It’s got to be the best gig in the world, or the worst.
In my 15 years of reviewing I’ve dealt with companies large and small. The big guys -- Audio Research, MartinLogan, Monitor Audio -- can afford a significant level of detachment from their products. They have marketing guys, shipping guys, and manufacturing departments. Each step in the production of one of their products is insulated from the next, and by the time a component arrives in my listening room it’s been manhandled by a dozen people -- maybe more.
Audiophiles have lots of choices. Today, buyers can spend less and get more than ever before, and this is especially true with loudspeakers. Such brands as Bowers & Wilkins, KEF, Paradigm, and PSB offer multitudes of models that most aspiring audiophiles can afford. In terms of sound and value for dollar, these speakers can be really, really good.
Earlier this year, I reviewed Ayre Acoustics’ stellar KX-5 preamplifier ($7950 USD, discontinued). It was the quietest preamplifier I’d ever reviewed, and set the stage for many good things to come, with one exception: having to give it back. Difficult as it was, I parted with the KX-5 -- only to be asked, a few months later, if I’d be interested in reviewing its successor, the KX-5 Twenty. My response was an immediate yes.
But seeing a new version of the KX-5 only 18 months after the release of the original took me a bit aback. Ayre is one of the few audio companies that avoids the economic temptation to make a few minor internal changes, add a new faceplate and a higher price tag, and call the result “all new!” Instead, they claim that they don’t release a new model or version until what they do release is a considerable improvement on its predecessor(s). This has usually involved revising circuits, upgrading parts, and sometimes redesigning all of the circuitry from the ground up. But Ayre had rarely, if ever, replaced a product -- especially one that had so well established itself -- as quickly as it did the KX-5. What gives?
Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****
Jazz guitarist Dave Stryker has led more than 25 sessions and played on many others, but Messin’ with Mister T shows what a master he’s become. I’ve heard a few of his albums over the years, in particular The Stryker/Slagle Band (2003), the first one he co-led with saxophonist Steve Slagle, and always thought him a solid player with a journeyman quality. After listening to Messin’ with Mister T, I think I need to go back to some of his other recordings.
Seems you can’t turn around these days without bumping into a cable company or tripping over a coil of their wire. There’s good reason cable manufacturers proliferate: the markup must be astronomical. Buy some wire, wrap it in a nice sheath, terminate with extreme prejudice, and off to market. What a gig!
A few cable companies don’t work that way. Wire isn’t always just wire, and in recent years there’s been some honest innovation in a field that, on the face of it, looks simple: no moving parts.
I was having an e-mail conversation with a distributor friend of mine, Boris Granovsky, of Absolute Hi End, in Australia. We were discussing different audio brands and models, something we’ve done ever since we first met, a few years ago at Munich’s High End, at a dinner hosted by Crystal Cable (the maker of swanky cables based in Arnhem, the Netherlands), where we had an enlightening (to me) conversation about all things extreme audio. Boris is in the unique position of distributing not merely a few but many of today’s great audio brands. If you peruse his company’s website, you’ll see brands that typically are represented by competing distributors all under his one tent. He has more opportunities to compare top-shelf products than even most audio reviewers. This is why I enjoy hearing Boris’s opinions -- I feel think they’re exceptionally well informed.
Beauty and brains
“I have a head for business and a bod for sin!”
Those words from Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith) caught Jack Trainer (Harrison Ford) hook, line, and sinker, and propelled the remainder of Working Girl, Mike Nichols’s romantic comedy-drama of 1988 -- the intoxicating sentiment stated, appropriately, in a bar. The allure of intellectual prowess coupled with emotional hedonism is great, not only because it is elusive but because it promises to satisfy so completely. It’s hard enough to find one of those qualities; to find both together is exponentially more difficult. Nonetheless, the combination has been heroically sought across many disciplines, including audio reproduction.
Musical Performance: ***1/2
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****
The Waifs are a folk-rock band formed more than 20 years ago by Vikki Thorn and Donna Simpson, sisters from Western Australia. They began as a duo, then, in 1996, and just before recording their eponymous debut album, asked guitarist Josh Cunningham to join them. Ever since, each of the three contributes songs to their recordings, including their newest, Beautiful You.
When a SoundStage! reviewer asks editor-in-chief Jeff Fritz if he has anything interesting he’d like reviewed, that reviewer never knows what Jeff will say. Jeff said that there was an opportunity to review La Voce S2, a digital-to-analog converter from Aqua - Acoustic Quality (AAQ). I’d never heard of Aqua - Acoustic Quality, and didn’t know if I’d enjoy or regret reviewing their new DAC. But I thought it might be an interesting adventure.
One of the most popular opinion pieces I’ve written in the past few years, in terms of total number of reader views, was “Devialet, SAM, and the Changing of the High-End Guard.” In it, I described my experiences with the Devialet 120 integrated amplifier-DAC ($6495 USD) and, more specifically, Devialet’s Speaker Active Matching (SAM) function, which worked so well with Magico’s excellent S1 loudspeakers. I had high hopes for Devialet’s products -- still do, actually -- but now I’m beginning to wonder.
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