I wondered -- if I were putting together a system of used components today, what would I buy? So this morning, housebound by COVID-19, I passed some time by going to Audiogon.com and assembling a virtual audio system. Because, well . . . why not?
I cut my audiophile teeth on Krell amplifiers. I loved them and owned many of them, from KSAs to MDAs to FPBs -- even the flagship Krell Audio Standards. Back in the day, Krell amps provided what I wanted from an audio power amp: the control, the sweetness, the bass. To say I held founder-designer Dan D’Agostino’s work in high regard would be an understatement.
“If you love what you do, you won’t work a day in your life.” My father used to say that, but like so many things in life, it’s easier said than accomplished. I began writing for the SoundStage! Network in 2011, while finishing grad school. I was young, bright-eyed, and naïve. When I took over as Senior Editor of GoodSound! (since rebadged SoundStage! Access), I had a hunger to learn and write as much as possible about the high-end audio industry. Given my consumer-oriented obsession with value for money, Access, the SoundStage! Network’s budget-oriented website, was the perfect fit.
As the editor in chief of the SoundStage! family of websites, I’m sometimes pitched ideas by reviewers. Often these ideas are quite good. For example, our resident jazz expert, James Hale, inquired about writing “Best of the Decade in Jazz” for the December 2019 edition of SoundStage! Xperience, in place of his monthly review. I gave him the go-ahead, and the resulting article turned out to be one of my favorites for the year, and one I’ll consult when I’m in the mood to hear a jazz release I might have missed.
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.
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.
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.
In “Power Supplies: Commentary for Consumers,” an essay by famed engineer Nelson Pass posted on the website of the company he founded, Pass Laboratories, he states:
As a consumer, you want the best sound you can get. You can accomplish that through critical listening. As a secondary goal, we all like to get what seems to be good hardware value, and we want to know that the manufacturer has actually put some real money into the product which costs a small fortune. If you can read the specs or look under the hood, the power supply, being one of the most expensive parts of the amp, usually is a good indicator. It should be the biggest and heaviest part of the amplifier.
In May 2005, SoundStage! Hi-Fi (then simply SoundStage!) published my review of the darTZeel Audio NHB-108 Model One stereo amplifier. I had lots of good things to say about this super-cool Swiss product, and in the years since, it seems that many audiophiles have enjoyed having one at the heart of their high-end systems. To say it has had a successful run would be an understatement.
I’ve been a reviewer of high-end audio gear for 22 years now, but precisely two years ago my expenditures on gear took a sharp decline. That was when I announced that “Jeff’s Getting a New Stereo System,” for reasons explained in that article. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still hanker for products I’ve heard or seen, whether at shows or in press releases from manufacturers, and it doesn’t mean I don’t still get super-enthusiastic about cool gear.
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