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.
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.
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.
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.
Like a Studebaker Avantior perhaps even the Concordethe shape of an Elipson loudspeaker from 60 years ago is jarring, albeit impressively so, in its anacronicity: The French design and manufacturing firm has been ahead of the curve for that long. At SSI they had a number of fetching designs on static display, including the Planet L seen here, a two-way coaxial design that's now manufactured in China. For 2013 a pair of Planet Ls can be bundled with a similarly stylish (round, of course) amplifier/CD player for $2500, with stands adding another $300.
Glimpsed at SSI's Canadian Pavilion (see earlier stories): The 88dB, 6 ohm Dulcet loudspeaker ($1695/pair) from Reference 3A, a brand that began life in Europe, moved to Canada, and always specialized in SET-friendly speakers.
MBL finished the job that Oracle Audio began with Anne Bisson (below): They spoiled me not only with live music, but with music by a world-class cellist, Montreal's Vincent Bélanger. Jeremy Bryan, the CEO of MBL North America, took the added step of inviting Bélanger to come by early and record, on ¼" analog tape (15 ips), extra cello parts for various pieces in his repertoire; thus when M. Bélanger set about to perform for a handful of fortunate show attendees, he did so alongside his recorded self, the latter portrayed with what can only be described as surprising realismdynamically, timbrally, and spatiallyby MBL's largest hybrid loudspeaker, the MBL 111 ($42,000/pair), which uses, from 600Hz and up, the same driver complement as even their most expensive loudspeakers.
One doesn’t normally think of a private concert by a gifted recording artist as a particularly bad way to start the day, but. . .
On Saturday morning at SSI, I stepped into the Oracle Audio room just in time for owner Jacques Reindeau to invite me to hear a few selections from the album Blue Mind by the Montreal-based composer and chanteuse Anne Bisson, played on an almost all-Oracle systemwith the artist standing in front of me, singing along with her recorded self.