This is intended as a companion piece to the review of Zesto Audio’s Andros Deluxe II phono stage.
When I asked George and Carolyn Counnas how they met, Carolyn laughed. “We were both just working for a band!” she said. That was 1973. By the following year, the two were married. George grew up in southwest London, England, and he loved rock and roll and jazz, frequently catching gigs at bars. He was also technically inclined, having built a unipivot tonearm in secondary school and designed vacuum tube amplifiers on his own time while studying electrical engineering at university. Carolyn, by contrast, exhibited a more aesthetic sensibility. Her studio art background suggests that she’s far more concerned about beauty and form than function.
It’s not imperative for me that an audio component be visually flashy or fancy. I still love the clean, classic simplicity of, say, the basic burnished metal faceplate of a vintage Conrad-Johnson or Audio Research model—no knobs or buttons other than a power switch. That said, there’s something about watching the myriad meters of my reference system of McIntosh Laboratory amplification components dancing in a blue glow—my experience of the sound is enhanced by the system’s visual appeal.
Blue Note Records B0032112-01 / BST 84426
Musical Performance: ****½
Sound Quality: *****
Overall Enjoyment: ****½
Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff supervised countless recordings for Blue Note Records over the years, but some they decided not to release. Often, they were trying to avoid crowding the market, but sometimes Lion’s rigorous quality control standards caused him to shelve a session. Many of the performances on those shelved tapes are as good as anything Blue Note ever released, before the label was suspended in the late 1970s. When such recordings are eventually made available they give jazz lovers a fuller picture of a musician’s association with the label.
In December 2017, I reviewed and then bought Esoteric’s one-box Grandioso K1 SACD/CD player and digital-to-analog converter ($31,000, discontinued; all prices USD). That’s a lifetime ago in the fast-paced world of digital audio, but some things haven’t changed—for one thing, as evinced by the K1’s successor, the Grandioso K1X ($36,000), Esoteric is sticking with the format of 4.75″ shiny silver discs. From the company known for having virtually perfected the SACD/CD transport, that’s no surprise.
Last month I kicked off this series of three articles with descriptions of two stereo systems I’d like to put together to listen to my favorite music through. I began with the lowest-priced setup, the Small Wonder System, priced at $5700 (all prices USD). Then I moved considerably upscale, to the vinyl-based Warm and Classic System, at just shy of $30,000.
Mike Viglas and David Reich founded Classé Audio in 1980. Their first product, the DR-2 class-A power amplifier, quickly gained notoriety for its ability to convincingly drive loudspeakers to unexpectedly high volume levels despite its diminutive power-output specification of 25Wpc. To this day, the success and sound quality of the DR-2 serve as hallmarks for every Classé product since.
Musical Performance: ***½
Sound Quality: ***
Overall Enjoyment: ***½
The first time Portland, Oregon singer-songwriter M. Ward heard the Billie Holiday album Lady in Satin (1958), he was in a California shopping mall, more than 25 years ago. The sound came from a distance, on the other side of the mall. “I remember mistaking her voice for a beautiful perfectly distorted electric guitar,” he says in the press release for his new album, Think of Spring. He described what he heard as “some other-world thing floating there on this strange mournful ocean of strings” and he was “hooked for life.”
In his inimitably matter-of-fact fashion, Magico’s Alon Wolf once told me that “We make loudspeakers, not furniture.” The statement seemed to imply that, for him, form must always follow function. I suspect that the philosophies of most discerning audiophiles are similar. That’s one reason why ultra-high-end systems are often found in dedicated rooms replete with treatments, cable lifters, and fastidious attention paid to ensure that those systems are performing optimally, no matter the imposition. Everything else is subordinated to the pursuit of maximum sound quality.
Well, I’m glad that’s over. 2020, that is. For much of last year, most of us remained cooped up, with little chance to hear new gear in proper listening environments. Many of you shopped virtually, ordering equipment without first having heard it, instead relying on reviews, dealer advice, and the goodwill of other audiophiles willing to share their experiences on message boards—hardly ideal, but better than nothing. With no High End show in Munich, Germany, to go to—not to mention all the other canceled audio shows around the globe—many product launches were pushed back or conducted online. The result? I didn’t get to hear nearly as much new gear as I do in a typical year. I suspect you’ve had the same experience.
When I unboxed Vinnie Rossi’s new L2i Signature Edition integrated amplifier-DAC, two things stood out: 1) It’s good-looking and extremely well built. 2) I didn’t see how it could be worth $22,490 (as reviewed, with optional DAC module; all prices USD). It wasn’t until I’d spoken with founder-owner-designer Vinnie Rossi himself that I began to appreciate what I’d been sent. (See my profile of Rossi and his company.)
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