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I grew up in a family that adhered to self-discipline, hard work, and frugality -- in short, to the Protestant work ethic, a phrase first coined and a concept first formulated, in 1904-1905, by German sociologist and philosopher Max Weber, who attributed to this ethic the rise of capitalism. So the idea of spending a lot of money on something for how it looks and feels, instead of for its main reason for being -- its utility -- gives me pause.
I go way back with Shunyata Research, and fondly remember the days of The World’s Best Audio System (TWBAS) events -- gatherings of manufacturers at my home for which I’d chosen and assembled into amazing systems the best audio components then available -- and the sense of discovery we all felt. My first TWBAS, in 2004, included products from Wilson Audio Specialties, EMM Labs, and Shunyata Research. TWBAS 2004 was a watershed for me -- at the time, it was, by far, the best sound I had ever attained in my home. Although that system’s sound would be greatly surpassed by subsequent TWBAS systems, the bar set by that first one was already very high. Shunyata was represented in TWBAS 2004 by their Hydra Model-8 power conditioner ($1995 at the time; all prices USD), various models of power cord from their Anaconda and Diamondback lines, and their Constellation Aries and Andromeda signal cables (these models were discontinued long ago; see archived articles for cable prices).
What most non-audiophiles say when they see my system for the first time -- after “Wow, those speakers are huge!” -- is this: “You still listen to records?” By which they mean vinyl LPs, their implication being digital playback formats are of course superior to analog, and that I should get with the times. As politely and non-condescendingly as I can, I try to explain that, in my opinion, the very best analog rigs reproduce recorded music with higher fidelity than the very best digital rigs. Their response is usually skeptical -- until I prove my point with a demonstration. Most doubters then become converts -- or at least feign agreement.
Some audio products look downright menacing. I include in this group Wilson Audio’s Sasha and Devialet’s Phantom speakers, and the electronics from Metaxas Audio Systems. But perhaps no other audio manufacturer so consistently produces gear that looks bent on world domination than does Denmark’s Gryphon Audio Designs, whose aesthetic is striking, to say the least: ultramodern, often black, and pure badass.
The year was 1997. I was in seventh grade, and had recently begun asking my older brother for his copies of Stereophile. He’d always talked about buying a pair of Wilson Audio Specialties’ famed WATT/Puppys, and having heard his system, I was eager to see what hi-fi audio was all about. Reviewed in the October 1997 issue, however, was a loudspeaker that would shift the spotlight -- if only for moment -- away from the super-high-end’s perennial heavyweight champ.
What this world needs is a great loudspeaker costing under $15,000 USD per pair.
Many audiophiles don’t consider a speaker costing 15 grand per pair expensive. My non-audiophile friends consider this amazingly misguided. It wouldn’t take an exhaustive Internet search to find a reviewer somewhere saying something like this: “You can expect only so much for $15,000.”
It’s Christmas 2018, and I’m at my in-laws’ for the holidays. Doug Schneider pings me via text and asks if I’m interested in reviewing Audience’s Au24 SX interconnects and speaker cables. They’re in his car, see, and he’ll be driving right past Campbellford, Ontario, the rural town in which Marcia’s ’rents live. How ’bout he just drops ’em off?
For the past few years, McIntosh Laboratory has been refreshing and expanding its product line at an unprecedented pace. The subject of this review, the MC1.25KW mono amplifier ($12,500 USD each), made its debut in late 2017, and I haven’t been able to take my eyes off it since. Imagine my elation when Mark Christensen, McIntosh’s marketing coordinator, offered to send me for review a pair of MC1.25KWs and their flagship preamplifier, the C1100 (review in the works). In discussions with Christensen, I learned that the MC1.25KW is both a replacement for and an evolution of McIntosh’s beloved MC1.2KW amplifier, and offers more dynamic headroom, upgraded parts and connection points, and refreshed industrial design and lighting.
I’ve reviewed many loudspeakers over the years, and while many were quite good, only a few stand out in my memory. There seems to be a limit to how much pleasure I get from looking at rectilinear boxes made of MDF over the 12 weeks of the average listening period for a review. Some manufacturers, in an effort to stand out from the crowd, might throw in a curve here, a flourish there, maybe a super-high-gloss finish to add flair to yet another box whose primary -- and, for most listeners, sole -- purpose is to move air.
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.
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