SSI 2015, Art Dudley Sums Up

"It's that million dollar bash"—or, at the very least, it's that half-million dollar, in Canadian funds, bash. Before setting foot out of our doors, we in the press were informed by SSI's sponsors that the 2015 show would feature "The World's Best Canadian Audio System," and we were all invited to "Meet the world's most brilliant designers."

In fairness, I'm sure there exists almost no such conceit among the people behind the system in question, which was built around the commanding Domain Omni PX1 omnidirectional electrostatic loudspeaker ($CAD65,000/pair) from Ottawa-based Muraudio. At the other end of the system, the Montreal-made Kronos Pro turntable ($CAD38,000) and Kronos Black Beauty tonearm ($CAD8500) served as the source of choice.

The Kronos record player was supported by an anti-vibration stand ($CAD9505) from Solid Rack, also of Montreal. The selfsame stand supported a variety of electronics from Montreal-based Tenor Audio: their Phono 1 phono preamp ($CAD50,000), and combination Line1/Power 1 preamplifier ($CAD100,000). Tenor's hybrid 350 HP monoblock amplifiers, seen in the photo above ($CAD125,000), were another story: They were too large for the stand, but seemed comfortable enough on the floor.

By the time I visited the ballroom containing The World's Best Canadian Audio System, the playing of records was to be replaced by an even more refined entertainment: the gifted cellist Vincent Bélanger, no stranger to SSI, had agreed to accompany his recorded self for a pair of duets. No more daunting comparison exists in the world of domestic audio, and I won't pretend that the two "cellists" were indistinguishable from one another. Yet the one made of metal and plastic and glass aspired to keep company with the other, and succeeded on its own terms; what mattered most was the beauty of the music being made, and the too-rare opportunity to enjoy, in person, the artistry of a world-class musician.

Before wrapping-up for the day, I re-visited the Westmount ballroom, half of which was dedicated to the above-mentioned Personal Audio Zone, the other being given over to the Canada Pavilion: a series of mostly small, static, and often un-staffed displays of the wares of Canadian audio manufacturers. While most of these were redundant, inasmuch as their featured products could be seen and heard elsewhere at the SSI, the exhibit by Pro Design Audio, whose Alain Provencher is seen in the photo above, deserves mention. Show prices for the very beautiful diffusion/diffraction panels made by Pro Design Audio started at a mere $CAD600, which seemed quite the bargain.

Also in the Canada Pavilion were our friends and colleagues from Magazine TED, which is the audio-video magazine of Quebec. Here the lovely Lucie Beauchamp of Magazine TED displays one of the limited number of Rega P3 record players that were decorated last year by the Quebec artist Zilon; the player is the grand prize in an upcoming drawing, for which I filled out an entry form of my own. I have yet to hear back, but I remain optimistic.

Well, there you have it: The stage is empty, and, by the time you read this, the big WATTS sign will have been turned off for another year.

SSI 2015 will be remembered for a number of reasons, some good and some bad. On the good side, the show appears to have been very well-attended, and Salon Son et Image endures as warmest, most convivial audio gathering I know, and also the one with the highest percentage—informally tallied, of course—of female attendees. And in spite of the fact that it is no longer a Hilton property, the Hotel Bonaventure remains attractive, comfortable, friendly, and well-managed—and their restaurant has, if anything, gotten even better. (I mourned the loss, from the menu, of their excellent Greek salad, but the black cod appetizer more than made up for it.) The Bonaventure breakfast buffet remains the best on Earth.

On the down side . . . well, let's not mince words: The number of exhibitors had dropped to a level I would describe as disappointingly low. Gone were some regulars of which many are fond—including AIX Recordings, May Audio Marketing, Wilson Audio, MBL, and Ayre Acoustics—while other exhibitors brought fewer products, and occupied far less space than in previous years. There was distressingly little software for sale—and no new LPs at all. And although this is a criticism that can be directed at virtually any contemporary audio show—the notable exception being the titanic and very professionally run High End Audio show in Munich—it has become far too common for the SSI show guide to list brands of gear that don't actually appear to be on hand for demonstration.

A transitional show, then—or one with potential to be so. I dearly hope that, with a bit of freshening-up and a few new ideas, Salon Son et Image will be back next year, bigger and better than ever.

GuillaumeLN's picture

The World's Best Canadian Audio System is a shame to our nation. Bad sound, horrible awful looks, poor combination of equipment.

corrective_unconscious's picture

But it reminds me of one of the funnier lines in the stoner, ice hockey comedy, "Goon," when a hockey announcer opines that a particular, pre game rendition of the Canadian national anthem was, "borderline treasonous."

Too bad you didn't originate that line for your post here.

GuillaumeLN's picture

ahah! exquisite

Steve Eddy's picture

Yeah, it's rather like the US Republican Party, which just keeps marginalizing itself by trying to appeal to a narrower and narrower slice of the populace.


quadlabet's picture

Wow dude, that's deep.

Steve Eddy's picture

That's funny. It wasn't intended to be. Perhaps you should put down that blunt.


mr_bill's picture

And I mean VERY Stupid
deleted - let's keep on track and not submit stupid comments like the one above.

Joe Whip's picture

Let's please keep the politics out of this forum. It doesn't lead anywhere useful. The usual tit for tat.

eriks's picture

I agree this is not the forum to discuss current politics, but it may be interesting to go back in history and see how politics has affected music and vice-versa. A music teacher of mine once mentioned that Chairman Mao banned Chopin for fear of it inspiring the masses to want luxury for themselves. I wonder what else is out there? What did the Nazi's ban for instance?


