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.
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.
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.
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.
Beyond Frontiers Audio (BFA) was founded by two former senior designers of Sonic Frontiers, Zdenko Zivkovic and Glenn Dolick, with Matt Brazeau, formerly with Globe Audio, handling the marketing. BFA's first product is the Tulip ($17,000), an integrated amplifier (180Wpc) with built-in DAC. It looks like a very serious product, with a parts list that reads like "the best of high-end audio" (24-bit/192kHz Cirrus Logic and Burr-Brown DAC, Mundorf supreme silver/gold/oil capacitors, Sanken bipolar output transistors, WBT speaker connectors, Cardas input RCA connectors, 1600W toroidal dual primary power transformer, Swedish aircraft quality aluminum chassis, etc.). Amplifier gain is 100% tube (JJ Tesla ECC83S and E88CC with gold pins, cryogenically treated). There is no feedback of any type in the amplifier stages. "Proudly designed in Canada," the Tulip is presently assembled in Serbia, but the plan is to bring production to Canada.
One of the most welcome innovations since Michel Plante and Sarah Tremblay took over the Montreal show has been the presentation of Lifetime Achievement Awards. One of the 2011 recipients was Gerard Rejskind, publisher and editor of Ultra High Fidelity magazine. A fixture CES shows as wall as SSI, Gerard has always impressed me as being one of nature's gentlemen: thoughtful, self-effacing, with a mellifluous voice, and devoted to the cause of music and the best in sound reproduction. Good choice, Michel and Sarah!
I like the idea of a speaker using a single full-range driver, requiring no crossover, so when Michael Tang of Michael Tang Audio emailed me, saying that one of the interesting products he's importing is the Japanese Feastrex driver, I made sure to check it out at SSI. There are two versions of this driver: the NF-5 ($2000), with uses an Alnico magnet, and the NF-5EX, with uses a field-coil magnet ($3000), requiring an external DC power supply. (Michael says he's used a car battery for this purpose.)