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.)
This is intended as a companion piece to the review of Vinnie Rossi’s L2i Special Edition integrated amplifier.
In my 35th year on this pale blue dot, I’ve come to realize how little intrepidity courses through my veins. I have so little appetite for risk and uncertainty that my day job is effectively spent identifying and minimizing these variables. There’s value to this kind of mindset: stability, consistency, security. But this mindset is anathema to visionaries and creators. Unlike me, these individuals don’t see the here and now and wish only to protect and fortify it. Their gaze extends beyond the horizon and what is, to some potential reality of what could be. Vinnie Rossi is just such a person.
Verve Records B0032589-01
Musical Performance: ****½
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****½
“The sound of popular music in the third decade of the 21st century is predominantly electronic,” Stuart Nicholson writes in his liner notes to The Lost Berlin Tapes, a newly released live recording of a March 1962 performance by Ella Fitzgerald. Nicholson notes that while the current generation of singers frequently perform with the aid of electronic enhancements, Fitzgerald required only her voice, a microphone, and—for this performance—a jazz trio playing acoustic instruments. She’s so well known, even nearly 25 years after her death, that her first name alone is listed on the cover of the new album; just as it was in 1960, when Verve released Mack the Knife: Ella in Berlin.
I remain conflicted about my Vault subscription with Third Man Records (TMR). Four times a year, TMR ships me a release for around $70 (all prices in USD). The title is generally announced a month or so before it’s shipped, so there’s never really a surprise when it arrives. The albums are beautifully pressed and of exceedingly high quality, and the packaging is truly deluxe. The package usually includes at least two LPs, often with a 7″ 45rpm bonus disc, and some sort of glossy booklet. For some inexplicable reason, TMR often includes a DVD of concert footage. Given that I haven’t had a DVD player hooked up for years now, I don’t get much satisfaction from this inclusion.
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