What this world needs is a great loudspeaker costing under $15,000 USD per pair.
Many audiophiles don’t consider a speaker costing 15 grand per pair expensive. My non-audiophile friends consider this amazingly misguided. It wouldn’t take an exhaustive Internet search to find a reviewer somewhere saying something like this: “You can expect only so much for $15,000.”
ECM 1001 (LP)
ECM 0110 (24-bit/96kHz WAV)
Musical Performance: ***½
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****
Jazz pianist Mal Waldron moved from New York to Munich in 1967, and thereafter, until his death, in 2002, did most of his recording in Europe. He’d performed and recorded as a leader and sideman since the early 1950s, and had found that American -- especially African-American -- jazz musicians were treated and paid better across the Atlantic.
It’s Christmas 2018, and I’m at my in-laws’ for the holidays. Doug Schneider pings me via text and asks if I’m interested in reviewing Audience’s Au24 SX interconnects and speaker cables. They’re in his car, see, and he’ll be driving right past Campbellford, Ontario, the rural town in which Marcia’s ’rents live. How ’bout he just drops ’em off?
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.
For the past few years, McIntosh Laboratory has been refreshing and expanding its product line at an unprecedented pace. The subject of this review, the MC1.25KW mono amplifier ($12,500 USD each), made its debut in late 2017, and I haven’t been able to take my eyes off it since. Imagine my elation when Mark Christensen, McIntosh’s marketing coordinator, offered to send me for review a pair of MC1.25KWs and their flagship preamplifier, the C1100 (review in the works). In discussions with Christensen, I learned that the MC1.25KW is both a replacement for and an evolution of McIntosh’s beloved MC1.2KW amplifier, and offers more dynamic headroom, upgraded parts and connection points, and refreshed industrial design and lighting.
Way back when, before the age of computer audio, about the time of the ascendancy of the Compact Disc, my expanding collection of records became unmanageable. Milk crates no longer cut it. I ended up buying a five-by-five Expedit shelving unit from IKEA and proceeded to at last sort my records.
Musical Performance: *****
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****
Charles Mingus recorded three albums for Impulse! Records, and one of them, The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady (1963), is among his masterpieces. It stands with two other Mingus albums, Pithecanthropus Erectus (Atlantic, 1956) and Mingus Ah Um (Columbia, 1959), as essential jazz recordings that belong in any collection of American music. Mingus went so far as to write, in the liner notes for Black Saint, “I feel no need to explain any further the music herewith other than to say throw all other records of mine away except maybe one other.” He doesn’t name the other record.
I’ve reviewed many loudspeakers over the years, and while many were quite good, only a few stand out in my memory. There seems to be a limit to how much pleasure I get from looking at rectilinear boxes made of MDF over the 12 weeks of the average listening period for a review. Some manufacturers, in an effort to stand out from the crowd, might throw in a curve here, a flourish there, maybe a super-high-gloss finish to add flair to yet another box whose primary -- and, for most listeners, sole -- purpose is to move air.
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.
High-end audio gear can get expensive, but the meaning of expensive depends on the context. For the sake of SoundStage! Ultra, I put most equipment in one of two mental categories: house money and car money.
In the US, the median price of a home is $236,100 (all prices USD); the average transaction price of a light vehicle is $37,577. I used to review house-money gear, and these days many manufacturers make loudspeakers priced in that category. But most folks can’t afford a second home; it’s fair to say that you must be pretty wealthy to afford that much for a pair of speakers.
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