The products I’ll be describing below—with one exception—do not yet exist. And honestly, there’s every chance that some of them never will. With others, I think you’ll find sound reasoning that a new design just might exist, if not on a drawing board somewhere, then at least as a gleam in a CEO or engineer’s mind. Either way, these fantasy products are the high-end audio offerings I’d love to see announced in 2023. I’m not only convinced good commercial reasons exist for each of them to come into existence, I’m also being a little selfish. These are all products I want to hear and write about. If I could will them into reality, I surely would.
If you’re a regular reader of SoundStage! Ultra, you’ll recall that back in October of 2021, I set up my personal pair of Sonus Faber Maxima Amators in my reference listening space. They sounded phenomenal, and I enjoyed several months of listening to them in that environment. The SFs were eventually supplanted by the Vivid Audio Giya G1 Spirits, which would take pride of place in my reference audio system—an experience you can read about by clicking my name under the Reference Systems tab on the front page of Ultra.
The Best of British
Quite simply, SME is one of the crown jewels of the British audio industry, and is as quintessentially English as the BBC, Windsor Castle, or strawberries and cream at Wimbledon. Nestled in the foothills of the beautiful South Downs in West Sussex, you’ll find the magnificent art deco headquarters of one of the world’s finest engineering companies. Note the lack of qualification there: not audio engineering companies, but engineering companies—period. For SME doesn’t just build some of the world’s most desirable turntables and tonearms; it also undertakes leading-edge engineering projects for Formula 1 racing teams and aerospace firms. It’s no exaggeration to say that SME’s astonishing capability in precision metalwork is world-renowned and globally respected. This is a company that builds analog replay equipment to the sort of tolerances that NASA specifies for its spacecraft. So when Stuart McNeilis, SME’s charismatic CEO, offered me the opportunity to review the company’s new flagship Model 60 turntable, he didn’t need to ask twice.
I have to imagine that, as an elder Millennial, I’m on the young end of the audiophile spectrum. So my system is more a “work in progress” than an “endgame.” It wasn’t until late 2021, when I moved with my pregnant wife and our dog to the Philadelphia suburbs, that I even had a dedicated listening room to call my own. Such is life. And anyway, hi-fi should complement our lives, not the other way around. While my system gives up a fair bit on the aesthetic front compared to what I could own, it works exactly the way I want it to and scores highly in the transparency and neutrality columns. These aspects are what matter most to me, and frankly, I’m pretty pleased with my setup—even if it’s not as “Ultra” as those of some of my SoundStage! colleagues. Click the links below to read about each component in my system to find out why I selected it.
Blue Note Records BST-84132/B0033488-01
Musical Performance: ****½
Sound Quality: ****½
Overall Enjoyment: ***½
I became a fan of jazz guitarist Grant Green in the early 1990s, but copies of his recordings on vinyl were hard to find at that time. I tracked down nearly all his Blue Note sessions on CD, including his outings as a sideman, but for a long time I only had a handful on LP. Over the last several years, Blue Note has done a fine job of bringing Green’s recordings back into circulation on vinyl through its 75th Anniversary, Tone Poet, and Classic Vinyl series.
In “Jeff Visits Audio Advice, Part One,” you were introduced to the Raleigh-based, high-end-audio superstore: their floor and physical space, some of their product groups—accessories and portable audio, home theaters, high-end lifestyle all-in-ones—and a few of their vast loudspeaker offerings. In many establishments, that impressive lineup would be all. Audio Advice is that and more.
What’s more fun than shopping for high-end audio equipment? If you’re someone who enjoys SoundStage! Ultra, walking through a high-end audio store can be a revelatory—and exhilarating!—experience. Although you’re unlikely to find dealers of speakers, amps, cables, and sources on just any corner these days, there are still many good purveyors of fine audio gear out there. But what about great audio dealers? I visited just such an establishment recently—Audio Advice in Raleigh, North Carolina—and man, was it impressive.
“You need to harden up,” SoundStage! editor-in-chief Jeff Fritz told me a few years back. At the time I was complaining about the rigors of reviewing. My complaint at the time possibly centered on having to move a heavy amp. Or maybe it was because I had to actually visit the post office to mail a component. I forget the exact scenario.
Impulse! Records B0036068-01
Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: ***½
Overall Enjoyment: ****
The saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings has played with a number of bands and musicians, including the Sun Ra Arkestra, Polar Bear, and The Heliocentrics. Those bands are genre-bending—Sun Ra, after all, stretched the definition of jazz—so it’s not surprising that Hutchings is currently part of a musical trio that has hints of jazz but defies categorization. The Comet Is Coming was formed in London, England, in 2015, and the members of the band appear under pseudonyms. Hutchings is King Shabaka, keyboardist Dan Leavers is Danalogue, and drummer Max Hallett is Betamax.
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