I was single at the time. I had two cats, both male, and the Siamese had started to lose its mind. Goddamn thing started pissing in my basement listening room and ended up soaking the carpet. Fortunately, it was old and already in poor condition. Have you ever smelled male cat piss? It’s a horrific ammonia stench that catches in your throat and makes your eyes water.
My first audio review, which detailed my experience with the Wisdom Audio Adrenaline Dipole 75 loudspeaker system, was published in October of 1998 on SoundStage.com—at the time, the equivalent of SoundStage! Hi-Fi. I’ve written hundreds of product reviews since then, along with a bazillion opinion articles, show reports, and features of all sorts. SoundStage!—the network that now includes ten sites, a YouTube channel, busy social media platforms, and measurement and photography labs—has been my professional home for about 25 years. Since this is the last article I’ll be writing for SoundStage!, I thought it fitting to share some of my favorite memories from my career as a SoundStager.
Sears and Realistic
I got hooked on audio gear at an early age. The first stereo system I owned—I was about 12 years old at the time—was an AM/FM receiver with a built-in cassette deck and record player, purchased from Sears, Roebuck and Co. The set came with a pair of lightweight bookshelf speakers that were wafer thin with nonremovable brown grilles. I hooked up the system on Christmas morning and was absolutely thrilled with what I’d received.
I can recall every stereo system I’ve owned over almost four decades of being in the hobby. The first few decades were spent on the seemingly endless ascent to what I thought was audio nirvana. As many have come to learn, it’s not necessary, or in some cases even wise, to attempt the climb. I’ve made some of the mistakes that audiophiles often make. I’ve fitted the wrong speakers to the wrong rooms. I’ve underpowered my system. I’ve shortchanged the source component. I’ve also paired products that I’ve liked on their own that had little sonic synergy when used together. That’s just to name a few.
On January 15 we took a deep dive into the initial construction phases of the Vitus Audio SIA-030 integrated amplifier ($46,200, all prices USD). In that article we looked at the transformer, the internal plate that the power-supply components are mounted on, the heatsinks and output stage, the input module, the rear plate (complete with input and output connectors), and the internal section of the faceplate. These individual modules are all tested on completion and their addition to the product follows a precise order to ensure that the final stages of manufacture can be accomplished efficiently.
In July 2022, I traveled with my family to Vicenza, Italy—home of Sonus Faber, the famous Italian loudspeaker maker. We were treated to a magnificent company tour, a delectable lunch and dinner, and great conversation with Livio Cucuzza—chief design officer for the McIntosh Group—and his staff. I recounted the highlights of that day in two articles published on SoundStage! Ultra: “Europe Tour 2022: Arriving in Vicenza and Visiting Sonus Faber” and “Europe Tour 2022: Sonus Faber Speaker Production and Design Lab.”
As I mentioned in my January 1 writeup here on SoundStage! Ultra, for several years I’ve been enamored with the idea of the super integrated amplifier. In that article, I listed the myriad models I’ve reviewed and mentioned that I’d soon be auditioning yet another super integrated amplifier in my Ultra Reference System. That product is the Vitus Audio SIA-030 integrated amplifier, which retails for $46,200 USD in its standard configuration (an optional DAC-streamer and/or phono stage can be added at additional cost).
I’m a late adopter of social media, having only recently conceded that it’s a must for brand building and networking. I joined LinkedIn back in August, and started posting to “the ’gram” (jeff_hifi) in November. For me, LinkedIn was the real eye-opener. One of my most striking discoveries was just how small the business side of high-end audio is. The number of people directly involved in the making, marketing, selling, and reviewing of audiophile gear is nowhere near the countless crowds involved in many other high-tech industries. Being involved in high-end audio is somewhat like living in a small town: you get to know just about everyone, at least on some level.
The products I’ll be describing below—with one exception—do not yet exist. And honestly, there’s every chance that some of them never will. With others, I think you’ll find sound reasoning that a new design just might exist, if not on a drawing board somewhere, then at least as a gleam in a CEO or engineer’s mind. Either way, these fantasy products are the high-end audio offerings I’d love to see announced in 2023. I’m not only convinced good commercial reasons exist for each of them to come into existence, I’m also being a little selfish. These are all products I want to hear and write about. If I could will them into reality, I surely would.
If you’re a regular reader of SoundStage! Ultra, you’ll recall that back in October of 2021, I set up my personal pair of Sonus Faber Maxima Amators in my reference listening space. They sounded phenomenal, and I enjoyed several months of listening to them in that environment. The SFs were eventually supplanted by the Vivid Audio Giya G1 Spirits, which would take pride of place in my reference audio system—an experience you can read about by clicking my name under the Reference Systems tab on the front page of Ultra.
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