Although she'll deny it, my wife thinks ill of me because I've failed to buy her a new Mini Cooper. I can point to a number of things in my defense—especially the Mini's lack of all-wheel drive, which we need for climbing our quarter-mile driveway in bad weather, and its insufficient cargo and passenger space—all of which would constrain a Dudley-owned Mini Cooper to recreational use only. And a new round of car payments would be difficult to justify for those reasons: not because I'm cheap, and not because I'm too old to appreciate a car that's fun to drive.
May Audio Marketing's Nabil Akhrass (seated) was even busier than usual at this show, given the absence of his sister, Julia: She recently gave birth to her and her husband's first child (congratulations!), and decided to sit this one out. When I visited the May Audio exhibit on Saturday morning, they were already enjoying brisk sales of CDs and vinyl.
Experience says that one must wait in line to hear the MBL system at any hi-fi show, and SSI 2014 was no exception. Similarly unsurprising was the realistically vivid sound on tap, with levels of color and texture that, in a strange way, stood in contrast to the resolutely smooth, monochromatic appearance of their gear. (Maybe that's intentional?) This year I was entertained by a variety of musical excerpts, including a snippet of Beethoven's Piano Concerto 2, through MBL's C31 D/A converter/CD player ($9200), C11 stereo preamp ($8800), C21 stereo amp (9200), and 116 F loudspeakers ($29,000/pair), with Siltech cables and a generous sprinkling of Shun Mook Mpingo discs.
Retailer AudioShop and distributor Audio Associé demonstrated a pleasantly impactful system built around a pair of Cabasse Riga loudspeakers ($18,000 /pair, including the Cabasse subwoofer), with a brace of electronics from my upstate New York neighbors McIntosh: the MCD1000 SACD/CD player ($10,000), C2500 tube preamp ($6500), and the beautiful McIntosh 275 power amp ($6500), all plugged into the company's MPC1500 AC power conditioner ($5000).
Like most people, I'm not interested in long, windy essays about audio reviewing, having barely enough time and interest for audio itself. But I do perk up when the debate turns to the audio reviewer's purpose in life: Should I write about everything that crosses my path, or should I limit my attention to those products that interest me, and that stand a chance of being good?
Those of us who groan at the appearance of every new five-figure digital source component in a massively oversized chassisand who groan in greater torment when the offending manufacturer says his customer base insists on products that are styled and built and priced that waycan take heart: The appearance of such sanely sized and affordable products as the Halide Design DAC HD ($495) and the AudioQuest DragonFly ($249) would suggest that the market has a mind of its own.
Blind though I am to the allure of blind testing, I can appreciate some degree of review-sample anonymity: Distinctive products elicit distinctive responses, but a plain black box encourages us to leave our prejudices at the door. It asks of us a certain . . . objectivity.
So it was with the Micromega AS-400 digital source/integrated amplifier ($4495), the anonymity of which was compounded, in my case, by a generous helping of forgetfulness: I suppose I was told, ahead of time, that this was a class-D amplifier, but at some point in time before my first at-home audition I apparently killed the brain cells responsible for remembering that fact. So I was innocent of conscious prejudice when I listened to this elegant cipher of a box and wrote, in my notes: "Dynamic, dramatic, and almost relentlessly exciting with some recordings. Imbued pianos with almost too much dynamism for the roomtoo much being very good!but lacked some 'purr' in the die-away. Basically fine and fun. Wish it had a little more color and spatial depth."
Recalling my very positive experience with the same company's AS-400 digital playback source/integrated amplifier, I found myelf attracted to the Micromega MyDAC ($399), a recently introduced asynchronous USB converter offering 24/192 performance and a color choice of black or, as seen above, Apple white.
The unusual Miyajima Shilabe moving-coil cartridge ($2800) came to my attention through a friend, and I obtained one from the importer, Robin Wyatt of Robyatt Audio, a music lover and dedicated audiophile who imports gear as a sideline, and who lives nearby in New Jersey.