This was my first time covering the SSI show and it was even better than everyone said it would be. A big thank you to Salon Son & Image organizers Michel Plante and Sarah Tremblay for organizing a great hi-fi show. This was also my first time spending any time in Montreal and it was even better than I thought it would be even though I didn't have much time outside of the Hilton Montreal Bonaventure. While I can't point you to a specific concrete piece of evidence, the people of Montreal struck me as kinder, more considerate and generally more genial than I'm used to here in the greater NY metropolitan area.
The folks at Coup de Foudre sure know how to throw a party which makes me think they surely know how to party. While our gracious hosts Jennifer Cytrynbaum and Graeme Humfrey were too busy hosting to join in the festivities, I have the sneaking suspicion my thinking about this is correct. In any event, the party featured truly amazing food, wine, music and company and an overall atmosphere of good spirits in any and every sense you can think of. Everyone I spoke to and saw felt or looked as if they were floating every so slightly above the floor.
Beyond the very sleek Model 1 speaker system ($995/pair) and the equally streamlined Model 1 integrated amp ($995), I have to say I'm not exactly certain what Mass Fidelity is up to beyond a full out assault on the streaming media market currently inhabited by the likes of Sonos and Squeezebox. Pictured above is the mysterious to me "sum'd" device that houses a Linux OS, an Ethernet port, a pair of USB Type A inputs and a three-pronged plug sticking out of the back.
Linn was showing their Accurate DSM ($9,350) UPnP streamer/preamplifier that supports FLAC, WAV, ALAC, MP3, WMA, AIFF, AAC and OGG files and can handle up to 24/192 playback on all of its 14 inputs (Ethernet, Balanced (XLR), analog RCA, HDMI, S/PDIF, Toslink). You can also convert one of the analog inputs to accept a moving magnet or moving coil phono stage (yea!) and use one of those HDMI inputs to play back your SACDs and DVD-A discs (downsampled to 176.4 K or 88.2 k). There are pairs of balanced (XLR) and unbalanced (RCA) outputs, an included remote as well as Linn's Kinsky app that works with Macs, iOS devices and PCs.
The Pro-Ject Audio Stream Box DS ($999) is a UPnP/DLNA streamer that packs a lot into its little package including USB (24/96) and Ethernet (24/192) inputs, Wi-Fi (802.11b/g), vTuner playback, gapless playback, 3.5” TFT color display, a pair of RCA outputs as well as a Coax S/DIF out just in case you'd like to use an outboard DAC. The Stream Box DS can accept MP3 (ick), FLAC (up to 24bit/192kHz), WMA9-lossless, AAC, LPCM (up to 24bit/192kHz), and Ogg Vorbis 1.0 files. There's a front-mounted USB input which works the same as the one around back and accepts FAT 16 and FAT 32 USB hard disks and flash disks (no NTFS) and iPhone and iPod Touch devices.
The CEntrance Audiophile Desktop ($2,000) is meant to be just that—a complete package that even comes delivered in its own protective carry case so you can carry it with you wherever you go (if you so desire). The package consists of a pair of 'MasterClass 2504' passive speakers and the DACmini PX which is a Preamp/Class-D amp/DAC combo that delivers 25W/ch while the DAC can handle 24/192 from the S/PDIF (Coax and Toslink) and 24/96 via USB. There's also a front-mounted 1/4-inch headphone jack and analog input/output.
Montréal dealer Audio Occasion was showing the Simaudio Moon 180 MiND ($1,250) and Moon 380D DAC ($3,900 + $600 for variable analog outputs). For those of you who missed my CES 2012 report, you won't notice that all I've done is cut 'n paste this next bit - The MiND (Moon Intelligent Network Device) is a UPnP renderer that suports wired (Ethernet 24-bit/192kHz) and 802.11 b/g/n wireless networking (16-bit/48kHz). It's DNLA 1.5 compatible (meaning it's not DLNA Certified but it may become so in the future), vTuner Radio ready, multi-Zone capable, it supports playlists and gapless playback and it controls all of this with custom Simaudio media server software that'll run on an iPhone, iTouch, iPad or Android device. There are S/PDIF (Coax and TosLink) and AES/EBU digital outputs to connect to your DAC of choice. File formats supported include Wave, FLAC, AIF, AAC, ALAC, MP3 (vbr/cbr), WMA-9, and OGG Vorbis.
