Branding can be powerfula well-developed brand connotes strong images in the consumer's mind. Apple means ergonomics, elegance, ego. Fremer means analog, exuberance, fastidiousness. Rolex means Swiss-made, precision, expensive. Nagra means Swiss-made, precision, expensive.
I've heard a lot of great audio components over the years, but even in that steady stream of excellence, a few have stood out as something special. These are the products that, in their day, set a new standard for performance, and many of them are ones I wish I'd hung on to. Among these products are three preamps from Audio Research: the SP3A, the SP6B, and the SP10 (footnote 1). I know I'm not alone in viewing these models as classics.
At what point does a domestic audio product cease to be an appliance and assume a loftier place in one's home and heart?
We all can agree that a Bose Wave CD player sits at one end of that continuum, a Koetsu Jade Platinum phono cartridge at the otherbut what of all the products in between? Scarcity, mode of manufacture, appearance, even sentimentality ("This is just like the one my father used to have!")each plays a role, but there's no doubt that price tops the list: The more we pay, the more we love (footnote 1).
Though essentially a two-man operation based in Athens, Greece, Ypsilon Electronics has been, since 1995, turning ears and eyes throughout the audiophile world with purist, hand-crafted electronics whose sound seems to defy characterization. Even under audio-show conditions in difficult hotel rooms, and often driving unfamiliar loudspeakers, the sound of Ypsilon electronics seems to evaporate in ways that few products manage, leaving behind less residue and more music.
If you've followed their story here and elsewhere, you probably know that Tokyo's Shindo Laboratory (footnote 1) has a reputation for defying the two most monolithic of all high-end audio commandments.
It doesn't take a genius to appreciate the audacity of naming a company after Albert Einstein, the iconic science and math whiz. Clearly, company founder and owner Volker Bohlmeier knew what he was doingthis German brand of boutique electronics has enjoyed worldwide critical and marketplace success since its founding more than 20 years ago.
Sometimes, a product review in Stereophile can breed additional reviews. Shortly after I reviewed the Audio Valve Conductor line stage in the July 2009 issue (Vol.32 No.7), I was contacted by NAT's US distributor, Musical Sounds: "Hey, if you liked the Audio Valve Conductor [$13,995], you'll love the NAT Symmetrical line stage at $8000! Would you like to review it?" Aside from Michael Fremer's review of the battery-powered NAT Signature Phono stage in the July 2007 issue, I was unfamiliar with this Serbian maker of tube electronics. But "Sure," I replied; "why not?"
At our best, audiophiles are the selfless and generous custodians of a thousand small libraries, keeping alive not only music's greatest recorded moments but the art of listening itself. At our worst, we are self-absorbed, superannuated rich kids, locked in an endless turd-hurl over who has the best toys.
Musical Fidelity's Tri-Vista kWP, introduced in 2003, was an impressive, high-tech, "statement" audiophile preamplifier. Its outboard power supply weighed almost 56 lbsmore than most power amplifiersand its hybrid circuitry included miniature military-grade vacuum tubes. As I said in my review of it in the January 2004 Stereophile, the kWP's chassis and innards were overbuilt, the measured performance impressive, and any sonic signature imposed on the signal was subtle and, essentially, inconsequential.
"Are You a Sharpener or a Leveler?" was the title of my "As We See It" in the February 2009 issue. The terms sharpening and leveling come from work in the field of perception by the early Gestalt psychologists, sharpening referring to the exaggeration of perceived differences, leveling to the minimization of those differences.
We audio writers have our niches. Mikey loves analog, Artie likes to play with horn speakers and assorted oddball British kit, and I really enjoy reviewing affordable speakers. There's something exciting about hearing the fruits of the labors of a creative designer who's applied his talents to meet a stringent price point and created a speaker that can entice into our hobby the financially challenged music lover.
You know me. I'm not perzackly an audio slut, but I am easy. When Audio Advisor's Wayne Schuurman called me to pitch the Vincent KHV-1pre tube-transistor headphone amplifier, he pretty much had me at "tube" and "headphone." But I wasn't familiar with Vincent Audio.
If any single link in the audio chain should be free of sonic personality, it's the preamplifier. Though a preamplifier's basic job description is "source selector with volume control," from hi-fi's earliest days preamps have been the designated dashboard: the more dials, switches, and lights, the better. All that control came at the cost of quiet, transparency, and tonal neutrality. Still, the quixotic quest for the mythical "straight wire with gain" continued to lead to minimalist designs, including impractical unbuffered "passive" preamps, in which cable length, thus capacitance, affected frequency response.
I'm not sure what motivated me to read the owner's manual for the Audio Valve Eclipse, but I'm glad I did: As it turns out, this line-level preamplifier has at least one distinctive feature that I would have missed otherwise.