There's home cooking on one side of the hedge and fast food on the other, and the world moves farther from the former and nearer to the latter with each passing day. So it goes in domestic audio, where virtually every new milestone of the past quarter-century has pointed far more toward convenience than toward quality.
Depressed? Don't be. Those of us in the perfectionist community have a history of dealing with such things, howsoever slowly and inefficiently. (footnote 1). We're getting better at it, too, year by year. An example: Chord Electronics, of sunny southern England, has now brought to market their Chordette Gem D/A converter ($799) which they offer as an affordable means of getting perfectionist-quality sound from computer-music files.
Living with a brand-new Cyrus amp was a pleasantly nostalgic thing to do, even from the start: It arrived in a clean and downright attractive carton that seemed designed specifically to contain a brand-new Cyrus amplifier. Think of it! And I haven't even mentioned the nice owner's manual or the balance control or the headphone jack. As I said: the good old days.
When I review an affordable loudspeaker, first impressions are important. Once I've unpacked the speaker, noted the quality of its construction and finish, and have complimented or grumbled about the ergonomics of its five-way binding posts, I fire 'er up and give 'er a first listen. Occasionally, the sound will put a smile on my face, either because I'm impressed with the amount of uncolored detail emanating from such an affordable product, or because the speaker sounds so sweet that I'm intoxicated.
I thought I'd review the procedure I typically use to seek out affordable speakers for review as, in the case of the Denmark-designed DALI Zensor, made in the company's facility in China, there was a twist at the end.
In preparing to review affordable loudspeakers, I typically put together a list of potential candidates I've discovered at audio shows, or that have been recommended to me by other Stereophile writers. I add to that list products I've learned about from press promotions, usually from companies whose products have impressed me in the past. I boil this down to a short list, then run it by Stephen Mejias to make sure I'm not tripping over The Kid's own quest for budget sonic nirvana.
I was ready to have some fun with Dayton Audio's B652 loudspeakersthe ones with the outrageously high price of $39.80/pair.
Available from Parts Express (catalog #300-652), the Dayton B652 is a simple two-way, sealed-cabinet design with a 6.5" polypropylene mid/woofer and a ferrofluid-cooled, 5/8" polycarbonate tweeter. The cabinet is clad in black vinyl and has a removable grille of black cloth. The B652s sounded pretty much the same regardless of whether the grilles were in place, but I preferred their looks with the grilles off, so that's how I listened. Better looks often equal better soundat least in my home.
This whole thing started up again when I tried to improve the phono-input section of my main systemnot to enhance its performance (although you might expect that to happen), but to provide a fairer, more flexible context for evaluating new cartridges.
The Definitive Technology StudioMonitor 45 measures a very room- and back-friendly 11 11/16" (297mm) high by 6¾" (172mm) wide by 11 11/16" (297mm) deep, but these dimensions are attractive for reasons other than simple, efficient transport and placement. I noticed right away that something about the speaker just looked right. Paul DiComo, DefTech's senior vice president of marketing and product development, explained that while the number and size of drivers used in any DefTech design will largely dictate that speaker's height and width, the company nevertheless aims for Fibonacci, or golden-ratio, dimensions. According to DiComo, these efforts help minimize standing-wave and "organ-pipe" resonances inside the speaker's cabinet.
Recently, I thought about all the audio shows I've attended over the last 27 years, looking for any pattern that all of them might have shared. I came up with a handful of audio manufacturers that have earned at shows a reputation for getting, year after year, consistently good soundrooms in which I could reliably depend on being able to chill out and enjoy music in good, involving sound. Those companies include Audio Research, Music Hall (distributor of Creek and Epos), Vandersteen Audioand Definitive Technology. Since their founding, in 1990, Maryland-based DefTech has been a major presence at shows, displaying an increasingly wide range of high-value speakers for two-channel and surround-sound systems. But I'd never reviewed one of their models. I thought it was about time.
The companion loudspeaker to Denon's RCD-CX1 SACD/CD receiver is the SC-CX303 ($1200/pair). The SC-CX303 is a ported two-way with a 1" soft-dome tweeter and a 5" carbon-fibercone woofer. Denon claims a sensitivity of 86dB and an impedance of 6 ohms. Instead of a formal frequency response, Denon instead gives an unreferenced figure for frequency extension that, at 35Hz60kHz, is neither helpful nor credible.
Convergence. There, I've said it. I swore I wasn't going to use the "C" word, but when you're faced with writing about a product that smashes the boundaries between component categories as completely as the CardDeluxe does, you have little choice.
Direct Acoustics is a loudspeaker company in Weston, Massachusetts, that sells, by mail-order only, just one product: the two-way, floorstanding Silent Speaker II ($748/pair).
Its seemingly paradoxical name refers not to any inability of the Silent to create sound, but rather is intended by its maker to indicate two aspects of its performance. First is the ability of the loudspeaker boxes to "disappear" in the sense of not being readily apparent as sound sources. Well, okay, everyone wants that. The other intended sense of Silent is that the woofer and its loading arrangement were designed to minimize stray noises created by the woofer's excursion, or by the movements of air within, or in and out of, its vent or port.
The SC-I ($995/pair) is the smallest model in the "Signature Collection" to come from Dunlavy Audio Labs, the company founded by John Dunlavy after he left Duntech. The largest model in this series used to be the $4995/pair SC-IV that Robert Deutsch so enthusiastically reviewed last April, and that this month was voted Stereophile's 1994 "Product of the Year." There is now also a huge SC-VI available.
I miss the High End Shows. Not the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegasno thanks. I can do without the overpriced hotels, the 45-minute taxi lines, the frantic racing from venue to venue. No, it's the Stereophile shows I miss, with the centralized location, the rubbing shoulders with readers ("Hey, you're the cheap-speaker guy! Check out room 206!"), the listening to live music, and maybe even playing a little of it.
No, folks, vinyl is not dead. And even though my colleague Mikey Fremer is beginning to sound like a broken record, the little guy is right: when it comes to the sound on offer, CD still doesn't come close. There are more turntables, phono cartridges, and tonearms on the market today than ever before. Moreover, with companies like Classic Records, Analogue Productions, and Mosaic offering a steady stream of ultra-high-quality reissues, there seems to be an increasing supply of quality vinyl at reasonable prices.
The integration of computers into high-end audio is contentious. A reader poll last spring on our website indicated that a significant proportion of audiophiles—a quarter—is dead set against the idea, yet both Microsoft, with Windows Media Player 9, and Apple, with iTunes, seem convinced that the future of domestic music reproduction involves computers. To support that idea, both Apple- and Windows-based computers (the latter with Intel's about-to-be-launched HD Audio technology) are promoting hi-rez audio playback.