If you’re reading this column, there’s a good chance you identify as an audiophile. I’m with you -- I grudgingly apply that label to myself. But along with all the glory of having a smokin’ system on which to listen to music comes some baggage.
Musical Performance: ***½
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****
When I got my first apartment, in 1981, the first thing I did was order a cable-TV package that included MTV. In those days, MTV programmed nothing but music videos -- it was the only way I could hear the Clash and the Jam, let alone the English Beat. Punk and New Wave got little airplay on the local FM stations, so MTV helped me hear some great new bands.
An audio system’s sound quality can be affected by, among other things, the type of signal cables, vibration-management products, and room treatments used. However, there is perhaps no more important variable than power. Whether this is due to the essential role that power plays in a signal’s generation, as opposed to its conversion or distribution, is hard to say. What is certain is that the stream of ever-better-performing power products installed in my system over the years has never failed to impress me.
These days there seems to be a lot of activity in the audio industry -- lots of new product launches -- and in the past week I’ve probably read ten press releases from manufacturers. But just as all audiophile products aren’t created equal, neither are the press releases that attempt to attract customers and reviewers to those products. When a company circulates a press release, and I’m deciding if I want to get its subject product in for review, by me or by someone else in the SoundStage! Network, I often see things that bother me. I wonder if they bother you, too.
Balanced Audio Technology, aka BAT, was founded by Steve Bednarski and Victor Khomenko in the early 1990s. Their first two products, the VK-5 preamplifier and VK-60 power amplifier, were launched in January 1995 at the Winter Consumer Electronics Show, in Las Vegas, and those debuts were anything but customary. As the story goes, Geoff Poor, BAT’s current director of sales, had joined Bednarski and Khomenko as a full partner in 1995, having for some years led the marketing department at Dunlavy Audio Labs. Not long before that, while still working at Dunlavy, Poor had invited Bednarski and Khomenko to his family store for a demo of some Dunlavy speakers driven by the forthcoming VK-5 and VK-60. That went so well that Poor convinced John Dunlavy to use the BAT gear to drive his all-new SC-V speakers for their world premiere at the 1995 Winter CES. The tremendous success of this triple debut, held in the ballroom of the Golden Nugget Hotel, created a buzz infectious enough to flood the ballroom with visitors for the rest of the show.
Capital/Universal Music 00602567239109
Musical Performance: ****½
Sound Quality: ***½
Overall Enjoyment: ****
Steve Miller secured his place on classic rock radio in 1973 with The Joker, which began a run of popular LPs that continued with Fly Like an Eagle (1976) and Book of Dreams (1977). Songs from those albums still get heavy airplay, so your chances of hearing them in the grocery store or a cafeteria are pretty high. While those albums are well crafted and full of good humor, Miller’s best records, for me at least, remain his first four, all released under the name The Steve Miller Band: Children of the Future, Sailor (both 1968), Brave New World, and Your Saving Grace (both 1969).
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.
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