I was stumbling through the Denver Convention Center at CEDIA 2006 when I spotted John Franks, of Chord Electronics, and Jay Rein, of Chord's US importer, Bluebird Music, stranded in the basement purgatory for "niche" products. I couldn't resist asking, "What sin relegated you guys to this little hell?"
It was inevitable that I'd encounter the California Audio Labs CL-15 in my search for a CD player priced less than stratospherically. CAL was one of the first companies to hit the market with a high-end CD player, and they've been building great-sounding digital gear ever since. What's more, the CL-15's predecessor was the Icon PowerBoss Mk.II HDCD, a longtime personal favorite. I was particularly curious to see how the CAL would stack up against today's competition. I've been impressed with CAL products over the years—the original Sigma, the Delta, the DX-1 and 2, and, of course, the Icon. On the other hand, the competition—players like the Rega Planet, Arcam's Alpha 8 and Alpha 9, and Ultech's UCD 100—has improved dramatically since I last heard the Icon.
At $2295, the CD31 is the most expensive integrated CD player from Swedish manufacturer Primare, and an evolution of their D30.2, which I reviewed in the June 2004 Stereophile. I knew that the CD31 wasn't a clean-sheet design, but my first look suggested that it wasn't even much of an evolution—a comparison of its and the D30.2's spec sheets matched almost line for line. When I asked Terry Medalen of Sumiko, Primare's US distributor, about the similarity, and if the CD31 was just a mild tweaking of the D30.2, he said, "Well, yes and no. You really need to listen to it."
Many pundits in our industry say that CD is under threat from Super Audio CD, DVD-Audio, and dual-layer CD/DVD technologies. Conflicting stories abound, and even though I'm supposed to be well-informed, I've found some of them hard to sort out! For example, Michael Fremer, concluding a fine review of the $7500 Bow Technologies ZZ-Eight integrated CD player in August, compared its notable 16-bit/44.1kHz achievement with a DVD-based disc originally mastered at 24/96kHz and replayed on an inexpensive DVD player. He found the Bow wanting in some respects. What is the world coming to?
Audiophiles are frequently accused of being more in love with gizmos than with music. There may be a kernel of truth in that, but a scant few companies actually exploit the giz factor to give you mo'—a lot mo'.
More than a decade ago, I bought a new pair of speakers and sought to find the most suitable cables for them. After auditioning a number of borrowed sets, I enlisted my daughter to confirm my selection. She grew up in a household where there was always good music playing on good equipment, but had no active interest in either. To placate Dad, she listened to a few of her own recordings with each of the various cables and then, lo and behold, reached the same conclusion I had. In fact, she described the differences almost exactly as I would have. I was ecstatic. Not only did it confirm my opinions about the cables, but it confirmed to me that any motivated listener can hear what golden-ear audiophiles obsess about. As I tried to express my joy to her, she left the room with this parting shot: "Yes, of course, but who cares?"
My first exposure to Burmester electronics was some years back at a New York Hi-Fi Show, where they were powering a pair of B&W 801s and impressed the hell out of me. But Burmester's distribution seemed sporadic and the prices beyond my consideration, so I put them out of my mind.
In the early 1980s, Ivor Tiefenbrun, of Linn Products, Ltd., compared digital audio to "a nasty disease" that his company offered not to spread. Less than 25 years later, digital sources outnumber analog ones in Linn's product line—so much so that the venerable Scottish manufacturer has expanded its line of disc players to encompass two different formats: multi- and two-channel.
Naim's new "statement" CD player, the CD555 ($20,300 by itself, $28,150 with PS555 power supply), breaks no new technological ground. Rather, in typical Naim fashion, it attempts to optimize 16-bit/44.1kHz CD performance by paying fanatical attention to the devilish details. It doesn't play the DVD-Video, DVD-Audio, or SACD formats, nor does it have a digital output—and it doesn't create an illusion of higher resolution by upsampling the data.
Tony, a mechanic friend of mine, once ran down for me his "national characteristics" theory of automobile engineering. Germans, he said, love precision engineering but don't take repair into account, so their engines are always placed in wells so perfectly proportioned that skinned knuckles are inevitable. British cars, he said, are marketed to a nation of tinkerers, hence the existence of dual carburetors. And Italian cars? "Well, let's just say they all resemble espresso makers." He said it—and he was the proverbial Fiat mechanic named Tony.
We were driving to a friend's house to celebrate her dad's 92nd birthday. Halfway there, a bright yellow, ground-hugging insect pulled in front of my car from across street. "Wow, that's a Lamborghini Countach!" I exclaimed. You don't often see one of those in my neighborhood—or in any neighborhood.
When, at the beginning of this century, the market profile of the high-end Mark Levinson brand took a dip due to the parent company's reorganization, one of the companies that took advantage of the opportunity was Classé Audio. Founded in 1980 by engineer Dave Reich (now with Theta Digital) and run by engineer-entrepreneur Mike Viglas since the mid-1980s, the Canadian electronics manufacturer's Omega line of high-end amplifiers and preamps had universally impressed Stereophile's scribes, and its Omega SACD player (reviewed by Jonathan Scull in November 2001) was the first such product to come from a North American company.
In the fall of 2005, while the People's Republic of China continued to hold political dissidents in prison without due process, the US government wiretapped its citizens with impunity, tensions rose on the border between Chad and Sudan, Israeli citizens annexed thousands of acres of land from poor Palestinian farmers, Saudi Arabia executed more petty thieves and adulterers in the name of Allah, Russia "lost" a few more tons of nuclear armaments, and the polar icecaps continued to recede as the levels of preventable greenhouse emissions climbed out of control, a small band of middle-aged men took to the Internet to express their seething outrage.