Legacy link:
This new site was launched in July 2010. Visit the older site to access previous articles by clicking above.

Ultra Audio's site platform was changed in August 2010. For equipment reviews previous to that, use this link to transfer to the old site.

My colleagues at SoundStage! have accused me of being a by-the-pound guy. There’s some truth to that. By any reasonable standard, my speakers have always been heavy, and so have the amplifiers that have driven them. For the most part, heavy gear is just a fact of life in ultra-high-end audio. The upper-end speaker models from Magico, Rockport, Wilson, et al., have always been heavyweights. Same goes for amps -- the Boulders, Gryphons, Soulutions, etc. With these companies, I always knew that the fact that they made their products with heavier materials and parts was a good thing: lots of bracing inside speaker cabinets, and big power supplies inside amps, were what we were told made great sound possible. It meant you were getting your money’s worth.

Reviewers' ChoiceWhen I was a kid growing up in the pre-statehood Hawaiʻi, three generations of my family would spend each Sunday night after dinner watching The Ed Sullivan Show from New York, a magical city an ocean and an entire continent away from our islands. On the stage of CBS Studio 51, in the Maxine Elliott Theatre, at Broadway and 39th Street, all manner of clowns, comedians, magicians, and musicians would cavort and play, inspiring us provincials into laughter, tears, or quiet admiration. Besides the big stars -- the singers and actors of the day -- there were novelty acts like the Spanish ventriloquist Señor Wences with his talking, lidded box; the Little Italian Mouse, Topo Gigio, a hand puppet that bantered with the host; and Borscht Belt comedians galore who kept us in stitches.

Reviewers' ChoiceOne of the first makers of audiophile cables, Golden Enz, began business in the 1970s. With conductors of ordinary electrical-grade copper and connectors of gold-plated nickel, Golden Enz cables now seem archaic. However, they were undoubtedly better than the lamp-cord wire then available at the local RadioShack.

Reviewers' ChoiceMytek Digital has been a pioneer in digital audio reproduction. Their Stereo192-DSD was one of the first DACs capable of playing DSD files, and their Brooklyn was one of the first non-Meridian DACs to play Meridian’s new Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) files.

MQA is a system of encoding audio files that its developer, Meridian Ltd. (MQA Ltd. has since been spun off as a separate company), claims sounds better than such high-resolution encoding methods as DSD and DXD, while resulting in file sizes much smaller than those formats. The small files mean that MQA encoding can be used to stream hi-rez audio over standard Internet connections -- and indeed, Tidal is currently streaming MQA files. I’ve seen Tidal stream files of resolutions up to 24-bit/352.8kHz, and I understand that MQA can handle up to 768kHz.

I’m a sucker for the double-down solid-state power amp. But to explain what this means and why it’s important to me I need to start about 30 years ago.

While I’ve always been passionate about home audio, I used to be rabid about car audio, and three decades ago I became very good friends with Colin Kay, owner of Autoworks Car Audio, here in Toronto. Colin introduced me to such esoteric concepts as tube monoblock amplifiers and external DACs (this was about the time Audio Alchemy pioneered the affordable DAC). He also infected me with Mobile Bass Disease.

In Japan, the branch of esoteric Buddhism called Shingon (“the true words”) practices Goma, an intricate ritual of consecrated fire dedicated to destroying negative energies, detrimental thoughts and desires, and impure variations of the true words of this spiritual discipline. The flames of the Goma can reach several yards high, and this miraculous fire, combined with mass chanting from the assembled priests and accompanied by the pounding of huge taiko drums, can induce a sublime, trance-like state that’s said to heal the sick, summon rain, improve harvests, exorcise demons, avert natural disasters, and just brang that funky music to the worried heart. It’s supposed to present the pure spiritual Emptiness that is the true nature of reality, and to directly communicate the inner experience of Dharmakaya: the true self of the Buddha present in all beings.

Founded in Brilon, Germany, a small town some 90 miles north of Frankfurt, Audio Physic has for 30 years been earning accolades for producing high-quality, highly resolving loudspeakers under the slogan “No loss of fine detail.” More recently, AP’s reputation for quality, performance, and unique applications of loudspeaker design and materials has generated a lot of buzz on both sides of the pond -- in fact, their provocative products are one of the reasons I became a reviewer. So when I had the opportunity to review Audio Physics’ latest loudspeaker, the Codex, I jumped.

It’s been almost a decade since my last review of Furutech products: their G-314AG-18 and Absolute Power-18 power cords. I noted then that Furutech tries to squeeze every last ounce of performance from its products, not only through the use of innovative technologies, but also with obsessive devotion to detail and build quality. It seems that no improvement in sound quality is too small to be worth achieving, and no product can be overbuilt.

Reviewers' ChoiceVivid Audio’s chief designer-engineer is Laurence Dickie. You’ve probably heard of him -- many reviews of Vivid speakers mention Dickie in the context of the work he did at Bowers & Wilkins years ago. Remember the B&W Nautilus? That was Dickie’s project. Since 2004, Dickie has been designing the loudspeakers manufactured by Vivid Audio, which he co-owns with CEO Philip Guttentag. Vivid speakers are designed in the UK, where Dickie lives, and are made in South Africa, where Guttentag oversees the factory.

In March 2011, I reviewed Audio Research’s DAC8 DAC on SoundStage! Hi-Fi, which used a now-ubiquitous asynchronous USB 2.0 input to play files of sampling rates higher than 96kHz. For a conservative company like ARC, that feature was somewhat innovative, it having only recently emerged as the sonically preferable way to play recordings at what was then the highest resolution available: 24-bit/192kHz. That was before files with such exotic initials as DSD, DXD, and MQA appeared. The DAC9 is ARC’s first standalone, popular-level DAC since 2010 -- in DAC years, an eternity -- and, like most DACs, it doesn’t include the latest development in digital audio playback: the ability to decode Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) files. It can, however, play DSD files; previously, the only ARC component that could do that was the GSi75 integrated amplifier.