In his 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Verne presents the enigmatic Captain Nemo, commander of the great submarine Nautilus, as powerful, charismatic, and mysterious. On first meeting Nemo, the narrator, M. Aronnax, notes, "I made out his prevailing qualities directly: self-confidencebecause his head was well set on his shoulders, and his black eyes looked around with cold assurance; calmnessfor his skin, rather pale, showed his coolness of blood; energyevinced by the rapid contraction of his lofty brows; and couragebecause his deep breathing denoted great power of lungs." All in all, "this man was certainly the most admirable specimen I had ever met."
Founded in 1925, Luxman has long been one of Japan's most highly regarded audio manufacturers. Throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, Luxman's tube preamplifiers and power amplifiers occupied the top shelves of high-performance audio retailers, and to many older American audiophiles, the Luxman name is as familiar and esteemed as those of such storied American brands as McIntosh and Marantz. Luxman's combination of rich, warm sound, superb build quality, and indelible industrial design made its products fully competitive with other brands then considered among the world's best.
Yet another amp from Colorado! This is the third amp to come my way from that state (the others being the Spectrascan and the Rowland Research), and at this point, after living with it for a couple of months, I'm quite comfortable in declaring the Boulder 500 to be one helluvan amp.
This review should have appeared more than a few months ago. When I reviewed Linn's Troika cartridge back in the Fall of 1987, in Vol.10 No.6, Audiophile Systems also supplied me with a sample of the Linn LK1 preamplifier and the LK2 power amplifier, which I had intended to review in the due course of things. As it transpired, however, I was less than impressed with the LK2, finding, as did Alvin Gold back in Vol.9 No.2, that while it had a somewhat laid-back balance, it also suffered a pervasive "gray" coloration, which dried out recorded ambience and obscured fine detail.
Some of the old audio names, such as Eico and Pilot, are gone. Others—Fisher, AR, KLH, H.H. Scott, etc.—have been rendered meaningless by corporate mergers and acquisitions. Yet more than 50 years after their founding, McIntosh and Marantz, arguably the two most prestigious names in American high-quality audio electronics, survive. The products they make today are probably closer in spirit to their original classics of half a century ago than at any time since the early 1970s.
We all have biases. The trick is knowing your biases so they don't get in your way. Mine are pretty obvious. I don't like "fussy" gear that demands special care and feeding. I'm lazy—I want to just turn stuff on and begin listening. Perhaps that's why I have a positive bias toward Nelson Pass's designs. They're reliable, untweaky, and usually sound good.
To high-end audiophiles, the Boulder 500 amplifier and its less expensive derivative, the 500AE (Audiophile Edition), would not seem to be "high-end" designs. They are designed around op-amps (felt by many to be generally poor-sounding), they have scads of negative feedback (which is perhaps why op-amps sound bad), and they have only a moderately hefty power supply. Why, then, is Stereophile publishing a review of an op-amp–based power amplifier? Read on...
I think every audio reviewer hopes for a surprise—when a good, but not outstanding, product is refined by the manufacturer into something special. The review then becomes an exciting discovery, reaffirming the pleasure one takes in good audio, and in listening to music being reproduced as it should be. It makes the listening exciting and the writing easier. The Classé Fifteen solid-state stereo amplifier is just such a surprise.
It was a hot, humid, New York City evening in early August, and I was thankful to be sitting in the air-conditioned dark of Avery Fisher Hall, up in the Second Tier, for a Mostly Mozart concert. Listening to cello soloist Alisa Weilerstein in Osvaldo Golijov's hypnotic Azul, I was suddenly jolted by an explosive mix of primitive cello sonorities, accordion, and staccato riffs on ethnic percussion instruments. My thoughts turned to the importance in music of both power and delicacy, and of how Bryston Ltd.'s 28B-SST, a 1000W monoblock power amplifier, was designed to address both.
Boulder Amplifiers, named after the Colorado town where the company has resided since its founding 23 years ago, makes some of the most elegant-looking solid-state amps around. Chassis are anodized, aircraft-grade aluminum with rounded edges, machined and finished in-house. The two models reviewed here, the 810 line preamplifier and the 860 power amplifier, each have a sleek, compact build—stacked atop each other, the two stand just over a foot high—owing to extremely efficient packing of the circuitry inside. These are the company's "entry-level" electronics, but there's nothing cheap about them—the preamp retails for $6900, the amp for $8500—and for all their economical size, they look like luxury goods as well.
How much amplifier power do you need? Most audiophiles figure a maximum of a few hundred watts per channel—beyond that, you're wasting your money or showing off. Others think that anything more than a few watts will mess up an amplifier's musical coherence or "purity," so they stop there and find uncommonly sensitive speakers, usually compression horns with cone woofers.
There's always a certain amount of jockeying for position at the very top of the High End. Every few months, a new star burns brightly, getting all the attention. While the constant turnover at the cutting edge helps to define the state of the art, audiophiles should keep their eyes on the longer term. It's a company's track record—examined over a period of years—which defines its position in the market and the credibility of its products.