At the start of each episode of the original Star Trek TV series, William Shatner intoned “Space -- the final frontier.” For audiophiles, however, the final frontier may be the conquering of a space far smaller: the listening room. Typically the last variable to be addressed when assembling a sound system, room treatments are often greatly misunderstood in terms of their cost, effectiveness, and ease of installation.
It was a simple proposition. Mark Sossa of Well Pleased Audio Vida, of Tysons Corner, Virginia, wanted to drive down to North Carolina and set up some of his best gear in my new listening room. Sossa is a distributor of nine brands of high-end audio gear: Aqua Acoustic Quality, Innuos, Linnenberg, QLN, Qualiton, Rethm, SGR, Gigawatt, and Swisscables. His plan wasn’t to haul products from all of those brands to my home -- just a few select pieces he’s especially proud of. That sounded like a good plan to me. I’m an audiophile -- of course I like to hear new stuff. Plus, I figured it would give me a great opportunity to hear a second system in my new room, which would surely help me wrap my ears around the sonic signature of my new space.
I figured Mark Sossa didn’t really know what he was doing. Sossa is, after all, a young guy (in audiophile terms), lacking the decades of experience of most of us audiophiles -- we’re generally older dudes, and Mark is in his mid 30s. His idea was to bring down a collection of gear he represents through his distribution company -- Well Pleased Audio Vida, of Tysons Corner, Virginia -- and install it in my brand-new listening room. (You can read about that daylong adventure in my “Opinion” column in this month’s SoundStage! Ultra.)
Role Play RPRV03 (CD), Park the Van PTV-LP70 (LP)
Formats: CD and LP
Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: ***½
Overall Enjoyment: ***½
The Magic Numbers have released five albums, and while this British quartet comprising two brother-sister pairs has kept great harmonies and solid pop melodies at the center of their sound, they’ve also worked to keep things fresh. Their first two records, The Magic Numbers (2005) and Those the Brokes (2006), were straightforward in execution, letting the vocals and songs speak for themselves. The Runaway (2010) added string arrangements and a bit more instrumental complexity, and Alias (2014) worked in the occasional distorted guitar and sound effect.
I’ve spent the last decade or so watching some audiophiles of my acquaintance twist themselves inside out trying to rationalize spending a fortune they don’t really have on things they don’t really need. I used to be like that, but thank all that’s holy, I grew out of it.
In May of this year I wrote about “Jeff’s New Temporary Audio System” -- a modest stereo setup in the rental house my family moved into after the sale of our previous home of 14 years. In that article I mentioned that we’d bought a piece of land and planned to build a new house from the ground up, including a new listening room. That plan fell through due to that property’s topography. Long story short: Drainage problems made building the house we wanted too expensive. We broke our purchase contract and the plan was scrapped.
For over a decade, Simaudio itched to produce a state-of-the-art, cost-no-object, reference-grade power amplifier. Unfortunately, low market demand and high development costs forced them to postpone this and other such projects -- but they didn’t stop thinking about them. In fact, a little over a decade ago, Simaudio created what they call their skunkworks bin, where they keep their more technically creative yet economically impractical ideas. Kept under lock and key, this bin is opened only when the high-end market is robust enough to make the design and manufacture of such products cost effective.
If you’re reading this column, there’s a good chance you identify as an audiophile. I’m with you -- I grudgingly apply that label to myself. But along with all the glory of having a smokin’ system on which to listen to music comes some baggage.
Musical Performance: ***½
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****
When I got my first apartment, in 1981, the first thing I did was order a cable-TV package that included MTV. In those days, MTV programmed nothing but music videos -- it was the only way I could hear the Clash and the Jam, let alone the English Beat. Punk and New Wave got little airplay on the local FM stations, so MTV helped me hear some great new bands.
An audio system’s sound quality can be affected by, among other things, the type of signal cables, vibration-management products, and room treatments used. However, there is perhaps no more important variable than power. Whether this is due to the essential role that power plays in a signal’s generation, as opposed to its conversion or distribution, is hard to say. What is certain is that the stream of ever-better-performing power products installed in my system over the years has never failed to impress me.
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