When you’re sitting in front of the Audio Research Reference 160S stereo amplifier ($22,000 USD), it’s hard not to see the appeal. Its GhostMeters are a brilliant design touch that modernizes the look of a metered power amplifier. So named because their needles appear at the front of an otherwise transparent pane of acrylic graduated in watts, the GhostMeters let the user simultaneously watch the needles dance along with the amp’s power output while peering past the meters to the glow of eight KT150 output tubes. Listening to music over a high-end stereo system can delight more than one sense -- if this sort of visual delight supports your pleasure in listening, then a plain ol’ slab of thick aluminum just won’t do.
Impulse! Records B0032077-01
Musical Performance: *****
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****½
In 2019, Verve Records and Impulse! Records, both now owned by Universal Music Enterprises, reissued titles from their catalogs on LP in a series they called Vital Vinyl. Sales were undoubtedly good, because Universal has now partnered with Acoustic Sounds to release selections from its extensive vault of jazz recordings on vinyl. The Acoustic Sounds releases will include LPs that originally appeared on the Impulse!, Decca, EmArcy, and Philips labels. Recordings from its Blue Note holdings will continue to be reissued in its Blue Note 80 and Tone Poet series, which launched in 2019.
In 1993, Rotel released the first three models in what became their critically acclaimed Michi line of electronics: the RHB-10 power amplifier, the RHC-10 passive controller, and the RHQ-10 equalizer. Rotel claimed that the Michis represented the very best they then had to offer in terms of design, technology, and sound quality. Over the next few years Rotel released five more Michi models, including a smaller power amplifier (RHB-5), an active preamplifier (RHA-10), an FM tuner (RHT-10), and a mammoth CD player (RHCD-10). The Michis were easily identified by their deep-gray cases of heavy-gauge steel, complemented by meticulously finished side panels of Japanese redwood -- but it was the many progressive technologies implemented in each that made them special.
The last several months I’ve spilled a lot of virtual ink on luxury purchases, high-end sound quality, and where they overlap. It began in August 2020, with “The Purchasing of Luxury Audio and the Pursuit of Hi-Fi Are Two Different Hobbies,” in which I examined why people make luxury purchases in general, how this global appetite for luxury goods includes high-end audio, and why an audiophile who seeks only the high-fidelity reproduction of recorded music might be completely removed from such an experience.
My very first hi-fi purchase was a pair of Dynaudio Contour 1.8 Mk.II floorstanding speakers, in 2002. My local dealer had set up a head-to-head with Bowers & Wilkins’s vaunted Nautilus 804, a beautiful loudspeaker that I fully expected to take home a pair of. But something about the boxy Dynaudio spoke to me.
Some 15 years ago, after improving the sound of my two-channel audio system by upgrading all of its cables, I looked into doing the same for my home-theater rig. An obvious place to begin was with the Monster Cable coaxial S/PDIF interconnect that was between my DVD player and A/V receiver. Remember, this was around the time HDMI cables first appeared.
You’d think the Great Pandemic of 2020 would create the perfect conditions for getting some writing done. Well, if you lived in the Thorpe household, you’d be wrong. Back in July, we decided to invite risk, expense, and chaos into our lives and start some major home renovations. We bashed down some walls to make our first floor into one large open-concept space, re-doing the kitchen at the same time. The second-floor bathroom became a full-on gut job, and the basement powder room (a small room with a toilet and sink, in case that euphemism isn’t shared by the rest of the world) also got some love.
Merge Records MRG 730LP
Musical Performance: ***½
Sound Quality: ***½
Overall Enjoyment: ***½
Bob Mould is mad as hell and wants you to know it. In an online interview he describes his new album, Blue Hearts, as “the catchiest batch of protest songs I’ve ever written in one sitting.” Even when he’s contented, as he was on Sunshine Rock (2019), Mould plays exhilaratingly loud and fast rock’n’roll. Add anger to the equation and you get, well, punk rock. On “American Crisis,” the first single from the album, Mould and his band sound more like the Sex Pistols or the Clash than anyone else.
When I heard I’d be reviewing Mola Mola’s Tambaqui DAC, the first thing that came to mind was not its bespoke field-programmable gate array (FPGA) architecture, nor that it was designed in part by class-D amplifier luminary Bruno Putzeys. No, what came to mind was an easily Googleable Facebook post about the Mola Mola, aka the ocean sunfish, that went viral in 2017. The relevant passage of that foul-mouthed screed:
I was recently in the market for a new SUV. The odometer of our family’s 2012 Toyota Highlander had recently rolled over to 200,000, and I was feeling less confident that the car would hold up through a couple of long road trips we’d planned. I began my search as most people do these days: I went online and read reviews. I’d been super happy with the Highlander, so of course my first thought was to buy another one. I scrolled through comparison tests from YouTubers as well as the usual magazines -- Car and Driver and Motor Trend among them -- to see what others thought of the current-model Highlander and its competitors. Having not shopped for a new vehicle since buying the Toyota new in 2012, I had no idea just how much the market in midsize SUVs -- and the pecking order among them -- has changed.
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