I must admit that I was a bit worried when the change in ownership of Salon Son & Image was announced. What if the new owners want to move the show in directions that ruin what made the show successful in the first place? Having attended SSI 2014, I'm relieved to be able to say that the new ownership has followed the principle of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
A sub-$5000 system that apparently involved careful consideration of alternatives was the one assembled by Patrick Sareault, Director of Sales for Montreal area dealer Brosseau Audio Video. Serault told me that the first component he picked was the Hegel H-80 ($2000), a DAC/integrated amp (75Wpc) that had impressed him greatly. He combined this with the Dali Zenzor 7 loudspeaker ($1700/pair) and Marantz CD 5004 CD player ($550). That brought the price up to $4250. The next item in the system was one that's seldom considered in assembling an audio system, but which he thought was extremely important in getting the best sound: a high-quality AC duplex receptacle ($50, made by BIS Audio). Cables from BIS Audio brought the total up to $5000or a bit more, depending on the cables.
Audio Physic's sub-$5000 system featured the Audio Physic Classic Compact $2000/pair), Ava Media server/ripper/storage ($1600, new at the show), and Ava Media Maestro-50 50Wpc digital amplifier ($525). All AVA Media products are made (not just designed) in the UKunusual at this price level.
Resonessence Lab, based in Kelowna, BC, is a company making cutting-edge digital equipment. The top of the line is the Invicta Mirus ($4995), a D/A converter that uses 8 DACs per channel, and handles DSD64/128, DXD, and claims THD of 0.0002% (114dB). In true trickle-down fashion, it has been joined by the Invicta ($599), still with the same DSD/DXD capability, and THD only a slightly less impressive 0.00032%. Their latest product is the Herus headphone DAC ($350), this one with THD a whopping 0.003% THD. They're shown right-to-left in the photo.
At last year's SSI, the show management asked exhibitors to assemble systems that are "entry level" in a high-performance audio context, costing less than $5000. (We can argueand some people didabout whether <$5000 is a realistic figure for "entry level," but, audiophiles being the way they are, you're going to get an argument regardless of the figure.) In any case, relatively few exhibitors followed through with this last year. At SSI 2014, show management made more of a concerted effort to persuade exhibitors to participate, and indeed there were a lot more of the little blue "$5000 System" signs throughout the show.
No audio show would be complete without a new or revised speaker model from Gershman Acoustics. At SSI 2014, the new offering from Gershman was the Avant Garde R-1 ($8000/pair), replacing the previous R-44. It's a fairly unobtrusive tapered-toward-the-top floorstander, and was sounding lively and open with Audio Flight electronics. Gershman has also moved into component supports with their Levitation Vibration Control devices that use opposing magnets. As you can see in the photo, they now have a version of these devices for cables.
With Bam Bam and Pebbles as product names, I thought I was merely stating the obvious in a previous show report when I suggested that the designer of Tri-Art Audio products must be a Flintstones fan. I mentioned this to the Tri-Art people at SSI 2014, asking whether they were paying royalties for using these names, and was told that they never thought of any connection with the Flintstones: Bam Bam is a reference to the use of bamboo in their products. (I still don't know how "Pebbles" comes into it.)
The "Swiss Army Knife" metaphor has been applied to many audio products, but the metaphor has never been more apt than referring to the new Cocktail Audio X30 ($1899). Made in Korea and imported to North America by Audio Plus/Plurison, the X30 is described as an "all-in-one HD music server/network streamer/CD storage." However, that doesn't describe all of its capabilities. If you look at the connections in the back (bottom of the picture), you'll see speaker connections, so it's also an amplifier. (I'm not sure, but I think the number in the model designation indicates the watts per channel.)
Now, that's a real speaker! Unless you examine it, or read the literature on the Tannoy Canterbury GR ($30,000/pair), you might think that you're looking at a speaker made more than a half-century ago: a very substantial floorstander that's wide as well as deep, making no concession to modern speaker design ideas like keeping as narrow a front baffle as possible.
Montreal dealer Coup de Foudre's Wilson/Dan D'Agostino room had Wilson's new Sasha II speakers ($29,900/pair), combined with Dan D'Agostino's Momentum Line stage preamp and stereo power amp ($32,000 and $29,000, respectively). The sound was truly excellent.