In this month’s “Searching for the Extreme: Bill Low, Founder, CEO, and Chief Designer of AudioQuest -- Part One,” Low stated, to SoundStage! Ultra contributor Peter Roth, “I view the hi-fi equipment ‘upgrade path’ as being like bringing flowers home to your system. Possibly, the most significant ingredient in the upgrade path is not the presumably better performance, but the novelty and renewal of the audio relationship that the new equipment enables. The change in audio quality and the renewal of the relationship are intertwined and inseparable.” As I sit here today and peer around my listening room, the Music Vault, I feel exactly as Low describes: renewed.
The reasons, though, are not strictly related to sound. I’ve been writing about the reproduction of music for almost 20 years now, and for precisely that long I’ve been reminding readers -- and myself -- that the most important thing about an audio product is its sound quality. I plan to keep on doing that. But this month, for once, I want to veer off into the other hemisphere of the audiophile psyche.
I’ve listened to my system for the better part of the day, finding new music to fall in love with through Tidal, and discovering new life in songs I’ve heard many times. All day, each time I’ve returned to the Vault after a leaving for a bathroom break or a meal or to take a phone call, I’ve also found myself appreciating the seemingly small but meaningful details -- the fine craftsmanship -- displayed by the audio gear in my room. It’s these elements that enable high-end products to rise above the commonplace. Bill Low’s point about the intertwining of the music with the high-end experience is tangible.
Have you ever noticed how a freshly detailed car -- or even one newly washed -- drives better? Of course, nothing mechanically has changed that would affect the tested results of the car’s actual performance. But the fact that it is now in immaculate visual condition refreshes your relationship with it, and that renewal improves the driving experience in every way. Similarly, when the cables in my stereo are neatly organized, when my speakers are positioned to the nearest sixteenth of an inch, and my room is freshly vacuumed and the perfect temperature, the music sounds better. Really.
“A work of art is a well-made thing . . .”
-- Oscar Wilde
Right now, I have some super products in my room: some I own, and some are in for review. They comprise a good cross section of the best gear now available at various price points. Of course, you’d have to hear them yourself to fully appreciate what they can do, but I want to share a few examples of why each is a well-made thing, and why you should take notice of that aspect of any good audio product you buy, to increase your enjoyment of listening to music through them.
First, the magnificent Magico Q7 Mk II loudspeakers ($229,000 USD per pair). Sometimes, when I walk past one of them, I twist and bend a bit, to get a clear, unobstructed view down one side panel. The first thing I notice is that their anodizing is perfectly smooth, without flaw. Where the panels are joined together, the seams are impossibly precise. In particular, I love the way the copper plate that decouples the upper section of the cabinet from the lower appears perfectly inlaid. It’s a beautiful design.
Next is the Swiss-made Soulution 711 power amplifier ($65,000). Because it’s directly in front of me when I sit in my listening chair, I always see that the glass panel of its faceplate is polished to a perfect mirror finish that reflects my carpet without a hint of optical distortion -- no more distortion than the 711 adds to music. The amplifier’s understated appearance, typical of Soulution’s style, has grown on me considerably in the past few months; now, many of its competitors look a bit garish to me. But the 711’s looks are sophisticated; clearly, it was designed and assembled by grownups.
The appearance of Simaudio’s Moon Evolution 850P preamplifier ($30,000), from Canada, is more overt in its display of quality. But I love its tiered top plate, with the Moon logo partially recessed into it. This adds a look of dimension and solidity to the 850P. The stark contrast between the natural-colored, brushed aluminum of the logo plate and the jet-black, textured finish of the top plate is visually alluring.
The Wadia di322 digital-to-analog converter ($3500) costs much less than any other component on this list, but it elicits just as strong a response in me when I see it, partly because it’s so reasonably priced. My favorite physical details are the curved, die-cast case and its soft, shadow-silver finish, devoid of screw heads. Every ounce of the Wadia’s 25 pounds reeks of quality.
Last are Rockport Technologies’ Cygnus loudspeakers ($62,500/pair), which arrived in the Music Vault only last night. Along with Rockport’s pace-setting, piano-black finish, I can’t help but admire the engraving on the binding-post plate. And the perfect contour of the port’s chamfer. It’s clear that the Cygnus has been micro-inspected to prevent even the tiniest flaw of finish or construction.
Do these details increase my enjoyment of my music? Yes. As Bill Low said, “The change in audio quality and the renewal of the relationship are intertwined and inseparable.” My system, right now, sounds amazing. And I feel great listening to it. Renewed sounds just about right. I’ll hate to send any of this stuff back.
. . . Jeff Fritz