SSI 2015, Saturday Continued

Montreal dealer Coup de Foudre's exhibit featured the 2012 Stereophile Loudspeaker of the Year Vivid Audio Oval K1 (USD$26,000/pair), in a system featuring Luxman electronics. I've never heard these speakers sound anything less than great, and their sound at SSI 2015 did nothing to change my previous impression. I really liked the red of the demo pair, and asked importer Philip O'Hanlon if it was a popular choice. He said that although the red is much admired, most people end up choosing a different, more conservative, color. I guess I'm not like most people. My Avantgarde Uno Nanos are red, and so is the last car I bought.

Also in the Coup de Foudre room was a product that caught my eye because it was so unassuming, the kind of product that can be just about any price, but usually turns out to be very expensive. It was the Triode Lab EL84TT integrated amp (four EL84 output tubes, producing 6Wpc), and the cost is a very reasonable CAD$2400. Triangle Lab is a Canadian company; the EL84TT could also be found in the SSI 2015 Canadian Pavilion.

Bryston is a going concern. Having started as an amplifier manufacturer, they've expanded their lines to include digital product and now a brand range of speakers. Their product introductions at SSI 2015 included the BDA-3 DAC (just like the BDA-2, but including DSD, HDMI, etc., price CAD$3195), the BP-2 phono stage (CAD$800, moving-magnet, with transformer for moving-coil cartridges in the future), the ACI Micro center-channel speaker (CAD$490), and the Model A powered subwoofer (CAD$1895). Bryston had one of the larger rooms (which could almost be called a "hall") and it was busy both times I visited. The sound of the system featuring the large Model Ts had that by-now-familiar tonal neutrality, powerful dynamics, and good imaging.

One of the events I was really looking forward to at SSI 2015 was the presentation on the Meridian MQA process, which promises the sound of high-resolution master tapes at data rates that are hardly higher than CD-quality PCM. John Atkinson has provided a description of the MQA approach here. Both he and Jason Serinus were most impressed by the sound.

The presentations on MQA at SSI 2015, by John Bartkowiak of Meridian, were in one of the large rooms, and proved to be very popular, to the point that they had to bring in extra chairs to accommodate people at the session I attended.

Bartowiak started by providing a brief history of Meridian's involvement in digital technology (starting with the first audiophile CD player, the Meridian MCD), gave a description of the theory behind MQA, and finally played some music that had been encoded using the MQA process. That was it. The musical selections—the only one of which I was at least slightly familiar with was Roberta Flack's rendition of "Killing Me Softly With His Song"—all sounded nice. No, make that "very nice." Very smooth and non-fatiguing. Were they much better than the 44.1/16 PCM versions? I can't say: there were no comparisons provided.

I found this omission in the presentation most disappointing. The theory behind MQA makes a lot of sense, and when it comes to digital audio Bob Stuart of Meridian knows more than just about anyone. I'm excited about the idea of being able to have access to master-tape-quality digital music—music that I actually want to listen to because of its value as music, not just because it sounds good. With broad support from the major record companies, MQA has the potential to deliver this. I look forward to being able to compare the sound of MQA with alternative sources.

I believe that the practice of providing live music at audio shows was pioneered by the late, much-lamented Stereophile shows. SSI has picked up on this notion, and this was certainly evident at this year's show.

Vincent Bélanger is a gifted cellist who has played at previous shows, always impressing with his musicianship. I feel a special kinship with Bélanger, having played—in a manner of speaking—his cello without the instrument suffering from it—see this report.

This time, there was no live vs recorded presentation—just Bélanger sitting on a chair at the entrance of the bar, playing his cello, as people walked by, often stopping to listen to the music.

This was in an out-of-the way location, a small ballroom at the end of a corridor that did not lead to rooms with exhibits, and I almost missed it. It was a rock/pop group called Maison Corbeau, who played and sang most enthusiastically to what was a very small crowd. I talked to one of the members of Maison Corbeau, and she told me that the group—which also does improvisational acting—perform at industrial shows. They really deserved more attention, but if they were disappointed by the size of the audience, they didn't show it.

For me, the highlight of the live musical events of the show—and, in fact, the show itself—was a mini-concert by Canadian soprano Hélène Brunet, accompanied on the piano by Jérémie Pelletier, the event sponsored by Simaudio. Brunet has a gorgeous voice, flexible and with an easy top; she exhibits impeccable musicianship, and she's a charming performer. Her current repertoire includes the baroque, oratorios, and some Mozart, but her voice is such that I can see her expanding her repertoire to French opera, and even Puccini. A highlight of the show, for sure.

Allen Fant's picture

Where do I purchase the Vincent Belanger disc (CD/SACD) ?

Robert Deutsch's picture

It's available from several sources on

Joe Whip's picture

when they provide a direct comparison to a redbook CD or 24/96 or higher transfer from the same master tape. They have never done this as far as I can tell. The other demos were against low bit rate mp3 files. Amazing that they don't. Makes me wonder....

