Following my review of two high-performance minimonitors last November (footnote 1), I received a letter asking why I recommended a stand-mounted speaker at all when it was possible to buy a floorstanding design with more bass for the same amount of money. Furthermore, the correspondent went on, when you consider that the minimonitor sitting on its stand occupies as much floorspace as the floorstander, it's hard to see why a market for minimonitors exists at all.
The inspiration for this project came from Stereophile's Gretchen Grogan and Erich Vollmer of the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. Music Festivals are perhaps the healthiest aspect of classical music making, allowing ad hoc ensembles to chart the farthest reaches of the repertoire, as well as retracing the familiar ground of the great works. Why not, they thought, capture a representative selection of works performed at the 1995 Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival? This would not only document some of the great performances to be heard, but also allow music lovers everywhere to participate in what has increasingly been recognized as one of the US's best summer music festivals.
SLAM! My left foot went numb. My fellow salesman, Danny Shapiro, had lost control of the Thiel CS5 that we'd been walking into place in Demo Room V, and it had come crashing down on my foot with unerring accuracy—all 180 lbs worth. As I stared down in horror, I remembered that we'd left the spikes on. But wait a minute—there was no pool of blood spreading out from under the CS5. How could that be? Convinced that the heavy cabinet was acting as a tourniquet, I levered it off my foot, expecting a grisly sight. I got one: my new Rockport pierced by the carpet-point—right between my big and second toes. And people ask me why I like small loudspeakers.
As I write these words, it's the height of the fall catalog season in the Atkinson household. Whole old-growth forests must have died to ensure the everyday stuffed state of our mailbox, which adds to the sense of guilt I feel as I pitch the offenders into the trash without even giving their insides a passing glance. But there are three catalogs I do look forward to receiving, that I read from cover to cover, that I deface with multicolored Post-It notes. The Audio Advisor catalog is, of course, a no-brainer for an audiophile. But the Griot's Garage and Levenger catalogs get equal billing from me. For both offer tools (used in the widest sense of the word) that appear to have been designed by people who actually use tools, who appear to care about quality, and who appear to feel that a product that breaks while it is being used for its intended task is an offense against God (footnote 1).
The High End is a tidily ordered world. There are CD players, transports, and processors used to play stereo recordings and drive stereo preamplifiers. There are stereo or mono amplifiers used to drive a pair of speakers. And then there is the British high-end company Meridian, run by one J. Robert Stuart, one of audio's deeper thinkers and a Fellow of the Audio Engineering Society. Meridian does it their way. They put their amplifiers inside their speakers. Heck, Meridian even puts their D/A processors inside their speakers when they can. And two speakers to play back stereo recordings? Meridian believes in re-creating the original soundfield no matter how many speakers and channels it takes to do it right. And they do it sufficiently successfully that their Digital Theatre system, which does all of the above, was one of Stereophile's joint Home Theater products of 1995. [See also the 2000 review of their Series 800 Digital Theatre.—Ed.]
"He was a warrior...What he did was pry a chink out of the wall and let the light come through the hole. It's up to us to keep that hole open. We've got a world to save. This guy is going to kick our ass if we get up there and we haven't carried the torches." ---Ken Kesey, Funeral for Jerry Garcia, 8/11/95
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.