As B&W's Doug Henderson pointed out in his presentation speech, being a manufacturer's rep in audio is often a thankless job. If sales are slow, the rep gets blamed, but it they're going well, that's just taken for granted. But not this time: the Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Marc Denis (pictured), rep for B&W, Rotel, and Classé.
At $42,000/pair, Gershman's Black Swan is a loudspeaker that's designed to fill large spaces, and one might think that they would not be at their best in a smallish room like that one at SSI. Not only that, but the room had no acoustical treatment whatsoever. Still, I was surprised at how good these speakers sounded in this apparently less-than-optimal environment. Maybe the rest of the system (Evolution S45 tube integrated amp, $16,900; Stello CD player, $3800) had something to do with it.
Analog stalwart Naim is now heavily into computer audio; new at SSI 2012 was their NDS streamer/DAC, which is to start shipping in May. This is their reference-level network player, which does all the things you expect a product like this to do, including Internet radio. The price of $13,000 does not include a power supply. In true Naim fashion, the NDS offers a choice of three power supplies, which range in price from $3k to $10k.
Atoll is a French company that I think of as offering affordably-priced equipment, and I suppose that's still where most of their market is, but they've also moved upmarket with the new CD400 CD player ($6800), IN400 integrated amp ($6000), PR400 preamp ($5600), and AM400 ($4000). (If there was a prize for the most sensible model names given to audio products, I would nominate Atoll for these new offerings.) The product literature is in French only, but the technical language of audio to a large extent transcends borders. I was amused by part of the description of the AM400, which said that it was "Amplificateur bridgeable en bloc mono." I doubt if you'd find "bridgeable" in your Larousse French dictionary.
I know that Sennheiser has an ever-expanding line of wireless headphones, and I've seen these at CES. Something I haven't seen before, was a package labeled Duo Cinema. This is a kit that includes two sets of HDR 170 wireless headphones and a base unit, for $599.95. These are intended to be used for home theater; the base unit can accommodate two more sets of headphones. The Duo Cinema package is available only in Canadaso no wonder I didn't see it at CES. It's shown here by Nadine Girard- Business Director, Retail Strategy of Sennheiser Canada.
Sonor-Filtronique is a Montreal dealer whose product lines are some of the most prestigious available, including Audio Research, Ayre, Boulder, Sonus Faber, and VPI. They had samples from all these at SSI 2012, but the once that caught my eye was a turntable: the Kronos, a $30,000 high-tech wonder, designed in Quebec by Louis Desjardin, in collaboration with Fidelio Audio. Its major design claim to fame is the secondary platter (below the one that the record is placed on), which rotates in the opposite direction, an approach that is said to cancel unwanted vibrations. The unit on demo had an SME tonearm mounted.
Another high-end turntable that impressed me was the Dr. Feickert Analogue Firebird. This is a new model, with new bearing, new platter, new motors (three of them), and all kinds of other refinements. The price is a relatively-affordableby ultra high end turntable standards$12,995. The tonearm mounted was a Dr. Feickert Analogue DFA 12.0, the number in the model name referring to the length in inches. The turntable can accommodate two tonearms, of various lengths.
Michel Plante, President of SSI, can usually been seen rushing around, dealing with one crisis or another. He somehow injured himself the day before the show's opening (he doesn't know how) to the point that he was on crutches, but this hardly seems to have slowed him down. He took in stridewell, so to speakjibes about "break a leg" not meant to be taken literally.