Theodore Roosevelt said that comparison is the thief of joy. It’s a lesson that most of us, at some point in life, learn the hard way. Keeping up with the Joneses is expensive, and not just in terms of money. Comparing your kids, your spouse, your income . . . these comparisons, often constant, lead to a life in which gratitude is in short supply and contentment is always just out of reach. Comparison in audio reviews is a different story. Once you buy something, the comparisons can stop. Maybe they should stop. But while you’re shopping, comparisons are critical to making wise buying decisions.
Vivid Audio’s chief designer-engineer is Laurence Dickie. You’ve probably heard of him -- many reviews of Vivid speakers mention Dickie in the context of the work he did at Bowers & Wilkins years ago. Remember the B&W Nautilus? That was Dickie’s project. Since 2004, Dickie has been designing the loudspeakers manufactured by Vivid Audio, which he co-owns with CEO Philip Guttentag. Vivid speakers are designed in the UK, where Dickie lives, and are made in South Africa, where Guttentag oversees the factory.
Musical Performance: *****
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****1/2
If, in 1969, the stomping bass line of “Christine’s Tune” didn’t clue you in to the fact that the Flying Burrito Brothers’ debut, The Gilded Palace of Sin, was going to be something different, “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow’s overdriven, fuzz-toned pedal-steel guitar solo should have clinched it. Gram Parsons, who co-led the band with Chris Hillman, had already helped introduce country music to rock with the International Submarine Band, and even more with the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo, both from 1968. The Gilded Palace of Sin was a clearer statement of his vision.
In March 2011, I reviewed Audio Research’s DAC8 DAC on SoundStage! Hi-Fi, which used a now-ubiquitous asynchronous USB 2.0 input to play files of sampling rates higher than 96kHz. For a conservative company like ARC, that feature was somewhat innovative, it having only recently emerged as the sonically preferable way to play recordings at what was then the highest resolution available: 24-bit/192kHz. That was before files with such exotic initials as DSD, DXD, and MQA appeared. The DAC9 is ARC’s first standalone, popular-level DAC since 2010 -- in DAC years, an eternity -- and, like most DACs, it doesn’t include the latest development in digital audio playback: the ability to decode Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) files. It can, however, play DSD files; previously, the only ARC component that could do that was the GSi75 integrated amplifier.
I’m at a point in this audiophile thing where my nonsense meter goes off regularly. That wasn’t always the case. I used to buy into the nonsense: I can remember times when a manufacturer would contact me and tell me about the latest, greatest product they were about to release. They’d send me promotional materials and specs and photos, and I’d get all excited about the thing. And there’s no doubt that, more than once, I’ve been the victim of my own expectation bias.
“Arguably, in the last few years, the most competitive segment of the ultra-high-end speaker market has been models retailing for $50,000 to $70,000/pair. This price range includes such prominent models as Wilson Audio Specialties’ Alexia ($52,000/pair), Magico’s S7 ($58,000/pair), and Vivid Audio’s Giya G1 ($68,000/pair), to name just a few. In short, there are lots of tough competitors.”
Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: *****
Overall Enjoyment: ****1/2
Vince Clarke had already made his mark in two bands when, in 1985, he formed the synth-pop duo Erasure with singer Andy Bell. A founding member of Depeche Mode, Clarke had written three of its early hits, “Dreaming of Me,” “New Life,” and “Just Can’t Get Enough.” He left shortly after the release of that band’s first album, Speak & Spell (1981), and, with singer Alison Moyet, formed Yazoo (known in the US, for legal reasons, as Yaz).
A few years ago, I fell in with a bad audiophile crowd -- hardcore computer-audio enthusiasts who ran high-end DIY music servers. Using up to three component cases, these servers featured specially made or modified parts and performance-enhancing software like AudiophileOptimizer, Bughead Emperor, and Fidelizer.
Readers have a love/hate relationship with the word best. So do reviewers. On the one hand, rarely does a day go by that I don’t receive an e-mail from a reader asking which is better for his or her situation: component A, B, or C? Typically, the reader is someone who is about to make a buying decision but is at an impasse, and wants me to break the tie.
In the audio industry, build quality isn’t just synonymous with how well a piece of equipment is assembled, nor is it a measure of how expensive the materials are which constitute the end product. A product’s build quality stems from its innate scientific fundamentals and resulting design, into which are incorporated quality materials and refined assembly processes, to produce a component of high quality and high performance. Build quality is something British speaker manufacturer Monitor Audio takes very seriously, as evidenced by the many successful products they’ve produced since their founding, in 1972.
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