My friend Rich visits often. He’s got a smoking system at home, loves music and gear, and is always looking for ways to improve the sound in his listening room. Just recently he came over for a listen with his brother-in-law, who’s far more grounded, down to earth, and money conscious than Rich, me, or likely anyone else who’s reading this review.
I really only have one review system, and that’s the big rig down in the basement. It’s LP-based, and I’ve never had a streamer, DAC, or CD player sending those filthy bits down its virginal, analog pathways.
History, development, and technology
As an aviator and audio reviewer, it never ceases to amaze me how many luminaries in hi-fi have an aviation background. SME’s CEO, Stuart McNeilis, spent decades as a senior aeronautical engineer at British Aerospace; and for many years, SME has supplied components for the Martin-Baker ejector seats used by air forces worldwide. John Franks, founder and chief design engineer at Chord Electronics, previously worked on aircraft electronics for Marconi Avionics. John’s specialty was ultra-high-frequency power supplies, and he used his expertise in this area to develop the concept of dynamic coupling: linking an amplifier’s power supply rails together in a specialized high-frequency transformer. The strong magnetic flux in this arrangement prevents the short-term distortions associated with high currents feeding back into the ground loop of an amplifier. The result is a fast and agile amplifier with a transparent sound. Perhaps I shouldn’t be too surprised to find so many aerospace engineers in audio, given that aviation demands the very highest standards—such skills transfer very well into designing and building high-end audio equipment.
Universal Music Recordings 4868197
Musical Performance: ****½
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****
Empty Glass (1980) was Pete Townshend’s second solo album, but his first to consist of songs he recorded with an eye toward official release under his own name. The album that preceded it, Who Came First (1972), included demos of songs recorded with The Who, tracks Townshend wrote in tribute to his spiritual advisor, Meher Baba, and one tune each by Billy Nicholls and Ronnie Lane, who were also followers of the Baba. The tribute songs originally appeared on limited-edition releases.
It’s been a little more than three years since Perlisten Audio sprang into existence, and in that time, it has gone from obscurity to prominence. I’ve written about the company three times before: a profile of its founder and CEO, Dan Roemer; a review of the flagship model of its Reference line, the R7t ($9990 per pair; all prices in USD); and a blog piece on one of its big subwoofers, the D15s ($5995). I wouldn’t say I’m a Perlisten superfan, but I do have much respect for the company’s technical achievements and for their no-nonsense communications. Roemer, with decades of experience in audio engineering and an obvious passion for making high-value, high-performance loudspeakers, is insightful on all things hi-fi and a hoot to talk to.
We’re allowed dissenting opinions here, right? Okay, then. In his May 2023 editorial on SoundStage! Access, Dennis Burger threw down a gauntlet, whether he realized it or not. The gist of Dennis’s editorial was how reasonably priced class-D amplification technology, including the Hypex Ncore NC2K and Purifi Eigentakt modules, is finding its way into more and more high-end components. This trend, which Dennis called “trickle-up tech,” has resulted in a growing number of overperforming products, including some of NAD’s recent Classic- and Masters-series amplifiers.
Note: for the full suite of measurements from the SoundStage! Audio-Electronics Lab, click here.
I don’t usually find myself drawn to old-school gear that’s heavy on nostalgia. Maybe it’s because, as an older millennial, I didn’t cut my audio teeth on components with VU meters, knobs galore, and healthy dollops of brushed-silver hardware. But back in 2015, I reviewed Luxman’s L-550AX integrated amplifier ($4990 when available; all prices in USD) and fell for it hard. In many ways, that amplifier was the antithesis of the type of gear I ordinarily liked. Vintage looks, yellow-tinted VU meters, flyweight power (a mere 20Wpc into 8 ohms), and space-heater levels of thermal output from its pure class-A topology—that’s not a recipe I’d normally warm to on paper. But listening is believing, and I was so enchanted with the L-550AX’s sound, I declared it “outstanding” and “the best-sounding integrated amplifier for under $5000.” So, when I was offered the opportunity to review Luxman’s newest integrated amplifier, the L-507Z ($8995), I jumped at it.
Certain albums resonate with me. Often, it’s the setting I associate with these records that entrenches the music in my core memory. The music is important in isolation, of course, but the association with life events cements certain records into the root system.
Jazz Is Dead Records JID018
Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: ***
Overall Enjoyment: ***½
When the great Nigerian drummer Tony Allen was in Fela Kuti’s band, Africa 70, he helped invent Afrobeat, which combined American funk and jazz with Nigeria’s own musical heritage. Allen played with Kuti throughout the 1970s and began recording on his own in 1975, while still with Africa 70. He began focusing on his own music more intently by the mid-1980s and worked with younger musicians in various genres throughout the 2000s. He played in two bands with Blur’s Damon Albarn: The Good, the Bad & the Queen, and Rocket Juice & the Moon.
Engineering and philosophy
In the pantheon of British audio companies, Rega Research is surely one of the greats. Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2023, Rega has for decades been at the top of the list for those on a modest budget who want a record player designed and built in the UK. For many years, the go-to recommendation was the company’s iconic Planar 3 turntable. But as its price crept upward, Rega introduced more affordable models, like the Planar 1 and Planar 2. Both turntables offer many of the Planar 3’s virtues at a more affordable price.
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