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.
I’ve been a reviewer of high-end audio gear for 22 years now, but precisely two years ago my expenditures on gear took a sharp decline. That was when I announced that “Jeff’s Getting a New Stereo System,” for reasons explained in that article. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still hanker for products I’ve heard or seen, whether at shows or in press releases from manufacturers, and it doesn’t mean I don’t still get super-enthusiastic about cool gear.
When I was a teenager growing up in South Los Angeles in the 1960s, the most vaunted among us were the guys who tinkered with their cars and souped them up with fuel injection, overhead cams, dual carburetors, heavy-duty MacPherson strut suspensions, and 8-track super stereos with speakers arrayed in the dash, the doors, and the rear deck under a tinted back window. This was the SoCal car culture celebrated by the Beach Boys in “Little Deuce Coupe,” “Fun, Fun, Fun,” and “Don’t Worry Baby” -- male-teen sexual prowess sublimated and distilled into small fleets of superb, gleaming machines and gallant jalopies. A guy I knew in my neighborhood was always under the hood of his ’50s Dodge coupe, working some sort of magic I had no clue about. His father and uncles were partners in a gas station and garage, and my friend had been a grease monkey since childhood, at first just pumping gas and changing tires and spark plugs, but quickly advancing until he could swap out stock parts for custom, fine-tune an engine’s timing, raise a car’s suspension, and supercharge everything in his inline six engine until it could accelerate faster than a stock V8. He was a marvel among us and his wheels were so cool, he got all the girls we could only dream of dating.
A few months ago, I commissioned a new audio rack -- a double-wide, overbuilt, steel-and-wood monstrosity. Well, I recently got a call from the craftsman, Jason Trauzzi, who told me it was nearing completion. He was building the rack from 2” square-section steel tubing, a top shelf of 2”-thick walnut, and three lower shelves of 1”-thick walnut. The smartphone photos he sent me were stunning -- I figured I’d better get the rest of my ingredients in order.
ECM 2626 B0029977-02 (CD), 2626 7739824 (LP)
Formats: CD and LP
Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****
Two years ago, ECM released Small Town, a collection of duo performances by guitarist Bill Frisell and double bassist Thomas Morgan. Recorded in March 2016 at the Village Vanguard, the album’s eight tracks drew songs from different genres -- jazz, rock, country, film soundtracks -- to create a wonderful example of two musicians intimately communicating with and bringing out each other’s best.
As soon as Doug Schneider approached me about my reviewing Constellation Audio’s Revelation Andromeda phono stage, I hopped on their website and snooped around.
You gotta love these guys. They offer two -- count 'em -- phono stages, and not just because LPs are now big on Instagram. No, Constellation Audio is spreading analog love around, like soft butter on toast.
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