The longer I review high-end audio gear -- I’ve been doing it going on 15 years now -- the less inclined I am to buy it. You’d think it would be the opposite. After all, I’m exposed to an endless supply of the best products available. Do I cherry-pick review samples for myself? Of course. Being the editor-in-chief of the SoundStage! Network has its privileges, and I regularly exercise them when it comes to selecting products for my own use. It helps to have at my disposal the Music Vault listening room, a sonically neutral lab in which to audition the best components extant. So, yes, I get the best stuff, and it’s a blast to do this “job.” (I should also mention that I see my fair share of mediocre products, and the occasional real dog that doesn’t deserve the time it would take to pan it. But that’s another story for another time.)
But the reality is that, these days, there’s not much I’d actually buy. Good products come and go, most of them very expensive, and most of them very, very good. But is “very, very good” good enough to spend my kids’ college fund on? It’s good enough to enjoy and admire, surely. But rarely is “very, very good” sufficient reason for me to want to lay down my hard-earned money in a fit of high-end consumerism.
Still, there are a few components I would buy today, including one I already own but haven’t written about till now.
I think the Ayre Acoustics KX-R ($18,500 USD) might be the finest preamplifier made today, at any price. It’s so much better than anything else I’ve had in for review, or that I’ve owned in the past, that I bought one. Although I credit all the circuit wizardry that Charles Hansen and company have stuffed into the KX-R’s lovely chassis and case, milled from a solid block of aluminum, I think what makes it inherently better than the rest is Ayre’s Variable Gain Transimpedance volume control. It’s simply the quietest volume control I’ve ever not heard -- and the KX-R is the most transparent preamp that’s ever seen duty in my system. A true super-high-end bargain.
The Magico Q7 loudspeakers ($165,000/pair) just left my listening room, and what a huge gulf they’ve left in their absence. I think the Q7 is the first unlimited-performance loudspeaker ever made because, for the first time ever in 15 years of evaluating speakers, I was unable to find their performance ceiling in my room. It didn’t matter what I threw at them -- the Q7s sonically scaled perfectly, producing the most resolving, most transparent sound I’ve yet heard in the Music Vault -- or anywhere else. The Q7 is the living definition of superspeaker, and the must-have loudspeaker when cost is no object.
According to designer Andy Payor, two of his Rockport Technologies Avior loudspeakers ($29,500/pair) are bound for my listening room. The problem is that he’s still trying to catch up on backorders -- the runaway popularity of this speaker took even him by surprise. The price is right. Yes, $29,500/pair is still a lot of money, but this ambitious product will put to shame the flagship models of all but a handful of companies out there. After hearing the Aviors at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show, I have a hunch they’ll be superb sonic mates for the Music Vault. I also think they’ll prove to have the highest ratio of performance to price of any Rockport speaker ever made.
A Boulder Amplifiers 2000- or 3000-series power amplifier. I once owned a Boulder 2060 stereo amp ($44,000). Then I sold it -- something I’ve ever since regretted. Although I then moved on to some great amplifiers, I still yearn for the precision, control, neutrality, and quietness that were hallmarks of the big Boulder’s sound. So I’d love to have a do-over on this one. If we see a new and improved 2000-series amp anytime soon, I can only imagine how good it might be. The 3000s? Crazy price, but I bet crazy good, too.
Bits ’n’ pieces
There are rumors that a new multi-input DAC from Ayre Acoustics will debut in 2013. My gut tells me it will be a special product offering world-class sound that even those who aren’t Arabian sheiks will be able to afford. Speaking of DACs, how about that new Vivaldi DAC from dCS? That might be quite an upgrade from the Debussy I now own. If there’s more to hear in the digital realm, I can’t imagine that these two DACs wouldn’t let me hear it. There’s also considerable buzz about the newest generation of EMM Labs DACs -- has designer Ed Meitner moved to the fore again with his DAC2X? Lurking overseas, unlikely to ever find its way from Denmark to North America, is the Gryphon Audio Designs Mephisto. I’ve loved living with Gryphon’s Antileon Signature and Colosseum stereo amplifiers in past years, and according to Gryphon designer Flemming Rasmussen, the Mephisto is his best power amp yet.
Next month I’ll tell you about some more products I’d buy, but at lower, saner prices. Some of the best products are also the most accessible.
. . . Jeff Fritz