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What most non-audiophiles say when they see my system for the first time -- after “Wow, those speakers are huge!” -- is this: “You still listen to records?” By which they mean vinyl LPs, their implication being digital playback formats are of course superior to analog, and that I should get with the times. As politely and non-condescendingly as I can, I try to explain that, in my opinion, the very best analog rigs reproduce recorded music with higher fidelity than the very best digital rigs. Their response is usually skeptical -- until I prove my point with a demonstration. Most doubters then become converts -- or at least feign agreement.
Some audio products look downright menacing. I include in this group Wilson Audio’s Sasha and Devialet’s Phantom speakers, and the electronics from Metaxas Audio Systems. But perhaps no other audio manufacturer so consistently produces gear that looks bent on world domination than does Denmark’s Gryphon Audio Designs, whose aesthetic is striking, to say the least: ultramodern, often black, and pure badass.
The year was 1997. I was in seventh grade, and had recently begun asking my older brother for his copies of Stereophile. He’d always talked about buying a pair of Wilson Audio Specialties’ famed WATT/Puppys, and having heard his system, I was eager to see what hi-fi audio was all about. Reviewed in the October 1997 issue, however, was a loudspeaker that would shift the spotlight -- if only for moment -- away from the super-high-end’s perennial heavyweight champ.
What this world needs is a great loudspeaker costing under $15,000 USD per pair.
Many audiophiles don’t consider a speaker costing 15 grand per pair expensive. My non-audiophile friends consider this amazingly misguided. It wouldn’t take an exhaustive Internet search to find a reviewer somewhere saying something like this: “You can expect only so much for $15,000.”
It’s Christmas 2018, and I’m at my in-laws’ for the holidays. Doug Schneider pings me via text and asks if I’m interested in reviewing Audience’s Au24 SX interconnects and speaker cables. They’re in his car, see, and he’ll be driving right past Campbellford, Ontario, the rural town in which Marcia’s ’rents live. How ’bout he just drops ’em off?
For the past few years, McIntosh Laboratory has been refreshing and expanding its product line at an unprecedented pace. The subject of this review, the MC1.25KW mono amplifier ($12,500 USD each), made its debut in late 2017, and I haven’t been able to take my eyes off it since. Imagine my elation when Mark Christensen, McIntosh’s marketing coordinator, offered to send me for review a pair of MC1.25KWs and their flagship preamplifier, the C1100 (review in the works). In discussions with Christensen, I learned that the MC1.25KW is both a replacement for and an evolution of McIntosh’s beloved MC1.2KW amplifier, and offers more dynamic headroom, upgraded parts and connection points, and refreshed industrial design and lighting.
I’ve reviewed many loudspeakers over the years, and while many were quite good, only a few stand out in my memory. There seems to be a limit to how much pleasure I get from looking at rectilinear boxes made of MDF over the 12 weeks of the average listening period for a review. Some manufacturers, in an effort to stand out from the crowd, might throw in a curve here, a flourish there, maybe a super-high-gloss finish to add flair to yet another box whose primary -- and, for most listeners, sole -- purpose is to move air.
High-end audio gear can get expensive, but the meaning of expensive depends on the context. For the sake of SoundStage! Ultra, I put most equipment in one of two mental categories: house money and car money.
In the US, the median price of a home is $236,100 (all prices USD); the average transaction price of a light vehicle is $37,577. I used to review house-money gear, and these days many manufacturers make loudspeakers priced in that category. But most folks can’t afford a second home; it’s fair to say that you must be pretty wealthy to afford that much for a pair of speakers.
Theoretica Applied Physics, based in Princeton, New Jersey, has the most revolutionary digital signal processing (DSP) technology you’ve never heard about. The company’s website states that this technology, the Band-Assisted Crosstalk Cancellation Hierarchy-Stereo Purifier (BACCH-SP), uses digital interaural crosstalk cancellation (IXTC) to create “unprecedented spatial realism . . . [thus] allowing the listener to hear . . . a truly 3D . . . sound field that is simply unapproachable by . . . existing high-end audio systems.”
Chances are that anyone reading this review is passionate about music and sound quality, and that most will agree that the audio component that plays the biggest role in determining the sound of recorded music reproduced at home is the loudspeaker. In recent years, many have argued that the second-biggest role is played by the room itself. Having reviewed speakers and electronic components for almost a decade now, I wholeheartedly agree with both assertions -- I’ve experienced their truth first-hand in my listening for reviews of speaker after speaker, and heard how each speaker has interacted with and performed differently in my well-damped listening room. Most of these speakers have been well engineered and built of high-quality materials, with cutting-edge drivers and electrical components installed in dense cabinets designed to optimize driver performance and minimize resonances.
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