Three years ago, the idea of a solid-state integrated amplifier that sold for only $1250 yet combined some of the best performance aspects of a Naim Nait and a Dynaco Stereo 70 seemed likely to resonate with consumers and critics alike. And it did: Introduced in early 2005, the British-built Exposure 2010S was an unequivocal hit on both sides of the Atlantic, and remains in Class A of Stereophile's "Recommended Components." Deservedly.
As a Quad ESL enthusiast, I know how difficult it is to blend subwoofers with very good, very fast loudspeakers. Consequently, I was impressed with the new A225-M powered subwoofer from the Swiss company PSI, on demonstration at the Simplifi Audio room. Used with the Gradient Helsinki loudspeaker, of which I also have some experience, a pair of PSI subs ($4500 each) provided lots of deep, impactful bass with no apparent change in the Gradients' timbral character: very impressive. The subwoofer was housed within one of the the same IKEA units as Simplifi's Tim Ryan was using for component stands, to show that high-quality sound can still be domestically acceptable.
Like a Studebaker Avantior perhaps even the Concordethe shape of an Elipson loudspeaker from 60 years ago is jarring, albeit impressively so, in its anacronicity: The French design and manufacturing firm has been ahead of the curve for that long. At SSI they had a number of fetching designs on static display, including the Planet L seen here, a two-way coaxial design that's now manufactured in China. For 2013 a pair of Planet Ls can be bundled with a similarly stylish (round, of course) amplifier/CD player for $2500, with stands adding another $300.
Montreal dealer Filtronique Son-Or brought to SSI a system built around Magico's floorstanding S3 loudspeaker ($22,500), with a digital source in the form of the dCS Puccini CD player/D/A converter (ca $25,000) and amplification by Ayre Acoustics. The latter consisted of the Ayre KXR 20 line-level preamp ($27,500) and the newer-than-new, long-anticipated Ayre MXR 20 mono amplifiers (price to be determined).
Modern hi-fi is little more than a way of getting electricity to pretend that it's music. Of course, good source components remain all-important, and even if loudspeakers are imperfect, most of us can find one or two that suit our tastes, if not our rooms and the rest of our gear.
Early on the show’s first day, the first up-and-running system I encountered was in the Nordost room, where a Moon Evolution 750D D/A converter/disc player ($13,000) and the same company’s 125 Wpc 700i integrated amplifier (also $13,000) drove a pair of Dynaudio C2 Signature loudspeakers ($15,000/pair), using Nordost Frey 2 interconnects and speaker cables and, of course, a full brace of QRT accessories. Playing a Baroque-ensemble recording of unknown origin, the system sounded delightfully clear, open, and un-harsh, with considerable spatial depth.
What's 2" long, comes out in May, and responds to external stimulus by changing color? The AudioQuest Dragonfly ($250), a USB D/A converter designed for the company by Wavelength Audio's Gordon Rankin (and whose proprietary software allows it to function as a true asynchronous DAC). The Dragonfly, which is powered by the USB bus, performs at 44.1, 48, 88.2, and 96kHz; the dragonfly icon on its plastic case (not shown here) indicates the sampling rate in use by glowing green, blue, amber, or white, respectively. Features include separate clock oscillators for 44.1/88.2 and 48/96; a 64-position analog volume control that overrides the digital volume control in iTunes/etc.; and proprietary USB input and 3.5mm output connectors.
The Multi Electronique suite was home to a tasteful, sedate display of Focal loudspeakers and Simaudio electronics, fed by an iMac computer running iTunes: just like home, except these guys had WAV files instead of the AIFFs that I prefer. The music selection was superb, and included the young jazz singer Melody Gardot, whom I hadn't heard before today, and the always interesting Dee Dee Bridgewater. Even without the luxury of an "audiophile" setupwhich is to say, these musical furnishings were arranged in the manner of a normal person's homethe sound of the Focal Chorus 826W ($3795/pair), Moon 3.3 DPX D/A converter ($4000), and Moon 3.3 amplifier ($4000) was utterly charming, and I left my comfy red seat with only the greatest reluctance.
When in London, do take in the British Museum, where you’ll find the uncannily well preserved human remains that have come to be known as Lindow Man. (I could recount the circumstances of the discovery of the corpse, but it’s just too horrible to tell...) As with most Druids from a thousand years ago, he was rather small, and because the corpse was cut in two during its discovery (whoops: I let that slip by mistake), you’ll find the remains of Lindow Man encased in a small illuminated box with a glass topvirtually identical to the Gutwire display cases I found in SSI’s Canadian Pavilion.