On my last day at the show I got to meet the founder and chief designer of Gradient, Jorma Salmi: a trim, quietly intense man with a boyish mop of hair. I introduced myself and complimented the originality of his designs; Dr. Salmi looked at me over the tops of his steel-rimmed glasses, smiled kindly, and said, “A little strange, aren’t they?” A moment later he quoted Becket, saying that, in his next design, he would “fail better.” What a cool guy!
Naim Audio has a reputation for making products that are truer than most to music's temporal content: rhythm, pacing, the beat almighty. Beginning with their classic solid-state amps of the mid-1970s, Naim's designers have stressed, above all else, the reduction of distortions that puff up and pad the attack and decay components of musical sounds: Getting rid of those additives seems to clarify the timing relationship between different notes in a line, making music more compelling and easier to enjoy. That their gear has historically favored musical content over sonic attributes is no shock to the Naim faithful.
In an industry whose newest products are often as discouragingly unaffordable as they are short of the sonic mark, the Naim Audio Uniti ($3795) stands out. In a single reasonably sized box, the Uniti combines the guts of Naim's Nait 5i integrated amplifier and CD5i CD player with various additional sources: an FM/DAB tuner, and interfaces for an iPod, a USB memory stick, an iRadio, and a UPnP-compatible connected computer or serverall for the price of a very good television set.
The 2014 SSI witnessed the official North American introduction of Naim Audio's mighty Statement amplifier (which John Atkinson previewed in his coverage of the 2014 CES). I experienced this behemoth at the unveiling party thrown for it by distributor Plurison Audio, and was struck not so much by its undeniable power but by its very nuanced performance on subtler materialsuch as the classic "Helplessly Hoping" by Crosby, Stills, and Nash. During the chorus, when David Crosby's low harmony was the last to enter ("They are three together. . ."), the audible tension and release were palpableand very impressive. The Statement is something that neither I nor the vast majority of you will ever enjoy at home, but . . .wow.
The sign on the door said JIB Germany, leading me to expect…well, something very different from what I found. (As the late Vivian Stanshall declared in a Bonzo Dog Band number titled “Shirt”: ‘24-Hour Cleaners’? That’s just the name of the shop, dearie!) That said, the exhibitors in this room demonstrated a pleasant-sounding mini-system, comprised of a Napa Acoustics NA-208A hybrid tube integrated amplifier ($399) and NA-208S two-way loudspeakers ($199/pair), fed by a first-generation iPod playing Abba songs. Hand not included.
Master recordist Rene LaFlamme of Fidelio Records marked the release of his first LPa remastering of Melanie Barney’s and the Buzz Brass Ensemble’s colorful recording of Holt’s The Planetsby adding to his demonstration system an interesting new turntable called the Kronos. Designed and manufactured in Montreal by Louis Desjardins and photographed here by JA, the Kronos is described as the first commercial turntable to use both a fully sprung suspension and a system of twin counter-rotating platters. (The perpetually fascinating 47 Laboratory 4724 Koma turntable, reviewed in Stereophile by Michael Fremer, pioneered the latter but lacked the former.)
The German manufacturer ADAM Audio, whose high-frequency drive-unit technology is descended from that of Oskar Heil's Air-Motion Transformer, introduced their new Gamma loudspeaker ($22,000/pair), which is built around a 25mm-thick aluminum baffle: a departure from the honeycomb material used in elder ADAMs. Demonstrated with a pair of Cary SA 500.1 solid-state monoblocks ($4995 each), Cary SLP 05 preamp ($8495), and Cary CD 303T CD player ($6995), the Gammas were clear and distinctly articulate, with a pleasant balance overallalthough I wouldn't have wanted them to be an iota lighter.
Kudos to Doug Graham of Naim for bringing so much new music to Plurison Audio's suite at SSI. Especially interesting was the French singer Jehro's Cantina Paradiseseen here on Doug's Apple iPad, running Naim Audio's free controller appwhich I intend to buy as soon as I get home.