Last month, SoundStage! Publisher Doug Schneider wrote an editorial for SoundStage! Hi-Fi titled “Future Sounds -- Sonus Faber’s Sf16 and New Directions in Hi-Fi.” In it, he made some very good points regarding the future of the high-end audio industry, and what it will take for it to thrive into the next generation. In some ways, Doug said, these are bleak times: “Visit as many manufacturers as I do and you’ll hear tale after tale of how sales of traditional hi-fi products -- preamplifiers, amplifiers, standalone speakers (particularly big, boxy ones), etc. -- are way down. These have been -- or were -- the staples of the hi-fi scene for longer than I’ve been part of it; but now, fewer people want them, and no one I’ve talked to seems to think this trend will end. It’s not just a few manufacturers saying this -- it’s almost all of them.”
“Have fun dancing with the Devil.”
It’s the sort of line a B-movie bad guy would growl. It’s not the sort of sign-off you expect to see at the end of an e-mail from the founder and CEO of a high-end audio manufacturer. Yet Flemming E. Rasmussen, of Gryphon Audio Designs, in Denmark, had written just that in confirmation of my receipt of his company’s Diablo 300 integrated amplifier. If it were any other manufacturer, I’d have rolled my eyes and moved on. But Gryphon’s creations are bold and unusual looking, and I’d waited a long time to review one. I chuckled. Nervously.
Sony Legacy/Exile Productions 88875134742
Musical Performance: *****
Sound Quality: ****1/2
Picture Quality: **1/2
Overall Enjoyment: ****1/2
When I saw that Van Morrison had released a set of the recordings from the shows used to form his legendary two-LP live set from 1974, I didn’t jump right away to buy it. The original set is so good I was afraid the new collection, three CDs and a DVD, would dilute what is justly considered to be one of the best live albums ever released. Luckily, a friend gave me ..It’s Too Late to Stop Now … Volumes II, III, IV & DVD for my recent birthday, and it is a stunning document of Morrison at his best with his finest live band.
Immediately before putting fingers to keypad for this review, I spent a considerable amount of time reviewing Constellation Audio’s Inspiration Preamp 1.0 ($9900 USD). I began that review by touching on the company’s lineage, highlighting a few of the minds responsible for its products, and describing its three product tiers. The Inspiration series comprises Constellation’s least-expensive models, succeeded by the Performance series, and finally their flagship line, the Reference series. But while the Inspiration models are Constellation’s introductory products, they’re by no means budget, stripped-down, bare-bones offerings. In fact, if I had to pick one word to define the Inspirations -- and in particular the subject of this review, the Inspiration Stereo 1.0 amplifier -- it would be value.
I’ve owned three BMWs over the past 15 years. I had a 5-series car (can’t remember which one), a 128i, and, between those two, a 328i with the Performance Package that I bought brand new oh, maybe 12 years ago. I had only about 500 miles on the 328i when, one morning, I pulled out of my driveway, put the car in drive, and . . . nothing. About 30 seconds later, the transmission finally engaged. Nor was this an anomaly -- later that day, the same thing happened. I got on the phone with the BMW dealership I’d bought the car from. Sure enough, they knew about the problem -- it had reared its head all over the country. Turns out the transmission in this model was actually built by . . . wait for it . . . General Motors.
Kharma International, of the Netherlands, was launched in 1993. However, the audio career of company founder Charles van Oosterum actually began in 1982, with Oosterum Loudspeaker Systems (O.L.S.). It is an understatement to say that van Oosterum has deep experience in high-end audio -- he has many speaker designs to his credit, many of which I’ve heard at Munich’s High End over the last 15 years.
XL Recordings XLCD790
Musical Performance: ****1/2
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****1/2
It’s been five years since the last Radiohead album, The King of Limbs, during which time singer Thom Yorke has released a solo album, Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes (2014), and guitarist Jonny Greenwood has composed the scores for three films. It’s hard to think of a band that’s gone in more unexpected directions during its career, whether musically or in the ways it’s made that music available. Radiohead released their newest, A Moon Shaped Pool, as a digital download on May 8, and on physical media on June 17, following a pattern established with In Rainbows (2007) and The King of Limbs (2011).
The Ayre Acoustics AX-5 integrated amplifier, which I reviewed two years ago, was an ear-opening experience. At the time, I stated that “the AX-5 is not only, overall, the finest-sounding amp I’ve ever heard, it ranks as one of the finest components I’ve heard of any type.” The AX-5 featured a technology previously unused by Ayre, called the Diamond output stage, which has since been extended to Ayre’s top models, the R series.
Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you. -- Lao Tzu
There was a period of about ten years when I just couldn’t sit still -- in audio terms. About every two years, I’d upgrade -- or, in many cases, just change for change’s sake -- my entire stereo system. This wasn’t about steadily improving my system’s sound quality. The components I was switching out were already part of any discussion of the state of the audio art. I wanted new. I wanted exciting. I wanted the buzz-creating latest thing.
A rush of lavender to the head
Recently, I was lying on my back in savasana (corpse pose), at the end of the 75-minute sweat fest also known as my Sunday hot-yoga class. As the teacher first placed a cool stone on my forehead, and then, on my face, an ice-cold, lavender-scented towel, I found myself drifting into a state of blissful relaxation. This was healing balm after a hectic work week, and as the relaxing sounds of sitar and tabla wafted into the room, I melted into dreamland.
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