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.
Canada's D2MK Solutions exhibited the interesting new Waterfall Victoria ($6000/pair), a two-way dynamic loudspeaker from France that features an all-glass enclosure. Supporting electronics included the Cary Audio SA2002 solid-state amplifier ($3995), Cary SLP05 preamp (5$8500), and Cary Xciter D/A converter ($1500), the latter playing music files from a laptop computer.
Designer, manufacturer, and vintage audio maven Michael Tang brought so many cool things to SSI, I scarcely knew where to begin. The most compelling of all may have been his new Michael Tang Audio APS tonearm ($900), seen here with a vintage Thorens TD 124 turntable and Decca pickup head from his collection, along with his own custom-manufactured hardwood tonearm board. (Yes, I bought one of the latter while I was there.) The reach of the MTA arm may be limited, however: Its distinctive pickup connector is compatible only with obsolete Decca heads. Still...!
Every hi-fi show seems to harbor a few restful rooms where the music is well selected and the playback quality is serenely good; at SSI, the exhibit space shared by Scandinavian manufacturers Hegel and Amphion served that purpose for me. (The white fabric walls probably added to the sense of calm.) The Amphion Argon7 L loudspeakers ($6k$7k/pair, depending on finish) sounded clear, smooth, and altogether lovely with Hegel amplification and digital source components.
One of the many rooms sponsored by Montreal retailer Coup de Foudre was dedicated to the new DeVore Fidelity Gibbon 88 loudspeaker ($5000/pair), which replaces the Super 8 in DeVore's line. The 88 uses an entirely new woofer, which designer John DeVore says was influenced by the recent work he did on the DeVore Orangutan model; technical distinctions include a paper (instead of plastic) cone and a larger motor overall than its predecessor, with double the voice-coil travel. Consequently, sensitivity is up in the Gibbon 88, to approximately 91dB.