Audacious Audio

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John Atkinson Posted: Nov 26, 2014 4 comments
The experience left me doubting my ears. After I'd performed all the measurements of Ayre Acoustics' KX-R preamplifier ($18,500) to accompany Wes Phillips's review in our November 2008 issue, I spent a weekend listening to it. To my astonishment, the sound of my system with a Transporter D/A processor feeding the preamplifier was better than when the DAC fed the power amplifier directly. Through the KX-R, images sounded more tangible, and the sound was better focused, despite the signal's having been passed through not just another set of interconnects but also through the preamp's input and output socketry, switches, a volume control, printed circuit-board traces, and active and passive parts. Logically, you'd think that having nothing in the signal path would have less of a degrading effect than so many somethings. But no, that was not what I heard, much as I would have preferred otherwise.
Michael Fremer Posted: Nov 13, 2014 3 comments
Can a power-supply upgrade produce audible sonic benefits? If you've upgraded the power supply of a phono preamplifier, you probably don't need to be convinced that it does, and those usually cost only a small percentage of the price of the model they power. But to add Simaudio's Moon Evolution 820S power supply ($8000) to the Moon Evolution 650D DAC–CD transport ($9000), which I reviewed in the November 2011 issue, almost doubles the latter's cost—though the 820S can be used to simultaneously power two Moon Evolution components, like the 750D DAC ($14,000), 740P preamplifier ($9500), and 610LP ($7500) and 810LP phono preamplifier ($13,000).
John Atkinson Posted: Oct 30, 2014 7 comments
For a reviewer, deciding which products to write about is a tricky business. You want to do a professional job of evaluation, but you also want to be able to wrest maximum enjoyment from your music while you do so. Attending audio shows is where reviewers perform sonic triage, weeding out the products that aren't ready for prime time, and making a note of those they wish to invite home after the show.
Michael Lavorgna Posted: Oct 30, 2014 1 comments
Do you travel? Commute, perhaps? Just like to listen to music privately around the house? No matter—the Astell&Kern AK240 is the luxury choice in high-resolution portable music players (footnote 1). It even comes with a lovely leather case that beautifully cradles its angular beauty. The AK240 can play all of your PCM files, up to a resolution of 24-bit/192kHz, as well as DXD and single- and double-rate DSD, natively, and can do so from its internal storage, from a microSD card, or from your computer via WiFi or a wired connection. It can also function as a DAC or USB-to-TosLink converter. I'm not so sure there's much left wanting.
Michael Fremer Posted: Oct 10, 2014 0 comments
Among the biggest buzzes at the January 2013 Consumer Electronics Show, and at Munich's High End Show the following May, was the sound in the room of Siltech BV, a Dutch company best known for its high-end cables. Siltech was demonstrating an innovative new power amplifier, and using it to drive the company's glass-cabineted Arabesque loudspeakers ($90,000/pair). The sound was unmistakably lush yet also remarkably linear, notably dynamic, and seemingly free of electronic artifacts. It sounded like the sound of "nothing"—which was really something!—and so much of a something that it caught the attention of many reviewers. But while there's often controversy and disagreement about a given product's sound quality, this time the enthusiasm seemed unanimous.
J. Gordon Holt Posted: Sep 17, 2014 Published: Jan 01, 1984 10 comments
We wrote a long, rather unkind report on the HQD, pointing out that, if that was typical of the way it was supposed to sound (And why not, after Mr. Levinson had installed and tweaked it?), then it had to be the most expensive bomb ever to be made available for civilian use. Mr. Levinson responded with a phone call during which he:

1) Told us we had not heard it at its best, but refused to address himself to our specific criticisms;

2) Claimed that many practicing professional musicians felt the HQD to be "extremely realistic";

3) Informed us that, since he sold very few HQD systems and would soon be discontinuing them anyway because Quad had ceased making those speakers, the "sensible" thing to do would be to kill the report; and

4) Mentioned, just in passing of course, that he was currently writing a feature article for Time on the subject of "underground" audio magazines.

