I love attending Stereophile's Home Entertainment shows. I get to check out the latest gear, hobnob with manufacturers and writer colleagues, hear some live music, and play a little jazz with John Atkinson, Zan Stewart, and Immedia's Allen Perkins. Unfortunately, work commitments at my day job meant I couldn't attend HE2003, in San Francisco, so I directed my team of Stereophile scouts to find me some hot new budget speakers. Robert Deutsch was quickest to respond, the week following the show: "Bob, you've got to check out these new speakers from Usher Audio in Taiwan! They have a number of models within your budget." One phone call later, and a $1000/pair of Compass X-719 bookshelf speakers was on its way to me.
The last few years at our annual Home Entertainment Show, many readers have come up to me and asked: "How do you select which speakers to review?" In my case, most candidates are either new products that have impressed me when demonstrated at our HE Shows, or new products from manufacturers whose designs have impressed me in the past. Occasionally, editor John Atkinson gets wind of a speaker and asks if I'd like to review it. But once in a while, a manufacturer reads a rave review of a competing product that makes his or her blood boil.
Silicon Valleybased Velodyne was founded in 1983 to develop a range of subwoofers that used servo-control to reduce non-linear distortion to vanishingly small levels. They succeeded in this goal to the extent that Velodyne is now perhaps the best-known subwoofer company in the US, currently employing 65 people. At the 1994 Winter CES, Velodyne launched the subject of this review: the DF-661 ($1800$2600/pair), their first full-range loudspeaker (the "DF" stands for "Distortion-Free").
The three-way DF-661 was designed from the ground up to continue the Velodyne tradition of ultra-low distortion. "We had developed the technology and resources to attack distortion elsewhere in the audio chain," wrote company President David Hall, "and started with the premise that, by definition...distortion in loudspeakers is wrong." (His italics.) "We went to the laboratory for a solution, with the living room as the ultimate goal." Velodyne calls this attention to technological detail "The Silicon Valley approach to sound."
When John Marks wrote about the Vivid B1 in his column, "The Fifth Element," in February 2011, he was so excited about the sound he was getting that he asked me to drive up to Rhode Island to give a listen for myself. Not only was I impressed by what I heard at John's, I decided to do a full review of the speaker.
I've been musing much of late on what enables some hi-fi components to sound natural while others always seem to add an edge of artificiality to their sound. This dichotomy was examined in last month's "As We See It," where I asked a representative group of Stereophile writers to discuss the fact that many high-end components regarded as being neutral in their sonic character, with apparently little wrong in their measured performance, can actually sound quite unmusical. This would seem to suggest that the nature of what a component does wrong is of greater importance than the level of what it does wrong: 1% of one kind of distortion can be innocuous, even musically appropriate, whereas 0.01% of a different kind of distortion can be musical anathema.
A while back, I received an e-mail from The Kid (Stephen Mejias): "I've been listening to and enjoying the Wharfedale 10.1 loudspeakers ($350/pair) for a couple of months. I wrote about them for my March and April issue columns, but they are good enough for a complete review. Are you interested?"
Hmm . . . so The Kid is now assigning me equipment reviews? "Sure, why not?"
The day after the Wharfedales arrived, The Kid sent me another e-mail: "Have you unpacked them yet? They are so pretty!"
Scratch an audiophile and, chances are, you'll find a closet Wilson Audio fan. The Wilson WATT/Puppy would probably make almost anyone's list of the most significant high-end loudspeaker designs. David Wilson first built his reputation with the custom-built WAMM loudspeaker—a monumental piece invariably included with products like the Infinity IRS, Genesis I, and Apogee Grand when the world's most awesome loudspeakers are discussed. But it was the WATT, followed by the WATT/Puppy—the latter now several generations improved over the original design—that really put the company on the high-end audio map.
I had had it in the back of my mind for some time to try to hear the Wilson Duette, if only because celebrated classical recording engineer Tony Faulkner had, some time ago, shared with me his opinion that the Duette's simpler crossover made it the most coherent speaker in Wilson's line. Faulkner told me that when a cramped recording venue makes it impossible for him to use his favorite Quad electrostatic speakers for monitoring, he uses Duettes.
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