It was fall 2000. I'd just begun working at Stereophile, and I clearly remember sheepishly, innocently putting this question to former senior editor Jonathan Scull.
I think the question confused himnot because he didn't know the answer, but because the answer seemed so obvious, the question itself should have been unnecessary. How could anyone not know what an integrated amplifier is? I might as well have asked, "What's a song?"
Last summer, in an uncharacteristic fit of wanderlust, I took an American Airlines flight to London. Two days later, I rode the Eurostar train to Paris in the company of my daughter and my wife, a travel agent, who had secured first-class train accommodations on her professional discount. Our ride was brisk, but the upgrade would have been a waste at any price: The Eurostar food was vile.
Whereas the Pass Labs preamplifiers are designed by Wayne Colburn, the power amplifiers are the work of company founder and high-end audio veteran Nelson Pass, who even lays out his own circuit boards. The X-model amplifiers, beginning with the X1000 in 1998, were the first implementation of Nelson Pass's patented Supersymmetry topology (see "Nelson Pass on the Patents of Pass"). The XA series, which debuted in 2002, combined Supersymmetry with the single-ended class-A operation of the Aleph series. The XA.5 models offer detail improvements over the XAs.
I've loved the neutral, detailed, involving sound of Sonus Faber loudspeakers for as long as they've been available in the US. Most of my listening to them, however, has been at audio shows, and during a visit to Audio Research Corporation in 2012. (Since 2008, both ARC and Sonus Faber have been owned by the Italian firm Fine Sounds SpA, and since then ARC has used speakers made by SF, as well as by Wilson Audio and Magnepan, in the design of their electronics. Fine Sounds also owns 100% of Wadia, McIntosh, and Sumiko.)
As I discuss in this issue's "As We See It," a handful of audio companies have recently turned to the crowdfunding website Kickstarter to launch and promote new products. The most notable of these is Light Harmonic. The Sacramento, Californiabased electronics maker first caused a stir at the 2011 Axpona show with the release of its impressive Da Vinci DAC ($20,000), one of the few home audio converters capable of handling the 384kHz sampling rate.
It's no secret that the high-end audio industry has done a poor job of reestablishing the mainstream respect it enjoyed through the latter half of the 20th century, but its lack of reach has never been as painfully obvious as it is today. Teens are inextricably tied to smartphones, moms and dads are infatuated with Bluetooth streaming, and most people would rather pay too much for an MP3 than anything at all for a DSD download. In a world dominated by fancy gadgets and intriguing technologies, the pursuit of true high-fidelity sound remains an obscure pastime for a relatively small group of aging males. Everyone knows Apple, Beats, and Bose, but few have heard of Vivid, Wilson, or YG.
Various Artists: The Rise & Fall of Paramount Records 19171927, Volume One
Third Man/Revenant (6 LPs, USB drive). 191727/2013. Alex van der Tuuk, Jack White, Dean Blackwood, prods.; Christopher C. King, David Glasser, Anna Frick, remastering. AD. TT: 4:12:39 (LPs only)
Launched in 1917, Paramount Records initially recorded conventional pop music, such as Arthur Fields's "Good Morning, Mr. Zip, Zip, Zip." But with the hiring of J. Mayo Williams as a talent scout and producer in 1924, Paramount became one of the leading suppliers of "race" records, as discs marketed to African-Americans were then called. For the next decade, Paramount recorded some of the most important blues, jazz, and gospel artists of the era, along with country and pop musicians.
Damned rock stars! Those useless black voids of overweening ego who spend their days wallowing in unfulfilling, sybaritic cycles of mass adoration, endless wealth, and meaningless sex with hard bodieswhat do they add to the greater good, to the advancement of human understanding, to the furtherance of art? In most cases, the answer is: Nothing. Zip, zilch, zot.
In a marked reversal of brick and mortar decline, Tone of Music Audio became the second high-end audio retailer to open its doors in San Francisco within the last year or so. Ideally situated in the heart of trendy Noe Valley, at the busy intersection of Castro and 24th Streets, the store's combination of major brands and personable service bodes well for the future of "high-performance" audio in Northern California.