In his essay "Let's Face the Music and Dance," John Marks, founder of John Marks Records, asks: "Does high-end audio have a future?" Of course it does, he says. But will it be one worth the price? Marks writes, "for most of its potential consumers, high-end audio is now a matter of sharply diminishing economic returns. A large incremental expenditure guarantees only a relatively modest, even marginal improvement in sound quality." How to forge ahead anyway? Marks offers his advice to our "dysfunctional" audio family.
In his review of the Conrad-Johnson Premier Twelve monoblock amplifier, Michael Fremer notes, "Conrad-Johnson is one of audio's 'marquee' companies, and charges accordingly." MF uncovers what you really get for your $7000, aside from 140Wpc and a top-shelf name.
In his review of the Meridian 508.24 CD player, Wes Phillips finds the machine "a beautiful design with impeccable technical credentials—a CD player that belongs, with only a few others, at the very sharpest portion of the leading edge, and that joins them in producing sound that is highly musical and hard to criticize."
February's the month when Stereophile publishes its coveted "Records To Die For" feature, wherein everybody working for the magazine gets to make like a music critic and add their two cents' worth about what gets them excited (musically speaking). R2D4 2001 is on newsstands right now, in the February issue of Stereophile; to commemorate its publication, we add the 2000 "Records To Die For" to the online archives.
"Even right out of the box, it's obvious that the Wadia Digital 861 CD player is something special," writes Brian Damkroger in this month's issue. "Its heft and finish are beyond the usual high-end standards." But how about the sound?
For his review of the diminutive Acarian Systems Alón Petite loudspeaker, Wes Phillips explains that the "li'l guys frequently image like bandits—which some of us just can't resist." Also included is Robert J. Reina's followup review of Alón's matching PW-1 woofer system, from February 1997, along with his take on the Alón Petite.
Sam Tellig triggered a hailstorm of comment with his original review of the RadioShack Optimus CD-3400 portable CD player. After Tellig suggested that the modest player just might be a cheapskate audiophile delight, writers Corey Greenberg, Jack English, John Atkinson, Barry Willis, and Robert Harley each added his two cents. Some revealing but hitherto unpublished measurements are also included.
When a manufacturer makes extraordinary claims about a product, the result is sometimes an extraordinary review. That's what happened when Jonathan Scull examined the Richard Gray's Power Company 400S AC line conditioner last June. His report raised a chorus of reader and industry reactions, all of them included here along with some additional unpublished observations.
"Size does matter," John Atkinson discovers, as he fits the Shure E3c in-ear headphones into his ears. Once fitted, JA hooks the mini "cans" up to his iPod and PowerBook to discover how much audiophile sound a little set of ear buds can produce.
Michael Fremer heard that the Alesis MasterLink ML-9600 Hard Disk/CD-R Recorder "can sound better than all but the absolute top-drawer analog," and, of course, had to investigate. Mikey 'splains why audiophiles should take note of a machine generally used as a mastering tool by the recording industry.
Want to know how Michael Fremer is able to tie a story about his baffled plumber into an equipment review? Find out in his report on the Audio Physic Virgo loudspeaker. About the speakers, Mikey writes: "Clearly, the Virgos disappeared, leaving one of the most credible three-dimensional soundstages I've ever experienced in any of my listening rooms over the years."
In a landmark special feature, Chris Dunn & Malcolm Omar Hawksford thoroughly dissect the vicissitudes of the digital interface and jitter in Bits is Bits? The authors note, "The theoretical performance obtainable from the 16-bit linear PCM format sampled at 44.1kHz is superior to any analog sources available to the consumer."
Kalman Rubinson says he "anticipated the installation of the TacT Audio RCS 2.0 digital equalizer/preamplifier with mixed emotions." Would his hard work at setting up the perfect listening environment be rendered irrelevant in the face of digital signal processing? Or would the future of audio unfold at his feet?