The Trigon Audio Chronolog ($9,495) from Germany is a CD/DVD player/ripper and Linux-based UPnP music server that includes a 120GB SDD drive. The Chronolog can play a host of file formats including wav, flac, m4a, aac, wma, ogg, aiff, wpl, ape, and many more. Inputs are 24/192-ready and include the usual suspects S/PDIF (Coax and Toslink), USB, and Ethernet. Outputs include a pair of RCAs and XLRs as well as HDMI and DVI for DVD playback. The Chronolog also provides wi-fi capabilities, gapless playback, and a free iOS App. Firmware updates are handled via Ethernet/Internet and that internal CD/DVD drive is from StreamUnlimited.
The new pre-production Naim NDS ($13,000) was on active duty in Québec-based distributor Plurison's suite. The NDS is Naim's newest UPnP/DLNA streamer and offers vTuner service, up to 24/192 on all inputs including 3 S/PDIF, USB and Ethernet as well as Wi-Fi capabilities. There's also a front-mounted USB input for playback from iOS devices or a USB storage device. File formats supported include FLAC, WAV, ALAC, AIFF, AAC, Windows Media formated content, and OGG Vorbis (and yea MP3 but do we really care?) and the NDS can also handle gapless playback. There's a traditional (soon to become extinct I hope) remote and an very nice (and free) iOS app, n-Stream iOS, so you can operate your NDS from your seat without forgetting about important stuff like album cover art.
In the Avatar Acoustics room, the AMR Digital Processor-777 ($4,995) mixes new and old by offering various digital algorithm filters/listening modes including "Organic, MP Listen, Apodising 808, and Traditional" coupled with tube stages one dedicated to the S/PDIF input that uses a single NOS 6H11P "high-speed valve operating into the 100MHz region" and a pair of NOS 6H1n-EV dual triodes in the analog output stage. There are a host of inputs including 2 x XLR/BNC, 2 x RCA/Toslink and a 24/192 Asynchronous USB and a pair of RCA and XLR outputs and a "Direct-Coupled/Buffered Analogue Volume Control" so you can skip the preamp if you're a digital source kinda gal (or guy).
While the Boulder Model 1021 Disc Player ($26,400) was on silent display in Montreal retailer Son-Or Filtronique's room, I learned that the Colorado-based company has two new DACs in the works—the 820 ($TBD but below $10,000) and the 2020 ($TBD). Both DACs will handle up to 32/192 and possibly 32/384 and include an Ethernet input along with the rest of the usual suspects (USB, Toslink, Coax...).
The cherrylicious Oracle Paris USB DAC 24/192 ($3,500) has a name that pretty much hits the high points. There are also Toslink, S/PDIF and XLR inputs and since this DAC was introduced at CES I figured I would just get the rest of the details from the Oracle website but there's nothing there. Did I mention its red?
Montreal dealer Audioville offered up Chord's latest Red Reference Mk III CD Player ($26,000) which adds asynchronous USB to its XLR and Toslink inputs. The Chord stack with its distinctive styling consisting of the CPA 8000 Reference Preamplifier ($45,000) and SPM5000 Mk II amplifier ($25,000) driving the KEF Blade speakers ($30,000/pair) looked like it all could have come off of the set of the forthcoming Prometheus Alien prequel film. This was one room where to my ears excessive volume levels had me abort any notion of extended listening.
I was about to enter the MBL room when I was halted just inches from the entrance, "There's a reviewer in there, Stereophile's Robert Deutsch, listening to the cello" I was told in a hushed voice, so hushed that I may not have heard it right. "Sorry?" I responded. "When we hear clapping, you can go in." How odd, I thought, that people would clap for a reviewer listening to cello music. But I'm game for just about anything at a hi-fi show. So I waited.
In the CdF/Wilson Audio/VTL Audio room, the Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC Series 2 ($4,995) sat under their Alpha USB DAC ($5,095). The Series 2 DAC features 24/192 playback via AES/EBU, S/PDIF - BNC, Toslink, and "BADA encrypted RJ-45" which I'll have to look into to see what that's all about. The Alpha USB DAC offers up to 24/192 playback via its asynchronous USB input and includes AES/EBU and S/PDIF BNC inputs. A MacBook Air running Pure Music handled to musical selections which included a number of recordings from Peter Mc Grath of Wilson Audio which share the common quality of sounding simply wonderful.