One room at the 1999 CES in Las Vegas that knocked me for a loop was the Avalon/Classé installation mentioned in my April show report. Classé had just debuted the Omega preamp, the companion piece to the Omega amplifier I reviewed in March. It proved a very suave, musical, and high-performance marriage.
Cycles can be seen in the fortunes of companies. Likewise cycles can be seen in the performance of companies' products. A particular range will appear to have got it just right, whatever "it" is. The designer may have hit a winning streak and thus steal a lead over the competition. C-J set a new state-of-the-art preamp standard in the late 1980s with their Premier Seven, and some of that expertise and experience are beginning to pay off in the shape of new high-performance preamplifiers at realistic prices. Two important products have emerged from all this in C-J's moderately priced FET range, namely the PF-1 preamp and the matching MF-200 power amp. By audiophile standards, these are moderately priced at $1295 and $1995, respectively.
Recording artists can reinvent themselves by crossing over into another style of music. Gloria Estefan, who started with Latin music, crossed over into mainstream pop with great success. Doug Sax, who reinvented the direct-to-vinyl disc and produced outstanding LPs for Sheffield Lab, eventually transferred all of his music to compact discs. Ivor Tiefenbrun, designer of the Linn Sondek turntable, now makes CD players.
With the introduction of the NHB-108 stereo amplifier, Swiss-based darTZeel quickly established a reputation for pristine, hand-built quality, fanciful industrial design, and elegant circuitry—all accompanied by a healthy jolt of sticker shock. (See John Marks' coverage in his September 2003 "Fifth Element" column, followed by Wes Phillips' full review in April 2005 .) The 100Wpc (into 8 ohms) NHB-108 costs more than $18,000. A lot of change for not a lot of power, but the reviews were unanimous in praising the amp's exceptional sound quality.
It isn't enough to say that engineer Denis N. Morecroft is one of contemporary audio's few visionaries: He's one of a very few mature designers whose passion for doing things a certain way hasn't abandoned him in the least, and whose well-argued convictions seem stronger than ever. Thus, as others cave in to commercethe tube-amp designer who offers a solid-state product just to help his dealers fill a price niche, the source-component manufacturer who rails against digital audio one day and starts cranking out CD players the nextDNM Design remains the likeliest of all modern companies to stay its course.
Modern hi-fi is little more than a way of getting electricity to pretend that it's music. Of course, good source components remain all-important, and even if loudspeakers are imperfect, most of us can find one or two that suit our tastes, if not our rooms and the rest of our gear.
When David Hafler sold his Hafler and Acoustat companies to in-car audio manufacturer Rockford-Fosgate a year or so back, things went quiet for a while as the new owners made arrangements to transfer production of both brands to their Arizona facility and took stock of where their new acquisitions stood in the marketplace. Then, at the 1989 CES in Las Vegas, the company made a reasonably sized splash with the first in a new range of Hafler products intended to lift the brand out of the hobbyist-oriented identity it had, perhaps inadvertently, adopted in the last few years.
My last visit to Planet Halcro transformed my audio life. All but the newest readers will recall that the Australian dm58 power amplifier was Stereophile's Amplification Component of the Year and overall Component of the Year for 2002. To this day, I have yet to hear any amplifier that equals the dm58's combination of complete neutrality, harmonic generosity, lightning reflexes, and a sense of boundless power that is difficult to describe. Though some others have come close, the dm58 shines as a singular beacon of excellence among power amplifiers.
With whom are you most intimate? Your wife? Husband? Your modern-times Significant Other? Your pet? Or, like a lot of audiophiles, is it your audio system? Do you nitpick and tweak it as if it were your pet?
"Uhh! What is it?" I was being prodded on the arm. Admittedly it was gentle, almost polite prodding, but prodding it still was, a rude disturbance of the cocoon I had woven around myself in seat 31J of the American Airlines MD-11 winging its way across the North Atlantic. I pushed Pause on the Discman, insensitively not waiting for an opportune cadence in the Brahms Piano Quintet that had been my erstwhile virtual reality.
When, on his long-running TV variety show, Jackie Gleason used to order up some "traveling music" from music director Ray Bloch, he got a live orchestra's worth. But when Gleason, a composer and conductor in his own right (he wrote his show's unforgettable theme song, "Melancholy Serenade"), actually traveled, his listening options were severely limited compared to ours. By the time the comedian died in 1987, Sony had introduced the Walkman cassette player, but Apple's iPod was still more than a decade in the future.
The Jeff Rowland Design Group has long been renowned for the exquisite quality of its chassis. The company was one of the first to promote fully balanced topologies in preamplifiers and amplifiers in the high-end market, one of the first to offer a sonically acceptable remote control, and one of the few to offer a battery power option for their amplifier line.
Stardate: 3087.6. Location: somewhere in the 4th quadrant. In response to Captain Kirk's orders, Mr. Sulu throws a few well-chosen levers and sliders—not much different in design and function from those used by Flash Gordon and Captain Video—to redirect the Good Ship Enterprise where no man has boldly gone before. New adventures begin immediately after the bridge crew pick themselves up off the deck and nonchalantly resume their stations.