At SSI I had the opportunity to hear the slightly more comfortable cousin of the Definitive StudioMonitor 45 loudspeaker that recently impressed Stephen Mejias: the same company's StudioMonitor 65 ($1000/pair). Partnered with a 150Wpc Acurus 2002 integrated amplifier and Bel Canto CD player, the 65s were exceptionally well balanced and pleasantly explicit on Diana Krall's "Boulevard of Broken Dreams." I added it, on the spot, to my cumulative mental list of good-quality affordable loudspeakers.
Bluebird Music, the North American distributor for Chord electronics (and other lines), along with Totem Acoustics and the Montreal retailer Audioville, put together this superbly clear and punchy yet unfailingly smooth system: a Chord Red Reference Mk.III CD player ($25,000), Chord CPA 5000 preamp ($20,000), Chord SPM 5000 Mk.II amplifier ($25,000), and Totem Element Metal loudspeakers ($13,000/pair). Neil Young's "Look Out for My Love," a song I've only recently come to appreciate (its mildly goofy arrangement put me off for the longest time), sounded especially greatno more so than during the entrance of the backing singers, when the sound of this Chord-anchored system seemed to double. Also in this system but not auditioned during my visit was the brand new Chord Music Streamer ($13,000), a CAT 5-happy player with BNC digital inputs that also contains the full Chord QBD76 D/A processor.
Recalling my very positive experience with the same company's AS-400 digital playback source/integrated amplifier, I found myelf attracted to the Micromega MyDAC ($399), a recently introduced asynchronous USB converter offering 24/192 performance and a color choice of black or, as seen above, Apple white.
I finally got to hear a mono system at SSI, but not in the manner that I or the exhibitor might have wanted. Halfway through the show, Audio Note's Dave Cope suffered the loss of one Empress Silver monoblock amplifier ($10,000/pair), apparently owing to an AC power surge. The Empress Silver, seen here alongside the outlet of infamyand a coil of Audio Note's new Isis LX 168 copper-Litz speaker cableis a new single-ended mono design with a 5U4G rectifier tube, a 6SN7 input tube, and parallel 2A3 triodes, for a total of 8Wpc. This was a disappointingly bad break for a company that has, in the past, won more than its share of Most Enjoyable System of the Show awardsalthough I must say that a mono recording of Count Basie's "88 Basie Street" was nonetheless fine when played through the surviving channel.
Audio Note has long been a believer in high-torque turntables, having brought to market a number of belt-drive designs that use multiple motors (à la the original Voyd). One of the less expensive such models in their line, the twin-motor TT Two ($3500), has now been upgraded, with a plinth made from the same veneered Russian-birch plywood as the company's well-regarded loudspeakers. (The sample here is in Rosewood.) And external power supply ($2400) is also available, either at the time of initial purchase or as a subsequent upgrade, providing greater electronic stability and easy speed selection. Seen with the TT Two are the Arm Three V2 captured-unipivot tonearm ($2000) and an Audio Note Io-I moving-coil cartridge ($4100)which, for SSI, drove an S4L silver-wired transformer ($6200).
In one of several rooms sponsored by Montreal’s Coup de Foudre, A href="http://www.stereophile.com/content/gift-flower-garden">Philip O’ Hanlon demonstrated a system comprising a Luxman PD-171 turntable/tonearm ($6400) with Brinkmann P1 phono cartridge ($2700), Luxman DA-06 DSD D/A converter ($6000), Luxman L550AX integrated amplifier ($5400), and Vivid B1 loudspeakers ($15,000/pair), with Cardas cables throughout. (The computer-audio source was an old MacBook running Audirvana playback software.) Not to take away from the goodness of the other gear, but I was once again mightily impressed by the manner in which the Vivid loudspeakers, in spite of looking like surprised Cyclopian aliens, delivered music with such human warmth and touch. (Lou Donaldson’s organ on “Alligator Boogaloo” sounded especially fine.)
Another Coup de Foudre room offered a system built around the curiously named but thoroughly engaging Twenty 23 loudspeakers ($4389/pair) from PMCwhich, I’m told, stands for professional monitor company. The amplifier in use was the less inscrutably named Integrated Amplifier from Brinkmann ($7499), while the source was the Unico CD Primo CD player ($1900). On a vocal number by Andrea Bocelli, percussion instruments sounded a bit compressedthat might be the fault of the recording, for all I knowbut I heard a great deal of realistic texture and color from this detailed but not at all light-sounding system.
AudioShop, the Canadian distributor for Cabasse loudspeakers, demonstrated the interesting combination of Cabasse loudspeakers with McIntosh electronics, focusing in particular on the latter company’s model 601 monoblock power amplifiers ($11,500/pair), driven directly by the MCD 1100 CD player ($10,000). The loudspeakers seen here (which, I’m told, sold for $16,000 per pair in passive form) sounded impressively punchy, but, with all due respect, this system was being played at a volume level I considered both uncomfortable and unrealistically loud, so I didn’t linger long.