What is the true foundation of a seriously good audio system? I’ve heard very knowing people say that speakers set the character of the sound. Others argue that the amplifier is the key, as its power range and operating characteristics might also determine everything else. But, to more than a few, the true heart of any audio system is the preamp. Finally, there are those who insist that it’s source equipment -- the turntable, tonearm, and cartridge, or the digital player and/or DAC -- that determines each of our stereophonic fates. Yet before any of these essential components can contribute anything to the audio chain, it’s the power we get from our wall outlets that drives all else. No matter the quality and prowess of our vaunted audio purchases, saith a happy few, we won’t be able to realize the full capabilities of any of them without clean, reliable electricity.
As a longtime audio reviewer, I’ve heard a lot of products in my room -- but not all of them. Nowhere even close to most of them, actually. So when I hear about a new product that I find interesting, I often do what most audiophiles do: I search for it online and see what information I can find. Generally, I come across two types of information: the marketing materials released by the manufacturer, and the reactions to those marketing materials posted by audiophiles on online forums.
When the SoundStage! Network’s Editor-in-Chief, Jeff Fritz, asked if I’d be interested in reviewing a speaker from Audio Physic, I knew little about the German company other than that they’d been around for a while and had produced some highly regarded loudspeakers. I typically review more modestly priced speakers, primarily from North American manufacturers. And while I knew that Audio Physic was well established, I hadn’t known that they’ve been around long enough to have celebrated their 30th anniversary in 2015.
Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab MFSL 2-455
Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: *****
Overall Enjoyment: ****1/2
By 1975, when Alan Parsons and lyricist-songwriter Eric Woolfson formed the Alan Parsons Project, Parsons had firmly established himself as a record producer and engineer. He’d been nominated for a Grammy for his engineering of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, which he produced, and had engineered albums by Paul McCartney and Wings, Al Stewart, the Hollies, Jeff Beck, Roy Harper, Peggy Lee, and Ambrosia, among many others -- including the Beatles’ Abbey Road. He was uniquely qualified to handle the recordings he and Woolfson created, for which they brought in various players and singers.
Nearly every audio journalist I know hates to review cables. Aside from their being lazy buggers, there are some good reasons they feel that way: 1) cables sometimes require lengthy break-in, and manufacturers aren’t always helpful about specifying a break-in time; 2) the differences in sound between cables are sometimes minuscule; 3) cables can sound different from a reviewer’s reference cables without sounding better or worse; and 4) cables’ sound may be system-dependent. But occasionally, a set of cables comes along that sounds so different -- and, sometimes, better -- that we find ourselves coaxed into reviewing another set of cables.
Last month, SoundStage! Publisher Doug Schneider wrote an editorial for SoundStage! Hi-Fi titled “Future Sounds -- Sonus Faber’s Sf16 and New Directions in Hi-Fi.” In it, he made some very good points regarding the future of the high-end audio industry, and what it will take for it to thrive into the next generation. In some ways, Doug said, these are bleak times: “Visit as many manufacturers as I do and you’ll hear tale after tale of how sales of traditional hi-fi products -- preamplifiers, amplifiers, standalone speakers (particularly big, boxy ones), etc. -- are way down. These have been -- or were -- the staples of the hi-fi scene for longer than I’ve been part of it; but now, fewer people want them, and no one I’ve talked to seems to think this trend will end. It’s not just a few manufacturers saying this -- it’s almost all of them.”
“Have fun dancing with the Devil.”
It’s the sort of line a B-movie bad guy would growl. It’s not the sort of sign-off you expect to see at the end of an e-mail from the founder and CEO of a high-end audio manufacturer. Yet Flemming E. Rasmussen, of Gryphon Audio Designs, in Denmark, had written just that in confirmation of my receipt of his company’s Diablo 300 integrated amplifier. If it were any other manufacturer, I’d have rolled my eyes and moved on. But Gryphon’s creations are bold and unusual looking, and I’d waited a long time to review one. I chuckled. Nervously.
Sony Legacy/Exile Productions 88875134742
Musical Performance: *****
Sound Quality: ****1/2
Picture Quality: **1/2
Overall Enjoyment: ****1/2
When I saw that Van Morrison had released a set of the recordings from the shows used to form his legendary two-LP live set from 1974, I didn’t jump right away to buy it. The original set is so good I was afraid the new collection, three CDs and a DVD, would dilute what is justly considered to be one of the best live albums ever released. Luckily, a friend gave me ..It’s Too Late to Stop Now … Volumes II, III, IV & DVD for my recent birthday, and it is a stunning document of Morrison at his best with his finest live band.
Immediately before putting fingers to keypad for this review, I spent a considerable amount of time reviewing Constellation Audio’s Inspiration Preamp 1.0 ($9900 USD). I began that review by touching on the company’s lineage, highlighting a few of the minds responsible for its products, and describing its three product tiers. The Inspiration series comprises Constellation’s least-expensive models, succeeded by the Performance series, and finally their flagship line, the Reference series. But while the Inspiration models are Constellation’s introductory products, they’re by no means budget, stripped-down, bare-bones offerings. In fact, if I had to pick one word to define the Inspirations -- and in particular the subject of this review, the Inspiration Stereo 1.0 amplifier -- it would be value.
I’ve owned three BMWs over the past 15 years. I had a 5-series car (can’t remember which one), a 128i, and, between those two, a 328i with the Performance Package that I bought brand new oh, maybe 12 years ago. I had only about 500 miles on the 328i when, one morning, I pulled out of my driveway, put the car in drive, and . . . nothing. About 30 seconds later, the transmission finally engaged. Nor was this an anomaly -- later that day, the same thing happened. I got on the phone with the BMW dealership I’d bought the car from. Sure enough, they knew about the problem -- it had reared its head all over the country. Turns out the transmission in this model was actually built by . . . wait for it . . . General Motors.
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