Ultra Audio's site platform was changed in August 2010. For equipment reviews previous to that, use this link to transfer to the old site.
In my mind, home-stereo loudspeakers can be grouped into three classes. Class One fulfills the primary goal of speaker design: this class of speaker just has to make music. All other goals are secondary. So they have to sit there, generally in front of the listener, and play sound through their drivers. These speakers should be, and generally are, dressed up somewhat, either in a nice wood veneer or a lacquer finish. But beyond that, they’re two MDF pillars, upon which you wouldn’t be remiss in resting a doily and a lamp or a potted plant. Or if you’re like me, the record sleeve from whatever’s playing on the ’table at that moment.
The Professional Monitor Company, aka PMC, is a major hi-fi loudspeaker manufacturer, with its roots in studio monitoring. PMC was established in the UK in 1991 by Peter Thomas, an ex-BBC engineer, and his business partner, Adrian Loader. The company’s first product was a large studio monitor: the BB5-A. The British public service broadcaster was one of PMC’s first customers, and still uses those monitors at the BBC Maida Vale studios in London, England.
Back in the 1970s, I lived in Japan for a year, ostensibly to study Buddhism and the Japanese language; in reality, I was knocking around Kyoto as much as I pleased. I was living with my girlfriend in a small eight-mat room, watching kabuki plays at the Minami-za theater, reading poetry in coffee shops, and hanging out at a blues club on weekends.
Rightly or wrongly, Germans have a reputation for being an exacting bunch—often concerned more with function than form. For this car-loving reviewer, automobiles are a prime example of what fuels this stereotype. If you want a high-end sports car that you can run ragged day in and day out, buy a Porsche 911 GT3. This car’s beauty has been honed through decades of refinement of the underlying 911 body shape. If, on the Freudian continuum, you tilt less towards the ego and more towards the id, and tend to forego Teutonic pragmatism in favor of more primal urges, then the sensual lines of a new Ferrari F8 Tributo would be a better choice. While significant engineering resources have been poured into each of these automobiles, the German model is the dedicated workhorse compared to the Italian show pony.
I used to be a large-speaker kind of guy. Early in my audiophile life, I figured going bigger would be more satisfying in the long term, not necessarily because size on its own makes a difference, but because speakers tended to get larger as you progressed from the bottom to the top model of any given company’s lineup. Come to think of it, I can’t come up with a single example of a company whose speakers actually get smaller as you move up the line. As a result, I equated bigger with better because, well, that’s what I was told was the case by almost everyone who made speakers.
Kharma is a brand I’ve admired for a very long time. I first read about their successful Ceramique line of loudspeakers back in the late 1990s, which—as you may have guessed from the name—featured their signature ceramic midrange driver. Way back in the mid-1980s, the pioneering Dutch firm was the first audio company to employ ceramic drivers. And in more recent years, I’ve seen and heard their offerings at trade shows, like Munich’s High End, and appreciated their distinctive designs and fastidious attention to detail.
It seems incredible that vinyl officially overtook the CD as the leading music-hardware format in the US for new releases in 2021. And vinyl accounted for one in four album sales in the UK, the highest proportion since 1990! Del Amitri’s fifth album, Some Other Sucker’s Parade, barely sold any copies on vinyl when it was released in June 1997; like most people, I purchased my copy on CD. The record has never been reissued on vinyl, so analog enthusiasts are now paying over $300 (all prices in USD) for a secondhand copy. This is no isolated example; a huge proportion of titles remain out of print, forcing enthusiasts to track down secondhand copies.
Audia Flight is an Italian electronics manufacturer whose products I’d seen at shows in the past but never had the chance to listen to for an extended period. So when the opportunity arose to review their flagship FLS10 integrated amplifier ($12,999, all prices in USD), I grabbed it with both hands. I’m a sucker for a high-powered integrated amplifier, and the big Audia Flight amp looked promising: lots of power, an optional phono stage ($1299), an optional DAC ($1999), and an RCA ($599) expansion board—all designed and built by hand in Italy. The fact that it ships in a crate rather than a cardboard box should be a welcome sign for the hi-fi-by-the-pound types among you.
Audiophiles are typically divided when the subject of power conditioning comes up. On one hand, many audiophiles will tell you that power conditioning—or more accurately, the entire electrical chain associated with a stereo system, including the in-the-wall wiring and outlets—is the foundation of an audio system. The theory behind it is that if you don’t start with pristine power delivery, everything that comes after—meaning everything—will be compromised.
The Best of British
Quite simply, SME is one of the crown jewels of the British audio industry, and is as quintessentially English as the BBC, Windsor Castle, or strawberries and cream at Wimbledon. Nestled in the foothills of the beautiful South Downs in West Sussex, you’ll find the magnificent art deco headquarters of one of the world’s finest engineering companies. Note the lack of qualification there: not audio engineering companies, but engineering companies—period. For SME doesn’t just build some of the world’s most desirable turntables and tonearms; it also undertakes leading-edge engineering projects for Formula 1 racing teams and aerospace firms. It’s no exaggeration to say that SME’s astonishing capability in precision metalwork is world-renowned and globally respected. This is a company that builds analog replay equipment to the sort of tolerances that NASA specifies for its spacecraft. So when Stuart McNeilis, SME’s charismatic CEO, offered me the opportunity to review the company’s new flagship Model 60 turntable, he didn’t need to ask twice.