In May 2005, SoundStage! Hi-Fi (then simply SoundStage!) published my review of the darTZeel Audio NHB-108 Model One stereo amplifier. I had lots of good things to say about this super-cool Swiss product, and in the years since, it seems that many audiophiles have enjoyed having one at the heart of their high-end systems. To say it has had a successful run would be an understatement.
I’ve been a reviewer of high-end audio gear for 22 years now, but precisely two years ago my expenditures on gear took a sharp decline. That was when I announced that “Jeff’s Getting a New Stereo System,” for reasons explained in that article. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still hanker for products I’ve heard or seen, whether at shows or in press releases from manufacturers, and it doesn’t mean I don’t still get super-enthusiastic about cool gear.
I have two German Shepherds, one of whom, Cutter, is just shy of three years old. He comes from a strong working line and, as such, has very strong drive. Recently, he was sitting at attention on my back patio, which is screened in -- a nice place to be in late fall or early summer. I still don’t know what he saw at the rear of our property -- deer or squirrel or fox -- but whatever it was, it needed chasing down now, and the screen covering the bottom section of that end of the patio put up little resistance to his determination. He went through it as if it wasn’t there. My wife insisted I do something about it.
Adults face many issues every day, some of them deadly serious. It would be easy for me -- or you -- to draw up a long list of them, but as that list would include issues typically batted back and forth in political circles, I won’t. On the SoundStage! sites, I’ve always tried to stick to writing about audio -- it’s not within the purview of a family of publications dedicated to the pursuit of great sound to include the latest political talking points.
Although I can’t pinpoint the exact date, the last time I was satisfied with my stereo system was sometime in early 2017. I had a pair of Magico Q7 Mk.II speakers driven by a Soulution 711 stereo amplifier. My digital source was a Soulution 560 DAC-preamplifier, and interconnects and speaker cables were Nordost Valhallas. That ca.-$400,000 system was assembled in my listening room, the Music Vault, and tweaked with excruciating attention to detail. The sound was all that I could hope a system of that pedigree could produce -- it was sublime.
In September 2018 I wrote “Jeff’s New Room,” in which I wrote in detail about moving into my new listening room after selling our previous home and spending some time in a rental house. The room had not yet been acoustically treated when I wrote the piece, and it remained largely untreated throughout the listening sessions for the first product I reviewed there, the EgglestonWorks Kiva loudspeakers. The Kivas are terrific speakers -- despite being asked to perform in a room in which little attention had been paid to acoustics, they sounded quite good in my new space.
Last month, in “Jeff Buys Loudspeakers: The Vimberg Tondas,” I announced that I’d bought a pair of Vimberg Tondas to use as my reference loudspeakers. I also challenged Tidal and Vimberg designer and CEO, Jorn Janczak, to show us exactly what goes into the making of a set of Vimbergs. What follows, in words and photos, is the story of my pair of Tondas, from raw cabinets to packing in their flight cases, followed by a set of measurements of that pair of units.
By now you know that since 2017 I’ve been on a downsizing exercise. I decided to divest myself of my Magico-Soulution audio system, which retailed for more than $400,000 USD, and reinvest less of that money -- a lot less -- in my next stereo system. But there was a problem. It’s easy to decide to spend less money -- that proposition is always attractive. But getting less performance than I’m used to . . . well, that was a high hurdle to jump . . . or not.
There was a time in my audiophile journey -- not that long ago -- when anything but the top loudspeaker in a given company’s line would simply not do. Whether it was Wilson Audio’s X-2, Rockport’s Arrakis, or Magico’s Q7 -- I’ve owned them all -- I felt that chasing state-of-the-art sound automatically meant getting the biggest, most expensive speaker a company made. Looking back, I was partially justified in this notion because my former listening room, the Music Vault, had been designed with monster speakers in mind. Its acoustics had been specifically dialed in for the Wilson X-2s, but the space had been designed and built to handle any megaspeaker I might throw into it.
In December 2017 I wrote the most recent installment of “Jeff’s Getting a New Stereo System,” in which I established an upper limit of $10,000 for a digital source for my new audio rig. The month before that, I’d pegged the total projected system price at no more than $81,900 retail. This figure stands in stark contrast to the $350,000 retail cost of my last audio system, based on Magico Q7 Mk.II loudspeakers and Soulution 7-series electronics, all housed in my custom Music Vault listening room. The response of readers to my downsizing has been overwhelmingly positive. Laurence, of Canada, wrote in a letter, “The series of articles you’ve written regarding your change in direction with respect to audio has been very insightful and interesting. Far more so than [The World’s Best Audio System] could ever be.” He summarized what many others have expressed: “I’m guilty of letting myself get caught up in the vortex of collecting the most expensive gear I could afford. However, in the past couple of years I’ve been divesting myself of it all. Somehow it feels a bit easier to enjoy the music.” Touché.
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