GuillaumeLN's picture

1. Vivid audio probably has the most unpleasant sound of all speakers I know of, followed by YG. Both very bright and aggressive sounding.

2. The sound I heard at the MQA presentation was very average. It sounded like all I didn't like from the 1990's music played on the radio. Technology by old men meant for old men. Nothing revolutionnary - retrograde if you ask me.

3. Musical performances were, as always, very disappionting. Please SSI, bring musicians worthy of the state of music in 2015, not 1992.

corrective_unconscious's picture

Okay, you sound unhappy, but what kind of person would describe a vocalist singing Baroque music and then a classical cellist as being worthy of the state of music in 1992?

Even on your own terms you're off by at least one or two centuries. In other words, there's little indication your comments should be taken seriously. You can't even make your trolling internally non nonsensical....

GuillaumeLN's picture

Let me be the first to welcome you to postmodernity:

Oren Ambarchi
Land Observations
Mark Fell
Jim O'Rourke
Richard Skelton
No UFO's
Nils Frahm
Joachim Nordwall
Jar Moff
Steve Hauschildt
Date Palms
Dawn of midi
Voices from the lake

corrective_unconscious's picture

Though I don't look to Canada or Europe or the Far East to find it.

My point was that your post mischaracterized the main musical events at the show by ascribing them to early 1990s. You were off by at least a Century, and for me that well illustrates the reliability of your other comments.

Hope that clears up what I was (clearly) saying.

GuillaumeLN's picture

A musician that is not advancing music is regressive, even more so for those who had a traditional training with instruments.

Audio_Visionary's picture

I have seen three comments from GuillaumeLN about products at the SSI show - all negative, including the above comment about Stereophile's Loudspeaker of the year 2012. Was there anything he did like? And who is he? What unknown speaker does he champion? I was there - the Vivid's sounded wonderful as usual!

GuillaumeLN's picture

Best of show: Angie's Bel Canto Black set up with Raidhos, although cable pairing wasn't right.
Second to best: Angie's Questyle set up with Raidhos.

Other components worthy of their price:
Sugden Masterclass IA-4
Audio Physic sitara (25)
Dynaudio excite X32 and Focus 260
Audio Research VSi60
Audible Illusions L3B
Conrad Johnson PV-11 & 12
Vienna acoustics Beethoven Baby grand Symphony Edition and Mozart Concert grand SE
47 labs dacs
Audience AR6-T and AR6-TS
all of Tara Labs and Madison Audio Lab
LFD DLS preamp
LFD NCSE integrated
B&K amps and monoblocks
PMC twenty23
Linn Sondek LP12
all of Brinkmann
Bryston B60SST2 and all of ST line
Vandersteen Treo
all of High Emotion audio
Trigon music server
some Quad speakers
most of Stax headphones
Astell & Kern AK240

could go on and on

corrective_unconscious's picture

"some Quad speakers"

You're not talking about things you heard at the show under discussion. You are listing products.

GuillaumeLN's picture

Most of the equipment I heard at the show I had heard at other shows in the past. Equipment from brands I wish I would hear were either non-present or sitting for display only.

MGMGRG's picture

I suggest to MR. GuillaumeLN to wash well the ears and then to listen. I have felt the Nighthawks and I find her delicious.

GuillaumeLN's picture

These headphones had a massively underwhelming diluted sound. The pursuit of neutrality often leads to a total lack of character when a team of old men is in charge of design.

Audio_Visionary's picture

Yes! Let the 6 year old kids design things. It's the old men who have the money - so let them design things for their age group. Let the young guys skateboard and enjoy their hearing above 10kHz. I have rarely seen such comments about older people as those from petit garcon Guillaume.

GuillaumeLN's picture

Wait 10 years for those kids to inherit the money and we'll see where they'll put their money at. Probably not towards products designed for jazz and classical music fans.

AVphile's picture

Just like last year I enjoyed listening and talking to both these exhibitors. Again I felt like the Bryston speakers are incredible value for money and right up there with the best sound. I always ask James to put on some jazz or something with horns (to check out the midrange, as he tends to stick to folk/rock) and he did oblige.

In the looks department Coup de Foudre had it going of course, as they did last year with the Wilsons. They were playing some great jazz on vinyl when I walked in. Although the room is a big empty square it still sounded great. The B&W room was a disaster in comparison with its streaming (screaming) pop music offering nothing but compressed dynamics.

AVphile's picture

I caught the second-last MQA demo on Saturday afternoon. I was sat front and center next to Art Dudley and the sound was probably the best I've heard in my life, but I've never heard Meridian DSP speakers before. It was the $48k USD DSP-7200 speakers.

The regular CD they used to warm up sounded great. But when the MQA track started I heard a layering and natural sound like never before. The added reverb and multi-track nature of the 70's studio recording was very apparent. It was non-fatiguing and effortless to listen to.

I don't know how much of this was due to MQA, Meridian's DAC technology or just great speaker design. I had a Meridian CD player before but it never sounded like this at home with a conventional analog system.