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Beauty and brains
“I have a head for business and a bod for sin!”
Those words from Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith) caught Jack Trainer (Harrison Ford) hook, line, and sinker, and propelled the remainder of Working Girl, Mike Nichols’s romantic comedy-drama of 1988 -- the intoxicating sentiment stated, appropriately, in a bar. The allure of intellectual prowess coupled with emotional hedonism is great, not only because it is elusive but because it promises to satisfy so completely. It’s hard enough to find one of those qualities; to find both together is exponentially more difficult. Nonetheless, the combination has been heroically sought across many disciplines, including audio reproduction.
When a SoundStage! reviewer asks editor-in-chief Jeff Fritz if he has anything interesting he’d like reviewed, that reviewer never knows what Jeff will say. Jeff said that there was an opportunity to review La Voce S2, a digital-to-analog converter from Aqua - Acoustic Quality (AAQ). I’d never heard of Aqua - Acoustic Quality, and didn’t know if I’d enjoy or regret reviewing their new DAC. But I thought it might be an interesting adventure.
I started turning away from the whole notion of declaring something “the best” about the time I shut down my column, “The World’s Best Audio System.” Don’t get me wrong: The writings and events that made up the TWBAS series were enlightening -- I was able to learn from lots of talented industry folks, and assembled several state-of-the-art audio systems in my listening room, the Music Vault. In terms of establishing a personal audio reference, this was invaluable, and no doubt made me a better reviewer. But there’s a futility in searching for the universal “best” -- at least, in high-end audio. It’s an argument that’s never settled, by me or by anyone else.
Audiophiles looking for a music server can use a home computer, a music server made by a traditional audiophile component manufacturer, or do it themselves. Typically, the DIY approach is for the very computer savvy, and some custom-designed servers are very good indeed. They can include specially made or modified audiophile parts -- USB cards, clock modules, solid-state drives, SATA cables -- and can even be on the technological cutting edge.
But if you lack the knowledge, time, or inclination to build a custom server, there’s a fourth way: go to a company that will design and build one for you. One such company is England’s Hifidelit, whose server I used to test the software that is the subject of this review.
There are some things I don’t like about the Soulution 711 stereo power amplifier, and the first is the astronomical price: $65,000 USD. That’s far beyond what any normal person could ever afford. You could certainly make the case that something like the Benchmark Media Systems AHB2, at $2995, is far more relevant to the vast majority of audiophiles.
I have come to admire the 711’s understated appearance. It’s certainly built well, with close tolerances, excellent fit’n’finish, and tasteful appearance. It is not, however, the audio equivalent of a Rolex watch -- it lacks enough visual bling. I think the Dan D’Agostino products are the polar opposite -- they demand attention with their gleaming copper and watch-face meters -- but even Boulder Amplifiers, and certainly Gryphon Audio Designs, bring more defining exterior design elements to the fore. The latter are more distinctive.
As a native son of Pennsylvania, I was thrilled when I learned that I would be reviewing Rogue Audio’s new RP-5 tubed preamplifier ($3500 USD), as soon as a sample was available. Rogue is based in Brodheadsville, 90 miles north of Philadelphia and about an hour from where I live. As sports fans, Philadelphians are typically long-suffering but devoted. With that as my background, it would be easy to be a fan of a local audio company. However, Philadelphians’ familiarity with recurring heartbreak has taught us to view everything with a critical eye. I anticipated the arrival of a new audio component, full of hope that it would live up to the fine reputation of Rogue’s other US-made products. What arrived surprised me in several ways.
Just over a decade ago, Simaudio introduced their Moon Evolution series: a no-holds-barred line of products representing the pinnacle of what this highly regarded Canadian company has to offer. Within the year, Jeff Fritz had reviewed three Moon Evolution models -- the P8 preamplifier, the Andromeda CD player, and the W8 stereo amplifier -- and awarded each what was then Ultra Audio’s Select Component status (now Reviewers’ Choice). And he kept the P8 as his reference preamp. Shortly thereafter, our founder, Doug Schneider, reviewed the Moon SuperNova CD player, gave it a Reviewers’ Choice award, and made it his disc spinner of choice.
When Steve Silberman, AudioQuest’s vice president of development, approached me a few months ago to review their Cinnamon Ethernet cable, I was a bit hesitant to respond. Despite having witnessed notable improvements from using other analog and digital AudioQuest products, I didn’t believe that the cable making an Ethernet connection could make an audible difference. Silberman told me that he was so confident I would hear an improvement that he’d send me both AQ’s Cinnamon and Vodka Ethernet and AES/EBU cables.
My first experience with open-baffle speakers was a few years ago, in Bangalore, India, in the showroom of ARN Systems, which then distributed the speakers made by Emerald Physics. I recall the sound of Emerald’s CS2.3 speakers as being exceptionally dynamic, nearing concert-level realism with a humongous soundstage that filled the large room. The Emerald CS2.3 was designed by Clayton Shaw, who has since moved on and now is the principal of Spatial Audio, based in Park City, Utah. (ARN is Spatial’s Indian distributor.)
Aspiration. Audiophiles and reviewers have it in spades. We aspire to extract ever more from our audio systems: higher levels of performance, greater realism, more emotional connection with the music. Audiophiles are derided (often with justification) for the upgrade merry-go-round that can result from an unchecked conviction that the sound can always be improved; but if we keep system synergies and overall balance in mind, the thoughtful incorporation of new components can indeed give us more of what we aspire to.
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