A few years ago, back when Salon Son & Image was called Festival Son & Image, Frch manufacturer Cabasse demonstrated their flagship La Sphère speaker systemwhich is still in the line, and currently sells for $168,565/system. It was most impressive sonically, and look was certainly unique, but with a tax-in price that's close to $200k, this is not a speaker that sells in large numbers. But lovers of the Cabasse sound can rejoice: for less than the Quebec provincial sales tax and Canadian federal Goods and Services tax on La Sphère ($22,756), you can get the Cabasse Artis Riga ($11,805/pair) and Santorin subwoofer ($5065). And the sound of this demo system (with McIntosh electronics)while perhaps not at the level of La Sphèrewas very nice indeed: open, non-boxy, and with great imaging.
To exhibit at CES, you'd better have deep pockets, and while, to a lesser extent, the same is true about exhibiting in the large rooms at SSI, the venue also permits small companies to set up displays in the nooks and crannies of the hotel corridor, with correspondingly lower price tags. Audio Sensibility offers a line of high-end audio and video cables that use Ohno Continuous Cast (OCC) copper and silver wire, Furutech connectors, cryogenic treatment of all wire and connectors, Mundorf silver-gold and supreme silver-gold solder, and their own custom-manufactured stainless-steel connector bodies.
Totem always makes a splash at shows; this time the demos featured the Element series that was introduced at the 2011 Las Vegas CES. As a nod to the Image part of the name of the show, they also had a huge screen with four commercial-grade projectors, and a very stylish video presentation. The man with the "Einstein" hair on the left side in the picture is Totem president Vince Bruzzese, one of the recipients of SSI's Lifetime Achievement awards.
I don't know who came up with the idea of having the female SSI staff wear blue wigsas they have been doing for the past two yearsbut I think the idea was a brilliant one. The blue wigs not only make the staff instantly identifiable, but they communicate a sense of fun, and that's just what the show is. It also helps that the staff are unfailingly pleasant and cheerful.
Nordost can be usually relied on to provide effective demonstrations at shows, and SSI 2011 was no exception. The product demonstrated this time was the Sort Kone, which represents Nordost's latest thinking on component support. Nordost's Bjorn Bengtsson described the Sort Kone as a "directly coupled and mechanically tuned resonance control device, using a sophisticated new approach to the problem of supporting sensitive electronics." You can read all about the rationale for the design at www.nordost.com, but, whatever the theory, the bottom line is the sound.
Although many (maybe most) of the demos at the 2011 SSI were computer-based, vinyl continued to have a presence, notably in the Aux 33 Tours room, which had an excellent assortment of LPs for sale. And not all the people showing an interest in LPs were old fogeys, as the photo illustrates.
It's often said that a show like SSI is as much about people as it is about equipment. We Stereophile writers enjoy meeting the people who read their scribblings, and I believe Show attendees who are readers of the magazine like to put a face they can associate with what they read in the magazine. Here's a picture of Art Dudley (right) meeting one of the show's youngest attendees, who is obviously already an admirer of Art's "Listening" column and equipment reports. Seen in near-profile on the left is René Laflamme, the audio engineer responsible for the outstanding recordings on the Fidelio label.
At the 2011 CES last January, DeVore Fidelity introduced the O/96 Oscar ($12,000/pair), the first of their Orangutan line, a high-sensitivity (96dB) floorstanding two-way speaker. I thought the speakers sounded pleasant enough, but seemed to lack some of the clarity and specificity of imaging that I've heard from other, lower-sensitivity DeVore speakers. However, the position of the speakers in the room was far from optimal (often the case at shows), so I reserved judgment. Just as well: the speakers at SSI 2011, driven by a Leben tubed integrated amplifier, sounded considerably better, more like the other speakers from DeVore, but with the dynamic freedom that comes with high sensitivity.
Would you like to take "your high-end system to a whole new level of accuracy, from high-fidelity to acoustic fidelity?" That's what the Trinnov ST2-HiFi loudspeaker/room optimizer ($6200) promises. And it looks like a pretty sophisticated device, measuring the impulse response of the loudspeaker in the room, analyzing the room modes, and automatically computing FIR and IIR filters to improve the dominance of direct sound over late reverberation, equalizing the response in both frequency and time domains. The ST-2-HiFi is supplied with a calibrated microphone array; once that's placed in the listening area, all you have to do is press a button and the ST-2-HiFi does the rest. Comparing the sound of a pair of Sonodyne amplified speakers before/after Trinnov ST-2-Hi-Fi correction, I noticed that the imaging became considerable more precise after the ST-2-Hi-Fi processing, and the bass seemed tighter.
A pretty girl and headphones make for a photo opportunity that's not to be missed: this time, it was Elora Myers, Graphic Designer and Marketing Coordinator for Sonomax, who was demonstrating the sculpted ears earphones. And it's a very interesting product, too, providing custom-fitted earphones without the custom-fitted price ($199 for the PCS-100 and $299 for the PCS-200).