ULTRA AUDIO -- Archived Article

December 1, 2007

Looking to 2008

I’ll be finishing my last article for 2007 in the next week or so: an installment of "The World’s Best Audio System" that will focus on the Pass Labs X600.5 monoblock amplifier. After that, it will be time to look toward the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show, in January, and the pending announcements of those components we name as our Products of the Year, selected each year from our reviews of the preceding 12 months.

Wrapping up my 2007 equipment queue has got me thinking about what’s coming in 2008. It’s no secret that audio reviewers generally write about what interests them. However, sometimes we have to write about products that need to be evaluated simply to make our publication’s coverage comprehensive, or at least fairly representative of what the market offers. Sometimes these products aren’t all that interesting to the individual reviewer, but if they’re relevant to our readers, then we need to assess them. Far more often than not, however, I’m more than idly curious about the components that find their way into my Music Vault.

Over the past year, and stretching back into 2006, I have evaluated a daunting number of loudspeaker systems: 13 pairs in a year and a half. The review of the last of this procession -- the German Physiks HRS-120 loudspeaker system -- will appear in early 2008. The HRS-120 is an interesting design based on an omnidirectional mid-and-high-range driver mated to a conventional bottom-mounted woofer. If you’ve never heard an "omni" in your listening room, I recommend trying one. In some respects, it might be the best thing you’ve ever heard; at worst, it will be a different type of sound that will heighten your awareness of how important are design choices and engineering methodologies in the reproduction of musical events from electronic signals.

Also warming up in the Music Vault is an integrated amplifier purported by many to be as good as or better than a lot of separates. The Gryphon Audio Design Diablo hails from Denmark, that land of many great high-end products. I’ve fallen for Gryphon products in the past, and look forward to hearing what their entry-level offerings can do.

I have a few other products lined up for evaluation in the beginning of 2008, but I’m most curious about what I’ll find at CES. As an early adopter of a computer-based music system -- I have an Apple MacBook paired with a Stello DA220 Mk.II D/A converter -- I’m itching to see what companies are coming up with to serve that rapidly expanding market. I hope to see a plethora of new DACs with USB inputs, a trend that I hope will spill over to CD players: Having a digital input on a CD player seems such an obvious feature that I can’t fathom why more companies don’t do it; having the input be a USB jack seems more forward-thinking -- and would be relevant to my system. What else might make computer-based listening even better? I’m hoping that CES 2008 will be instructive for all of us interested in that growing genre.

Lots more opinions are coming, too. (Around here, we’re an opinionated bunch.) Next year I’ll share some further thoughts about what I think is the best way to assemble an audio system. Questions such as "What speakers will work well with so-and-so amp?" drive me nuts. In my book, that’s backwards thinking. I’m now more convinced than ever that the most fruitful approach is to begin with your room and work back to the speakers, then the amp, and so on until, finally, the source. It just makes the most sense to first consider your room acoustics, then chose a speaker that you love and that will work in that space, then find an amplifier that can drive those speakers superbly.

This has been a great year for us here at the SoundStage! Network, and particularly for Ultra Audio. We have lots more in store for 2008, and we hope you’ll continue to honor us with your reading. I wish all of you happy holidays and a merry Christmas. See you next year.

...Jeff Fritz

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