I’m not an audiophile who haphazardly throws money at components. Nor do I open my wallet because of some preconceived notion of what proportion of an audio-system budget “should” be allocated to a given product category. This thinking has led me to assemble and own, over the years, audio systems that some might say are unbalanced, at least in terms of cost. For instance, I’ve almost invariably chosen to spend large portions of my budget on loudspeakers, because I’ve found that a change in speakers usually provides me with the biggest improvement in sound quality. I typically spend less than a tenth as much on a digital source component, because in the last decade or so great digital sound has become so affordable.
In “Power Supplies: Commentary for Consumers,” an essay by famed engineer Nelson Pass posted on the website of the company he founded, Pass Laboratories, he states:
As a consumer, you want the best sound you can get. You can accomplish that through critical listening. As a secondary goal, we all like to get what seems to be good hardware value, and we want to know that the manufacturer has actually put some real money into the product which costs a small fortune. If you can read the specs or look under the hood, the power supply, being one of the most expensive parts of the amp, usually is a good indicator. It should be the biggest and heaviest part of the amplifier.
In November 2017 I reviewed the Technical Audio Devices Micro Evolution One loudspeaker, aka the TAD ME-1. It now costs $14,995/pair USD, including TAD’s ST3 stands, and at the time we gave it a Reviewers’ Choice award. The ME-1 is pretty small at 16.2”H x 9.9”W x 15.8”D, but its size had little correlation with what I heard. Of the many things I noticed about the ME-1’s sound, what most surprised me was what I wrote about in the penultimate paragraph of my review: “It filled my Music Vault with full, rich, detailed sound that never fatigued me and never bored me.”
In my younger, poorer years, I spent an inordinate amount of my free time scouring garage sales and rummaging used-record stores for LPs. In those days, the early 1990s -- God help me, nearly 30 years ago -- used vinyl was plentiful and cheap.
“Baby Face” Willette: “Face to Face”
Blue Note B0029750-01
Musical Performance: ****½
Sound Quality: *****
Overall Enjoyment: *****
Grant Green: “Grant’s First Stand”
Blue Note B7745061
Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: ****½
Overall Enjoyment: ****½
Blue Note’s celebration of its 80th birthday continues, and I wanted to cover two new pressings featuring nearly the same players but released in different reissue series. “Baby Face” Willette’s Face to Face has been returned to print on vinyl as part of the Tone Poet series, mastered by Kevin Gray under Joe Harley’s supervision. Grant Green’s Grant’s First Stand is part of the Blue Note 80 series, also mastered by Gray but produced by Don Was.
McIntosh Laboratory was founded in 1949, when vinyl was a growing source for music reproduction. But it wasn’t until nearly 60 years later that the venerable company, based in Binghamton, New York, introduced its first turntable model. The debut of the MT10 turntable ($11,500 USD) was polarizing: Those who first saw it loved it or hated it. I remember some of the comments: “A turntable with a meter? Why?!” or “I don’t care how it sounds, it just looks too odd.” But most of the people who panned it had yet to hear it.
In May 2005, SoundStage! Hi-Fi (then simply SoundStage!) published my review of the darTZeel Audio NHB-108 Model One stereo amplifier. I had lots of good things to say about this super-cool Swiss product, and in the years since, it seems that many audiophiles have enjoyed having one at the heart of their high-end systems. To say it has had a successful run would be an understatement.
In June 2016, when I reviewed Magico’s S1 Mk.II loudspeaker ($16,500/pair; all prices USD), I loved it. “The finest two-way speaker I’ve heard,” I declared. In late 2017, when Magico announced their new entry-level model, the A3, I was cautiously optimistic. The A3 struck me as a vitally important product for Magico, which had built its reputation on speakers whose performance ceilings were exceeded only by their sky-high prices. As with everything else in life, if you want the state of the art, you have to cough up the dough. The A3’s original price of $9800/pair put it in direct competition with models from many hi-fi heavyweights. And there was something else: Would the A3 look and feel like a Magico speaker? Most important, would it sound like a Magico?
Verve 80029739-02 (2 CDs), B0029738-01 (3 LPs)
Formats: CD and LP
Musical Performance: ****½
Sound Quality: ***½
Overall Enjoyment: ****
When Stan Getz returned to the US in 1961 after three years in Europe, John Coltrane had just won the top slot in the Downbeat and Metronome jazz polls, a position Getz had held for the previous 11 years, and Sonny Rollins was returning to the scene after two years of study and practice. Coltrane and Rollins were now the leading tenor players of the day. Getz was a little out of step.
Merrill Audio Advanced Technology Labs, LLC, was founded in 2010 by Merrill Wettasinghe, who not only earned a BS in electrical engineering and an MBA, and enjoyed a career in R&D and marketing with Hewlett-Packard, but has long had a passion for purity of sound. In 2011, Wettasinghe released the first Merrill Audio amplifier, the Veritas monoblock ($12,000 USD per pair, discontinued). The Veritas was considered a breakthrough product not only for its sound quality, but also for being one of the first amplifiers to be based on Hypex’s Ncore NC1200 class-D power module. At the time, it was also one of the few amps to use point-to-point litz wiring of ultrapure copper, rhodium-plated binding posts of solid copper, and top-quality XLR connectors -- all made by Cardas.
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