What fascinates me about the High End are the electric personalities behind it. Manufacturers typically invest so much of themselves in the products they make. It's a divine madness—they do it because they have to. They're driven to it with a real sense of mission and excellence. But God forbid you criticize any of their offspring...ooo-la-la!
I first saw and heard SimAudio's Moon amp and preamp at WCES two years back, and something about their aesthetics appealed to me: Canadian ruggedness coupled with a decidedly French panache. I remember that those attributes also characterized the demo's sound, although I can't recall the speakers or the sources involved. At succeeding shows, it gradually dawned on me that the Moon components were the fixed elements in a succession of impressive demos.
Kinergetics Research was a name to be reckoned with in the early days of CD, when they produced some of the earliest well-received, audiophile-grade CD players. They've branched out since then, producing amplifiers, preamps, subwoofers, and surround-sound processors. In fact, they're so busy with such products that they no longer build CD players! The last Stereophile review of a Kinergetics CD player appeared way back in 1993.
Chances are you've never seen an amplifier quite like the Mark Levinson No.33H. That's because there's only one other amp that's anything like it: the Mark Levinson No.33, upon which it's based. Both amps are more tall than broad, looking almost as though they're resting on their ends; heatsinks cluster around their side-panels. In the city of the High End, the No.33 and No.33H are skyscrapers standing tall above the warehouses.
Prejudice is bad—whether it's directed at people, places, or things. You know how it goes: digital is "bright," analog is "warm," solid-state is "brittle and etched," tubes are "smooth and soft" dynamic drivers are "low-resolution," electrostats and planars are "high-resolution" copper wire is "smooth," silver is "bright," etc. While putting everything that crosses your path into one box or another makes life simpler and seemingly more organized, the truth, musical or otherwise, usually gets mutilated in the process. Not that we all don't have preferences—but those are not the same as prejudices.
About a decade ago, I read in Stereophile about the SRC, an add-on remote-control unit manufactured by Acoustic Research. I bought one the next day ('swhat happens when you work across the street from a hi-fi shop). Suddenly I was able to make incremental changes in volume and balance from my listening position—and let me tell you that that's the way to do it. What a phenomenal difference in realistic dynamics and soundstaging.
Everyone's going crazy for single-ended power amplifiers. What's the big deal? What is it about these relatively low-powered contraptions that could make everybody so nutso? And has Pass Labs' Nelson Pass completely lost his marbles, selling a 30Wpc amplifier for a price that can buy a high-quality 200Wpc amp? Isn't that 200W amp seven times as loud—and seven times as good—as a 30W amp?
Latest and largest in Krell's current range of power amplifiers, the 600Wpc, $12,500 Full Power Balanced 600 joins the 300Wpc FPB 300 ($9000) and the 200Wpc (originally 150Wpc) FPB 200 ($5900). All are single-box stereo chassis and are specified as "Full Power Balanced"—I think to distinguish the essence of these designs from ordinary stereo amplifiers operated in balanced-bridged mode, usually with impaired performance. The FPB 600's speaker output is balanced; ie, neither "positive" or negative" terminals are connected to ground or the amplifier chassis. (Note that no speaker switches or headphone adaptors, which often have joined channel grounds, may be used, as they will short the outputs.) The output terminals are electrically at 0V, but float above the chassis ground.
"Why no review of the Ayre V-3?" queried Stephen Slaughter in July's "Letters" column, echoing several urgent posts to my e-mail address. Word of mouth on this remarkable 100Wpc amplifier was reaching fever pitch. Show reports over the last several years had sounded a consistent note—rooms that demoed with V-3s kept getting mentioned in "Best of Show" overviews. Naturally, this also meant that the pendulum had started its backward swing. "It's not really as good as people are saying," one WCES attendee confided in me. "That's why they won't give it to critics."
Like most audiophiles, I salivate over the latest Jurassic, second-mortgage-inducing power amplifier. Whether it's about the music itself, or simply "my amp is bigger than your amp" one-upmanship, we all know that those who risk a hernia in pursuit of the ultimate in sound invariably come out winners.
The auteur theory of the cinema, first described in the 1950s by François Truffaut, states that a great movie represents the artistic vision of one person, usually the director. Moviemaking may involve collaboration, but it cannot be done successfully by a committee. There has to be a single individual in charge, one whose sensitivity and world view is reflected in the movie. In the same sense that the author of a novel is telling a story through the medium of print, the director of a movie is telling a story through the medium of film.
Several issues back, I mentioned a major "new wave" of power amplifiers coming along: the Adcom 555, the New York Audio Labs transistor-tube hybrids, and the latest Krells, for example. They demonstrate that major audible improvements are still possible in something as well-explored as the power amplifier. Not only that, some of these products demonstrate that superior performance can be combined with relatively low price.
I remember having a conversation with an audiophile some time ago about the thorny subject of choosing an amplifier. He was convinced, on the basis of an article he had read in Stereo Review, that all amplifiers of a given power rating sound pretty much the same. Although he was sufficiently well off to buy just about anything on the market, he didn't want to waste his money. He chose the amplifier for his system by going through the Audio Annual Directory Issue, calculating the price:watt ratio for each amplifier that was listed, and then bought the amplifier with the lowest price/watt figure that had enough power to drive his speakers. He didn't do any comparative listening and didn't consider buying anything that cost more for the same power, because he knew already that it wouldn't sound any different.
In the fall of 1982, I had just become the Editor of the English magazine Hi-Fi News & Record Review. Hi-fi was in a state of flux. The Compact Disc had just made its debut in Japan, but the British and American launches were six months and a year away, respectively. The Linn orthodoxy prevailed about the role of the source in system performance, but there was no agreement about what was and was not important when it came to enhancing the musical experience. "Objectivists" insisted that amplifiers and even loudspeakers had pretty much reached a design plateau where no further improvement was necessary or even desirable, while "subjectivists" were fragmented. All I was aware of was that my system, based on Celestion SL6 loudspeakers, needed more of an undefinable something.