Consider the lowly spork, that modern marvel of versatility: half spoon, half fork. In theory, you should be able to eat just about anything short of a flank steak with it. But the sad fact is, whether you're eating soup or salad, you might as well try to shovel it in using a tongue depressor. The damn thing's so versatile, it almost doesn't work at all. There's a lot to be said for specialization.
Although audiophiles may muster little enthusiasm for the home-theater-driven audio marketplace of the 21st century, its prerequisites have inspired manufacturers to cram as wide a range of flexible programming features into as highly resolved a set of performance packages as possible. Thus we're now witnessing a new generation of exceptionally musical electronics with high-end performance targeted at two-channel enthusiasts, but all primped and prepped for integration into an expanded audio-video rig.
Have you ever gone into a high-end audio emporium dressed not to the nines, but more like the threes or fours, and been ignored by the shop's staff because they've sized you up as being too low-budget? Even though you were carrying a high-powered, fully equipped, state-of-the-art wallet in that fanny pack, they assumed the opposite and shunned you.
Here we are, back to the Arcam I know and love: a company that not only invents good products, but good product categories as well. Like the Arcam Black Box of the 1980s, which gave so many people fits at the time—yet which, once you heard it, made good musical sense. It made good marketing sense, too: With that one stroke, teensy, weird, nestled-away-in-the-English-countryside Arcam did nothing less than create the domestic market for outboard digital-to-analog converters.
As you read this, are you listening to your stereo? Whatever the music, what you're actually hearing is your public utility's AC as modulated by your power amplifier. No matter how good the gear, the final result can be only as pure as the power feeding your components. Unfortunately, plenty of sonic schmutz usually comes along for the ride.
I'm a basically a tube guy, but I've never warmed up to most lower-powered integrated tube amps. Although I quite enjoyed the time I spent with the Cayin A-50T, which I reviewed in the March 2008 issue of Stereophile, over the years I've typically found I'd rather spend time with mid-priced, solid-state integrateds from Creek, Musical Fidelity, or Simaudio than deal with the loss of definition at the frequency extremes that I've heard from many lower-powered tube models. So it was with a bit of trepidation that I approached the VSi60, a 50Wpc integrated amplifier from Audio Research Corporation.
In a perfect world, all a serious record lover would need to enjoy music at home would be a single source component, one or two loudspeakers, and one good integrated amplifier. Speaker wire would be given by the dealer, free of charge, to any shopper who spent x number of dollars on new gear. Cable risers would come in cereal boxes.
The only thing better than a review that writes itself is a product with a compelling story. Although the latter asks a little more of us here, it's usually the more enduring pleasure.
So it goes with the new AX-5 amplifier ($9950) from Ayre Acoustics, in which designer Charles Hansen has both revived an overlooked technology from a half-century ago and brought to market a more affordable embodiment of one of his own most well-received products.
Dating was murder, especially in the months just before I met my wife. I knew some nice women back then, many of whom were good-hearted and others of whom were beautiful. One was both, and talented, too: She gave me presents for no reason and wrote tender things in cards with pictures of sweet meadows or the sea: My love goes on and on, they said. But for whatever reason, I just couldn't love her back, and Oh! how the shit hit the fan the day I told her so. I meant it as a respectful act of honesty and forthrightness; she took it as a cowardly act of rejection, and responded in a manner that would forever remind me of Maggie bouncing the rolling pin off Jiggs's head while calling him an insect. That day, I learned two things: 1) women are unlearnable; and, 2) honesty, while an unassailably good thing in and of itself, makes a poor tool, mostly because it lacks a safety handle.
B.M.C. Audio GmbH (the initials stand for Balanced Music Concept) designs its high-performance audio products in Germany, where the company was founded in 2009, and has them manufactured in its own wholly owned factory in China. The design team is headed by Carlos Candeias, whose earlier designs included a belt-driven CD transport for C.E.C. and, for Aqvox, a high-performance, current-gainbased, balanced phono preamplifier that's reasonably priced. These have won him a lot of attention, and made him something of a celebrity in certain sectors of the audiophile world.
As a young music lover, I never knew there were such things as separate preamplifiers, amplifiers, and FM tuners. All I knew was that if I wanted to play music from my CD player, hook up my VCR to my stereo, or listen to the radio, I needed that magical device: a receiver. It was all I ever wanted.