I've spent six-odd years in a sort of hi-fi counterculture, playing with things like mono cartridges, one-box CD players, and cheap, homemade cables—and, of course, owning and listening to single-ended triode (SET) amplifiers and horn loudspeakers. But before all that, I owned components that, while more mainstream, did the job just as well in certain ways. That category included solid-state electronics (Naim, BEL, Spectral), dynamic loudspeakers of middling efficiency (ProAc, Epos, Magneplanar), electrostatic loudspeakers of very low efficiency (Stax), and even "high-end" accessories like Tiptoes and Shun Mook Mpingo discs (which I still have, although my five-year-old daughter has more or less permanently co-opted the latter for playtime use).
It's a simple premise: power corrupts. You can buy the finest audio components in the world, but if the foundation of your aural house is rotten, you won't get anything vaguely resembling the level of performance your gear was designed to provide. Over time, I've come to realize just how fragile the audio signal chain is, dependent as it is on electrical sources fatally compromised by all manner of aural schmutz pouring through the local grid. I've become obsessed with figuring out how to liberate my system from the line noise, reactive loads, and voltage anomalies that veil the presentation, obscure resolution, and limit dynamic range.
Being a metallurgical engineer, I've always been intrigued by audio cables—their construction, the materials they're made of, how they're produced, and, of course, how all of that relates to their sound. Over the years, I've auditioned a wide range of cables, from Nordost's round conductors in a flat cable, to Alpha-Core's flat cables in a round conductor, to MIT's complex termination systems. I've even got a closet full of cables—some quite good—from companies that no longer exist.
Sony announced last week that it has created a new brand product line intended to identify its highest end products: Qualia. Initially, the new line will launch only in Japan, and will include both audio and video products in addition to a small pocket camera. Sony President Kunitake Ando had previously suggested the line would launch by March 2003.
There may be hope for the most common type of hearing loss. Researchers at the University of Michigan have succeeded in growing new hair cells in the inner ears of laboratory animals, the first time that such cells have been regenerated in mammals.
DVD-Audio has been struggling to find its footing for three years now; the average consumer on the street has very likely never even heard of it. Watermarked discs, confusing playback menus, competition from SACD, and a dearth of titles haven't helped, but perhaps the biggest problem DVD-A faces is simply getting the word out.
"Does the modern audiophile want a sleek, compact, powerful, remote-controlled, microprocessor-driven, two-channel integrated amplifier?" Michael Fremer seeks the answer as he reviews the Perreaux R200i integrated amplifier. It may be small, but as MF finds, it also packs a punch.
When I first got into hi-fi, stereo was just over the horizon and imported products were still rare. The inexpensive ones came from Japan, and you could find them, often with names that changed from week to week, in the open-air displays in and around Cortlandt Street in lower Manhattan. The more expensive brands were European, primarily British, and beyond my financial grasp.