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.
"A guy's gotta carry a cow across a river. He's not strong enough, of course, so the only way he can do it is to cut the cow into pieces, carry them across a few at a time, and re-assemble the beast on the other side. When he's finished, he's got a cow on the other side of the river, but it's not exactly the same cow."
It was late May 2002 and I was about to leave the Free Republic of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, for the high-class hallways of the New York Hilton and Home Entertainment 2002, so I could file daily reports for www.stereophile.com. As he was giving me last-minute instructions, webmaster Jon Iverson said, "I don't know whether or not you followed Hervé Delétraz's articles on building his amplifier, but he's going to have a sample at the Show. You should drop in and check it out. It sounds kind of interesting."
The Canadian audio industry has been mounting a challenge to other high-end manufacturers over the past few years. Ask any audiophile about Canadian audio manufacturers and chances are that he or she will have no trouble rattling off a string of respected names—Classé, Museatex, Sonic Frontiers, Mirage, PSB, Paradigm, Energy. And Bryston.
The "Reference" designation is thrown around a lot in the world of perfectionist audio. It's most often used to elevate the top of the line to a higher perceived status. Occasionally, as in the case of the VTL TL-7.5 line stage that I reviewed in October 2003, it genuinely denominates a component that is clearly superior to its competition in most aspects of performance.
Non-audiophile friends and relatives raised their eyebrows when they saw the Classé Omega Omicron monoblocks. Not only is the Omicron more expensive than any other amp I've used; at 108 lbs, it's heavier than some of the speakers I've used. The Omicron is Classé's next-to-top-of-the-line amp in its Omega series, but is still definitely a "statement" product. Brian Damkroger reviewed the Omicron's big brother, the Omega Mono, in the July 2003 Stereophile. I refer you to that review for a more detailed description of the Omicron's basic circuitry.
One of the highlights of recent Consumer Electronics and Home Entertainment shows has been the demonstrations of sound quality put on by Australian amplifier manufacturer Halcro with Wilson Audio loudspeakers. At my first exposure to one of these demos—described in my April 2002 "As We See It"—enormous dynamic range was coupled with a grain-free presentation and almost holographic stereo imaging to produce a breathtaking sweep of sound. Paul Bolin reviewed Halcro's dm58 monoblock in October 2002, and that amplifier was subsequently voted this magazine's "Amplification Component of 2002" by our reviewers.
It's true—you never forget your first love. And no, I'm not talking about little Jackie Lynn Neeck in my second-grade class when I was seven years old. I still remember her, almost as vividly as I remember my first encounter with a fantastic stereo system, and therein hangs a tale.