Immediately before putting fingers to keypad for this review, I spent a considerable amount of time reviewing Constellation Audio’s Inspiration Preamp 1.0 ($9900 USD). I began that review by touching on the company’s lineage, highlighting a few of the minds responsible for its products, and describing its three product tiers. The Inspiration series comprises Constellation’s least-expensive models, succeeded by the Performance series, and finally their flagship line, the Reference series. But while the Inspiration models are Constellation’s introductory products, they’re by no means budget, stripped-down, bare-bones offerings. In fact, if I had to pick one word to define the Inspirations -- and in particular the subject of this review, the Inspiration Stereo 1.0 amplifier -- it would be value.
I’ve owned three BMWs over the past 15 years. I had a 5-series car (can’t remember which one), a 128i, and, between those two, a 328i with the Performance Package that I bought brand new oh, maybe 12 years ago. I had only about 500 miles on the 328i when, one morning, I pulled out of my driveway, put the car in drive, and . . . nothing. About 30 seconds later, the transmission finally engaged. Nor was this an anomaly -- later that day, the same thing happened. I got on the phone with the BMW dealership I’d bought the car from. Sure enough, they knew about the problem -- it had reared its head all over the country. Turns out the transmission in this model was actually built by . . . wait for it . . . General Motors.
Kharma International, of the Netherlands, was launched in 1993. However, the audio career of company founder Charles van Oosterum actually began in 1982, with Oosterum Loudspeaker Systems (O.L.S.). It is an understatement to say that van Oosterum has deep experience in high-end audio -- he has many speaker designs to his credit, many of which I’ve heard at Munich’s High End over the last 15 years.
XL Recordings XLCD790
Musical Performance: ****1/2
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****1/2
It’s been five years since the last Radiohead album, The King of Limbs, during which time singer Thom Yorke has released a solo album, Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes (2014), and guitarist Jonny Greenwood has composed the scores for three films. It’s hard to think of a band that’s gone in more unexpected directions during its career, whether musically or in the ways it’s made that music available. Radiohead released their newest, A Moon Shaped Pool, as a digital download on May 8, and on physical media on June 17, following a pattern established with In Rainbows (2007) and The King of Limbs (2011).
The Ayre Acoustics AX-5 integrated amplifier, which I reviewed two years ago, was an ear-opening experience. At the time, I stated that “the AX-5 is not only, overall, the finest-sounding amp I’ve ever heard, it ranks as one of the finest components I’ve heard of any type.” The AX-5 featured a technology previously unused by Ayre, called the Diamond output stage, which has since been extended to Ayre’s top models, the R series.
Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you. -- Lao Tzu
There was a period of about ten years when I just couldn’t sit still -- in audio terms. About every two years, I’d upgrade -- or, in many cases, just change for change’s sake -- my entire stereo system. This wasn’t about steadily improving my system’s sound quality. The components I was switching out were already part of any discussion of the state of the audio art. I wanted new. I wanted exciting. I wanted the buzz-creating latest thing.
A rush of lavender to the head
Recently, I was lying on my back in savasana (corpse pose), at the end of the 75-minute sweat fest also known as my Sunday hot-yoga class. As the teacher first placed a cool stone on my forehead, and then, on my face, an ice-cold, lavender-scented towel, I found myself drifting into a state of blissful relaxation. This was healing balm after a hectic work week, and as the relaxing sounds of sitar and tabla wafted into the room, I melted into dreamland.
Musical Performance: ***1/2
Sound Quality: ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment: ****
Mark Knopfler has written music for films since 1983, when he composed the score for Bill Forsyth’s Local Hero. He’s done the music for eight more films since then, including Cal (1984), The Princess Bride (1987), and Wag the Dog (1997). His latest, Altamira, is a collaboration with percussionist Evelyn Glennie, and is his first soundtrack since A Shot at Glory (2009).
Tweaks are for kids, to adapt a phrase from a 1960s ad campaign for Trix breakfast cereal. In the world of audio, the phrase is true and not true. Newbies fall in love with tweaks, for which are claimed miraculous improvements at little cost. The allure of customizing a relatively humble system has an attraction similar to that of using a tighter suspension and nitrous oxide injection to soup up a stock compact car into a tuner.
If you’ve followed my writing over the 20 years that I’ve been covering high-end audio, you no doubt know about my column “The World’s Best Audio System” (“TWBAS” for short). The last one was published in January 2014, but honestly, by then “TWBAS” had, to a large degree, petered out. I officially shut down the series in September 2014, with “Closing the Curtain on TWBAS.”
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