Man, you've got to watch out for those preconceived notions—they'll kill you every time. For the last several years I've seen Plinius amplifiers at hi-fi shows and—even though I didn't know the first thing about the company or its products—figured that I knew what they were all about. Spotting their brawny façades festooned with feathery heatsinks, I smugly assured myself that they were some kind of antipodean pretender to the muscle-amp throne—Krell or Threshold wannabes.
When I went to my shelf of Stereophile back issues to find Paul Bolin's seminal review of the Halcro dm58, I was shocked to find myself leafing further and further back—through not only 2004 but 2003 as well, all the way back to October 2002 (Vol.25 No.10). It doesn't seem possible that it's been almost four years since Halcro exploded onto our radar screens, the dm58 emblazoned on that issue's cover alongside the banner headline "THE BEST AMPLIFIER EVER!"
Where does one start with the Moscode 401HR? With its design, which marries a tube driver stage to a MOSFET power output? Or perhaps with its designer, George Kaye, who refined Julius Futterman's OTL amplifier circuits before creating New York Audio Labs' original hybrid amplifier, the Moscode 300, in 1984?
Nowadays, when most people think of New Zealand, the first things that probably come to mind are the film trilogy The Lord of the Rings, its director, Peter Jackson, or sheep. Certainly, LOTR was a great achievement in film history and, as its auteur, Jackson reaped no small fame for his efforts, as well as multiple Academy Awards and several krillion dollars. The country is also well known as a place where sheep outnumber humans by something like 12 to 1. However, New Zealand is also the source of some very fine audio equipment; both Perreaux and Plinius are proudly headquartered in beautiful, serene, friendly Kiwiland.
Within a few years of entering the US market, Australian audio manufacturer Bruce Halcro Candy cemented his place in audio history by designing a amplifier that Paul Bolin said (in the October 2002 Stereophile) "could well justify the creation of a 'Class A+' amplifier category in 'Recommended Components'," and the low distortion characteristics of which prompted editor John Atkinson, a man who has elevated the craft of understatement to a high art, to reach for the word astonishing. That was the Halcro dm58 monoblock ($29,990/pair), which has only recently been superseded by the Halcro dm78.
The W-8 ($10,200) is the first of Simaudio's Moon series to incorporate the new Evolution cosmetics and new circuitry. I loved its predecessor, the Moon W-5, which was one of the first power amplifiers I reviewed for Stereophile (March 1999, Vol.22 No.3). I also loved the "new and improved" W-5 when I wrote about in the May 2001 issue. In the September 2005 issue, Brian Damkroger praised Simaudio's monstrous Moon Rock monoblock, a contemporary of the Moon Evolution W-8 stereo amp.
Lord Acton said, famously, that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. If there ever were an amplifier to test that maxim's applicability to audiophiles, it is surely the Chord SPM 14000 Ultimate Monoblock. Priced no less than $75,000/pair, the SPM 14000 is rated to produce power as do very few other amplifiers on the planet: it is very conservatively rated at 1kW into an 8 ohm load, 2kW into 4 ohms, and "will easily exceed" 2800W (give or take a few watts) into 2 ohms.
An amplifier producing nearly 400Wpc, weighing close to 100 lbs...from Rotel, of all people? Don't they know their place in the audio world? Next thing you know, Krell will start making integrated amplifiers! Oops—Krell is making integrated amplifiers...
Just in case you didn't know this when you bought the Parasound HCA-3500, it says on the cover of the owner's manual: "Designed in California, USA by John Curl." Described as an "audio design legend," an appellation with which he seems quite uncomfortable, John Curl has certainly been around the audio business longer than most. He's been employed by or has consulted for some of the biggest names in consumer and professional audio—including Harman/Kardon, Ampex, and Mark Levinson—and was the designer of at least two classic products: the Mark Levinson JC-2 preamplifier and his own Vendetta Research phono stage, still considered by many people to be the best phono stage ever built.
Not every audiophile needs an amplifier powerful enough to tax a small town's power grid while simultaneously draining his or her bank account. So, having quickly sold out of its ultra-limited-edition, extravagantly powered and priced combo of kWp preamplifier ($14,995) and kW power amp ($27,995) that I reviewed in January 2004, Musical Fidelity (footnote 1) set about capitalizing on the enthusiastic reviews earned by those giants with less expensive, less powerful, "real-world" replacements.
For years, I thought of Simaudio gear as good-sounding, attractive, and modestly priced, often describing it to friends as "really good for the money." The $5500 Moon Eclipse CD player, which I reviewed in our April 2001 and April 2003 issues, stretched the "modestly priced" descriptor a bit, but its sound was still, I thought, really good for what it cost, and I adopted it as a reference. Simaudio expanded the Moon series and eventually discontinued its older, less expensive Celeste brand, but, I thought, its products could still be described as "really good for the money."
Canadian electronics manufacturer Bryston Limited has been producing consumer and professional amplifiers since 1974 [see Robert Deutsch's interview elsewhere in this issue—Ed.]. Bryston amps are engineered to be physically and electrically rugged, to meet the stringent demands of professionals, many of whom leave their studio amplifiers turned on for years. While chassis had to be light instead of the audiophile massiveness found in some high-end consumer amplifiers, studio engineers and concert pros continued to favor Bryston amps, which easily passed the "steel toe" test. The 4B, for example, became a standard amplifier for recording engineers and touring musicians.
Although Mark Levinson Audio Systems components continue to be produced, the company's headquarters moved in late 2003 from the Madrigal plant in Middletown, Connecticut, to Harman Specialty's facility in Bedford, Massachusetts. There ML shares manufacturing and sales space with Harman's other high-end lines, Revel and Lexicon.