There were lots of turntables at the show, but the one that intrigued me the most was the Calibre Mk.101, from Audio Excellence, the Toronto-area dealer, which is making its first foray into the turntable business. The Calibre Mk.101 has a with a marble plinth, 1.5" thick acrylic platter, AC motor with speed regulation, high-quality polished bearing, and looks elegant without being ostentatious. The price of $1999 includes a good-quality arm, with further arm upgrades available. Audio Excellences stated aim in introducing the Calibre Mk.101 is "the best reproduction of records at the lowest price possible—making turntables we would own."
dCS is known for its superb-sounding but stratospherically-priced digital source components—prices in the $50k+ range for a transport/DAC combination. While their new Puccini one-box CD/SACD player won't be a candidate for Budget Component of the Year, its $22,000 price represents low end for dCS. But don't start spending all the money you've saved by buying the Puccini rather than the more expensive dCS offerings: there is a matching external clock component upgrade that will be available in the near future. No price has been determined yet, but you can be sure that it will not be in three figures.
What's an audio show without a party? Sponsored by Stereophile, the party on the first day of the show was for the exhibitors, trade visitors, and the press, and featured the Quebec rock group Give, with lead singer Caroline St. Louis.
"Cinema—musique—beaux-arts." That's what it says on Mario Boisvert's business card. His Montreal store, Le Ren Art Bleu, sells LPs, CDs, original art, and Blu-ray discs. How is that for diversification? He had some of each at FSI—with just about the lowest priced I've seen for Blu-ray discs.
GamuT makes electronics as well as speakers, and they introduced a new model at the show. The Si100 is a $120Wpc integrated, similar in design—and, they claim, sound—to their $11,000 Di150, but priced at $6200. (I was going to say "only," but, of course, $6200 is still a good bit of change for most people.)
KEF showed their $140,000/pair Muon "concept" loudspeaker in a suite at the Hilton at the 2008 CES, but my assignment for the show report blog was electronics, so I so I passed on visiting the KEF suite. Big mistake! As the show went on, I heard several of my Stereophile colleagues raving about the KEF Muon, but by that time it would have been too inconvenient to go back the Hilton. But when I heard that KEF would be demonstrating the Muon at FSI, I was sure to check them out.
After seeing $140,000 speakers, it's always good to encounter products that really are affordable by almost any standard. I expect these $250/pair Scandyna Micropod SE speakers to say "Take Me To Your Leader," and I'd like to have a pair if only because they're just so cute. No idea of the sound, but they have an impeccable pedigree, with links to the legendary B&W Nautilus.
One of the things I look forward to at these shows is a visit to the Wilson Audio room, and the chance to listen to master recordings made by Peter McGrath. The system at this year's FSI, in the room sponsored by dealer Coup de Foudre, featured the WATT Puppy 8s and Watchdog subs, VTL TL-6.5 preamp and MB-450 amps, with Nordost interconnects and Transparent speaker cables. (I guess they didn't want to be accused of favoritism when it came to cable choice.) As usual, the sound was clean and dynamic, with a deep soundstage, and voices sounding very natural. Peter played a recording he had made of Renee Fleming singing Richard Strauss's Four Last Songs heartbreakingly beautiful. Luke Manley (VTL, left) and Peter McGrath (Wilson, right) are looking appropriately pleased.
Never mind all those fancy audio components; this is all you need. Well, maybe not if you're the typical Stereophile reader or FSI attendee. This RCA console stereo (model SFA 1091) is circa-1968, and I note that it's "All Transistor." It was a part of a display of vintage audio equipment at FSI from the Emile Berliner exhibit at the Montreal Musee des Ondes.
Is $140,000 the new price point for loudspeakers? No, that's not quite right—unlike the KEF Muon, the price of the GamuT S9 El Superiores is "only" $130,000/pair. Like the KEF model, this is intended to push the boundaries of what's possible in loudspeaker design, but the two speakers bear absolutely no resemblance to each other. GamuT's speakers use the principle of distributed resonance in the design of their speaker cabinets, allowing the natural resonance of each part of the cabined to decay undamped, but distributing these resonances over such a wide are that the overall frequency response remains linear, but without what designer Lars Goller's feels is the "unmusical" sound of highly damped enclosures. Here's Lars with the S9. And, yes, the speakers did sound quite wonderful.