Man, can I drag things out. I wrote the first installment of “Jeff’s Getting a New Stereo System,” for SoundStage! Ultra, in July 2017. That series of six articles, the most recent published in December 2017, chronicled my search for -- you guessed it -- a new audio system. When I conceived of the series, I was about to move from our former home, had just sold my $400,000 reference stereo system, and was looking forward to whatever might be next. Perhaps the title of the series should have been “Jeff’s Getting a New Stereo System . . . or Not.”
I do love an elegant-looking speaker. There’s something to be said for architectural grace. After all, accepting into your life and home a pair of full-size speakers is a serious commitment. The damn things have to sit there, damn near in the middle of your room. You have to stare at them as you’re listening. I could live with a pair of boxes made of MDF wrapped in vinyl, but I sure as hell would rather not.
World Circuit WCV094
Musical Performance: ****½
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****½
Nigerian drummer Tony Allen, who’s been recording and touring since the late 1950s, is best known for his long stint with Fela Kuti’s Africa 70, which incorporated American funk and soul music into the African-influenced jazz that was Kuti’s specialty. The result came to be called Afrobeat, and Allen was the music’s driving rhythmic force. He recorded more than 30 albums with Kuti over the next ten years, and when Africa 70 disbanded in the late 1970s he went on to play as leader and sideman on a vast number of recordings. Pop-music fans will recognize him as a member of the British band The Good, the Bad & the Queen.
I grew up in a family that adhered to self-discipline, hard work, and frugality -- in short, to the Protestant work ethic, a phrase first coined and a concept first formulated, in 1904-1905, by German sociologist and philosopher Max Weber, who attributed to this ethic the rise of capitalism. So the idea of spending a lot of money on something for how it looks and feels, instead of for its main reason for being -- its utility -- gives me pause.
I wondered -- if I were putting together a system of used components today, what would I buy? So this morning, housebound by COVID-19, I passed some time by going to Audiogon.com and assembling a virtual audio system. Because, well . . . why not?
I go way back with Shunyata Research, and fondly remember the days of The World’s Best Audio System (TWBAS) events -- gatherings of manufacturers at my home for which I’d chosen and assembled into amazing systems the best audio components then available -- and the sense of discovery we all felt. My first TWBAS, in 2004, included products from Wilson Audio Specialties, EMM Labs, and Shunyata Research. TWBAS 2004 was a watershed for me -- at the time, it was, by far, the best sound I had ever attained in my home. Although that system’s sound would be greatly surpassed by subsequent TWBAS systems, the bar set by that first one was already very high. Shunyata was represented in TWBAS 2004 by their Hydra Model-8 power conditioner ($1995 at the time; all prices USD), various models of power cord from their Anaconda and Diamondback lines, and their Constellation Aries and Andromeda signal cables (these models were discontinued long ago; see archived articles for cable prices).
Format: 2 LPs
Musical Performance: ***½
Sound Quality: ****½
Overall Enjoyment: ****
By 1991, vinyl had been pronounced dead. But Heinz Lichtenegger, who that year founded Pro-Ject Audio Systems, remained faithful to the format. Although Pro-Ject now makes all manner of hi-fi gear, from DACs and amps to cables and accessories, its foundation remains turntables, and it continues to improve and innovate in a field that has made an impressive and, to many, unexpected comeback. Clearly, Lichtenegger and a few others, such as Roy Gandy of Rega Research, and Harry and Sheila Weisfeld of VPI Industries, believed that the attractions of vinyl would remain strong enough for the format to remain viable.
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.
I cut my audiophile teeth on Krell amplifiers. I loved them and owned many of them, from KSAs to MDAs to FPBs -- even the flagship Krell Audio Standards. Back in the day, Krell amps provided what I wanted from an audio power amp: the control, the sweetness, the bass. To say I held founder-designer Dan D’Agostino’s work in high regard would be an understatement.
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.
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