Few spirited e-mail threads are exchanged among the SoundStage! Network’s editorial staff. With so many articles coming out each month that need eyes on them to ensure that they’re squeaky clean for your reading pleasure, I find myself weighing in only when I spot something amiss, or I see a chance to lob a snarky remark at the infallible Jeff Fritz or the Napoleonic Doug Schneider. Recently, however, an objectivist/subjectivist discussion broke out that prominently featured the topic of “bias.” No matter where you are on that continuum, bias is of course unavoidable, and to suggest otherwise would be ignorant.
Luxury audio has recently been gaining market share in an industry that was, at its beginning, about the pursuit of the high-fidelity reproduction of sound and music. I’ve seen the shift in more and more product introductions of the past decade -- components costing six figures and systems costing millions abound.
I like to think I was ahead of the curve when, in mid-2009, I bought a Benchmark Media Systems DAC1 USB (discontinued) off a dude on Audiogon. That was in the infancy of high-end computer audio, and the well-regarded Benchmark was one of the first mainstream DACs with a USB input. My previous source had been a cheap Sony CD changer (don’t judge -- I was 23), and the Benchmark DAC offered a big step up in sound quality: that immaculate, analytical sound that digital sources of the aughts all seemed to possess. And at the DAC1 USB’s modest price of $1295 (all prices USD), that kind of sound made it a steal.
I’m not a member of the Everything Matters camp. I won’t list here all the things audiophiles do to alter the sound of their systems, but suffice it to say that I don’t spend hour after hour comparing footers or cable elevators in attempts to season the sound of my stereo to suit my palate. But most things, of course, do matter, and that’s where I focus my attention.
Musical Performance: ***½
Sound Quality: ****½
Overall Enjoyment: ****
When I imagine the vault that holds all of the recordings Neil Young has ever made, I conjure up a Batcave filled with tape boxes. In the last 14 years or so, Young has released a lot of material from his Neil Young Archives. The eight-CD Neil Young Archives Vol.1, 1963–1972 (2009) mixed previously unreleased rarities with things that had been available for a while. Young has also cut loose a series of live albums from performances over the years, and in 2017 issued Hitchhiker, a solo acoustic studio album recorded on a single evening in 1976. He has also released all-analog vinyl editions of much of his catalog.
EMM Labs’ DV2 ($30,000 USD) digital-to-analog converter is the product of a three-way collaboration of Ed Meitner, EMM’s founder and chief designer, responsible for the DV2’s overall design, hardware, and layout; Mariusz Pawlicki, who engineered the DSP and firmware; and Kris Holstein, who designed the case and mechanics. The DV2 is based on the circuitry of EMM’s DA2 DAC ($25,000), but partners it with EMM’s VControl -- an all-new, very-high-resolution (50-bit), digital volume controller.
Last month I wrote “System Finished: MSB Technology Discrete DAC.” In that article I detailed what went into my selecting this fantastic digital-to-analog converter from California as a permanent part of my audio system. Then I gave a rundown of everything in my new audio rig, which I began assembling in July 2017. As stated in that article’s title, that system is now finished, and I can breathe a sigh of relief.
My chronic addiction to Audiophilia nervosa has lasted more than 30 years now, and in that time I’ve owned countless components. Family and friends often joke that I should install a loading dock outside my listening room, to ease the swapping of gear in and out. At one time or another I’ve owned products from almost every major maker of high-end audio equipment, and in some cases -- Conrad-Johnson, Magnepan, Mark Levinson, McIntosh Laboratory, etc. -- several of their current and past offerings.
New West NW5397
Musical Performance: ***½
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****
Many musicians have recorded music that is overtly political, but few have done it more often or been more resolutely outspoken than Steve Earle. His albums Jerusalem (2002) and The Revolution Starts Now (2004) were critical of the George W. Bush administration, and Earle’s opposition to the death penalty has led him to write and record several songs about the issue, including “Billy Austin” and “Ellis Unit One,” both featured on the soundtrack of the film Dead Man Walking (1995).
“Electrons don’t care what kind of wires they’re in,” an electronics engineer once said to me. He was being glib, but I knew him to be a serious man when it came to audio. He builds great tubed and solid-state gear and has good taste in music.
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