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A few years ago, I fell in with a bad audiophile crowd -- hardcore computer-audio enthusiasts who ran high-end DIY music servers. Using up to three component cases, these servers featured specially made or modified parts and performance-enhancing software like AudiophileOptimizer, Bughead Emperor, and Fidelizer.
In the audio industry, build quality isn’t just synonymous with how well a piece of equipment is assembled, nor is it a measure of how expensive the materials are which constitute the end product. A product’s build quality stems from its innate scientific fundamentals and resulting design, into which are incorporated quality materials and refined assembly processes, to produce a component of high quality and high performance. Build quality is something British speaker manufacturer Monitor Audio takes very seriously, as evidenced by the many successful products they’ve produced since their founding, in 1972.
When I first started collecting LPs, in the mid-1970s, my record cleaner of choice comprised a liquid and brush made by Discwasher. I would place an LP on my Philips GA312 turntable, and apply to it a few drops of the solution in a straight line, from lead-in groove to lead-out groove. Keeping the platter immobile with one hand and holding the brush in the other, I’d then sweep the brush around the record three times counterclockwise -- and my worn copy of Tattoo You would be good to go.
Who knows why we become enamored of certain material things? A particular automobile may “speak” to us on some level even before we drive it. We know it’s the right SUV for us because, mysteriously, it aligns with our views on, well, SUVs. And often, when you finally get behind the wheel, the act of actually driving it for the first time becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. And you buy it.
Selecting an audiophile equipment rack can be unnerving. Rack makers rarely agree on anything, and almost all assert that their chosen design is the best. Look, for example, at the bewildering number of construction materials used: aluminum, acrylic, carbon fiber, ceramics, glass, granite, steel, and untold numbers of woods, common and exotic, solid and composite -- to name just a few.
I reviewed the Focus Audio Liszt Sonata integrated amplifier in April 2013 on SoundStage! Hi-Fi. To say that I was enamored of it would be an understatement. And just in case anyone hadn’t got the message, I followed up that review with an article that stated just how well suited the Liszt Sonata was to my specific musical tastes.
I’ve never been into tweaks. The thought of spending hour after hour replacing the supports of components or speakers with this footer and that, then straining to hear a difference, sounds worse to me than sitting in a bare room watching paint dry. I just can’t bring myself to do it. Heck, it’s been years since I reviewed even a cable. I prefer the meat and potatoes of audio reviewing: amps, speakers, and a source component here and there. The only tweaking I do -- and I don’t really consider it tweaking in the tweakiest audiophile sense -- is to fine-tune the positions of speakers, and micro-optimize the acoustic properties of my listening space, the Music Vault. I’ve found that both can lead to clear improvements in sound.
In February 2014, when I reviewed the David Berning Company’s ZH-230 power amplifier for SoundStage! Ultra, I instantly fell in love with it. Its sound consigned to the scrap heap -- or at least to the closet -- every other amplifier I’d tried in my system. This tubed design eschewed the output transformers used in virtually every other tube amplifier in the world, and which are responsible for lots of sonic problems. Everyone who heard it agreed that the sound was just splendid, and its 30Wpc easily drove my sensitive horn speakers.
In 2003, I asked a representative from Synergistic Research why, unlike many other cable manufacturers, the company didn’t make a power conditioner. The rep stated that, despite Synergistic’s many models of interconnect, speaker cable, and power cord, head designer Ted Denney had yet to discover a power-conditioning technology he thought worth developing. According to the rep, only when Denney had found something that he thought would move the field forward would he put the Synergistic name on it.
Just before he left for college, my son turned me on to a TV show that’s become my new binge-watching passion. Netflix’s Chef’s Table is a visual and gustatory feast, and the first episode introduced me to the culinary talents of Massimo Bottura, chef of the three-Michelin-star Osteria Francescana, in Modena, Italy. On the short list of objects in my house that are getting or have gotten better with age are a 1989 bottle of Krug Champagne, my cast-iron frying pan, my wife’s red hair, and a bottle of Manodori -- Bottura’s meticulously crafted, perfectly aged balsamic vinegar. Drizzled over risotto, shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, arugula, or fresh-picked berries, Manodori’s complex, multilayered taste is a perfect example of how well certain things in life can age.
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