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The Best of British
Quite simply, SME is one of the crown jewels of the British audio industry, and is as quintessentially English as the BBC, Windsor Castle, or strawberries and cream at Wimbledon. Nestled in the foothills of the beautiful South Downs in West Sussex, you’ll find the magnificent art deco headquarters of one of the world’s finest engineering companies. Note the lack of qualification there: not audio engineering companies, but engineering companies—period. For SME doesn’t just build some of the world’s most desirable turntables and tonearms; it also undertakes leading-edge engineering projects for Formula 1 racing teams and aerospace firms. It’s no exaggeration to say that SME’s astonishing capability in precision metalwork is world-renowned and globally respected. This is a company that builds analog replay equipment to the sort of tolerances that NASA specifies for its spacecraft. So when Stuart McNeilis, SME’s charismatic CEO, offered me the opportunity to review the company’s new flagship Model 60 turntable, he didn’t need to ask twice.
Art thou troubled? Music will calm thee . . .
—G.F. Handel, Rodelinda
I’ve been in this game long enough to know that something special is arriving when it comes in flight cases the size of telephone booths. I half expected to see “Pink Floyd, Wembley Stadium, London” stamped on the side. Ben Lilly, ATC’s cheerful sales director, read my mind as he flung open the rear doors of the firm’s smart blue van. He smiled and said, “Don’t worry, it’s not too bad, they’re on casters.” When I was younger I thought it would be great fun being a roadie, traveling the world, getting drunk with rock stars, getting laid by groupies, and sharing the camaraderie of the tour bus at 4 a.m. as the sun rose over the Nevada desert. Nowadays, my aspirations are more limited—managing to haul these ATC speakers into the house without my feeble spine crumbling into a mixture of dust and broken sinews would do. I reckon I could still manage the getting-drunk-with-rock-stars thing quite well, but I’m not sure I could keep up with the groupies anymore.
If you click through any high-end publication today, you’re bound to find advertisements for many alluring turntables and tonearms. If you look a bit closer, you may notice that despite looking very different, most turntables and tonearms appear to be exorcizing similar demons: induced vibration and improper stylus alignment.
Please see the accompanying profile on Perlisten Audio founder Dan Roemer.
Perlisten Audio debuted in 2020—seemingly out of nowhere—in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The S Series, rolling five models deep, was less of a first draft than a polished finished article. It features the flagship four-way S7t floorstander ($17,990 per pair; all prices in USD), the four-way S7c center speaker ($8495), the three-way S5m standmount ($12,990 per pair), the three-way S4b bookshelf speaker ($7990 per pair), and the S4s surround speaker ($7590 per pair). As this review was being written, Perlisten added a sixth model, the smaller three-way S5t floorstander ($13,990 per pair), to the S-Series lineup. Each model comes in standard Piano Black and Piano White finishes, with wood veneers available for a surcharge. The company’s loudspeakers boast cutting-edge technology, including bespoke, hand-built drivers—none of that off-the-shelf nonsense that many other ultra-high-end companies use—and a unique DPC array that differentiates itself from most everything else on the market (more on the DPC array below). Perlisten has also released four sealed subwoofers that leverage its own driver and amplifier designs. I jumped at the opportunity to hear for myself what this upstart hi-fi firm has to offer.
In early 2020 I had the good fortune to review EMM Labs’ DV2 DAC-preamplifier ($30,000), and despite my efforts, I struggled to find fault with it. Consequently, the DV2’s fit, finish, and performance remain the benchmark against which I compare all components of its ilk, including the subject of this review, Linn’s next-generation Klimax DSM ($39,000 when configured as DSM AV, see below, all prices USD). Unlike the DV2, a digital-only preamplifier equipped with a SOTA volume control and a world-class DAC, Linn’s Klimax DSM offers features beyond the scope of the DV2, including analog inputs, two control apps, onboard lossless streaming, and onboard room-correction software. Linn’s reimagined Klimax DSM is by far the most complex, feature-laden audio component I’ve ever reviewed.
Swordsmiths, samurai, and a little magic
You may be surprised to hear that moving-coil cartridges can trace their origins all the way back to 1946, when Ortofon developed a prototype. Since its commercial launch in 1948, the moving coil (MC) has become firmly established as the ne plus ultra for vinyl replay. The MC market is well served, with major manufacturers like Ortofon and Audio-Technica offering a wide variety of designs ranging in price from $200 to over $1000 (all prices in USD). Despite the scale of such firms and their impressive performance engineering capabilities, there’s another sector of the market that remains primarily the domain of smaller, niche operators.
Dynaudio has been designing and building loudspeakers for more than 40 years. In that time, the company has contributed some fairly significant products, like the Consequence loudspeaker back in 1983, the Evidence Master in 1989, the Confidence C1 Signature in 2011, and of course, the Special Forty in 2017.
The most anticipated SoundStage! Ultra review of 2022 did not get off to the smoothest of starts. Full disclosure: the missteps had absolutely nothing to do with Gryphon Audio Designs or SoundStage!
Nonetheless . . .
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.
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