Not being fully up on the names of the various Sonus Faber speakers, I asked one of the reps the name of the giants on demo. "Ida" was his answer. Come again? "Ida! Sonus Faber gives their speakers names that have a musical connection, like the titles of operas." But how could that be? The only remotely relevant opera connection that I'm aware of for "Ida" is Gilbert & Sullivan's "Princess Ida," and somehow I doubt if the Italian designers of Sonus Faber speakers would name the speaker after this not-all-that-popular English operetta.
And then I got it. The speaker was named after Aïda, pronounced "eye-ee-duh," the well-know opera by Verdi.
Designed by Hans Deutsch (no relation), made in Vienna, Brodmann Acoustics speakers come from the "musical instrument" rather than the "sound reproducer" tradition, rejecting the use of filters and damping materials to minimize distortion and unwanted speaker cabinet resonances. The theory may be controversial, but the Brodmann VC 7 ($25,000/pair) , with Electrocompaniet electronics, sounded superb, with great clarity, precise imaging, and, yes, a very "musical" sound.
The management of SSI requested exhibiting manufacturers, distributors, and retailers to set upin addition to whatever equipment they wanted to demonstratean entry-level system, with a total price of $5,000 or less. Some high-end audio manufacturers had nothing that would qualify, but others stepped up to the plate. Totem and Creek had a nifty little system that featured a pair of Totem Arros, Creek CD player and integrated amp, which have a combined price of $4,100, leaving $900 for cables, etc.
Dynaudio took a decidedly computer-oriented approach to providing a system for under $5000, with a choice between two powered wireless speakers: the Xeo 3 ($2300/pair) and the Xeo 5 (at $4500/pair, just under the $5000 limit). And these speakers are serious high-end products, not built-to-a-price budget offerings. You save on not having to buy an amplifier or cables (not always a trivial amount). The only catch is that there is no source component included; it's assumed that the consumer already has a suitable computer and/or iPod, iPad, or similar device.
Gershman is getting into the component support/vibration control business. The LEC Levitation device ($240 for a set of four), shown here by Ofra Gershman, uses the repulsion of two magnetic poles to provide isolation of the component from the surface it's placed on. Improvements in clarity, soundstage, imaging, and bass response are promised.
The folks at the Montreal Emile Berliner museum always bring to SSI some fascinating vintage audio equipment. The item in the picture is a "Personal Disco" component, Velo Model DK-990 (R), circa 1986, and it has everything you might want for your next disco party: two cassette players, radio, equalizers, four speakers, and a claimed output of 100W. Stephen, here's the subject for your next "Entry Level" column!
Atoll paired up with ProAc, assembling a system that, knowing something about these brands, I would guess would be a fine-sounding one, but it was only on passive display. Not the most effective way to attract new consumers, I'd say. The star of this system was the ProAc Tablette Anniversary ($2295/pair), the latest version of a speaker that has had enormous following over the years, and was combined with the Atoll CD30 CD player ($899) and Atoll IN30 itegrated amp ($799).
The first Gershman speaker I heard was the GAP 828 (maybe in 2004). The GAP 828 has been tweaked over the years, but this is the first time that the changes resulted in a change in model designation: it's now called the GAP 888 ($25,000/pair). The midrange and the tweeter are the same, but there's a new woofer, and consequent changes in the crossover, with some changes in the use of stuffing in the speaker. I've always enjoyed the sound of the GAP, but this was the best that I've heard it soundand the associated components were moderately-priced Quad electronics and CD player.
Finnish company Gradient is known for its unusual-looking speakers (they have a model that always reminds me of one of those ergonomically-designed office chairs), and unconventionalbut effectiveapproach to bass response. At SSI 2013, they introduced an interesting new small speaker, the Gradient 5.0 ($2000/pair), which features the same coincident mid-tweeter driver used in their larger speakers, and a passive radiator for the bass that looks like a mini-version of the famed KEF B139 woofer.
Rega comes to affordable audio products honestly: that's the only kind they make. For $5000, the system assembled at SSI 2013 included the Brio-R integrated amp ($900), Apollo-R CD player ($1095), and RS7 speakers ($3195/pair). You can substitute a DAC or a turntable for the same price. If you do the math you'll find that this comes out to $200 more than the limit, but I was told that the dealer will offer a discount that brings the price down to $5000, and will even include some cables. A very easy-on-the-ears system, and obviously good value.