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Over Thanksgiving and the ensuing week, I flew down from Oregon, where I live, to spend time at a retreat for artists (I write poetry) in northern California near the Bay Area. Because I also had friends to visit, I rented a car when I landed at the Norman Y. Mineta San José International Airport, splurging on a full-size vehicle: a silver Chevrolet Malibu sedan. It was big and stable, gave good mileage, and had lots of features. It got me around -- to Berkeley and Lafayette, to San Francisco and Santa Cruz. But it didn’t have savoir faire. It lacked that je ne sais quoi that aging guys like me crave on getaways from our humdrum lives.
Integrated amplifiers have often been touted as space savers. Combining two components into one, the typical integrated amplifier also does away with a set of interconnects, and results in a smaller package than would be possible with separates. This saves not only on real estate, but on price as well. You’ve heard all this before.
Last year, at the Montréal Audio Fest, I did a solid for Mat Weisfeld, president of VPI Industries. Throughout that weekend I’d been in and out of various rooms that featured VPI turntables, and during those visits Weisfeld and I had struck up brief conversations. Close to the end of the show’s final day, as we discussed VPI’s MW-1 Cyclone record-cleaning machine, as I was picking his brain about the finer points of the Cyclone’s design, Weisfeld asked if I’d mind taking the display unit home with me. “We’ve got enough to transport back to the States -- it’d be a great help if you could look after this for us.”
I received review samples of Esoteric’s Grandioso K1 SACD/CD player and DAC ($31,000 USD) and G1 master clock generator ($26,000) at the same time. Figuring that not everyone would plunk down $57,000 all at once, I first reviewed the Grandioso K1 alone. Now it’s the Grandioso G1’s turn.
Call me shallow, but I believe that in order to fully perform its job, a turntable must look good. Turntables aren’t like other components. They require constant interaction, for setup, fine-tuning, and daily use. Speakers just sit there, lump-like, and CD players can eject a disc with a push of a button. And don’t get me started on preamplifiers -- in this remote-controlled age, you need never touch a preamp again, and many of them don’t even have knobs. But this inveterate knob twiddler enjoys interacting with his audio gear. I take inordinate and vaguely inappropriate sensual pleasure in gently rocking a tube from its socket and then -- gently, s-l-o-w-l-y -- pushing in its replacement.
In February 2015, I reviewed Esoteric’s Grandioso P1 SACD/CD transport, D1 mono digital-to-analog converters, and G-01 master clock generator. At a total cost of $91,000 USD, these state-of-the-art components in five hefty cases of aircraft-grade aluminum are not for the faint of checkbook or rack space.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw a Sonus Faber loudspeaker. It was 2002, and I was fresh out of college, broke, and hungry to put the last four years of educational purgatory to good use. I was also in the market for a new apartment. Like many early nesters, when I wasn’t out exploring potential residences, I was window-shopping for potential décor.
I sauntered into the display room of Technical Audio Devices Laboratories (aka TAD) at Munich’s High End in May of this year, hoping to see something big and awesome from the venerable Japanese company -- maybe an update of the Reference One Mk.2, their flagship loudspeaker, or some new model of cutting-edge electronics built to impossibly precise standards. Instead, I saw the littlest speaker the company makes.
Ever since 1982, when Scott Bagby and Jerry VanderMarel founded Paradigm, the company’s name has been synonymous with such words as quality, value, and, most notably, performance. This reputation, in combination with Paradigm’s being one of the first to adopt and build on the loudspeaker-performance guidelines established by work at Canada’s National Resource Council (NRC), helped fuel the company’s growth into one of the world’s most prominent makers of loudspeakers. As of the day I submit this review, Paradigm offers four different collections (as Paradigm calls them) of speakers comprising 12 individual series that themselves encompass 22 different models, from passive speakers to active subwoofers and wireless speakers. Their latest collection, Persona, eclipses the venerable Signature as the brand’s highest-priced family, but Persona models aren’t merely evolutionary derivatives of Signature counterparts. The Persona collection took more than five years to develop, and Paradigm claims that it reflects everything they’ve learned about designing and building speakers over the past 35 years. They say that the Personas constitute a revolutionary leap forward for the brand in both sound and technology.
My colleagues at SoundStage! have accused me of being a by-the-pound guy. There’s some truth to that. By any reasonable standard, my speakers have always been heavy, and so have the amplifiers that have driven them. For the most part, heavy gear is just a fact of life in ultra-high-end audio. The upper-end speaker models from Magico, Rockport, Wilson, et al., have always been heavyweights. Same goes for amps -- the Boulders, Gryphons, Soulutions, etc. With these companies, I always knew that the fact that they made their products with heavier materials and parts was a good thing: lots of bracing inside speaker cabinets, and big power supplies inside amps, were what we were told made great sound possible. It meant you were getting your money’s worth.
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