A tonic for the homesick: I entered the Audio Note room and saw, in the far corners, a pair of their reliable AN-E Spe/HE loudspeakers ($9000/pair): the very speakers I own and love. (This pair was veneered in a strikingly grained raw rosewood, while mine are done up in glossy yew.) There, too, was the brand new Audio Note CD 4.1x CD player ($12,000), my review sample of which arrived at my home on the very day I left for Montreal (this according to my wife). The sound in this room was so extraordinarily goodwith especially fine bass reach and dramathat I feel compelled to tweak, slightly, the positions of my own AN-Es when I get home.
Tim Ryan of SimpliFi Audio demonstrated the always-enjoyable Gradient Helsinki loudspeaker ($6000/pair) in tandem with Gradient's SWS dipole bass speakers (also $6000/pair, outboard crossover included), to excellent effect. Ryan says the SWS, to whose development the late Peter Walker contributed, also works a treat with the Harbeth P3 and other smallish speakers from that line. (That's exactly how he said it, too.)
There's a nice symmetry in knowing that Liberty Audio Trading has been appointed the new Canadian distributor for Quad Electroacoustics: Years ago, Liberty's founder, the late Nizar Akhrass, was among the first to bring the line to North America. (Taiga LLC continues to represent Quad here in the States.) At SSI Liberty Audio demonstrated the entry-level Quad ESL-2805 ($10,000/pair). John Atkinson will be reviewing the ESL-2805 in the May issue of Stereophile.
Kudos to Doug Graham of Naim for bringing so much new music to Plurison Audio's suite at SSI. Especially interesting was the French singer Jehro's Cantina Paradiseseen here on Doug's Apple iPad, running Naim Audio's free controller appwhich I intend to buy as soon as I get home.
Musicians and harmonica players of Montreal, take heed: You are all fair game for a painter named Patrick Larrivee, whose unambiguously available work filled one hall of the Hilton during SSI 2012. Unfortunately, it was the hall that led to my room.
Retailer Coup de Foudre and Canadian distributor Tri-Cell built one of their exhibits around a pair of Joseph Audio Pulsar loudspeakers ($7000/pair, to be reviewed in the June Stereophile by Mikey Fremer), driven by the 70Wpc Brinkmann Audio Vollverstarker integrated amplifier (also $7000), with a MacBook Pro and a Wavelength Audio Brick D/A converter ($2200) as the digital source. As always, Jeff Joseph's room setup was difficult to fault, and the system was smooth, colorful, and dynamic: Listening to the Gypsy swing music of the Howard Fishman quartet, I was happier than I'd been all day.
Working alongside Steve Silberman of AudioQuest, Wavelength Audio’s Gordon Rankin offered a series of talks on computer audio for Mac users, while Jim Hillegass, the founder and CEO of JRiver Inc., offered corresponding seminars for users of Windows-based computers. My schedule allowed me to hear only a brief portion of Gordon Rankin’s Saturday seminarand, regrettably, none of Jim Hillegass’s talksyet even so, I learned things I’d never come close to knowing before. (An exemplary gem: When it comes to RFI rejection, Apple’s laptop computers are considerably better made than the company’s desktop models.)
In years past, the Montreal record shop Aux 33 Tours operated a generously sized retail booth at SSI, and I invariably helped them to lighten their vinyl load. I was disappointed that they weren't selling records at this year's showuntil I noticed their display in the Hilton's hallway: All day Friday and Saturday, they offered a free shuttle service for people who wished to visit their store. (Sadly, the time was too short for me to take that ride.)
Rethm, most of whose distinctive loudspeaker designs have been designed and built around full-range Lowther drivers, has now switched to a driver design of their ownwhich, like Rethm's loudspeakers themselves, are manufactured in India. The Rethm Maarga ($8750/pair) supplements a 6" version of that new driver with an isobaric pair of powered, 6.5" paper-cone woofers.
New at SSI was Rethm's first foray into amplifier design: a 16Wpc single-ended integrated amp called the Gaanam ($7750), built around the Russian 6C33C tube and featuring an outboard power supply, 6922-based preamp stage, and an all-transformer driver stage. Using a Lector CD player and Rethm's own all-silver speaker cable ($1250 for an 8' pair), the combination of Maarga speakers and Gaanam amp sounded spacious, clean, well textured, and very tactile, with fine bass extension and bass color; my impression was that the consistently large crowd of listeners in this room agreed.