Bright April Sunday sunshine beams through the bay window of my listening room. The light catches four loudspeakers on stands, two stacks of electronic equipment, a small video monitor, black cables strung behind furniture, and a pile of freshly opened DVDs. I sit in the center in a large, overstuffed chair covered in blue velvet, listening to an array of six loudspeakers and a TV monitor playing The Haunting's DTS soundtrack. The floor rumbles as the sounds of creaking timbers come up from below.
With its latest series of FPB (Full Power Balanced) amplifiers, Krell is taking careful aim at the seam between classic high-power two-channel systems and quality multi-channel installations where sound is yet paramount. Nevertheless, Krell founder Dan D'Agostino was adamant: Krell's Class A components were designed for music playback. "I'm a purist, like you, Jonathan!" he told me.
In his 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Verne presents the enigmatic Captain Nemo, commander of the great submarine Nautilus, as powerful, charismatic, and mysterious. On first meeting Nemo, the narrator, M. Aronnax, notes, "I made out his prevailing qualities directly: self-confidencebecause his head was well set on his shoulders, and his black eyes looked around with cold assurance; calmnessfor his skin, rather pale, showed his coolness of blood; energyevinced by the rapid contraction of his lofty brows; and couragebecause his deep breathing denoted great power of lungs." All in all, "this man was certainly the most admirable specimen I had ever met."
An amplifier producing nearly 400Wpc, weighing close to 100 lbs...from Rotel, of all people? Don't they know their place in the audio world? Next thing you know, Krell will start making integrated amplifiers! Oops—Krell is making integrated amplifiers...
Just in case you didn't know this when you bought the Parasound HCA-3500, it says on the cover of the owner's manual: "Designed in California, USA by John Curl." Described as an "audio design legend," an appellation with which he seems quite uncomfortable, John Curl has certainly been around the audio business longer than most. He's been employed by or has consulted for some of the biggest names in consumer and professional audio—including Harman/Kardon, Ampex, and Mark Levinson—and was the designer of at least two classic products: the Mark Levinson JC-2 preamplifier and his own Vendetta Research phono stage, still considered by many people to be the best phono stage ever built.
Nothing like scarcity to create demand, right? Well, there's been a scarcity of Nuvistors out there for decades, and hardly any demand. Do you know about the Nuvistor, aka the 6CW4? It was a tiny triode tube smaller than your average phono cartridge. Enclosing its vacuum in metal rather than glass, the Nuvistor was designed as a long-lived, highly linear device with low heat, low microphony, and low noise---all of which it needed to have any hope of competing in the brave new solid-state world emerging when RCA introduced it in the 1960s.
Rumor had it that if the MF2500 amplifier had gotten any better in development, Conrad-Johnson would have had to include it in their "Premier" series. However, C-J's intention was to hold to the lower price of their established MF series, and so they have. Rated at 240Wpc and retailing for $3495, the '2500 is the core model of Conrad-Johnson's current range of "MF" power amplifiers. Its companion MF2250 offers 120Wpc, while the MF5600 delivers 120Wx5 for multichannel home-theater applications.
Recently I found myself on the phone with Linn's chief design engineer, Bill Miller, talking about switch-mode power supplies. Affable Mr. Miller was ensconced in Linn HQ in Glasgow, Scotland. After a bit I inquired if Head Man Ivor Tiefenbrun was about the manse, and was quickly handed over. "You're such a cheeky guy. Why'd you call it the Klimax?"
My father could not resist buying electronic and photographic gear. As soon as he heard about a new Polaroid camera, or a new weather radio, tape recorder, or color television, he'd go shopping. He'd be even more eager to buy an updated version of what he already had, particularly if this meant there was a story to tell. He'd buy one for himself, and sometimes he'd give me and my three brothers one of our own for a birthday or Christmas gift. (I often thought he took more pleasure from giving to us than he did from getting his own.)
I've heard my share of Krells, Levinsons, Rowlands, and the like in other people's systems—expensive solid-state amplifiers are not my usual beat. With the exception of an inexpensive Adcom a few years back, for more than a decade I've owned and reviewed only tube amps. In fact, until the $7500 Ayre Acoustics V-1 showed up, I'd not had one in my system. Similarly, I'd had only tube preamps until I reviewed the Ayre K-3, which so impressed me that I asked to hear the more expensive K-1—and ended up buying it.
As a reviewer who has focused on seeking out high-quality audiophile gear for cost-constrained readers, I'm embarrassed to say that the flagship RB-991 stereo amplifier is the first Rotel product I've had in my house. (To be fair to myself, this 38-year-old family-owned company did not develop a large US market presence until this last decade.)
The story of New Acoustic Dimensions, aka NAD, begins in the late 1970s. The company was founded as a dealer distribution collective to design and market reasonably priced serious high-end gear to cost-constrained audiophiles. By eliminating needless features and focusing manufacturing in low-cost production facilities, NAD has successfully delivered audiophile-quality gear for 20 years at prices little more expensive than mass-market department-store schlock.
Pass Laboratories' X amplifier series represents the efforts of designer Nelson Pass to prove that simple linear amplifier topologies can be scaled to provide high-quality audio performance at very high power levels. The handsome X1000 monoblock under scrutiny here, the largest and most powerful amp in the Pass stable, makes 1000W into 8 ohms and a mighty 2000W into 4 ohms. The amplifier has no global negative feedback, and only two gain stages: the front-end provides all the voltage gain and feeds a high-current follower stage.
What fascinates me about the High End are the electric personalities behind it. Manufacturers typically invest so much of themselves in the products they make. It's a divine madness—they do it because they have to. They're driven to it with a real sense of mission and excellence. But God forbid you criticize any of their offspring...ooo-la-la!