Audacious Audio

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Michael Fremer Posted: Jan 02, 2017 Published: Jul 01, 2017 4 comments
My 0.56mV-output Lyra Atlas moving-coil cartridge ($11,995) has put in four years of heavy-duty use. But not long ago I began to hear some problems with sibilants from records that previously hadn't given me trouble in that department. Lyra's Jonathan Carr and Stig Bjorge suggested I bring my Atlas to the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show, held last January in Las Vegas, where they would exchange it for a new one.
Kalman Rubinson Posted: Dec 20, 2016 18 comments
Bang & Olufsen's BeoLab 90 is not a loudspeaker to take on lightly. Though its size—49.33" high by 28.9" wide by 29.4" deep—and weight (302 lbs each) meant a major disruption of my listening room, which is also our living room, my wife assented. Its price of $84,990/pair puts it far beyond anything I might consider buying—and the complexity of the BeoLab 90, which has its own dedicated amplifiers and DACs, makes it impossible for a reviewer—or consumer—to directly compare it with any other loudspeaker. So be it.
John Atkinson Posted: Nov 18, 2016 3 comments
It has been 20 years since I first became aware of the British company Data Conversion Systems, which manufactures audio products under the dCS brand. Rather than use off-the-shelf conversion chips, the groundbreaking dCS Elgar D/A converter, which I reviewed in our July 1997 issue, featured a then-unique D/A design that they called a Ring DAC. This featured a five-bit, unitary-weighted, discrete DAC running at 64 times the incoming data's sample rate—2.822MHz for 44.1kHz-based data, 3.07MHz for 48kHz-sampled data and its multiples—with upsampling and digital filtering and processing implemented in Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs). Oversampling to a very high sample rate allows the word length to be reduced without losing resolution, and use of a low-bit multi-bit DAC makes for very high accuracy in the analog voltage levels that describe the signal. (If this seems like voodoo, for a given signal bandwidth, bit depth and sample rate are related. To oversimplify, double the rate, and you can reduce the bit depth by one bit while preserving the overall resolution.)
John Atkinson Posted: Nov 01, 2016 5 comments
I wrote several issues back that my first high-end headphones were Koss Pro4AAs, which I bought in 1972 following a positive review in the British magazine Hi-Fi News. Although that review didn't mention that the Pro4AAs were relatively fragile (footnote 1), I nonetheless loved their sound. They were the best headphones I'd heard—until, a couple years later, I was playing bass on some sessions for record producer Tony Cox. Tony had a pair of signal-energized electrostatic headphones, Koss ESP-6es, which were heavy and clunky—but they opened my ears to the sound quality that could be obtained from "cans." I didn't hear better until after I'd moved to Santa Fe, in 1986, and J. Gordon Holt loaned me his review samples of the Stax SR-Lambda Pros.
John Atkinson Posted: Sep 29, 2016 18 comments
I have been an advocate of small speakers since I began using BBC LS3/5a's in the late 1970s, continuing through Celestion SL6es in 1981, Celestion SL600s and SL700s in the late '80s, and B&W Silver Signatures in the mid-'90s. Yes, I do like accurate and extended bass reproduction—but you need a big speaker to be able to provide that, and, as the late Spencer Hughes, founder of Spendor, once remarked, "big speakers have big problems." I don't see the point of extending a speaker's low-frequency performance if the result is compromised soundstaging and midrange reproduction. And there is also the intellectual elegance of a speaker that is no bigger than it need be.
J. Gordon Holt Posted: Sep 06, 2016 Published: Apr 01, 1973 1 comments
666kossesp9.1.jpgThe top-of-the-line model from America's leading headphone manufacturer, these are bulky, heavy, very business-like in appearance, and very, very good.

The ESP-9 is dual-powered: from the AC line, or from the input signal itself, The power supply is rather large and heavy, and appropriate in appearance to the phones. Amplifier connections are via wires with spade lugs attached, and speaker connections are made to the rear of the power supply. A front-panel switch selects speaker or headphone operation, and terminates the amplifier outputs with 10 ohms in the Phones position.

Construction is typically top-of-the-line Koss: Rugged, nicely finished, and apparently very durable, and the phones are easy to handle. (Many headphones are so loosely pivoted on their headbands that they swing into impossible positions whenever you pick them up.)

