Audacious Audio

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Michael Fremer Posted: Jul 21, 2016 10 comments
Simaudio saw disc-based digital audio in its rear-view mirror at least as far back as 2011, when it introduced the Moon Evolution 650D and 750D—two iterations of what it called a "digital-to-analog converter CD transport." These were actually multiple-input CD players, but Simaudio was evidently so eager to distance itself from the spinning disc that it went with a product category that, in spite of its cumbersome, run-on name, drew a clean line between the disc-reading and signal-processing functions—while bestowing upon the former second-class citizenship.
Jon Iverson Posted: Oct 07, 2012 7 comments
The audiophile does not pursue music reproduction because it is useful; he pursues it because he delights in it, and he delights in it because it is beautiful. If music were not beautiful it would not be worth knowing, and if music were not worth knowing life would not be worth living.

My apologies for corrupting the well-known statement by French mathematician Jules Henri Poincaré (1854–1912), in which he described his relationship with science and nature. But substituting audiophile for scientist and music for nature, I feel the sentiment expresses what drives many audiophiles to the extremes for which mere mortals often chide us.

Sam Tellig Posted: Apr 25, 2013 Published: Oct 01, 2012 1 comments
In April 1987, Anthony H. Cordesman had mixed feelings about the Mod Squad Passive Line Drive System Control Center. (Read his review here.) Introduced in 1984, the Line Drive offered volume and balance controls, five line-level inputs, and switching and monitoring for two tape decks. You didn't plug it into the wall; it provided no gain. Was it even a proper preamp? (footnote 1)

AHC demurred. "I'm not sure that I'm ready to advise anyone to take the risk of not buying a unit with a top-quality phono stage, no matter how well CD or DAT perform," he concluded, between commenting on Middle East wars.

Michael Fremer Posted: May 15, 2010 0 comments
Musical Fidelity's Tri-Vista kWP, introduced in 2003, was an impressive, high-tech, "statement" audiophile preamplifier. Its outboard power supply weighed almost 56 lbs—more than most power amplifiers—and its hybrid circuitry included miniature military-grade vacuum tubes. As I said in my review of it in the January 2004 Stereophile, the kWP's chassis and innards were overbuilt, the measured performance impressive, and any sonic signature imposed on the signal was subtle and, essentially, inconsequential.
John Atkinson Posted: Sep 02, 2011 10 comments
"That's just silly on so many counts, Antony."

I was talking last winter to Musical Fidelity's Antony Michaelson, who had been enthusing about his forthcoming stereo amplifier, the AMS100. It would be physically enormous—almost a yard deep—and commensurately heavy at 220 lbs. Despite its bulk, its maximum rated output would be just 100Wpc into 8 ohms. It would also be expensive, at $19,999. And to cock a snoot at environmentalists and their concerns, the AMS100's output stage would be biased into class-A up to its rated 8 ohm power, meaning that, even when not playing music, it will draw around 10 amps from a typical US wall supply of 120V. This also means that it will run very hot, making the amplifier impracticable for summer use in homes without central air-conditioning. Like mine.

Michael Fremer Posted: Jun 23, 2009 0 comments
Musical Fidelity's founder, Antony Michaelson, arrived at my house to help me set up the two chassis of his sleek, limited-edition, $30,000 Titan power amplifier. (The task requires at least two people.) A week later, a representative of Musical Fidelity's US importer, KEF America, dropped by to listen and to deliver three of Musical Fidelity's new V-series products: a phono preamp, a DAC, and a headphone amp. All three fit comfortably into a small paper bag; the price of the three was $700.
Robert J. Reina Posted: Apr 05, 2013 Published: Apr 01, 2013 2 comments
Branding can be powerful—a well-developed brand connotes strong images in the consumer's mind. Apple means ergonomics, elegance, ego. Fremer means analog, exuberance, fastidiousness. Rolex means Swiss-made, precision, expensive. Nagra means Swiss-made, precision, expensive.
John Atkinson Posted: Oct 30, 2014 7 comments
For a reviewer, deciding which products to write about is a tricky business. You want to do a professional job of evaluation, but you also want to be able to wrest maximum enjoyment from your music while you do so. Attending audio shows is where reviewers perform sonic triage, weeding out the products that aren't ready for prime time, and making a note of those they wish to invite home after the show.
Brian Damkroger Posted: Jun 23, 2016 37 comments
It would be an understatement to say that in 2001, when Nordost introduced their original Valhalla cables, they were a revelation for me. Their focus and resolution of detail were like nothing I'd ever heard, and revealed in recorded performances a startling energy and realism. Throw in their seemingly absolute transparency, and similarly unique levels of spatial and temporal precision, and the Valhallas established a new standard of sound quality in audio cables. Although their tonal balance was cool, as I reported in my first review of them in the November 2001 issue, they were the only game in town in terms of reproducing the feel of a live performance. I immediately adopted them as a reference cable, and they remain a reference for me today.
Art Dudley Posted: Jan 28, 2016 4 comments
The stats are impressive: Quebec's Oracle Audio Technologies, formerly Trans Audio (footnote 1), has been in business for 37 years, during which they've sold nearly 11,000 Oracle Delphi turntables. That's not bad for a perfectionist turntable—and especially not bad for a perfectionist turntable whose first and most estimable competitor, the Linn Sondek LP12, was well established by the time of the Delphi's debut, in 1979.
Michael Fremer Posted: Dec 27, 2010 Published: Mar 01, 2010 1 comments
Thirty years have not diminished the beauty and elegance of Oracle's Delphi turntable. In my opinion, it still ranks among the best-looking turntables ever made. I bought an original Mk.I, used, in 1982, and very positively reviewed the Delphi Mk.V in the December 1997 Stereophile.

