For big speakers, like the Legacy Whisper XD in the story below, the problem in setting up an effective demo in a show environment is that the room may be too small for the speaker. And then for speakers that are more modestly sized, if they're demonstrated in a big room, the speaker may not be able to play loud enough and the bass response may not be sufficiently powerful for the big space. The LSA (Living Sounds Audio) Group's demo featured the LSA2 Statement ($5999/pair) speakers driven by their own LSA Standard tube hybrid integrated amp ($6200) . . .
The title "Ask the Editors" suggests one-way communication: people in the audience ask questions, and, guru-like, Stereophile writers answer these questions. In fact, communication at these events goes in both directions. For example, at the 2011 "Ask the Editors" session, one of the attendees mentioned that he was really impressed with the demo of a speaker made by Live Audio, a company based in Quebec.
John Atkinson (right), Art Dudley (center), and I had a good time at Stereophile's "Ask the Editors" session on Saturday afternoon, and, judging by the response, so did the people who asked the questions. The questions ranged from the general/philosophical, like whether it makes sense to use the "absolute sound" of unamplified music as the only reference in evaluating audio components, and the specific/technical, like the advantages/disadvantages of USB connections for high-performance audio.
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.
I have a lot of respect for Dynaudio speakers, and have enjoyed listening to them at various shows, but I've never been as taken with one of their speakers as I was with the new Confidence C1 Mk.II ($8200/pair). With Naim amplification and digital source (including a Squeezebox Touch), the sound was simply exquisite, with highs that were revealing and yet not clinical. The legendary Esotar2 tweeter (shown in the photo) has apparently undergone some evolutionary development, and continues to maintain its status as the best dome tweeter in the world.
Are you in the market for a giant-sized speaker but your wallet is not correspondingly giant-sized? Then check out the Legacy Whisper XD. Weighing 210 lbs, 63"x17"x13", the Whisper XD is for large spaces, and the somewhat bass-heavy sound at SSI suggested that it was not feeling quite at home in the small hotel room. The price is $20,000/pairnot exactly spare change, but you get a lot for your money: a 10-driver system with four 15" subwoofers, four 7" Rohacell-reinforced midwoofers, a 3" ribbon midrange, and a ribbon tweeter. The system includes a DSP crossover with room correction.
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.