March 21, 2013, marked the first day of spring for me. Not because of the equinox, but rather because audiophiles who simply enjoy listening to music gathered for the annual Montreal Hi-Fi Show, officially known as the SSI Expo (Salon Son et Image), at the Hilton Bonaventure Hotel. The show was open to press and industry professionals on the March 21 and open to the public for the subsequent three days. I attended the press day to get a better glimpse of the products being showcased, and I had some in-depth conversations with several manufacturers. Although my main focus was to cover home-theater products, I want to mention some of the other interesting things I saw at SSI Expo.
First up is an interesting feature introduced for the first time this year—complete 2-channel systems under $5000. This couldn't have come at a better time for me, since I'm in the market for a system under a restricted budget. It's quite a tease for me and many others, to hear $50,000 systems and then get home and realize that I need to settle for much less. Not all exhibitors showcased a system under $5000, but those who did displayed an official sticker stating as much.
Most of the systems under the $5k mark were indeed impressive, but the one that struck me the most included the Definitive Technology StudioMonitor 65 bookshelf speakers. I was totally surprised by the wall of sound this pair of speakers was capable of projecting. With a reasonable price tag of $900/pair MSRP, you have plenty of budget to spend on good amplification and a decent source. I will be writing a more in-depth review of the Definitive speaker setup, so stay tuned for that.
"Made in the USA" products are hard to find today, but this still carries some meaning for most us. Perhaps not unexpectedly, the SSI expo included a dedicated hall with "Made in Canada" products. It was nice to see some of the major names still being made in Canada and the US rather than China. Companies such as Totem Acoustics, Bryston, Moon Audio, Screen Goo, Paradigm and Anthem were among many companies showcasing products in that hall.
Another major product category I see more and more at trade shows is headphones. Like the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest "CanJam," SSI had a large hall called the Personal Audio Listening room, where attendees could audition over 80 different pairs of headphones from different manufacturers. This was paradise for anyone in the market for a solid pair of headphones, with models of different colors, shapes, sizes and prices. There was even a section dedicated to audiophiles using DACs and tube preamps.
I was never much of a fan of headphones, but this room gave me an opportunity to take a closer look into the headphone world. Even though I still prefer using speakers as my primary playback system, headphones have come a long way since the last paired I owned in the 80s. The ones that impressed me the most at a modest price were the AKG Q 701 Quincy Jones signature model. For me, they offered a great overall sound without boosting the bass or highs too much, and the imaging was great. These also came with a moderate price tag of $350 MSRP.
I look forward to next year's SSI Expo; it's always a great day when you can share your passion with many other enthusiasts. Whether it is CDs, LPs or digital media that tickle your fancy, SSI Expo will surely satisfy your inner audiophile. I recommend that you subscribe to the newsletter for more info about the next show in 2014, where you will enjoy not only great products and music but the sheer ambiance of audio nirvana.