In the ongoing debacle that has been the introduction and promotion of high-resolution digital audio and the record industry's struggles to engage the public's interest in it, two recent events stand out.
I was stumbling through the Denver Convention Center at CEDIA 2006 when I spotted John Franks, of Chord Electronics, and Jay Rein, of Chord's US importer, Bluebird Music, stranded in the basement purgatory for "niche" products. I couldn't resist asking, "What sin relegated you guys to this little hell?"
At $2295, the CD31 is the most expensive integrated CD player from Swedish manufacturer Primare, and an evolution of their D30.2, which I reviewed in the June 2004 Stereophile. I knew that the CD31 wasn't a clean-sheet design, but my first look suggested that it wasn't even much of an evolution—a comparison of its and the D30.2's spec sheets matched almost line for line. When I asked Terry Medalen of Sumiko, Primare's US distributor, about the similarity, and if the CD31 was just a mild tweaking of the D30.2, he said, "Well, yes and no. You really need to listen to it."
Audiophiles are frequently accused of being more in love with gizmos than with music. There may be a kernel of truth in that, but a scant few companies actually exploit the giz factor to give you mo'—a lot mo'.
In the early 1980s, Ivor Tiefenbrun, of Linn Products, Ltd., compared digital audio to "a nasty disease" that his company offered not to spread. Less than 25 years later, digital sources outnumber analog ones in Linn's product line—so much so that the venerable Scottish manufacturer has expanded its line of disc players to encompass two different formats: multi- and two-channel.
Naim's new "statement" CD player, the CD555 ($20,300 by itself, $28,150 with PS555 power supply), breaks no new technological ground. Rather, in typical Naim fashion, it attempts to optimize 16-bit/44.1kHz CD performance by paying fanatical attention to the devilish details. It doesn't play the DVD-Video, DVD-Audio, or SACD formats, nor does it have a digital output—and it doesn't create an illusion of higher resolution by upsampling the data.
Tony, a mechanic friend of mine, once ran down for me his "national characteristics" theory of automobile engineering. Germans, he said, love precision engineering but don't take repair into account, so their engines are always placed in wells so perfectly proportioned that skinned knuckles are inevitable. British cars, he said, are marketed to a nation of tinkerers, hence the existence of dual carburetors. And Italian cars? "Well, let's just say they all resemble espresso makers." He said it—and he was the proverbial Fiat mechanic named Tony.
We were driving to a friend's house to celebrate her dad's 92nd birthday. Halfway there, a bright yellow, ground-hugging insect pulled in front of my car from across street. "Wow, that's a Lamborghini Countach!" I exclaimed. You don't often see one of those in my neighborhood—or in any neighborhood.
When, at the beginning of this century, the market profile of the high-end Mark Levinson brand took a dip due to the parent company's reorganization, one of the companies that took advantage of the opportunity was Classé Audio. Founded in 1980 by engineer Dave Reich (now with Theta Digital) and run by engineer-entrepreneur Mike Viglas since the mid-1980s, the Canadian electronics manufacturer's Omega line of high-end amplifiers and preamps had universally impressed Stereophile's scribes, and its Omega SACD player (reviewed by Jonathan Scull in November 2001) was the first such product to come from a North American company.
In the fall of 2005, while the People's Republic of China continued to hold political dissidents in prison without due process, the US government wiretapped its citizens with impunity, tensions rose on the border between Chad and Sudan, Israeli citizens annexed thousands of acres of land from poor Palestinian farmers, Saudi Arabia executed more petty thieves and adulterers in the name of Allah, Russia "lost" a few more tons of nuclear armaments, and the polar icecaps continued to recede as the levels of preventable greenhouse emissions climbed out of control, a small band of middle-aged men took to the Internet to express their seething outrage.
You've heard it said that the early bird catches the worm, which is all well and good if you like worms. If you're more interested in music, you might want to follow the lead of Roy Gandy instead: He's the managing director of Rega Research, a 331/3-year-old audio company that was the very last of its kind to enter the CD market. Rega's first CD player, the Planet of 1996, was a success in virtually every way.
How to integrate a computer into a high-end audio system is a hot topic these days. I'm getting more and more e-mails from readers asking for advice, Wes Phillips wrote about transferring his LPs to audio files in his October and November newsletters, and a lively thread on this topic ran on the forum at www.stereophile.com.