The most exciting development in audio today isn't multichannel surround, single-ended triodes, or $10,000 phono cartridges. It's "trickle down." I get buzzed when an audio designer known for cutting-edge multikilobuck designs claims to have a product that can produce 80% of the sonic realism of his flagship design at 50% of the cost. I get even more excited when he does it again—that is, produces a product that produces 64% of his flagship's performance at 25% of the cost. Designers who have successfully trickled-down their flagship technologies abound in all quarters of audiophilia, from electronics (eg, Audio Research, Conrad-Johnson) to speakers (Alón, ProAc) to cables (MIT).
Loudspeaker lore has it that a "good big'un will always beat a good small'un." But my experience has been that the traditional wisdom is often wrong. Price for price, large speakers often have larger errors compared with minimonitors, the smaller speakers offering more rigid cabinets, better-defined stereo imaging, and, because the owner can experiment with stand height, a better chance of being optimally sited in a room. So while I was as impressed as Stereophile reviewer Kalman Rubinson with what I heard from the floorstanding, $3500/pair Revel Performa F30 (footnote 1) when we visited the Revel facility in California's San Fernando Valley in spring 2000 (footnote 2), it was the big speaker's smaller sibling, the $2000/pair Performa M20, that caught my eye—and ear.
You can bet Infinity plans on selling a respectable number of $8000/pair Prelude MTS speakers (reviewed in the May 2000 Stereophile) over this ambitious, full-range design's anticipated lifespan. But will the company make enough money to recoup the megabucks spent on researching, designing, and developing the all-new CMMD (Ceramic Metal Matrix Diaphragm) drivers, BASH (Bridge Amplifier Switching Hybrid) powered subwoofer, and RABOS (Room Adaptive Bass Optimization System) bass-equalization system? NOWAY (Never Over-Estimate What Acronyms Yield).
Red Rose Music founder and CEO Mark Levinson may have lost the rights to use his own name, but not the good timing that helped make him a successful businessman and an accomplished bass player. (According to his online bio, Levinson has sat in with the likes of John Coltrane, Sonny Stitt, Chick Corea, and Keith Jarrett.)
Dynaudio's $2399/pair Contour 1.3 Mk.II follows on from the Mk.I, which grabbed Russ Novak's enthusiastic attention in November 1996 (Vol.19 No.11). Because a full description was included in the original review, I will only touch briefly on the differences between the original version and the sample reviewed this month. A Special Edition of the Contour 1.3 is also available for $3499/pair. Sam Tellig's comments on the sound of this loudspeaker appeared in the December 1999 Stereophile and are included at the end of this review.
Although Kentucky loudspeaker manufacturer Thiel has produced some standmounted models for home-theater use, all of their serious music speakers have been floorstanders. Enter the PCS: even though styled to match every Thiel speaker since the groundbreaking CS5 of 1989, the 19"-high PCS sits on a stand, not the floor.
The Mirage OM-6 loudspeaker, from Canadian manufacturer Audio Products International, mightily impressed Stereophile's Tom Norton when he reviewed it back in November 1997. But with its "omnipolar" design and powered woofer, the OM-6 wasn't a speaker for those of us with more conventional tastes in speaker design. So when I heard that Mirage's Ian Paisley was working on a high-performance two-way minimonitor based on the OM-6's drive-unit technology, I asked API's affable PR man, Jeff Percy, for review samples.
In this issue's "Letters" column, you will find comments from readers who are bothered by what they perceive to be this magazine's emphasis on reviewing very expensive technology. Yes, we do cover a lot of cutting-edge technology, and it is, of necessity, expensive. But our experience has been that that technology invariably trickles down to products that real people can actually afford.
The original PSB Alpha was reviewed for Stereophile by Jack English in July 1992 (Vol.15 No.7). A modest-looking two-way priced at just $199/pair, it combined a reflex-loaded 6.5" woofer using a plastic-doped paper cone with a 0.5" plastic-dome tweeter. JE summed up the Alpha by saying it "is simply one of the best buys in audio, providing a musically satisfying sound...a sensational audio bargain." It went on to become one of the best-selling audiophile speakers ever, with over 50,000 pairs sold.
Unless you've recently returned from a five-year tour of Tibetan monasteries, the odds are pretty good you've heard about the Nautilus revision of B&W's classic three-way floorstanding monitor, the 801. Having sold 30,000 of the earlier 801, the Matrix, B&W recently revised this classic to incorporate some design features of its $40,000, four-way concept speaker, the Nautilus. Wes Phillips reviewed the new Nautilus 801 in the January 1999 Stereophile (p.107) and found it "incredibly dynamic, images and soundstages like crazy, and has that special magic that marks it as one of the great loudspeakers."
A dream I have had since I discovered the pleasures of music is to possess a time machine. Not a fancy one, just a small device that would allow me to escape modern music-making and drop in to hear what must have been some of the greatest musical experiences of all time. Classical music presents no problems: Off to 18th-century Leipzig on Sunday, of course, to hear J.S. Bach play the organ in church, after an early 19th-century Saturday evening spent in Vienna listening to Beethoven improvising at the pianoforte. During the week it would still be Vienna, but forward 80 years or so to hear Brahms premiere one of his chamber works after afternoon cocktails at the Wittgensteins', with perhaps a trip to England's Three Choirs Festival just before the Great War to hear the first performance of Elgar's Dream of Gerontius. And the time machine would have to have transatlantic range—I couldn't miss Mahler conducting the New York Philharmonic around the same time. But with jazz and rock—music that is reborn every time in performance to a greater extent than in classical—there is a bewildering choice of live events from which to choose.
Revel. Interesting name for a new speaker company. The most apt definition of the word from my old dictionary is "to take much pleasure; delight." Or perhaps those who chose the name were intrigued by the wordplay they could make with "revel-ation."