The sound of the Stenheim Alumine loudspeakerits openness, transparency, and freedom from temporal distortions, not to mention its good bass extension for such a small enclosurereminded me at once of my favorite small loudspeaker from the late 1980s, the Acoustic Energy AE1. On reflection, the comparison is extraordinary: The two products are as different as night and day, the AE1 being a wooden loudspeaker with a metal-cone woofer, the Alumine a metal loudspeaker with a pulp-cone woofer. I suppose one can skin a catfish by moving the knife or by moving the fish.
High-end audio is in some ways a dynastic beast, though without as many "begats." One of the world's most successful loudspeaker manufacturers in the years following World War II was the Wharfedale company, from Yorkshire in the North of England. Wharfedale was founded by Gilbert Briggs in 1932, who in the 1950s handed over the reins of Technical Director to fellow Yorkshireman Raymond Cooke. Cooke left Wharfedale in 1961 to found KEF Electronics Ltd., where he subsequently appointed Goodmans designer Laurie Fincham as Chief Engineer in 1968. Fincham led a team of young engineers, including Mike Gough, who eventually joined B&W, and Yorkshire-born Andrew Jones, who became KEF's Chief Engineer in 1989, before Fincham was lured to Harman's Infinity division, in Northridge, California, in 1993. Jones followed Fincham across the Atlantic, where he worked on Infinity's Prelude, Overture, and Reference Series speakers, before joining Pioneer in 1997. The Japanese company had established a state-of-the-art speaker-design facility in Southern California, and Jones was invited to lead the design team.
The last few decades have seen dramatic improvements in the art (and science) of loudspeaker design. Tannoy's budget-priced Mercury series is now in its fifth iteration. The two-way, front-ported Mercury V1 ($320/pair) measures 11.8" high by 6.7" wide by 10" deep and weighs 9.9 lbs. My samples came in a very handsome Dark Walnut finish (Sugar Maple is available) with simple black cloth grilles. I left the grilles off to reveal the speakers' attractive front baffles and accentuate their equally attractive high frequencies (more on the latter later).
After a number of years of equipment reviewing, one gets rather blasé about "compact" loudspeakers. The appearance of yet another one that looks like hundreds of others and embodies no radically new innovations to pique one's curiosity is likely to be greeted with a passionate Ho-Hum.
We were sitting near the pool, in a cozy, private cabana on the outdoor terrace of the Trump Plaza Residences in downtown Jersey City, surrounded by all kinds of beauty: To the north, the old Powerhouse Building stood proud, strong, and silent; to the south, Exchange Place's Colgate Clock was just beginning to glow, extending its tireless arms toward Lower Manhattan; to the east, the Empire State Building soared into the humid evening sky, its white-lit spire making thin veils of the summer clouds; and to the west, the redbrick row houses of Harsimus Cove hummed with the sounds of quiet domestic life. Before us stretched a long table covered with delicious treats: cheeses, meats, and crackers; olives, grapes, and hummus; bottles of beer, vodka, and wine. We were at Shana's place, with Natalie, Nicole, and DanielaKristin was there, too. And all I could think about were loudspeakers.
On Thursday, August 11, Cut Copy performed for a massive crowd at Brooklyn's Prospect Park, putting the perfect end to what had been a beautiful summer day. Concert photos by Natalie.
The enormous sky above Brooklyn's Prospect Park was a dazzling watercolor. Warm, soft shades of yellow, orange, and violet swept across a saturated canvas as the sun slowly dissolved into the horizon and day reluctantly gave way to night. It was the second week of August and, though no one wanted to admit it, the days had become noticeably shorter.
I walked alone through turnstiles that led to the large band shell where thousands of people would congregate for the final night of "Celebrate Brooklyn," a summerlong series of outdoor concerts. This year's season included performances by a wonderfully diverse and talented collection of artistssome obscure, some renowned, all worthwhile: Andrew Bird, Larry Harlow, Animal Collective, Real Estate, The Feelies, Los Lobos, The Bad Plus, Dr. John, and dozens of others.
It was unusually warm for early spring, without a cloud in the big, blue sky to tame the sun's dazzling lightfar too beautiful a day to be indoors, but Uncle Omar and I had already planned a little listening session, and I was determined to show him that high-end cables would make a difference in his system. I wasn't necessarily feeling bullish about the task, though. It had taken me a couple of years to convince Omar that he should replace his old boom-box speakers with something better, and it was only dumb luck that finally made it happen: I was with him when he found a gently used pair of B&W DM602 speakers at a junk shop in Jersey City. When they were new, the DM602s sold for around $600/pair, but on this happy day they were tagged at $50. "Do it," I begged him. "Doooooo it!"
It was another flawlessly beautiful spring morning, and I was in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, to help John Atkinson pack up the Lansche Audio 5.1 loudspeakers ($41,000/pair). John had only just completed his listening and bench tests (see his review in the July issue), and was not ready to let go of the lovely Lanschesbut the speakers would be picked up by a trucking company that afternoon and sent to our cover photographer, Eric Swanson, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Each Lansche measures 40.9" tall by 10.1" W by 19.3" D and weighs 167.5 lbspacking them and securing them to a shipping pallet is definitely a two-man job. In our case, that job required a lot of wheezing, a little bleeding, and just the right amount of cursing. And because it was only 11am when we met, we were obliged to accomplish the task without the aid of beera crying shame, if you ask mebut we handled it in our usual, manly fashion.
I want to start this year's gift recommendations by briefly revisiting the results of my Musical Cultural Literacy for Americans write-in competition, which ran in the April issue. All 12 winning entries of 12 selections each are posted online (footnote 1).
We continue the search for the successor to Fried's Q loudspeaker of yore. Renaissance Audio is the former Morel USA, so they have a long track record in both OEM driver manufacture and making complete loudspeakers. As I mentioned in my June column, their MLP-403.5 loudspeaker is a two-cubic-foot, sealed-box three-way with a dome midrange driver, at the near-improbable price of $1090/pair (footnote 1).
In a moment, I will resume my ongoing quest to put together a music lover's stereo system for about half the cost of my last such effort (see my columns in the October and December 2005 issues): $3750 rather than $7500. But first I want to urge everyone who hasn't already done so to check out the results of the Five Great Art Songs of the Rock Era write-in competition announced in my February 2008 column. The winning entries are greatreally thought-provoking. Indeed, some of the lists, plus an unaccountably belated recollection, prompted me to put together my own alternate list. This list doesn't invalidate or replace my original one, but it benefited from the energy all the entrants (thanks, everyone) put into theirs. Here goes:
I've been chipping away for some time at the task of trying to put together a music lover's stereo system for about half the money of my last such effort: $2500 to $3750 now, vs around $7500 back in 2005. My timing was good: CD and DVD receivers are a hot product category, with several attractive new entries at various prices.
Back when there were bricks-and-mortar retail record stores to speak of in tenses other than past, I used to participate in new-release conferences. Retail-store buyersthe people who decided whether consumers would see your CDs as they browsed in the storeswould gather at a nice destination, such as Lake George, New York. The various labels would then make presentations about their upcoming new releases.