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.
I thought the Raidho D-1 loudspeaker ($28,000/pair, including stands), was among the most interesting and musically impressive new products at SSI. Raidho, a Danish company known for their work with ultra-lightweight ceramics, has developed a process for bonding to their speaker diaphragms a thin coat of industrial diamond, conferring even greater stiffness and freedom from unwanted resonances. Paired with a Jeff Rowland Aeris D/A converter and Jeff Rowland 625 power amplifier, the Raidhos were impressive on a variety of material. We’ve all heard demonstrations where we came away saying, “I can’t believe they got so much bass out of such little loudspeakers,” but in terms of the sheer quality and scale of that bass, the Raidho/Rowland combination was on another plane altogether.
Lars Kristensen of Denmark’s Raidho Acoustics, who has yet to overcome his shyness, presented the Raidho/Rowland system with all of the good cheer and powers of persuasion for which he is known and admired in our industry.
Despite its unfortunate physical resemblance to an electric shoe-shine machine, the Leedh E loudspeaker sounded open and airy during my visit to the room sponsored by Conceptas Sound and Engineering. I was prevented, by the language barrier, from learning anything about the E or its companion Lua brand electronics, including prices; one of two people running the room handed me some information sheets, but the other person snatched them away. I requested and was given more, but my moment of triumph was dashed when I saw that all of the literature was in French. All I have deciphered from it so far is that the Leedh E weighs less than “a dozen kilos” (I think), and one of its drivers is 17cm in diameter.