Larry Archibald Posted: Sep 10, 2014 Published: Aug 01, 1983 2 comments
No, we made no typos in the specifications sidebar. The weight of the Wilson Audio Modular Monitor (WAMM) speaker system is enough to make you consult a structural engineer before dropping it on your living room floor—fragile, 300-year old New England frame houses are probably out. And the recent price increase from $32,000 to $35,000 is enough by itself to buy a pair of Quad ESL-63s—which is not a bad speaker system. The WAMM represents an all-out assault on both the state of the art in speaker systems and on the limits to which wealthy audiophiles will go in order to have the best.
Robert J. Reina Posted: Jul 31, 2014 4 comments
I've long been impressed by the design, construction, and sound of the tubed electronics produced by Vladimir Lamm, but I'd never had a Lamm Industries product in my house. So I asked for a review sample of Lamm's flagship line-stage preamplifier, the LL1 Signature.
Michael Fremer Posted: Jul 25, 2014 2 comments
A preamplifier is the port of entry through which you gain access to the sources you've so carefully assembled. It's also the gate through which all of your music passes. So while its sonic performance is obviously critical, you'd also better assess how it feels, how it looks, and how it operates—you're going to be in an intimate relationship with it for a long time. Before choosing a preamplifier, therefore, take some time to drive it around the block, or at least shake hands with it. Use your imagination as much as your ears.
John Atkinson Posted: Jul 18, 2014 Published: Mar 01, 1989 1 comments
389accu.promo.jpg$13,000! You could buy two Hyundai Excels for that kind of money. Or one 5-liter Ford Mustang. Or two-thirds of a Saab 900 Turbo. How could the purchase of this Accuphase two-box CD player be justified on any rational grounds? What if it did offer state-of-the-art sound quality? Would it really be 50 times better than a humble Magnavox? Would it even be 4.3 times better than the California Audio Labs Tempest II CD player? And would it approach the sound quality routinely offered from LP by the similarly priced Versa Dynamics 2.0 turntable?
Martin Colloms Posted: Jun 18, 2014 Published: Apr 01, 1987 0 comments
Four years after its launch, the CD medium would appear to have come of age, at least in production terms. Annual player manufacture is now big business, and there is hardly a major audio brand without a CD machine to its name—even such analog stalwarts as Audio-Technica and Shure have succumbed.
J. Gordon Holt Posted: Jun 09, 2014 Published: Apr 01, 1980 18 comments
Dr. Alan Hill, president of Plasmatronics Inc., was previously employed by the US Government in laser research. His assignment: To increase the efficiency of lasers so that they could do something more impressive than produce holograms, mend leaky retinal blood vessels, and punch pinholes in steel blocks. Dr. Hill earned his keep, thus advancing laser technology a giant step closer to Star Wars, and then retired from government service to design. . . a loudspeaker?!!!?
John Atkinson Posted: May 27, 2014 Published: Jun 01, 2014 6 comments
A year or so ago, in my review of the Pass Labs XP-30 preamplifier, I wrote that the heart of an audio system is the preamplifier, in that it sets the overall quality of the system's sound. But it is the power amplifier that is responsible for determining the character of the system's sound, because it is the amplifier that must directly interface with the loudspeakers. The relationship between amplifier and loudspeaker is complex, and the nature of that relationship literally sets the tone of the sound quality.
Michael Fremer Posted: May 14, 2014 10 comments
VPI Industries' Harry Weisfeld has tried, built, and marketed almost every known way of spinning a platter. He began in the early 1980s, before many recent turntable enthusiasts were born, with the belt-driven HW-19, and since then has produced rim-driven models, and 'tables with motors outboard or inboard, one or three pulleys, one or three belts, and platters of acrylic or aluminum alloy. But while Weisfeld has owned quite a few direct-drive 'tables, he'd never come up with his own—until now.
Michael Fremer Posted: May 02, 2014 0 comments
Big tube amplifiers were once scary monsters reserved for those who didn't mind heavy maintenance, careful tweaking, and the occasional explosion. Blown tubes required replacing, preferably with pricey matched pairs, then biasing with a voltmeter. Optimal sonic performance required regular bias monitoring and adjusting, and because of current surges on startup, you had to choose between leaving the heat-producing monoliths on, or turning them on and off for each listening session, thus shortening the life of the tubes.

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