The world of phono cartridges doesn’t change quickly, and it’s hard to imagine a more mature technology than the moving-coil cartridge, introduced 70 years ago. Sumiko has been producing phono cartridges for decades now, but their product line hasn’t changed much in the last few years -- the Oyster Blue Point No.2 has been in constant production since 1990, which for a consumer product is forever plus one year.
“Ask yourself the tough questions.” “Challenge your belief systems.” These notions are often bandied about on audio forums. Yet over and over I see audiophiles reinforcing buying decisions they’ve already made, and supporting those audiophiles whose purchases are similar to their own. High-end audio is largely about buying, and it’s natural to think that someone who’s invested in a particular brand of gear would want to defend that brand. Folks like to feel good about what they’ve bought -- when they hear “You made a good choice; maybe I should consider the same,” such validation is comforting to the ego.
With just about any manufactured commodity, consumers are offered various tiers of products to choose from. Volkswagens are the entry-level automobiles made by the Volkswagen Group, while their more premium brands -- Audi, Porsche, Lamborghini, Bentley -- represent consecutive upward leaps in quality, performance, and exclusivity. VW’s most boutique brand, Bugatti, is synonymous the world over with unparalleled levels of craftsmanship, industry-leading design, and world-class performance. They produce a single Bugatti model, the Chiron, and with only 500 Chirons slated for production, exclusivity is a given.
Welcome to the world of the analog LP. In case you weren’t aware, there’re whole catalogs full of stuff for record collectors that you never knew you needed. It’s the same in any hobby. Fishing, shooting, stamp collecting -- for any pastime you can shake a stick at, cool gear and bits and pieces abound. Companies throw accessories at it and hope some of them stick.
Format: LP, 320kbps MP3
Musical Performance: ***½
Sound Quality: ***½
Overall Enjoyment: ***½
Leon Bridges’s debut album, Coming Home, was one of the most pleasant surprises of 2015. The fact that old-school soul music could be successfully championed and resuscitated by a 26-year-old singer showed that this music is still vital. Bass guitarist Austin Jenkins and drummer Josh Block, formerly of the band White Denim, helped produce Coming Home and were among those who played on the album. Both Bridges and the musicians who accompanied him displayed an uncanny understanding of music whose heyday was long before they were born.
The winter haze in Eugene, Oregon, where I live, hangs like a veil of thin gray fog over everything, diffusing light, draining color from the landscape, and contributing to my moods a quality of vague gloom for months at a time. But in my nearly 30 years here I’ve grown mildly accustomed to its character, seeking joy and the brilliant colors of life in other things -- cooking soups and stews, reading good books, scribbling essays and poems, growing fanatical about all things audio -- to drive away the clouds of accidie and despair brought by months of winter weather.
By the time you read this, what was the Music Vault will be no more than what you’ve read in the pages of the old Ultra Audio, now SoundStage! Ultra. The new owners of my old house have ripped off its roof and are adding a full second story. The remains of the Music Vault are in some dumpster somewhere.
If those shattered walls could talk . . .
How many people know what a phono stage is? Of that microscopic cross-section of humanity, how many do you think actually own a standalone component whose only job is to amplify the tiny electrical signal generated by a phono cartridge?
Format: 2 LPs
Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: ***½
Overall Enjoyment: ****
Neil Young wrote and recorded Tonight’s the Night in the late summer of 1973, shortly after two close friends died of heroin overdoses. Danny Whitten had been a singer and the rhythm guitarist for Crazy Horse, Young’s backing band, and Bruce Berry was Young’s roadie and friend. Young’s studio recording of the previous year was Harvest, which was hugely popular and put him firmly in the mainstream. Tonight’s the Night was a more emotionally difficult album, sloppier in execution -- and one of his best.
For the past few months I’ve been evaluating two products from Balanced Audio Technology: the VK-53SE preamplifier and the subject of this review, the VK-255SE stereo power amplifier. The VK-255SE presents attractive measures of size, mass, gain, and power output for its asking price of $8995 USD, but would its impressive specifications result in equally impressive sound quality? I couldn’t wait to find out.
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