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.
The curiously named Line Magnetic company of China has begun making a series of relatively affordable tube electronics, all hand-wired, and all with styling details that recall classic products from the first half of the 20th Century. LM's model 211IA integrated amplifier ($1650) was used to drive the new Gibbon 88s from DeVore Fidelity. Each channel of the amp produces 32Wpc from a pair of EL34s running in Ultralinear modethe 211IA can also be switched to triode operationwith all-tube preamp and driver stages and a silicon-rectified power supply.
I was delighted by the sound being made by Montreal dealer Audiophoniepartly, I admit, because they were demonstrating an all-new version of the venerable Spendor SP100, now in R2 form ($11,900/pair), an earlier version of which I owned and loved for years. Its tone, touch, spatial presentation, and vibe were all just about perfect. I will begyes, begfor the opportunity to write about the Spendor in the months to come.
Loudspeaker specialists Magico were on hand with their recent Q3 ($38,950/pair), which boasts a 90dB sensitivity rating and 5 ohm nominal impedance: not quite SET territory, but easily the California firm's most sensitive speaker yet. Magico rep and fellow bluegrass fan Irv Gross put the Q3 through its paces for me; I was impressed with its speed, scale, drama, and sheer gripnot only in the lowest frequencies but all the way up through its well fleshed-out treble range.
California-based Constellation Audio, represented by the well-known engineer Peter Madnick, supplied the amplification for the Magico Q3 loudspeakers. On audition were their Virgo preamplifier ($19,000) and Centaur amplifier ($24,000), set up with elegant looking (and apparently effective) loudspeaker cables and interconnects from Argento Audio of Denmark. Source components were the C1 D/A converter and D1 disc transport from CH Precision of Switzerland.
The speaker of choice in the Audioville room was the brand new KEF Blade ($30,000/pair): a consumer-friendly version of something that started life as a KEF concept speaker. (In particular, in order to reduce costs, the latter's carbon-fiber enclosure has been replaced with one made of a composite resin.) Mid frequencies and treble are handled by the metal-diaphragm KEF UNI-Q array, while low frequencies are given over to two pairs of side-mounted 9" drivers, working in tandem so that bass energy is neither wasted nor allowed to travel through the enclosure structure to modulate the higher frequencies.
In the Audioville room, Chord Electronics of England demonstrated their Red Reference CD player ($26,000), now in Mk.III form. Refinements include a fully motorized transport door, plus a true asynchronous USB input. The player's D/A section, which offers up to 192kHz capability, eschews the use of DAC chips from other manufacturers, its pulse array being designed and constructed entirely by Chord. Styling is on a par with the underlying technologywhich is to say, a bit breathtaking.
The Montreal audio-video store Coup de Foudre has a reputation for assembling ambitious music systems in the Hilton's Longueuil salon during SSI. Although this year was no exception, the cost of that system had been scaled-back somewhat for 2012with interesting results.
The loudspeaker of choice was the Wilson Audio Specialties Sophia Series 3 ($18,550 per pair in Macadamia finishwhich bore a striking resemblance to the metallic brown paint on my long-gone 1985 Alfa-Romeo GTV6). Wilson Audio's Peter McGrath, also the recordist behind most of the music selections I enjoyed in that room, said there have been no running changes in the Sophia since the introduction of the Series 3.