Last month I established an upper limit ($10,000 USD) on what I’d spend on a DAC with a built-in volume control. For my present system I can’t justify an analog preamplifier, with its banks of analog inputs of which I’d use precisely one -- though I do miss, on some sentimental level, the very last analog preamp I owned: an Ayre Acoustics KX-R Twenty. But unless you have multiple analog sources (I don’t), there’s no need for the extra box and interconnects an analog preamp would require. But I do have multiple digital sources, so I need digital switching and, of course, the ability to adjust volume.
In February 2015, I reviewed Esoteric’s Grandioso P1 SACD/CD transport, D1 mono digital-to-analog converters, and G-01 master clock generator. At a total cost of $91,000 USD, these state-of-the-art components in five hefty cases of aircraft-grade aluminum are not for the faint of checkbook or rack space.
Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment: ****1/2
Joe Jackson’s Summer in the City: Live in New York was released in 2000 to little fanfare. Jackson’s third outing for Sony Classical, it followed Heaven & Hell (1997) and Symphony No. 1 (1999). Those albums had received mixed receptions, but Summer in the City reminded critics that Jackson’s pop-music talents were still intact. Indeed, just five months later he released Night and Day II, which revisited the sophisticated songwriting styles of his popular 1982 album.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw a Sonus Faber loudspeaker. It was 2002, and I was fresh out of college, broke, and hungry to put the last four years of educational purgatory to good use. I was also in the market for a new apartment. Like many early nesters, when I wasn’t out exploring potential residences, I was window-shopping for potential décor.
Last month I established an upper limit to the retail cost of the loudspeakers I’ll eventually select: $39,900/pair. This month I look at amplification. But first, I want to discuss system configuration.
I sauntered into the display room of Technical Audio Devices Laboratories (aka TAD) at Munich’s High End in May of this year, hoping to see something big and awesome from the venerable Japanese company -- maybe an update of the Reference One Mk.2, their flagship loudspeaker, or some new model of cutting-edge electronics built to impossibly precise standards. Instead, I saw the littlest speaker the company makes.
Exile Productions/Caroline 2557718515
Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****
Every few albums, Van Morrison releases something that stands out just a little from the rest of his 15 recordings of the last 20 years. Magic Time (2005) had a good batch of songs played by a terrific band, and Keep It Simple (2008) was stripped down and soulful, with a nod to Morrison’s blues side. Last year’s Keep Me Singing benefited from a Morrison who seemed more at ease, perhaps because his previous CD, Duets: Re-working the Catalogue (2015), included appearances by some of his contemporaries. He clearly enjoyed singing with P.J. Proby, Chris Farlowe, and Georgie Fame.
Ever since 1982, when Scott Bagby and Jerry VanderMarel founded Paradigm, the company’s name has been synonymous with such words as quality, value, and, most notably, performance. This reputation, in combination with Paradigm’s being one of the first to adopt and build on the loudspeaker-performance guidelines established by work at Canada’s National Resource Council (NRC), helped fuel the company’s growth into one of the world’s most prominent makers of loudspeakers. As of the day I submit this review, Paradigm offers four different collections (as Paradigm calls them) of speakers comprising 12 individual series that themselves encompass 22 different models, from passive speakers to active subwoofers and wireless speakers. Their latest collection, Persona, eclipses the venerable Signature as the brand’s highest-priced family, but Persona models aren’t merely evolutionary derivatives of Signature counterparts. The Persona collection took more than five years to develop, and Paradigm claims that it reflects everything they’ve learned about designing and building speakers over the past 35 years. They say that the Personas constitute a revolutionary leap forward for the brand in both sound and technology.
I don’t have all of this figured out yet, but I know where I’m not going, and that establishes some upper price limits for the components that will eventually comprise my new stereo system. To review where I’ve come from:
My colleagues at SoundStage! have accused me of being a by-the-pound guy. There’s some truth to that. By any reasonable standard, my speakers have always been heavy, and so have the amplifiers that have driven them. For the most part, heavy gear is just a fact of life in ultra-high-end audio. The upper-end speaker models from Magico, Rockport, Wilson, et al., have always been heavyweights. Same goes for amps -- the Boulders, Gryphons, Soulutions, etc. With these companies, I always knew that the fact that they made their products with heavier materials and parts was a good thing: lots of bracing inside speaker cabinets, and big power supplies inside amps, were what we were told made great sound possible. It meant you were getting your money’s worth.
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