and Audience. I was assuming the latter company was demonstrating its well-reviewed AC conditioner and cables, which indeed it was. But I was not expecting to see and hear loudspeakers from the Californian company. The ClairAudient LSA 16 (LSA for "Line Source Array) was designed by the late Richard Smith, cofounder of Audience, and features 4, 8, 16, 24, or 32 50mm drive-units, used full-range, with no tweeters or crossover (something I have not seen since the Ted Jordan designs of the late 1970s). A separate subwoofer handles the low bass and with a very high claimed sensitivity, the ClairAudient design will produce very high spls in-room, but with great clarity. The sound of the 16-driver version in the RMAF room was a little lacking in top-octave air, but was otherwise very detailed. The rest of the system comprised a McCormack Audio UDP-1 universal player, McCormack monoblock power amps, and a preproduction example of Steve McCormack's new SMc VRE-1 line preamp.
I don't know how many of you buy disposable diapers, but while Harry (now 6) and Emily (now 5) were still toddlers, diapers played a large role in my life. I can still remember my panic when I first saw the miles of drugstore shelves devoted to Pampers and Huggies—not just large, medium, and small, but such a variety that it could almost have been possible that each child had a diaper tailored for him or her. I'm sure that even the weirdly shaped backside of Tommy Pickles could have been securely wrapped.
I was immensely impressed by the dCS Puccini SACD player and U-Clock when I reviewed the British combination last December. But as the physical discs becomes a legacy source of music, there was obviously a need for a related D/A product. SSI saw the public debut of the dCS Debussy ($10,999 with remote), shown off here by Tempo Marketing's John Quick. The Debussy basically combines the D/A, DSP, and analog board from the Puccini with the true asynchronous USB input topology from the U-Clock in a slim, attractive package. There are two AES/EBU and two S/PDIF inputs, as well as USB, and there is also a word-clock input to allow the Debussy to be controlled by an external master clock unit. Two digital filters are included, one a conventional symmetrical type, the other a variant of the increasingly popular minimum-phase "apodizing" type.
I was also impressed by the sound of the $7000/pair Joseph Pulsar stand-mount that Stephen Mejias blogged about. What was notable about the set-up was that, in order to tame the hotel room acoustic, Jeff had set-up the speakers, driven by Simaudio's new 175Wpc Moon 700i integrated amplifier via Cardas Clear cables, to fire across the room's diagonal. If you have problems getting an optimal transition between the mid-bass and upper bass in your room, you might want to try this set-up (significant other not objecting, of course).
At the previous Shows where I had auditioned it, MBL's extravagantly excessive (or should that be excessively extravagant) X-Treme system had been set-up in inappropriate rooms, Finally, at the 2012 CES, this 4-enclosure system, which basically comprises two of the true omnidirectional upper-frequency modules of the Berlin-based company's 101E Mk.2 speaker (to be reviewed by Mikey Fremer in the April 2012 issue) with two man-sized powered subwoofers, each using six 12" drivers mounted three on each side to cancel mechanically induced vibrations, was set up in a room worthy of it. (The Venetian room was 31' by 22' with a 10' ceiling.) Bi-amped with four file-cabinetsized MBL 9011 monoblocksthe total system cost was $565,000!the X-Treme produced a big-bottomed sound that was indeed extreme when required but also delicate when appropriate. Oh my!
I went into the Pass Labs room to check out the company's new amps. But what caught my eye was the SR-1 loudspeaker ($25,000/pair). SR-1 stands for "First Son of Rushmore," the Rushmore being Nelson Pass's original assault on the state of the speaker art. A conventional deign compared with the active quad-amplified Rushmore, the four-way SR-1 uses four top-line SEAS drive-units, including a 29mm Hexadym soft-dome tweeter,