Last May in Munich, walking the halls of High End 2019, I happened on perhaps the most physically imposing digital-to-analog converter I’ve ever seen: the Wadax Atlantis Reference DAC. I quickly learned that its over-the-top visual design is matched by its price: €110,000. For a DAC. One DAC.
High-end audio gear can get expensive, but the meaning of expensive depends on the context. For the sake of SoundStage! Ultra, I put most equipment in one of two mental categories: house money and car money.
In the US, the median price of a home is $236,100 (all prices USD); the average transaction price of a light vehicle is $37,577. I used to review house-money gear, and these days many manufacturers make loudspeakers priced in that category. But most folks can’t afford a second home; it’s fair to say that you must be pretty wealthy to afford that much for a pair of speakers.
Musical Performance: *****
Sound Quality: ***
Overall Enjoyment: ***½
The Beatles’ Abbey Road turned 50 in September, and Apple Corps Limited, along with Universal Music and, in the US, Capitol Records, have marked the occasion with six commemorative packages, much as they did with the 50th-anniversary editions of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Beatles (aka “The White Album”).
Theoretica Applied Physics, based in Princeton, New Jersey, has the most revolutionary digital signal processing (DSP) technology you’ve never heard about. The company’s website states that this technology, the Band-Assisted Crosstalk Cancellation Hierarchy-Stereo Purifier (BACCH-SP), uses digital interaural crosstalk cancellation (IXTC) to create “unprecedented spatial realism . . . [thus] allowing the listener to hear . . . a truly 3D . . . sound field that is simply unapproachable by . . . existing high-end audio systems.”
Last month, in “The Ultra High End Better Start Offering More,” I explored what I would require of a new pair of flagship stereo loudspeakers circa 2019. The article has been bothering me ever since I wrote it, though probably not for the reason you might assume. I’ve been an audiophile for more than 30 years, and you might suppose that, in the interim, a bit of nostalgia had hit me, and I was feeling myself pulled back by hankerings for the days of old. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m bothered by last month’s article because I think it didn’t go nearly far enough.
Chances are that anyone reading this review is passionate about music and sound quality, and that most will agree that the audio component that plays the biggest role in determining the sound of recorded music reproduced at home is the loudspeaker. In recent years, many have argued that the second-biggest role is played by the room itself. Having reviewed speakers and electronic components for almost a decade now, I wholeheartedly agree with both assertions -- I’ve experienced their truth first-hand in my listening for reviews of speaker after speaker, and heard how each speaker has interacted with and performed differently in my well-damped listening room. Most of these speakers have been well engineered and built of high-quality materials, with cutting-edge drivers and electrical components installed in dense cabinets designed to optimize driver performance and minimize resonances.
As I write this, it’s back-to-school time at the Thorpe household. Little Toni is starting third grade, and Marcia the special-needs teacher is heading back to her class. The house gets a little crazy the day before school starts. Tensions run a touch high.
Atlantic/Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab MFSL 1-415
Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: ****½
Overall Enjoyment: ****½
For a while in the 1970s, it seemed that one American band might be a match for the Rolling Stones. The J. Geils Band had a firm foundation in blues, soul, and R&B, and few bands then touring were tighter or more dynamic onstage. I saw them four times in the ’70s, and only Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band could match them for stage presence and intensity.
GigaWatt is not widely known in North America, but Mark Sossa, of distributor Well Pleased Audio Vida, hopes that will soon change. Founded in Poland in 2007, GigaWatt’s history stretches back further, to 1998, and the founding of Power Audio Laboratories by Adam Schubert, a young electronics engineer with a passion for high-quality audio. P.A. Labs remained obscure until the Audio Video Show of 2002, where Schubert and his products gained wider recognition from attending audiophiles and the press. After that, P.A. Labs created GigaWatt as a separate brand, with Schubert at the helm.
Amazon’s recent announcement of their Amazon Music HD streaming service ($14.99/month, $12.99/month for Prime members; all prices USD) will drive the other major music-streaming services to offer better quality, or lower prices, or both. Those are three of the conclusions drawn by SoundStage! staffers, as discussed in Gordon Brockhouse’s recent article on SoundStage! Global. To compete, Apple and Spotify will need to offer a high-resolution option, and Tidal ($19.99/month) and Qobuz ($24.99/month) will likely have to lower the prices of their top tiers. This is, of course, business as usual: When a major player undercuts the market and/or offers a superior product, its competitors are forced to meet that challenge or go out of business.
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