It was December of 2006. I’d flown into New York’s LaGuardia Airport from Wilmington, North Carolina, and got stuck there for what seemed like days (but was actually only half a day). I was on my way to visit Andrew Payor, of Rockport Technologies, in Rockport, Maine, who would give me a tour of his facilities. I would then listen to his current line of loudspeakers. I would then have the most pivotal experience of my audiophile life.
An enticing prelude
For me, The World’s Best Audio System 2012 began when I met Howard Gladstone, president and CEO of Plitron Manufacturing, parent company of Torus Power, who was responsible for supplying power-conditioning equipment for the megasystem. We became instant friends, exchanging pleasantries as we traveled for 20 minutes in the courtesy shuttle from ILM airport to the Holiday Inn in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina.
At this point, The World’s Best Audio System 2012 has been well documented. Nevertheless, having just spent three jam-packed days flying from Los Angeles to North Carolina and back for a engaging and engrossing Saturday “happening,” I’m happy to share some of my impressions.
Commitment. On reflection, I remain amazed by the sheer amount of effort expended by everyone involved to make TWBAS 2012 such a success. Following his decision to have another go at assembling an all-hands-on-deck supersystem, Jeff Fritz spent countless hours researching leads, contemplating complementary components, and balancing the already available against the potential of cutting-edge opportunities still in process. And that was just the beginning.
Well, as I write this, it’s not really over -- we’re still about 12 days out from the start of The World’s Best Audio System 2012, which takes place March 30-31. But if you’re reading this on April 1, then the event is over, as it finished up just last night. Whew! You can read all about it and see all the photos on www.SoundStageGlobal.com. I’m hoping that all went smoothly, of course, and that the sound in my Music Vault listening room set new standards for the high-fidelity playback of music recordings. That is/was, after all, the ultimate goal of the entire exercise. But a lot of things would have had to come together to make that happen, and the variables and pitfalls are many.
By now you know which components comprise TWBAS 2012, which means it’s time for me to tell you why I chose them. This is the potentially controversial part -- the part where you learn about my decision-making process, and what differentiates these products from the pack.
But before I tell you why I chose each particular product, I should tell you what criteria I based my choices on. You’ve likely already figured this out, but I did not hear even one of them beforehand -- many were still in the R&D phase when I chose them. I don’t suggest you buy your state-of-the-art stereo system this way, but the unknown is part of what makes TWBAS 2012 so exciting -- like diving from the top of a skyscraper in a wingsuit.
On August 1, 2011, on our Ultra Audio website, the SoundStage! Network published “TWBAS 2012: The Selection Process Begins.” At that point, as I began the methodical process of deciding precisely which components would be mated in The World’s Best Audio System 2012, the virtual slate was clean. But as that process continued, I couldn’t help but reflect on the history of The World’s Best Audio System. It’s been one wild ride.
The whole thing began in 2003, when I first had the idea of setting up and writing about a no-limits-of-any-kind supersystem in my own listening room. It sure did light my fire -- what audio writer wouldn’t want such an assignment? The first TWBAS article, published in February 2004, profiled an audio system comprising products from Halcro, Wilson Audio, EMM Labs, and Shunyata Research. From then on, “TWBAS” was a regular column on Ultra Audio, a place in which I wrote about the best individual audio components I could find. Since then I’ve written some 40 installments, not counting multiple “Opinion” pieces and related features published on other SS!N sites: The TWBAS archives are spread across multiple versions of the SoundStage! Network’s Ultra Audio: the original articles (February 2004 through February 2009), the middle installments (up through June 2010), and the current iteration.
I can hardly contain my excitement. Of all the articles and reviews I write each year for the SoundStage! Network, none gets me more juiced than expounding on our The World’s Best Audio System events and diving into our coverage of the annual Consumer Electronics Show. Here’s your insider’s guide to what’s coming and where to find it, and a few tidbits of information that might pique your interest.
On Sunday, January 8, at about 4:30 p.m., the SoundStage! Network will broadcast streaming video and photos from the Mirage Hotel and Casino, revealing the components that will comprise TWBAS 2012 -- a two-channel audio system that I predict will be sine pari. Bookmark www.SoundStageGlobal.com right now. I’ll be there, along with our SoundStage! Network staff, and will host a number of the companies that will be participating in TWBAS 2012 in March. You’ll hear about the products and learn why they were selected -- mostly live.
I’ve attended 11 of the last 12 Consumer Electronics Shows in Las Vegas, Nevada. I’ve been to Germany’s High End show (formerly in Frankfurt, now in Munich) for ten years running. I’ve done Rocky Mountain, Montreal, and I enjoyed several of the Stereophile shows way back in the day. I know audio shows pretty well.
But I didn’t realize how much politics is involved in the systems heard at shows until I started planning the first The World’s Best Audio System event in 2008. I’ve just finalized the companies and products that will make up TWBAS 2012, which gave me another opportunity to ponder how high-end politics work.
Just like sportswriters, reviewers of high-end audio equipment are given ample opportunity to get it just right or completely wrong. Like sportscasters, we like to proclaim winners and losers, and we try to understand and predict trends in the audio/video industry. As a regular listener to The Herd with Colin Cowherd on ESPN Radio, I’ve often enjoyed the Monday segment called "Colin Was Right, Colin Was Wrong," in which Cowherd revels in his sports predictions of the past weekend that have proved correct, and agonizes over where he went wrong. Such forthrightness in freely admitting errors is refreshing and interesting -- it’s something most "personalities" don’t do. It’s even more interesting to track which of Cowherd’s failed predictions he admits to and which he doesn’t -- and there are a lot of the latter. But even with those omissions, I give him credit for the segment for its entertainment value. I thought it would be interesting to do, for your entertainment, the same thing here.
Oh, the sacrifices we make for this hobby of ours! My curse and blessing is a second-floor listening room I call the Music Vault, where I do the listening for all of the reviews you’ve read in my column, “The World’s Best Audio System.” Equipment doesn’t just magically appear there, though I wish it did.
We all know that, generally, the better the audio component, the heavier it is. The problem of moving heavy gear into the Music Vault is compounded by the stairwell leading up into the room, which includes a small landing with a 90° left-hand turn -- and maneuvering really heavy gear up the stairs and around the bend is an absolute nightmare. Let’s see . . . I’ve hauled Wilson Audio Specialties X-2 Alexandria speakers (600 pounds each) and a WATCH Dog (almost 300 pounds), JL Audio’s Gotham g213 (almost 400 pounds), and Rockport’s Altairs (515 pounds each) and their modular but even more mammoth Arrakis (900 pounds each). And there have been many small-fry products, like the EgglestonWorks Andra (215 pounds) and the PBN Audio Montana Sammy (250 pounds) -- around here, we don’t consider anything “heavy” until it tops 300 pounds. For anything over 500 pounds, we hire outside help.
But, as Harry Callahan once said, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” When I decided on the speaker for TWBAS 2012, it became obvious to me that something had to change. I can’t yet tell you that speaker’s name, but I can say that it’s a one-piece model, it’s extremely heavy, and it’s taller than the Rockport Technologies Altair. To get a pair of them up into the Vault, I had to figure out something new.
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