Speaking of McIntosh, there was lots of Binghamton bling on display in the Totem room, where showgoers enjoyed the world introduction of the Totem Forest Signature loudspeaker ($6000/pair). Driven by a McIntosh C50 preamp and MC452 amplifier and fed by an Apple laptop running Amarra software, the Forest Signatures sounded like great all-around-ers, combining thoroughly impressive spatial performance with surprisingly good color and "body," plus a very natural top-to-bottom tonal balance. As with the Brodmann/Electrocompaniet, Wilson/VTL/dCS/Spiral Groove, Audio Feast, and MBL demonstrations, having to leave the cocoon of this room was a drag.
As last year, Totem Acoustics had by far the show's most aesthetically sophisticated exhibit: a trippy mix of shapes and textures both organic and industrial, in which lights, flowers, textiles, and scents shared senses with the sound. The latter, also in typical Totem form, was exceptionally involvingespecially the Beatles' "Within You, Without You," Insane Clown Posse's "Ain't Yo Bidness," and "lua" by Dudu (no relation) Salinas. At SSI Totem also introduced a product that's still in concept stage, called Totem Skin: a removable sock-style cover that transformed cabinetry into artliterally. Among the company's goals for this show, according to the Totem rep with whom I spoke, was to gauge consumer response to the Skins, and the reaction so far is positive.
In years past, the Montreal record shop Aux 33 Tours operated a generously sized retail booth at SSI, and I invariably helped them to lighten their vinyl load. I was disappointed that they weren't selling records at this year's showuntil I noticed their display in the Hilton's hallway: All day Friday and Saturday, they offered a free shuttle service for people who wished to visit their store. (Sadly, the time was too short for me to take that ride.)
Here's the Vinyl Cleaner ($3895), a new type of LP washing machine made in Germany by Audio Desk Systeme Glass (they make a popular CD edge-trimmer you've no doubt seen) and distributed in the US by Ultra Systems. Described by Robert Stein as "the only way you can really clean the bottom of a record groove," the Vinyl Cleaner uses ultrasonic waves to separate dirt and vinyl from one another, and dries the disc with a fan instead of a vacuum (the latter induces static, according to the designer). Watch for Michael Fremer's review in an upcoming episode of "Analog Corner."
A Legacy Audio Whisper XD loudspeaker ($20,500$22,500/pair, depending on finish) stands next to a life-size picture of a Legacy Audio Whisper XD loudspeaker. One of these has eight drivers, dual 500-watt ICE subwoofer amplifiers, and a 24-bit room-correction processor. The other does not.
I admit some confusion: According to the product sheets found near this static display, almost every one of Tri -Art Audio's 20 products is named either Pebbles or Bam Bam. That said, here is the Ontario-based company's $1150/pair mini-monitor. It is named Bam Bam. Bob Deutsch was similarly puzzled by the company's dem room.
I have found that, under show conditions, some of the sweetest sounds often come from the smallest systems; so it was in the room sponsored by distributor VMAX, where a Hegel H80 integrated amplifier with onboard D/A and five digital inputs, including USB ($2000) drove a lovely pair of Triangle 30th Anniversary Comete loudspeakers ($1800/pair), with a Hegel CDP-2A CD player ($2600) used as a transport.
The first reference I saw to the Count of Saint Germain was in Foucault's Pendulum, Umberto Eco's dense novel about a man whose paranoid delusions become so overpoweringly real that, by the end of the book, the reader is left wondering whether the protagonist's enemies actually exist. That their number should include Saint Germain was a nice touch: Part cabalist, part confidence man, the real-life Count was thought by some to be immortal (in Pendulum he's pushing 300), and while Casanova wrote vividly of meeting Saint Germain at a dinner party in 1757, so did the English writer and pederast C.W. Leadbetter—in 1926. Like Aleister Crowley, the Count of Saint Germain can be seen peering over the shoulders of countless parlor (but not parleur, or even haut-parleur) occultists: He keeps popping up all over the place.
I finally got to hear a mono system at SSI, but not in the manner that I or the exhibitor might have wanted. Halfway through the show, Audio Note's Dave Cope suffered the loss of one Empress Silver monoblock amplifier ($10,000/pair), apparently owing to an AC power surge. The Empress Silver, seen here alongside the outlet of infamyand a coil of Audio Note's new Isis LX 168 copper-Litz speaker cableis a new single-ended mono design with a 5U4G rectifier tube, a 6SN7 input tube, and parallel 2A3 triodes, for a total of 8Wpc. This was a disappointingly bad break for a company that has, in the past, won more than its share of Most Enjoyable System of the Show awardsalthough I must say that a mono recording of Count Basie's "88 Basie Street" was nonetheless fine when played through the surviving channel.