In my October column, I began putting together a stereo system for a hypothetical high-school music teacher who wanted to reproduce in his or her home perhaps 80% of the frequency range and dynamics of live music, but who wanted to spend only about 20% of what an ambitious audio system would cost.
I recently spent a few days filling in for a local engineer, recording middle-school and high-school bands and choral ensembles. This was a requirement of the statewide music-educator adjudication process. (Don't laugh; recording high-school bands is how Telarc got its start.)
Firms that specialize in architectural acoustics usually concentrate on the big jobs—churches, schools, and auditoriums. Rives Audio is unusual in that they specialize in "small-room" acoustics, for residential listening rooms and home theaters. Rives is unusual in another way: they consult on a nationwide and even international basis.
Morten Lauridsen's magisterial work for chorus and orchestra, Lux aeterna, appears in a fresh new recording, in truly excellent sound, on England's Hyperion label. The vocal ensemble Polyphony is accompanied by the Britten Sinfonia; both are led by Stephen Layton. Better yet, in addition to the CD-only version, there is a separate SACD/CD hybrid release (Hyperion SACDA67449), meaning that it is backwardly-compatible with CD players. Furthermore, the SACD layer contains a surround-sound program in addition to the stereo one.
Imagine two people who have been audiophiles for 20 years. When they first met, Audiophile #1 had just decided that he would do his best to buy a system that he could keep for the indefinite future, without anxiety about upgrades. Let alone get off the "equipment upgrade" merry-go-round, he never wanted to get on it in the first place. Audiophile #1 also decided that having a truly great music system in his home was more important to him than buying a new car every three years. He found a dealer who sold systems based on value rather than on price. He ended up both exhilarated and intimidated, not only at the amount of money he had spent but at how good his stereo system sounded. He then stopped messing with it, sat back, and enjoyed the music.
Home Entertainment 2004 West in San Francisco might have been called off last November, but I wasn't about to let that stop me from taking a trip to visit the wine country—except that the wine country in question turned out to be the wine country of Southern New England.
Perhaps I first should have consulted my horoscope in the local newspaper. But I can't imagine what it could have said that might have warned me off. So, in blissful ignorance, I went to the local big-box consumer-electronics chain retailer and laid down my lettuce. I thought I was buying the SACD version of Norah Jones' Come Away With Me (Blue Note 5 41472 8), but, by the end of the affair, I felt I'd gotten The Royal Scam (footnote 1).
Wilson Benesch, distributed in the US by The Sound Organisation, is a Sheffield, UK-based engineering firm that made its début in the audio world by making a tonearm from carbon fiber. (See Jonathan Scull's report on his visit to the WB factory in December 1996, Vol.19 No.12).
The other night I heard The Tallis Scholars—the world's foremost exponents of Renaissance polyphony—sing in the Chorus of Westerly's performance hall, in Rhode Island: an 1886-vintage former Roman Catholic church with nearly all of its original horsehair plaster intact (footnote 1). Even sitting back in the cheap seats, the sound was glorious. I have never heard a vocal ensemble sing with more finesse, pitch security, or blend of tone.
I have always had a soft spot in my heart for Jeff Rowland's products. Going back to the Model 7 monoblock power amplifier and the Model 5 stereo amplifier of nearly 20 years ago, Rowland's designs always sounded essentially musical to me, and quite forgiving and non-fatiguing.
To the great surprise of not that many people at all, at Home Entertainment 2003, as at the two immediately previous shows, the room featuring loudspeakers by Joseph Audio was voted by showgoer ballot "Best Sound of Show" (see September 2003, p.62). I'm not going to pick a fight over that. Not only was the sound very, very good; the entire vibe was confidently relaxed, while at the same time being purposeful in a manner businesslike yet friendly.
Let's start with some music—three discs I recently have been using to evaluate equipment as well as listen to for enjoyment. They are as contrasting in style as one could hope for, but all on an enviably high musical plane. (Space considerations compel brevity approaching that necessary to sell screenplays to producers at cocktail parties, footnote 1)