This is intended as a companion piece to the review of Estelon’s X Diamond Mk II loudspeakers.
Estelon is unusual. The Estonia-based company is unusual for a variety of reasons, actually. Consider the company’s loudspeaker creations, which echo its silhouetted logo, to see what I mean. They’re elegant, feminine, fashion-forward. These are not words that you would ascribe to the far majority of loudspeakers on sale today. The depressing truth is that so many brands in the high end couldn’t market their way out of a khaki factory. One need only attend a regional audio show to see this in action—or maybe inaction? Cultivating a brand, a lifestyle—this requires a variety of skillsets and a dedication to execution, and that’s before you get to the product itself. Too many companies are myopic, with the Field of Dreams-esque “If you build it, he will come” attitude that the sound or performance envelope alone of a product should see consumers clamoring to lay down their hard-earned cash. That’s not how business works. And that’s not how this business works.
To many audiophiles, this one included, luxury loudspeaker maker Estelon has largely been a mystery. What I knew about Estelon before this review—and I follow the upper end of the hi-fi market closely—was entirely superficial: They’re based in Tallinn, Estonia, in northern Europe; before COVID-19, they displayed their wares at Munich’s annual High End show; the shapely forms of their speakers are often described as elegant; and those speakers are not inexpensive.
EmArcy Records/Verve Records MG 36037/B0032412-01
Musical Performance: ****½
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****½
Jazz trumpeter Clifford Brown was only 25 when he died in a car accident in 1956, but during the four years he recorded as a leader and sideman he developed a strong following among fans and fellow musicians. His sure tone and melodic inventiveness led critics to compare him with Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, but his greatest influence was Fats Navarro, who, like Brown, died young. Highlights of Brown’s short recording career include working with jazz drummer Art Blakey and sessions with West Coast jazz players—both as leader and as coleader with saxophonist Lou Donaldson—but he hit his stride in the quintet he cofounded in 1954 with drummer Max Roach.
During the long, grinding lockdown here in Canada, so many have had and still have it way worse than our family. All four of us (including the dog) are healthy, and Marcia and I remain gainfully employed. I thank our lucky stars that we’ve been, so far, unaffected by anything other than boredom and monotony. All I have to gripe about are the first-world problems of the affluent.
A little less than two years ago, I reviewed Audio Research’s Reference 6 preamplifier ($15,000, discontinued; all prices USD). Little more than a day of listening later, I’d decided I wouldn’t be sending my review sample back, and ever since, the Ref 6 has been my reference preamp. Asked to review the Ref 6’s successor, the Reference 6SE ($17,000), my answer was a no-brainer: Yes.
In my last two columns I wrote about four stereo systems I’d like to assemble and hear. The first, “Six Stereo Systems I’d Like to Hear, Part One: The First Two,” detailed systems priced at $5700 and $30,000 (all prices USD). The second, “Six Stereo Systems I’d Like to Hear, Part Two: The Middle Pair,” increased the investments to $37,222 and $106,200. And for this third and final article of the series, I’ve thrown financial caution to the winds.
But wait, there’s a twist . . .
This is intended as a companion piece to the review of Zesto Audio’s Andros Deluxe II phono stage.
When I asked George and Carolyn Counnas how they met, Carolyn laughed. “We were both just working for a band!” she said. That was 1973. By the following year, the two were married. George grew up in southwest London, England, and he loved rock and roll and jazz, frequently catching gigs at bars. He was also technically inclined, having built a unipivot tonearm in secondary school and designed vacuum tube amplifiers on his own time while studying electrical engineering at university. Carolyn, by contrast, exhibited a more aesthetic sensibility. Her studio art background suggests that she’s far more concerned about beauty and form than function.
It’s not imperative for me that an audio component be visually flashy or fancy. I still love the clean, classic simplicity of, say, the basic burnished metal faceplate of a vintage Conrad-Johnson or Audio Research model—no knobs or buttons other than a power switch. That said, there’s something about watching the myriad meters of my reference system of McIntosh Laboratory amplification components dancing in a blue glow—my experience of the sound is enhanced by the system’s visual appeal.
Blue Note Records B0032112-01 / BST 84426
Musical Performance: ****½
Sound Quality: *****
Overall Enjoyment: ****½
Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff supervised countless recordings for Blue Note Records over the years, but some they decided not to release. Often, they were trying to avoid crowding the market, but sometimes Lion’s rigorous quality control standards caused him to shelve a session. Many of the performances on those shelved tapes are as good as anything Blue Note ever released, before the label was suspended in the late 1970s. When such recordings are eventually made available they give jazz lovers a fuller picture of a musician’s association with the label.
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