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Despite all evidence to the contrary, there might still be some trusting souls who imagine that all audio reviewers are consummate professionals so seasoned in the ways of audiophilia that mistakes aren’t just few and far between, but nonexistent; that their judgment, honed through years or even decades of experience, is infallible; that the process of sitting down to conduct some critical listening is highly ritualized, even sacred. Let’s imagine what that rite might look like:
I do love an elegant-looking speaker. There’s something to be said for architectural grace. After all, accepting into your life and home a pair of full-size speakers is a serious commitment. The damn things have to sit there, damn near in the middle of your room. You have to stare at them as you’re listening. I could live with a pair of boxes made of MDF wrapped in vinyl, but I sure as hell would rather not.
I grew up in a family that adhered to self-discipline, hard work, and frugality -- in short, to the Protestant work ethic, a phrase first coined and a concept first formulated, in 1904-1905, by German sociologist and philosopher Max Weber, who attributed to this ethic the rise of capitalism. So the idea of spending a lot of money on something for how it looks and feels, instead of for its main reason for being -- its utility -- gives me pause.
I go way back with Shunyata Research, and fondly remember the days of The World’s Best Audio System (TWBAS) events -- gatherings of manufacturers at my home for which I’d chosen and assembled into amazing systems the best audio components then available -- and the sense of discovery we all felt. My first TWBAS, in 2004, included products from Wilson Audio Specialties, EMM Labs, and Shunyata Research. TWBAS 2004 was a watershed for me -- at the time, it was, by far, the best sound I had ever attained in my home. Although that system’s sound would be greatly surpassed by subsequent TWBAS systems, the bar set by that first one was already very high. Shunyata was represented in TWBAS 2004 by their Hydra Model-8 power conditioner ($1995 at the time; all prices USD), various models of power cord from their Anaconda and Diamondback lines, and their Constellation Aries and Andromeda signal cables (these models were discontinued long ago; see archived articles for cable prices).
What most non-audiophiles say when they see my system for the first time -- after “Wow, those speakers are huge!” -- is this: “You still listen to records?” By which they mean vinyl LPs, their implication being digital playback formats are of course superior to analog, and that I should get with the times. As politely and non-condescendingly as I can, I try to explain that, in my opinion, the very best analog rigs reproduce recorded music with higher fidelity than the very best digital rigs. Their response is usually skeptical -- until I prove my point with a demonstration. Most doubters then become converts -- or at least feign agreement.
Some audio products look downright menacing. I include in this group Wilson Audio’s Sasha and Devialet’s Phantom speakers, and the electronics from Metaxas Audio Systems. But perhaps no other audio manufacturer so consistently produces gear that looks bent on world domination than does Denmark’s Gryphon Audio Designs, whose aesthetic is striking, to say the least: ultramodern, often black, and pure badass.
The year was 1997. I was in seventh grade, and had recently begun asking my older brother for his copies of Stereophile. He’d always talked about buying a pair of Wilson Audio Specialties’ famed WATT/Puppys, and having heard his system, I was eager to see what hi-fi audio was all about. Reviewed in the October 1997 issue, however, was a loudspeaker that would shift the spotlight -- if only for moment -- away from the super-high-end’s perennial heavyweight champ.
What this world needs is a great loudspeaker costing under $15,000 USD per pair.
Many audiophiles don’t consider a speaker costing 15 grand per pair expensive. My non-audiophile friends consider this amazingly misguided. It wouldn’t take an exhaustive Internet search to find a reviewer somewhere saying something like this: “You can expect only so much for $15,000.”
It’s Christmas 2018, and I’m at my in-laws’ for the holidays. Doug Schneider pings me via text and asks if I’m interested in reviewing Audience’s Au24 SX interconnects and speaker cables. They’re in his car, see, and he’ll be driving right past Campbellford, Ontario, the rural town in which Marcia’s ’rents live. How ’bout he just drops ’em off?
For the past few years, McIntosh Laboratory has been refreshing and expanding its product line at an unprecedented pace. The subject of this review, the MC1.25KW mono amplifier ($12,500 USD each), made its debut in late 2017, and I haven’t been able to take my eyes off it since. Imagine my elation when Mark Christensen, McIntosh’s marketing coordinator, offered to send me for review a pair of MC1.25KWs and their flagship preamplifier, the C1100 (review in the works). In discussions with Christensen, I learned that the MC1.25KW is both a replacement for and an evolution of McIntosh’s beloved MC1.2KW amplifier, and offers more dynamic headroom, upgraded parts and connection points, and refreshed industrial design and lighting.
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