Joe Whip's picture

Mao? Nazis? What do they have to do with the Montreal Audio Show? I guess I missed it where they banned Chopin or the Dead. That may be the subject for a scholarly paper or a research project. Not for this thread.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

The Nazis banned all "degenerate" art and music. The German word is "Entartete." You can read about the music ban here: Some of this music was by Jewish composers, but it extended far beyond them.

The Decca series of recordings is filled with great music. Conductor James Conlon has been responsible for reviving any number of valuable works, which are programmed more frequently these days.

mr_bill's picture

I agree - audio only is best here.

Steve Eddy's picture

No intention on my part to discuss politics. I was just using a convenient analogy, which had nothing inherently to do with politics, to illustrate what I think the "high end" audio industry was doing to itself.


GuillaumeLN's picture

Even a non-American as myself has no difficulty understanding the subtleties of your analogy. It's interesting how those who relate to the establishment stand up any time they're challenged on the notion of «change».

mr_bill's picture

You made a political (and albeit left wing) 'convenient' comment toward the Republican Party..........and in your words - 'which had nothing to do with politics'?!

I'm just standing up against your stupid offensive comment.

John Atkinson's picture
We have a section in the website forum called "The Open Bar," which is meant for such discussions.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

tonykaz's picture

Oh, I almost forgot to thank you for Bob Katz, that is if you had something to do with his writing about headphones and all things Audio.
I hope you manage to keep him encouraged, he writes well and he's technically astute. I don't know if he can service advertisers but I'd bet he's a strong advocate of Cabling interfaces.
Well, I'll be studying everything this "authority" says.
I'll try to keep your Flame-throwers at bay if they turn on him.
We need Bob Katz.

Thank you for giving him "air time",

Tony in Michigan

GuillaumeLN's picture

Yeah, it's rather like the audio industry, which just keeps marginalizing itself by trying to appeal to a narrower and narrower slice of the boomers' populace.

desperaudio's picture

Always look forward to your show commentary. Many (via the Canuck Audio Mart forums) also noted a dearth of exhibitors.
I wonder if the same affliction will plague the infant Vancouver show - scheduled very close to Munich"s dates - and hasn't been helped much by tardy (if at all) responses to requests for information to Chester from several industry (distributor) folks.

Joe Whip's picture

and a hard place the Vancouver show is, wedged between Axpona in Chicago and Munich.

jmsent's picture

How many times does it have to be said, and how many ways are there to say it? What's increasingly more convenient for the local crowd is also increasingly a nightmare for exhibitors. Manufacturers have no choice but to pick and choose their shows, and increasingly the must go's are Munich and Denver. Those two, for a North American manufacturer, will blow a pretty huge hole in your marketing budget. Not to mention that there's still CES to contend with. So what's left is "regional shows with regional players". You get dealers, local manufacturers, etc. And the next thing you'll see is fewer and fewer attendees. It's not sustainable, it never was, and eventually you'll see some shows going away. Too bad for SSI. It used to be all those things Art mentioned, plus it had lots of exhibitors. The last time I went was 3 years ago, and even then the drop off in exhibitors was obvious. And every year Stereophile reports it was smaller than the year before.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

The issue is not that there are too many shows per se. In a period of declining retailers, at least in some areas of the country, shows are one of the only ways many people can have first-hand experiences with equipment they read about in Stereophile and other publications. But the proliferation of shows does force manufacturers and retailers to make hard choices about where to exhibit.

Currently we're seeing the growing leverage of AXPONA in Chicago and T.H.E. Show Newport Beach, and their impact on participation in other shows. How this will play out in the future remains to be seen.

tonykaz's picture

What got into your group here?, these kids now-a-days.

Someone spent a ton of money on that room and setting up, oh-dear, only to hear such horrible comments from the Flame Throwers amongst us, bad form, very bad form indeed.

Tony in Michigan

ps. we send em to school and all they want to do is throw tantrums! Well, we tried.

TriodeDave's picture

IMHO, as 'the guy' who does all the North American shows for a UK manufacturer, the show calendar is rather like cat litter. What we have is massive clumping. What would work better would be a distinct lack of clumping.

We've been ignoring Las Vegas for a number of years now, being more interested in providing listening opportunities than lining up dealers by the score, so for me, the season begins in late March with Montreal. It snows as often as not, but I have yet to become stranded there. Then there is a reasonable 3 week gap between SSI Montreal and AXPONA Chicago.

But then the party starts to get a bit rough. I have one week and two days between getting home from Chi-town and flying off to Vancouver. And THEN it gets ri-DIC-ulous! There's no time to fly home at all, so I must fly from Vancouver to Munich - who doesn't love being in transit for over 12 hrs with nothing but dirty laundry along for the ride? (I know Munich isn't in North America, but it IS the 600 show gorilla and perhaps it would be best if some slight attention were paid . . .) When I get home from Munich, I will have ALMOST a week before flying off to LA for Newport Beach.

See the problem? But wait! there's more: Sometimes, besides providing the expected austion and discomfort, fascinating surprise bits turn up. I mean, besides the usual shipping suspects breaking or losing one or two things en route to or from the shows. For instance, there's the logistical equivalent of Penn & Teller, providing illusions of the unobtanium sort - like last year when a trucking company LOST my entire system for a solid month while I winged off to Munich, leaving shadow puppets as a very real Newport possibility. (It turned up the day before I flew to LA, in a MA Staples warehouse with the ink, toner and 500,000 tons of letter sized paper.)

Now comes the unclumping: Guess what happens in June and July? Not a Single Damn Thing. Then, in the second half of August, the Calif Audio Show and Capital Audiofest come along ONE week apart.

September? Nada.

Then sanity settles in with RMAF at the beginning of October and the NY Audio Show at the beginning of November.

I will plead, once again, for the show organizers to look around them and see what else is happening practically on top of them.