Founded in 1925, Luxman has long been one of Japan's most highly regarded audio manufacturers. Throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, Luxman's tube preamplifiers and power amplifiers occupied the top shelves of high-performance audio retailers, and to many older American audiophiles, the Luxman name is as familiar and esteemed as those of such storied American brands as McIntosh and Marantz. Luxman's combination of rich, warm sound, superb build quality, and indelible industrial design made its products fully competitive with other brands then considered among the world's best.
Some of the old audio names, such as Eico and Pilot, are gone. Others—Fisher, AR, KLH, H.H. Scott, etc.—have been rendered meaningless by corporate mergers and acquisitions. Yet more than 50 years after their founding, McIntosh and Marantz, arguably the two most prestigious names in American high-quality audio electronics, survive. The products they make today are probably closer in spirit to their original classics of half a century ago than at any time since the early 1970s.
It was a hot, humid, New York City evening in early August, and I was thankful to be sitting in the air-conditioned dark of Avery Fisher Hall, up in the Second Tier, for a Mostly Mozart concert. Listening to cello soloist Alisa Weilerstein in Osvaldo Golijov's hypnotic Azul, I was suddenly jolted by an explosive mix of primitive cello sonorities, accordion, and staccato riffs on ethnic percussion instruments. My thoughts turned to the importance in music of both power and delicacy, and of how Bryston Ltd.'s 28B-SST, a 1000W monoblock power amplifier, was designed to address both.
Boulder Amplifiers, named after the Colorado town where the company has resided since its founding 23 years ago, makes some of the most elegant-looking solid-state amps around. Chassis are anodized, aircraft-grade aluminum with rounded edges, machined and finished in-house. The two models reviewed here, the 810 line preamplifier and the 860 power amplifier, each have a sleek, compact build—stacked atop each other, the two stand just over a foot high—owing to extremely efficient packing of the circuitry inside. These are the company's "entry-level" electronics, but there's nothing cheap about them—the preamp retails for $6900, the amp for $8500—and for all their economical size, they look like luxury goods as well.
How much amplifier power do you need? Most audiophiles figure a maximum of a few hundred watts per channel—beyond that, you're wasting your money or showing off. Others think that anything more than a few watts will mess up an amplifier's musical coherence or "purity," so they stop there and find uncommonly sensitive speakers, usually compression horns with cone woofers.
Good things come in threes, they say. Well, three-channel power amps suit me just fine. My main component rack is at the back of the room, so I split power duties between a two-channel amp under the rack to drive my rear-channel B&W 804S speakers and, way at the front, either three monoblocks or a three-channel amp for the front three B&W 802Ds. I do this to ensure that the timbre of the front three channels is consistent. The outstanding performance of the Simaudio Moon W-8 dual-mono power amp (Stereophile, March 2006) almost tempted me to go with a stereo amp and a monoblock, but voicing and balancing a multichannel system with equanimity makes me want as much simplicity as possible. I guess manufacturers and users see it the same way; many new three-channel amps are coming on the market.
Recently, on the StereophileWeb forum, reader Natal commented on Robert J. Reina's review of the Creek Audio Destiny integrated amplifier in the January 2007 issue: "Maybe it's just me but I've never found any piece of electronic equipment sexy."
The last Classé power amplifier I reviewed, back in November 2004, was the imposing Omega Omicron monoblock ($20,000/pair), which made glorious sound with the Revel Ultima Studio speakers. But things change. First, my reference speakers are now B&W 802Ds. Second, my system now has three front speakers, supplemented by two B&W 804S speakers for surround sound. While a quintet of Omicrons would undoubtedly be dandy, five such monoliths would take up so much space that I'd be wondering about their effects on the room's sound. With so many channels, it seemed time to investigate whether a multichannel amp could carry the load.
Talk about going from the ridiculous to the sublime. One day I'm reviewing the $139 Sonic Impact Super T power amplifier, and the next day Krell Industries delivers their $10,000 Evolution 505 SACD/CD player, $15,000 Evolution 202 preamplifier, and their $30,000/pair Evolution 600 monoblocks.
I've been tweaking my weekend multichannel system for years, but with my city system I've kinda faked it. I now realize that I listen more actively to the weekend system, and not only because that's when I have the time for it—the sound of that system is simply more engaging and psychologically immersive. So, with the growth of my library of SACD and DVD-Audio recordings to almost half the size of my CD collection, I told my wife that it was time to transform of "our" city stereo rig into a full-blown multichannel system.
When most of us think about the folks who populate the high-end audio industry, we tend to conjure up the designers—the names above the titles, as it were. Or, in many cases, the names that are the titles: Richard Vandersteen, Jim Thiel, Bill Conrad and Lew Johnson, Mike Creek, to name just a few.
Best known for its omnidirectional loudspeakers, the German manufacturer mbl also produces three complete lines of high-performance electronics that, despite being large and built to jewel-like perfection, are sometimes lost in the shadow cast by the dramatic-looking—and -sounding—Radialstrahler 101E, which I reviewed in October 2004.
When I went to my shelf of Stereophile back issues to find Paul Bolin's seminal review of the Halcro dm58, I was shocked to find myself leafing further and further back—through not only 2004 but 2003 as well, all the way back to October 2002 (Vol.25 No.10). It doesn't seem possible that it's been almost four years since Halcro exploded onto our radar screens, the dm58 emblazoned on that issue's cover alongside the banner headline "THE BEST AMPLIFIER EVER!"
Where does one start with the Moscode 401HR? With its design, which marries a tube driver stage to a MOSFET power output? Or perhaps with its designer, George Kaye, who refined Julius Futterman's OTL amplifier circuits before creating New York Audio Labs' original hybrid amplifier, the Moscode 300, in 1984?