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.
I started turning away from the whole notion of declaring something “the best” about the time I shut down my column, “The World’s Best Audio System.” Don’t get me wrong: The writings and events that made up the TWBAS series were enlightening -- I was able to learn from lots of talented industry folks, and assembled several state-of-the-art audio systems in my listening room, the Music Vault. In terms of establishing a personal audio reference, this was invaluable, and no doubt made me a better reviewer. But there’s a futility in searching for the universal “best” -- at least, in high-end audio. It’s an argument that’s never settled, by me or by anyone else.
Charlie Hunter Music CHM006
Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****
Charlie Hunter’s seven- and eight-string guitars are wired to generate separate signals for their bass and treble strings, which allows him to accentuate the bass lines as well as chords and single-note solos. That he can play those parts simultaneously is an indication of his dexterity and virtuosity, but he also does it in a way that is musically exciting and satisfying. He has chops enough to generate fireworks, but he is a song-driven player.
Audiophiles looking for a music server can use a home computer, a music server made by a traditional audiophile component manufacturer, or do it themselves. Typically, the DIY approach is for the very computer savvy, and some custom-designed servers are very good indeed. They can include specially made or modified audiophile parts -- USB cards, clock modules, solid-state drives, SATA cables -- and can even be on the technological cutting edge.
But if you lack the knowledge, time, or inclination to build a custom server, there’s a fourth way: go to a company that will design and build one for you. One such company is England’s Hifidelit, whose server I used to test the software that is the subject of this review.
Barely a day goes by that SoundStage! Network publisher Doug Schneider and I don’t have discussions about the daily workings of the business, and the long- and medium-range goals we have for the SoundStage! magazines. Doug is very much the visionary here, often seeing industry trends early and recognizing openings through which we can leverage our strengths. My role is different: I keep us on track. Stephen R. Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change and other notable books, once said, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” Yes, we have expanded SoundStage! greatly over the past six years, but we’ve also remained true to our roots: solid reviews of high-end audio components, posted on the first and the fifteenth of every month. That last part is critical.
There are some things I don’t like about the Soulution 711 stereo power amplifier, and the first is the astronomical price: $65,000 USD. That’s far beyond what any normal person could ever afford. You could certainly make the case that something like the Benchmark Media Systems AHB2, at $2995, is far more relevant to the vast majority of audiophiles.
I have come to admire the 711’s understated appearance. It’s certainly built well, with close tolerances, excellent fit’n’finish, and tasteful appearance. It is not, however, the audio equivalent of a Rolex watch -- it lacks enough visual bling. I think the Dan D’Agostino products are the polar opposite -- they demand attention with their gleaming copper and watch-face meters -- but even Boulder Amplifiers, and certainly Gryphon Audio Designs, bring more defining exterior design elements to the fore. The latter are more distinctive.
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