Nowadays, when most people think of New Zealand, the first things that probably come to mind are the film trilogy The Lord of the Rings, its director, Peter Jackson, or sheep. Certainly, LOTR was a great achievement in film history and, as its auteur, Jackson reaped no small fame for his efforts, as well as multiple Academy Awards and several krillion dollars. The country is also well known as a place where sheep outnumber humans by something like 12 to 1. However, New Zealand is also the source of some very fine audio equipment; both Perreaux and Plinius are proudly headquartered in beautiful, serene, friendly Kiwiland.
Within a few years of entering the US market, Australian audio manufacturer Bruce Halcro Candy cemented his place in audio history by designing a amplifier that Paul Bolin said (in the October 2002 Stereophile) "could well justify the creation of a 'Class A+' amplifier category in 'Recommended Components'," and the low distortion characteristics of which prompted editor John Atkinson, a man who has elevated the craft of understatement to a high art, to reach for the word astonishing. That was the Halcro dm58 monoblock ($29,990/pair), which has only recently been superseded by the Halcro dm78.
The W-8 ($10,200) is the first of Simaudio's Moon series to incorporate the new Evolution cosmetics and new circuitry. I loved its predecessor, the Moon W-5, which was one of the first power amplifiers I reviewed for Stereophile (March 1999, Vol.22 No.3). I also loved the "new and improved" W-5 when I wrote about in the May 2001 issue. In the September 2005 issue, Brian Damkroger praised Simaudio's monstrous Moon Rock monoblock, a contemporary of the Moon Evolution W-8 stereo amp.
Lord Acton said, famously, that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. If there ever were an amplifier to test that maxim's applicability to audiophiles, it is surely the Chord SPM 14000 Ultimate Monoblock. Priced no less than $75,000/pair, the SPM 14000 is rated to produce power as do very few other amplifiers on the planet: it is very conservatively rated at 1kW into an 8 ohm load, 2kW into 4 ohms, and "will easily exceed" 2800W (give or take a few watts) into 2 ohms.
Not every audiophile needs an amplifier powerful enough to tax a small town's power grid while simultaneously draining his or her bank account. So, having quickly sold out of its ultra-limited-edition, extravagantly powered and priced combo of kWp preamplifier ($14,995) and kW power amp ($27,995) that I reviewed in January 2004, Musical Fidelity (footnote 1) set about capitalizing on the enthusiastic reviews earned by those giants with less expensive, less powerful, "real-world" replacements.
For years, I thought of Simaudio gear as good-sounding, attractive, and modestly priced, often describing it to friends as "really good for the money." The $5500 Moon Eclipse CD player, which I reviewed in our April 2001 and April 2003 issues, stretched the "modestly priced" descriptor a bit, but its sound was still, I thought, really good for what it cost, and I adopted it as a reference. Simaudio expanded the Moon series and eventually discontinued its older, less expensive Celeste brand, but, I thought, its products could still be described as "really good for the money."
Although Mark Levinson Audio Systems components continue to be produced, the company's headquarters moved in late 2003 from the Madrigal plant in Middletown, Connecticut, to Harman Specialty's facility in Bedford, Massachusetts. There ML shares manufacturing and sales space with Harman's other high-end lines, Revel and Lexicon.
It was late May 2002 and I was about to leave the Free Republic of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, for the high-class hallways of the New York Hilton and Home Entertainment 2002, so I could file daily reports for www.stereophile.com. As he was giving me last-minute instructions, webmaster Jon Iverson said, "I don't know whether or not you followed Hervé Delétraz's articles on building his amplifier, but he's going to have a sample at the Show. You should drop in and check it out. It sounds kind of interesting."
"A guy's gotta carry a cow across a river. He's not strong enough, of course, so the only way he can do it is to cut the cow into pieces, carry them across a few at a time, and re-assemble the beast on the other side. When he's finished, he's got a cow on the other side of the river, but it's not exactly the same cow."
The "Reference" designation is thrown around a lot in the world of perfectionist audio. It's most often used to elevate the top of the line to a higher perceived status. Occasionally, as in the case of the VTL TL-7.5 line stage that I reviewed in October 2003, it genuinely denominates a component that is clearly superior to its competition in most aspects of performance.
Non-audiophile friends and relatives raised their eyebrows when they saw the Classé Omega Omicron monoblocks. Not only is the Omicron more expensive than any other amp I've used; at 108 lbs, it's heavier than some of the speakers I've used. The Omicron is Classé's next-to-top-of-the-line amp in its Omega series, but is still definitely a "statement" product. Brian Damkroger reviewed the Omicron's big brother, the Omega Mono, in the July 2003 Stereophile. I refer you to that review for a more detailed description of the Omicron's basic circuitry.
One of the highlights of recent Consumer Electronics and Home Entertainment shows has been the demonstrations of sound quality put on by Australian amplifier manufacturer Halcro with Wilson Audio loudspeakers. At my first exposure to one of these demos—described in my April 2002 "As We See It"—enormous dynamic range was coupled with a grain-free presentation and almost holographic stereo imaging to produce a breathtaking sweep of sound. Paul Bolin reviewed Halcro's dm58 monoblock in October 2002, and that amplifier was subsequently voted this magazine's "Amplification Component of 2002" by our reviewers.