Michael Fremer Posted: Jul 21, 2016 10 comments
Simaudio saw disc-based digital audio in its rear-view mirror at least as far back as 2011, when it introduced the Moon Evolution 650D and 750D—two iterations of what it called a "digital-to-analog converter CD transport." These were actually multiple-input CD players, but Simaudio was evidently so eager to distance itself from the spinning disc that it went with a product category that, in spite of its cumbersome, run-on name, drew a clean line between the disc-reading and signal-processing functions—while bestowing upon the former second-class citizenship.
Brian Damkroger Posted: Jun 23, 2016 37 comments
It would be an understatement to say that in 2001, when Nordost introduced their original Valhalla cables, they were a revelation for me. Their focus and resolution of detail were like nothing I'd ever heard, and revealed in recorded performances a startling energy and realism. Throw in their seemingly absolute transparency, and similarly unique levels of spatial and temporal precision, and the Valhallas established a new standard of sound quality in audio cables. Although their tonal balance was cool, as I reported in my first review of them in the November 2001 issue, they were the only game in town in terms of reproducing the feel of a live performance. I immediately adopted them as a reference cable, and they remain a reference for me today.
John Atkinson Posted: Jun 21, 2016 4 comments
Life is too short to put up with poor-sounding headphones, I mused the other morning, during my 60-minute commute on the NYC subway. All around me, straphangers gripped smartphones and listened to multicolored Beats, noise-canceling Boses, white Apple earbuds, and, only rarely, Sennheisers and Grados.
Kalman Rubinson Posted: May 26, 2016 36 comments
"This is getting to be a habit."

That's how I ended the first paragraph of my review of Bowers & Wilkins' 800 Diamond speaker, in the May 2011 issue; apparently, Stereophile's habit of reviewing models from B&W's 800 series remains unbroken.

Later in that review, I said that "The 800 Diamond doesn't look radically different from its predecessors." That doesn't apply to the 802 D3 Diamond ($22,000/pair). It's still a three-way system with tapered-tube high-frequency and midrange enclosures, stacked and nestled into a generous bass enclosure that's vented on the bottom into the space between it and its plinth.

Michael Fremer Posted: May 25, 2016 1 comments
Marten is a small Swedish loudspeaker manufacturer with great aspirations, some of which the company has largely met. Leif Mårten Olofsson founded Marten and designs the speakers, while brother Jörgen Olofsson runs the business as CEO—a division of creative and administrative labors similar to the working relationship between David and Norman Chesky, the founders of Chesky Records and HDtracks.
Art Dudley Posted: Apr 27, 2016 2 comments
I still remember how difficult it was for me to transition from mass-market to high-end audio. The former, for all its flaws, gave me things to do: switches to flip, buttons to push, knobs to turn, meters to watch. I was in control—and if my attention happened to stray from the music or the liner notes, I still had something to keep me busy. By contrast, the first perfectionist-quality amplifier I bought—an Amber Series 70—was an oblong box with an on/off switch. Where's the fun in that?
John Atkinson Posted: Apr 22, 2016 5 comments
Driving the Model Sevens at the 2014 CES were Vandersteen's then-new M7-HPA monoblocks, which provide a high-pass–filtered output (above 100Hz) to the upper-frequency drive-units of the Model Seven. At the time, I made a note to myself that I would like one day to try these amplifiers with the Sevens in my own room. That opportunity came later rather than sooner, after Vandersteen had updated the Model Seven to Mk.II status.
John Atkinson Posted: Mar 29, 2016 15 comments
When I reviewed the Antipodes DX Reference in October 2015, that $7500 media server made musical mincemeat of my regular computer audio setup: a headless 2.7GHz i7 Mac mini fitted with 8GB of RAM and Pure Music and Audirvana apps. Coincident with the publication of that review, Aurender launched its N10 music server ($7999) at the 2015 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. I had been impressed with Aurender's Flow USB headphone amplifier when I reviewed it in June 2015, so I asked for an N10.
Michael Fremer Posted: Feb 09, 2016 5 comments
Are you old enough to remember when the wires connecting speakers to even the most expensive and sophisticated electronics were 16-gauge, multistrand lamp cord, and the terminals on speakers and amplifiers were just little screws? Sometimes those screws wouldn't even secure all of the wires' strands, but as long as loose strands from one screw didn't touch loose strands from the other, it was good enough . . . and back against the wall went your bookshelf speakers.

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