The Ultra Reference System represents the culmination of many years of listening to the finest components available. It is my current review system, housed in the listening room I set up four years ago when I moved into my home here in southeastern North Carolina, and man, do I love it. Yeah, it’s a valuable tool for reviewing audio components because of its neutrality and amazing resolving capability—but listening to music over it is the real reward.
Last month I wrote about “The Reference System” for the March 1 update of SoundStage! Ultra. In that article, I examined the notion of the reference audio system, outlined the types of folks who have them, explained why these systems matter, and provided some insight into how to go about assembling one. I concluded by promising to explore reference audio systems on SoundStage! Ultra “in greater depth and in some very exciting ways in 2022.”
Engineer and high-fidelity enthusiast Jacques Mahul founded Focal-JMlab in 1979. He began making speaker drivers at a family-owned engineering company in Saint-Etienne, France. Not long after, Mahul built his first speaker, the DB13, a standmounted design released in 1982 under the JMlab brand name. The DB13 was one of the first speakers to utilize a double voice-coil speaker driver, which enabled it to play as loudly as many floorstanding models of the time.
Blue Note Records B0033158-01/Pacific Jazz ST-85
Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: ***½
Overall Enjoyment: ****½
By the time Joe Pass began his recording career in 1962, he was 33 years old. A heroin addict through much of the 1950s, he had kicked the drug with the help of the controversial Synanon rehab program. His debut LP for Pacific Jazz Records, Sounds of Synanon, featured musicians who were fellow clients. During the five years that Pass was associated with Pacific Jazz, he appeared on recordings by other artists on the label, including Les McCann and Gerald Wilson.
On January 17, 1982, the very first Michell GyroDec turntable, serial number 001, rolled off the Michell Engineering production line in Borehamwood, England, and was shipped to Anglia Audio of Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk. Nothing quite like it had ever been seen before—it was breathtakingly beautiful, but more importantly, it rewrote the rule book for all time on how to extract maximum information from a vinyl record.
Reviewers have reference audio systems. Audiophiles have reference audio systems. Dealers have reference audio systems. Manufacturers have reference audio systems. Cue up the internet meme: Oprah shouting from the stage, “Reference audio systems for everyone!”
Audiovector, based in Copenhagen, Denmark, has been producing high-end loudspeakers for over four decades. And, as you can imagine, a company that has been producing speakers since 1979 must have an impressive product selection. I chose one of their newest models to review, the R 6 Avantgarde.
My neighbor and fellow audiophile, Ron, let slip that he had a busted Shelter 901 cartridge sitting in a box. Seems that the cleaning lady was dusting his turntable a bunch of years ago, and she got a little too aggressive with the cloth. Ripped the cantilever clean off.
Blue Note Records BN 2801/B003372801
Format: 2 LPs
Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: ***
Overall Enjoyment: ***½
Don Was, president of Blue Note Records, penned the short introductory essay for the booklet that accompanies First Flight to Tokyo: The Lost 1961 Recordings, a newly released set of live recordings by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. Was describes Blakey’s importance to Blue Note, both as band leader and accompanist, and goes on to praise his focus and inspiration, which drove the musicians he played with to do their best.
Most of my friends are not audiophiles. In other words, most of them don’t care all that much about the actual sound of the music they play in their homes. Or their cars. Or at the gym. They care about the music, of course, but the sound of it—whether it passes a certain threshold we’ll call, um, audible—is of little consequence to them.
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