A pretty girl and headphones make for a photo opportunity that's not to be missed: this time, it was Elora Myers, Graphic Designer and Marketing Coordinator for Sonomax, who was demonstrating the sculpted ears earphones. And it's a very interesting product, too, providing custom-fitted earphones without the custom-fitted price ($199 for the PCS-100 and $299 for the PCS-200).
I like the idea of a speaker using a single full-range driver, requiring no crossover, so when Michael Tang of Michael Tang Audio emailed me, saying that one of the interesting products he's importing is the Japanese Feastrex driver, I made sure to check it out at SSI. There are two versions of this driver: the NF-5 ($2000), with uses an Alnico magnet, and the NF-5EX, with uses a field-coil magnet ($3000), requiring an external DC power supply. (Michael says he's used a car battery for this purpose.)
Beyond Frontiers Audio (BFA) was founded by two former senior designers of Sonic Frontiers, Zdenko Zivkovic and Glenn Dolick, with Matt Brazeau, formerly with Globe Audio, handling the marketing. BFA's first product is the Tulip ($17,000), an integrated amplifier (180Wpc) with built-in DAC. It looks like a very serious product, with a parts list that reads like "the best of high-end audio" (24-bit/192kHz Cirrus Logic and Burr-Brown DAC, Mundorf supreme silver/gold/oil capacitors, Sanken bipolar output transistors, WBT speaker connectors, Cardas input RCA connectors, 1600W toroidal dual primary power transformer, Swedish aircraft quality aluminum chassis, etc.). Amplifier gain is 100% tube (JJ Tesla ECC83S and E88CC with gold pins, cryogenically treated). There is no feedback of any type in the amplifier stages. "Proudly designed in Canada," the Tulip is presently assembled in Serbia, but the plan is to bring production to Canada.
Michel Plante and Sarah Tremblay are the team responsible for the success of SSI, which takes place this weekend at the Hilton Bonaventure in downtown Montreal. You could see them working hard, going around, making sure that exhibitors and attendees were happy. The evening of the designated Trade Day of the show, Thursday 3/31, there was a party that included a speech by Michel It was in French, with the English translation on two giant screens, Michel claiming that he wanted to spare the audience from his heavy French accent. (In fact, his accent is very slight.) I was too busy taking pictures to follow all the points he was making, but it was all inspiring stuff about the future of the industry, and was well received by the large crowd.
Here's a photo of SSI's Sarah Tremblay and Stereophile's John Atkinson, who is covering the Show with Art Dudley and yours truly. JA will be presenting a seminar on how to understand loudspeaker measurements tomorrow (Sunday) at 2pm.
One of the most welcome innovations since Michel Plante and Sarah Tremblay took over the Montreal show has been the presentation of Lifetime Achievement Awards. One of the 2011 recipients was Gerard Rejskind, publisher and editor of Ultra High Fidelity magazine. A fixture CES shows as wall as SSI, Gerard has always impressed me as being one of nature's gentlemen: thoughtful, self-effacing, with a mellifluous voice, and devoted to the cause of music and the best in sound reproduction. Good choice, Michel and Sarah!
The other recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2011 SSI was Vince Bruzzese of loudspeaker manufacturer Totem, which will be celebrating its 25th anniversary next year. To tell the truth, this surprised me. No, not the fact that he was given the award, which was certainly well-deserved, but it seems like yesterday that I first encountered Vince at the Toronto Show, where he was introducing a small speaker that sounded uncommonly good. Has it been really that long?
How do you convince people that there's more to good sound than MP3s played on an iPod speaker dock? Events like the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest and the Montreal Salon Son & Image allow attendees to experience high-performance audio in a no-sales-pressure setting, but they're mostly preaching to the converted. The people who attend these events are already interested in good sound. But what about the general public?
Toronto-area audio dealer Audio Excellence decided to tackle the problem last year by setting up a booth at the annual National Home Show in Toronto, reportedly with great success. I heard that they were planning to exhibit again this year, so I decided to check it out.
The last time I attended CES was three years ago. Although many things have stayed the same, there were also interesting changessome of them profound. At the Las Vegas Convention Center, it seemed that almost every exhibit had to do with 3D, iPods, or tablet computers. At the Venetian, in addition to the traditional areas of speakers and amplification, it was music servers and related productsably summarized by Jon Iverson in his wrap-up. Cables were big. (More on this anon.)
It was a very crowded show. At the convention center, the scene was at times like being on a subway platform during rush hour. At the Venetian, home of high performance audio, there were long lineups for the elevatorssee photo. Although officially CES is not open to the general public, there were a lot of attendees with “Industry Affiliate” badges, and being an industry affiliate was apparently very broadly defined. This had the effect of increasing attendance, which I guess is not a bad thing, but it also meant that some of these attendees were really consumers, not industry people. One veteran speaker designer told me that some of the questions he was asked at this year’s CES were quite naïve, like “What if you played all these speakers at the same time?” He attributed this to these attendees being consumers (and not very knowledgeable ones at that).
My show report assignment was low-to-moderately-priced speakers, and I was very pleased to get this assignment, leaving John Atkinson to report on expensive speakers. As I said in one of my reviews, I’m more of a Volkswagen/Honda/Toyota than a Ferrari/Lamborghini/Aston Martin kind of guy. But CES had lots for the Ferrari/Lamborghini/Aston Martin crowd, and sometimes I was taken aback by the prices. In one case, I saw a three-way not-too-huge floorstanding speaker that I thought might be under the $10k that for me defined the top of the moderately-price range. I asked how much it cost. The answer: ninety thousand. I wasn’t sure I heard correctly. Nine thousand? No, ninety thousand. OK, this one is for JA.
More than once in my years of CES-going, it has come down to the last day of the show for me to discover an important product. That was the case this time. The product was the Triton Two, the flagship loudspeaker from GoldenEar, the new company founded by Sandy Gross and Don Givogue, who had been partners at Definitive Technology, Gross having also co-founded Polk Audio. The company is new, but it draws on a wealth of experience in the speaker business, and it shows.
There were quite a few speakers that impressed me at this show, but, taking price and sound quality into account, I have say that the Triton Two, shown here with Sandy, was my favorite. It’s a floor-standing three-way, narrow in the front (5¼”), widening in the rear (7½”), and just 48” high, making it visually unassuming. It uses an unusual driver complement, starting with what they call a High-Velocity Folded Ribbon Tweeter (a variant of the Heil AMT tweeter), two 4½” mid/bass drivers, and two 5”x9” subwoofers, each coupled with a 7”x10” passive radiator facing the side. Each subwoofers is driven by a 1200W DSP-controlled class-D amp. With all this technologyand truly full-range soundthe Triton Two costs just $2500/pair.