I'm a great fan of the musical theater: musicals, operetta, and opera, more-or-less in that order. A typical summer vacation for my wife and me involves driving from Toronto to the East Coast, stopping off to see musicals (and some plays) at places like the Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, MA, the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, CT, the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, NJ, , and the Ogunquit Playhouse in Ogunquit, ME. The Glimmerglass summer opera festival, near Cooperstown, NY, is not far from the route we usually take, but I never thought of visiting it because my impression has been that they specialize in performances of modern and obscure operas, which are not quite our cup of tea.
My discovery of the fact that Glimmerglass has greatly expanded the range of its offerings came about through sheer serendipity. . .
Integrated amplifiers are hot. I don't mean in the literal sensealthough having a preamplifier and stereo power amplifier in the same chassis usually results in higher running temperaturesbut in the metaphorical one. Once viewed as the type of component that no serious audiophile would consider buying, integrated amps have made a comeback in popularity and prestige. Consider: the October 2006 "Recommended Components" issue of Stereophile listed 29 integrated amps, whereas the October 2011 issue lists 40. Stereophile's 2010 Amplification Component of the Year award went to an integrated amp, the Audio Research VSi60, beating out a host of heavy-hitter preamps and power amps. The 2012 Stereophile Buyer's Guide lists 400 integrateds.
More real-world-priced, making its Canadian debut at SSI 2012, was another Audio Pathways import, the Bel Canto C7R receiver ($3300). Yes, that's right, a receiveralthough it doesn't look like any receiver I've seen. Based on the C5i integrated amp ($2250), which has digital as well as analog inputs and a phono stage, the C7R adds an FM tuner to the package. And while it may seem a bit steep to pay an extra $1050 to get an FM tuner, the tuner itself is a high-end design, and the C7R includes several refinements compared to the C5i.
This year's SSI included a Canada Pavilion exhibit, honoring Canadian manufacturers of audio products. One of these was Simaudio. This was my first chance to get a close look at the Signature version of their 600i 125Wpc integrated amp. It's $14,200 in ultra-shiny gold finish that's a photographer's nightmare. I mentioned to Simaudio's Lionel Goodfield my difficulty in getting a decent photo of the 600i Signature, and he said that it took their professional product photographer several hours of fiddling with various lighting accessories to get a product picture that they could use. That made me feel better.
Another interesting product featured in the Canada Pavilion was the exaSound e18DAC ($1999). It is, as the name implies, a DAC, but it's much more than that. Featuring a maximum 384kHz/32-bit sample rate and bit depth, it can function in stereo and 8-channel modes, and has a formidable list of technical specifications, including a 0.13ps master clock with 3 precision quartz oscillators, 17 power filtering stages, galvanic isolation between the USB subsystem and the DAC circuits, true asynchronous USB interface, hardware volume control implemented by the DAC chip for the highest S/N ratio, and has a high-quality headphone amplifier.
Grant Fidelity's sign says "No Retail Mark-Up, Free Shipping, 1st Class Service," and "High End, Not High Prices." The products, as you might have guessed, are made in China, but what else is new? At previous shows, most of their products had the Grant Fidelity brand name; this time, it was Opera Audio Consonance. The pictured Consonance LP12.1 Die Walküre turntable can accommodate three tonearms, and, with a single W/T1288 tonearm, sells for $3200. That's not super-cheapwhich actually gives me more confidence in the quality of the product. I was told that the turntable and arm are made in the same factory that manufactures the latest version of the Well Tempered turntable/tonearm.
As you can see in the picture, Angie loves Jeff Rowland Design Group products, such as the Aeris DAC/preamp ($12,000), which made its debut at SSI 2012. The Aeris features a substantial external power supply, and has the usual array of inputs, including the now-mandatory USB.
Headed by the irrepressible Angie Lisi, Audio Pathways is the importer for some ultra-high-end gear as well as affordably-priced audio products, and usually has some new interesting goodies at every show. At $47,000, the new VAC Statement 250 stereo amp is right up there, but if the 225Wpc is not enough for you, it can be bridged to produce 450W. The Statement 250 is a two-piece affair, and is meant to be stacked, with the power supply on the bottom, isolated from the top piece with bearings (which reminds me of the Aurios accessory bearings that were very good but unfortunately are no longer available).
Speaker manufacturers at audio shows often go to considerable trouble to make sure that their products sound good in the exhibiting rooms, but their efforts usually stop there. Totem is one of the few manufacturers that go beyond being concerned with sound quality; their exhibits are aimed at creating a total environment, in which the visual aspect is as important as the auditory. This was the case at SSI 2012, as you can see in the picture. The speakers included two Element Metals for the front, one Element Wood for center channel, two Tribe 5s for the rear, and two Storm subs.
ASW is a line of speakers imported to Canada from Germany by Tri-Cell, and was, for me, something of a find at SSI 2012. The speaker demonstrated was the Cantius 404 ($1950/pair), their entry-level floorstander. With an older-model Clearaudio turntable as source, and a Unico Secondo ($2000) hybrid integrated driving the speakers, the LP of Willie Nelson singing "Stardust" sounded sweetly musical, with excellent imaging.