Selecting an audiophile equipment rack can be unnerving. Rack makers rarely agree on anything, and almost all assert that their chosen design is the best. Look, for example, at the bewildering number of construction materials used: aluminum, acrylic, carbon fiber, ceramics, glass, granite, steel, and untold numbers of woods, common and exotic, solid and composite -- to name just a few.
I’m probably not going to be the most popular guy walking the halls at this year’s High End show in Munich, Germany, because I’m about to reveal something that a growing number of reviewers don’t want you to know.
I reviewed the Focus Audio Liszt Sonata integrated amplifier in April 2013 on SoundStage! Hi-Fi. To say that I was enamored of it would be an understatement. And just in case anyone hadn’t got the message, I followed up that review with an article that stated just how well suited the Liszt Sonata was to my specific musical tastes.
Prestige/Analogue Productions APRJ 7120
Musical Performance: ****1/2
Sound Quality: ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment: ****1/2
When Gil Evans & Ten, Evans’s first album as a leader, was released in early 1958, he’d already been working as an arranger for nearly 20 years, beginning with his stint with bandleader Claude Thornhill, from 1941 to 1948. Evans had been one of the arrangers for Miles Davis’s Birth of the Cool project, beginning in 1948, and Gil Evans & Ten followed, by just a few months, Davis’s Miles Ahead (1957), for which Evans had written and conducted the orchestral arrangements. He went on to work with Davis on two more key recordings, Porgy and Bess (1959), Sketches of Spain (1960), as well as At Carnegie Hall (1962) and Quiet Nights (1964).
These days, everyone does the Product of the Year thing, and in that regard, we at SoundStage! are no different. What makes us different is our breadth of coverage. Not only do we review traditional home stereo gear, we also have writers who address home theater, Bluetooth speakers, desktop audio, and portable devices, including the increasingly important headphone and earphone markets. I’m proud of the fact that we at SoundStage! cover so many different product genres, and our awards reflect that breadth. Below are my views on this year’s most spectacular products, with links to our reviews of them.
I’ve never been into tweaks. The thought of spending hour after hour replacing the supports of components or speakers with this footer and that, then straining to hear a difference, sounds worse to me than sitting in a bare room watching paint dry. I just can’t bring myself to do it. Heck, it’s been years since I reviewed even a cable. I prefer the meat and potatoes of audio reviewing: amps, speakers, and a source component here and there. The only tweaking I do -- and I don’t really consider it tweaking in the tweakiest audiophile sense -- is to fine-tune the positions of speakers, and micro-optimize the acoustic properties of my listening space, the Music Vault. I’ve found that both can lead to clear improvements in sound.
Musical Performance: ****1/2
Sound Quality: ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment: ****1/2
In November 2015, the Rolling Stones were at Mark Knopfler’s British Grove Studios, in London, to record an album of new material. Things were not off to a good start. Keith Richards told Rolling Stone that he thought, “The room is fighting me. It’s fighting the band. The sound is not coming.” Richards suggested that they play “Blue and Lonesome,” a song by blues harpist Little Walter from 1959. Everything clicked and, as Richards described it, “a sound is happening and it was good.”
In February 2014, when I reviewed the David Berning Company’s ZH-230 power amplifier for SoundStage! Ultra, I instantly fell in love with it. Its sound consigned to the scrap heap -- or at least to the closet -- every other amplifier I’d tried in my system. This tubed design eschewed the output transformers used in virtually every other tube amplifier in the world, and which are responsible for lots of sonic problems. Everyone who heard it agreed that the sound was just splendid, and its 30Wpc easily drove my sensitive horn speakers.
The annual Consumer Electronics Show is right around the corner, in January, and Munich’s High End won’t be long in following. As always at those events, we’ll see new products, and see and hear announcements of products soon to be launched. I’m most interested in components that are unique and/or extreme in some way -- products that fit the Ultra in SoundStage! Ultra. What follows is my wish list, with a caveat: I have zero insider info about whether or not any of this high-end gear is actually in anyone’s pipeline.
In 2003, I asked a representative from Synergistic Research why, unlike many other cable manufacturers, the company didn’t make a power conditioner. The rep stated that, despite Synergistic’s many models of interconnect, speaker cable, and power cord, head designer Ted Denney had yet to discover a power-conditioning technology he thought worth developing. According to the rep, only when Denney had found something that he thought would move the field forward would he put the Synergistic name on it.
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