The sound of the Stenheim Alumine loudspeakerits openness, transparency, and freedom from temporal distortions, not to mention its good bass extension for such a small enclosurereminded me at once of my favorite small loudspeaker from the late 1980s, the Acoustic Energy AE1. On reflection, the comparison is extraordinary: The two products are as different as night and day, the AE1 being a wooden loudspeaker with a metal-cone woofer, the Alumine a metal loudspeaker with a pulp-cone woofer. I suppose one can skin a catfish by moving the knife or by moving the fish.
The late Bill Monroe may have been the father of bluegrass music, but it was the distinctive banjo playing of Earl Scruggs that most listeners came to recognize as the voice of an entire style. Scruggs, who died on March 28 at the age of 88, left an indelible imprint on American music, influencing virtually ever player of the five-string banjo to follow.
So another SSI has come and gone. On the downside, the trade-only day was slow, a surprising number of SSI stalwartsLegacy, Luxman, Vivid, Reference 3a, Ocellia, AvantGarde, and Antique Sound Lab among themwere missing in action, and the blue-wig thing is getting kind of old. On the up side, there was good traffic on the consumer days, the food and drink were greateven on-site at the Hiltonand the Coup de Foudre party was a blast (thank you, Graeme, Jennifer, et al). I was genuinely impressed by several new products, especially the Michael Tang tonearm, AudioQuest Dragonfly USB DAC, LM Audio 211IA integrated amp, Audio Note DD 4.1x CD player, and Naim NDS two-box network player. And, best of all, it was good to see some old friends, many for the first time since SSI 2011. It was a busy, fun time, a sort of a four-day moment, and I congratulate organizers Michel Plante and Sarah Tremblay for succeeding once again.
This Devialet D-Premier D/A integrated amplifier seemed to be flashing its own price: $16.5k, for which the lucky owner gets 240Wpc, sleek styling, and a great deal of up-to-date technology, including 192/24 WiFi capability. I had hoped to learn more about the D-Premier (and the impressive Focal loudspeakers it was driving), but the pleasant young fellow who was running the booth couldn't make himself understood over the very loud playback levelsand the latter finally drove me from the room. John Atkinson will be reviewing the Devialet D-Premier, which he says combines a highly linear class-A amplifier with a class-D output stage in a topology somewhat similar to the late Peter Walker's "current dumping" circuit, in a summer issue of Stereophile.
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.