“This Denafrips DAC is very good. And really well built. Like, really well built.” It was Tuesday, and SoundStage! publisher Doug Schneider was telling me about the company’s flagship Terminator-Plus DAC over the phone while, as so often happens, I was trying to attend to my corporate day job. “Uh-huh,” I murmured, kinda, sorta listening. I knew Denafrips as the manufacturer of some relatively affordable digital gear that had made a splash amongst YouTube reviewers in recent times, and being a reviewer myself here at SoundStage! Ultra, I was completely unprepared for what Doug said next. “What if you reviewed their Venus II for SoundStage! Ultra?” My attention was immediately wrenched from my work email, and I bemusedly blurted, “Uh, what? Why?” I knew the Terminator-Plus—which like all Denafrips products is sold in Singapore dollars (SGD)—retailed for less than $6500 in the United States based on then-current conversion rates, and that the Venus II retailed for less than $3000. No matter how good the Venus II was, in my head, its pricing automatically ruled it out as an Ultra product. But Doug, my stubborn, combustible friend from the Great White North, encouraged me to be open-minded. I’m glad I was, because the times, they are a-changin’.
I’m writing this on December 15, 2021. Since Christmas is a week from this Saturday, I thought it would be the perfect time to list some of the many things connected to the audio industry and my position with SoundStage!—editor in chief—that I’m thankful for. So here they are (in no particular order).
Alta Audio is based in Huntington, New York, and manufactures a growing line of loudspeakers, all of them designed by company president Michael Levy. For my review, I chose a smallish floorstander, the Alec, for several initial reasons. First, the Alec is a two-way design that weighs under 100 pounds. My current reference loudspeaker, the Sonus Faber Maxima Amator, is similar in size and form factor; like the Alec, it’s also a slim two-driver, two-way floorstander with an ambitious design brief. Having several months of listening to the SF under my belt, I knew I wanted to sample another speaker model that would compete directly with the svelte Italian. The Alta Audio Alec fit the bill perfectly.
About 40 years ago, I used to hang out at the Harkness house after school. It was the kind of place I want my daughter to be able to hang out in when she gets into her teenage years—a house full of creativity, music, art, and positive energy. There were five siblings, one of whom is still an extremely close friend and another who is now the musician known as Harkness.
Mack Avenue Records MAC1186LP
Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****
While there are plenty of jazz organists who continue to play the kind of soul jazz that Jimmy Smith made popular on the instrument, it’s hard to think of any who match Joey DeFrancesco’s commitment to that tradition. Larry Goldings is a formidable and accomplished player, but he also spends a good bit of his time playing jazz piano. John Medeski is an exciting, innovative musician, but his music takes in everything from jam-band rock to free jazz.
So, you’ve assembled this great high-end system—components, speakers, cabling, isolation devices, various tweaks, and so on—and you’re experiencing what you believe is the highest fidelity your system is capable of. But have you considered power conditioning? The subject is not nearly as controversial as it once was. Most major audio magazines, this publication included, have extolled the virtues of cleaning up the power that runs from the wall to your stereo.
On October 20, 2021, Stereophile published a review of the Dan D’Agostino Master Audio Systems Progression M550 monoblock power amplifiers ($44,950 USD per pair) by Jason Victor Serinus.
Totem Acoustic is a company whose products I’ve long admired from a distance, but never had the opportunity to review. When I first became acquainted with the brand 15 years ago, its design aesthetic of simple, clean lines and veneered wood finishes appealed to me. Several of their current models—like their Arro and Forest floorstanding models, as well as their Sky and Signature One bookshelf speakers—continue this tradition.
Blue Note Records/Universal Music Enterprises BST-84323/3808954
Musical Performance: ***½
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****
Jazz pianist Duke Pearson spent most of his recording career with Blue Note Records, where he also arranged and produced for other artists. One of his later recordings for the label was a Christmas album, Merry Ole Soul. He recorded the album’s nine well-known seasonal songs in February and August 1969, with Bob Cranshaw on bass, Mickey Roker on drums, and, on three tracks, Airto Moreira on percussion. Blue Note released the album later that year.
One of the great things about hi-fi is that there’s something for everybody. Like in any other industry, the big players care less about pleasing the eccentric fringes, and more about capturing as large a slice of the “average” audiophile base as possible. There’s nothing wrong with that—it’s good business. But it doesn’t exactly encourage risk-taking, or flourishes of design and engineering ingenuity, because the goal is less about enticing the most audiophiles, and more about discouraging the least. The older I get, the more mundane that notion seems to me. Life is short. And while affordable hi-fi should be all about performance per dollar, the more boutique nature of the high end demands that a loudspeaker be both performant and provocative.
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