These days there seems to be a lot of activity in the audio industry -- lots of new product launches -- and in the past week I’ve probably read ten press releases from manufacturers. But just as all audiophile products aren’t created equal, neither are the press releases that attempt to attract customers and reviewers to those products. When a company circulates a press release, and I’m deciding if I want to get its subject product in for review, by me or by someone else in the SoundStage! Network, I often see things that bother me. I wonder if they bother you, too.
Balanced Audio Technology, aka BAT, was founded by Steve Bednarski and Victor Khomenko in the early 1990s. Their first two products, the VK-5 preamplifier and VK-60 power amplifier, were launched in January 1995 at the Winter Consumer Electronics Show, in Las Vegas, and those debuts were anything but customary. As the story goes, Geoff Poor, BAT’s current director of sales, had joined Bednarski and Khomenko as a full partner in 1995, having for some years led the marketing department at Dunlavy Audio Labs. Not long before that, while still working at Dunlavy, Poor had invited Bednarski and Khomenko to his family store for a demo of some Dunlavy speakers driven by the forthcoming VK-5 and VK-60. That went so well that Poor convinced John Dunlavy to use the BAT gear to drive his all-new SC-V speakers for their world premiere at the 1995 Winter CES. The tremendous success of this triple debut, held in the ballroom of the Golden Nugget Hotel, created a buzz infectious enough to flood the ballroom with visitors for the rest of the show.
Capital/Universal Music 00602567239109
Musical Performance: ****½
Sound Quality: ***½
Overall Enjoyment: ****
Steve Miller secured his place on classic rock radio in 1973 with The Joker, which began a run of popular LPs that continued with Fly Like an Eagle (1976) and Book of Dreams (1977). Songs from those albums still get heavy airplay, so your chances of hearing them in the grocery store or a cafeteria are pretty high. While those albums are well crafted and full of good humor, Miller’s best records, for me at least, remain his first four, all released under the name The Steve Miller Band: Children of the Future, Sailor (both 1968), Brave New World, and Your Saving Grace (both 1969).
The world of phono cartridges doesn’t change quickly, and it’s hard to imagine a more mature technology than the moving-coil cartridge, introduced 70 years ago. Sumiko has been producing phono cartridges for decades now, but their product line hasn’t changed much in the last few years -- the Oyster Blue Point No.2 has been in constant production since 1990, which for a consumer product is forever plus one year.
“Ask yourself the tough questions.” “Challenge your belief systems.” These notions are often bandied about on audio forums. Yet over and over I see audiophiles reinforcing buying decisions they’ve already made, and supporting those audiophiles whose purchases are similar to their own. High-end audio is largely about buying, and it’s natural to think that someone who’s invested in a particular brand of gear would want to defend that brand. Folks like to feel good about what they’ve bought -- when they hear “You made a good choice; maybe I should consider the same,” such validation is comforting to the ego.
With just about any manufactured commodity, consumers are offered various tiers of products to choose from. Volkswagens are the entry-level automobiles made by the Volkswagen Group, while their more premium brands -- Audi, Porsche, Lamborghini, Bentley -- represent consecutive upward leaps in quality, performance, and exclusivity. VW’s most boutique brand, Bugatti, is synonymous the world over with unparalleled levels of craftsmanship, industry-leading design, and world-class performance. They produce a single Bugatti model, the Chiron, and with only 500 Chirons slated for production, exclusivity is a given.
Welcome to the world of the analog LP. In case you weren’t aware, there’re whole catalogs full of stuff for record collectors that you never knew you needed. It’s the same in any hobby. Fishing, shooting, stamp collecting -- for any pastime you can shake a stick at, cool gear and bits and pieces abound. Companies throw accessories at it and hope some of them stick.
Format: LP, 320kbps MP3
Musical Performance: ***½
Sound Quality: ***½
Overall Enjoyment: ***½
Leon Bridges’s debut album, Coming Home, was one of the most pleasant surprises of 2015. The fact that old-school soul music could be successfully championed and resuscitated by a 26-year-old singer showed that this music is still vital. Bass guitarist Austin Jenkins and drummer Josh Block, formerly of the band White Denim, helped produce Coming Home and were among those who played on the album. Both Bridges and the musicians who accompanied him displayed an uncanny understanding of music whose heyday was long before they were born.
The winter haze in Eugene, Oregon, where I live, hangs like a veil of thin gray fog over everything, diffusing light, draining color from the landscape, and contributing to my moods a quality of vague gloom for months at a time. But in my nearly 30 years here I’ve grown mildly accustomed to its character, seeking joy and the brilliant colors of life in other things -- cooking soups and stews, reading good books, scribbling essays and poems, growing fanatical about all things audio -- to drive away the clouds of accidie and despair brought by months of winter weather.
By the time you read this, what was the Music Vault will be no more than what you’ve read in the pages of the old Ultra Audio, now SoundStage! Ultra. The new owners of my old house have ripped off its roof and are adding a full second story. The remains of the Music Vault are in some dumpster somewhere.
If those shattered walls could talk . . .
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