Last May in Munich, walking the halls of High End 2019, I happened on perhaps the most physically imposing digital-to-analog converter I’ve ever seen: the Wadax Atlantis Reference DAC. I quickly learned that its over-the-top visual design is matched by its price: €110,000. For a DAC. One DAC.
Last month, in “The Ultra High End Better Start Offering More,” I explored what I would require of a new pair of flagship stereo loudspeakers circa 2019. The article has been bothering me ever since I wrote it, though probably not for the reason you might assume. I’ve been an audiophile for more than 30 years, and you might suppose that, in the interim, a bit of nostalgia had hit me, and I was feeling myself pulled back by hankerings for the days of old. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m bothered by last month’s article because I think it didn’t go nearly far enough.
Amazon’s recent announcement of their Amazon Music HD streaming service ($14.99/month, $12.99/month for Prime members; all prices USD) will drive the other major music-streaming services to offer better quality, or lower prices, or both. Those are three of the conclusions drawn by SoundStage! staffers, as discussed in Gordon Brockhouse’s recent article on SoundStage! Global. To compete, Apple and Spotify will need to offer a high-resolution option, and Tidal ($19.99/month) and Qobuz ($24.99/month) will likely have to lower the prices of their top tiers. This is, of course, business as usual: When a major player undercuts the market and/or offers a superior product, its competitors are forced to meet that challenge or go out of business.
In “Power Supplies: Commentary for Consumers,” an essay by famed engineer Nelson Pass posted on the website of the company he founded, Pass Laboratories, he states:
As a consumer, you want the best sound you can get. You can accomplish that through critical listening. As a secondary goal, we all like to get what seems to be good hardware value, and we want to know that the manufacturer has actually put some real money into the product which costs a small fortune. If you can read the specs or look under the hood, the power supply, being one of the most expensive parts of the amp, usually is a good indicator. It should be the biggest and heaviest part of the amplifier.
In May 2005, SoundStage! Hi-Fi (then simply SoundStage!) published my review of the darTZeel Audio NHB-108 Model One stereo amplifier. I had lots of good things to say about this super-cool Swiss product, and in the years since, it seems that many audiophiles have enjoyed having one at the heart of their high-end systems. To say it has had a successful run would be an understatement.
I’ve been a reviewer of high-end audio gear for 22 years now, but precisely two years ago my expenditures on gear took a sharp decline. That was when I announced that “Jeff’s Getting a New Stereo System,” for reasons explained in that article. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still hanker for products I’ve heard or seen, whether at shows or in press releases from manufacturers, and it doesn’t mean I don’t still get super-enthusiastic about cool gear.
I have two German Shepherds, one of whom, Cutter, is just shy of three years old. He comes from a strong working line and, as such, has very strong drive. Recently, he was sitting at attention on my back patio, which is screened in -- a nice place to be in late fall or early summer. I still don’t know what he saw at the rear of our property -- deer or squirrel or fox -- but whatever it was, it needed chasing down now, and the screen covering the bottom section of that end of the patio put up little resistance to his determination. He went through it as if it wasn’t there. My wife insisted I do something about it.
Adults face many issues every day, some of them deadly serious. It would be easy for me -- or you -- to draw up a long list of them, but as that list would include issues typically batted back and forth in political circles, I won’t. On the SoundStage! sites, I’ve always tried to stick to writing about audio -- it’s not within the purview of a family of publications dedicated to the pursuit of great sound to include the latest political talking points.
Although I can’t pinpoint the exact date, the last time I was satisfied with my stereo system was sometime in early 2017. I had a pair of Magico Q7 Mk.II speakers driven by a Soulution 711 stereo amplifier. My digital source was a Soulution 560 DAC-preamplifier, and interconnects and speaker cables were Nordost Valhallas. That ca.-$400,000 system was assembled in my listening room, the Music Vault, and tweaked with excruciating attention to detail. The sound was all that I could hope a system of that pedigree could produce -- it was sublime.
In September 2018 I wrote “Jeff’s New Room,” in which I wrote in detail about moving into my new listening room after selling our previous home and spending some time in a rental house. The room had not yet been acoustically treated when I wrote the piece, and it remained largely untreated throughout the listening sessions for the first product I reviewed there, the EgglestonWorks Kiva loudspeakers. The Kivas are terrific speakers -- despite being asked to perform in a room in which little attention had been paid to acoustics, they sounded quite good in my new space.
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