In its three decades the Delphi has undergone many upgrades both technical and aesthetic. Not surprisingly, so has the price. The Mk.II Delphi sold for $1250 in 1986; the Delphi Mk.VI with Turbo power supply and dedicated power cord now sells for $8500, which, in today's market, I think is reasonable for what you get. The review sample came with an Oracle/SME 345 tonearm ($3100) and a Benz-Micro Thalia high-output MC cartridge ($1700), for a total cost of $13,300—or $11,600 for just 'table and arm.

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Jul 02, 2010 Published: May 02, 1985 0 comments
Although the idea of a $1000 moving-coil cartridge no longer shocks audiophiles, it is still not exactly what I'd call "Mainstream Hi-Fi." Audio magazine's 1984 Equipment Directory—the most complete such compendium published in the US—lists only 10 models in this price range, not counting the Kiseki Lapis Lazuli at a whopping three-and-a-half grand! I have not tested most of these, nor have I tried any of the current models from the Japanese Koetsu firm, which was first with the gall to put a $1000 price tag on a cartridge. But I have tested a couple of one-granders during the past few years, and was sufficiently unimpressed to be hesitant about testing any more samples of what were beginning to look like nothing more than monumental ripoffs. So when Ortofon sent us the MC-2000, I was naturally less than enthusiastic about trying it.
John Atkinson Posted: Mar 29, 2013 Published: Apr 01, 2013 5 comments
It was the strangest thing. In the fall of 2008 I was comparing Ayre Acoustics' then-new KX-R line preamplifier with no preamplifier at all—I was feeding the power amplifier directly with the output of the Logitech Transporter D/A processor. (Levels were matched for the comparisons, of course, made possible by the fact that the Transporter has a digital-domain volume control.) Being a rational being, I knew that the active circuitry of a preamplifier, as well as the extra socketry and cables, would be less transparent to the audio signal than a single piece of wire. I wanted to determine by how much the Ayre preamp fell short of that standard.
John Atkinson Posted: Dec 30, 2013 Published: Jan 01, 2014 13 comments
Whereas the Pass Labs preamplifiers are designed by Wayne Colburn, the power amplifiers are the work of company founder and high-end audio veteran Nelson Pass, who even lays out his own circuit boards. The X-model amplifiers, beginning with the X1000 in 1998, were the first implementation of Nelson Pass's patented Supersymmetry topology (see "Nelson Pass on the Patents of Pass"). The XA series, which debuted in 2002, combined Supersymmetry with the single-ended class-A operation of the Aleph series. The XA.5 models offer detail improvements over the XAs.
John Atkinson Posted: Jan 02, 2011 Published: Jun 02, 1989 3 comments
Externally, the LHH1000 came as a bit of a surprise to these jaded eyes, over-familiar with plain black or brushed-aluminum boxes. Each enclosure is finished in an almost white, anodized finish, with greenish-gray endcaps (made from zinc alloy, I believe) painted with a nubbly, crackle finish—an attractively utilitarian styling with shades of military-surplus radio equipment, nicely set off by subdued blue fluorescent readouts. Internally, the units are constructed to audiophile standards. The transport uses Philips's top CDM-1 mechanism, which is fabricated from diecast aluminum, compared with the plastic CDM-4 mechanism which appears in less expensive and less well-specified players. The loading tray, too, which is made from metal, has a reassuringly solid feel to it.

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