I first heard a CD player in my own system in 1984 or 1985, several years before I began writing for Stereophile. I was curious about the Compact Disc medium—I'd read about it, had listened to CDs in stores, and was eager to hear what they sounded like in my own system. I'd even bought a CD: the original-cast recording of 42nd Street, which I already had on LP. One evening, a friend who worked for Sony and knew that I was an audiophile brought over his latest acquisition: a CDP-501ES, the second from the top of Sony's line of CD players. He also brought along a bunch of CDs, including some solo-piano discs, and Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Symphony's then-famous recording of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture (Telarc CD-80041).
Grant Fidelity's sign says "No Retail Mark-Up, Free Shipping, 1st Class Service," and "High End, Not High Prices." The products, as you might have guessed, are made in China, but what else is new? At previous shows, most of their products had the Grant Fidelity brand name; this time, it was Opera Audio Consonance. The pictured Consonance LP12.1 Die Walküre turntable can accommodate three tonearms, and, with a single W/T1288 tonearm, sells for $3200. That's not super-cheapwhich actually gives me more confidence in the quality of the product. I was told that the turntable and arm are made in the same factory that manufactures the latest version of the Well Tempered turntable/tonearm.
Somebody should do a study, categorizing the names of audio manufacturers. The most common approach is to name the company after the designer, or to use his initials. And then there are all those names that incorporate the word "audio," "sound," "music," and variations thereof. There are names that give no indication of the nature of the company's products, but are just memorable.
Outlaw Audio had a press conference, at which Peter Tribeman talked about all their new products in a way that effectively combined modesty with a not-inappropriate touch of blowing your own horn. He freely admitted that there are a number of companies making excellent speakers—naming several that he admired—but suggested that Outlaw Audio’s new speakers stand comparison with these industry standards. He said their aim was not to sell a boatload of speakers, but to use the best components and designs, tweaking the crossover of each speaker to produce true audiophile results. The speaker he’s holding up here is the prototype of their LCR ($700), which can function as a center-channel speaker in vertical or horizontal orientation, with switch-selected modification of the crossover, hence lobing pattern, to take into account orientation. All of Outlaw's speakers will be made in the USA.
You know about them: audio products or tweaks that fall outside the standard definition of audio component. They're not source components like CD players, not amplifiers or preamplifiers, not loudspeakers, not power-line conditioners or cablesand, if aimed at modifying room acoustics, they're not the standard devices that absorb or disperse sound. Let's call them Unorthodox Audio Products (UAPs). They promise a kind of audio panacea: something that fixes whatever's wrong with the sound of your system.
It may come as a surprise to relative newcomers to the field of audio, but some loudspeaker manufacturers are manufacturers in only a limited sense. They buy drivers, off-the-shelf or custom-built, from companies like VIFA, SEAS, Focal, etc.; cabinets from a woodworking shop; and crossovers from an electronics subcontractor. While the system design will have taken place in-house, actual manufacturing is restricted to assembling the components, perhaps tweaking the crossover, and final QC. Even some highly successful loudspeaker manufacturers use this approach, which can work well as long as the suppliers do their jobs properly.
Canadian speaker manufacturer Paradigm is celebrating its 30th anniversary with a limited edition speaker, called the Tribute ($6000/pair). The Tribute (pictured here) has a new cabinet, built in-house, a beryllium tweeter from the Signature range, a new mounting system for the drivers, corrugated drivers surrounds, and a chrome-plated stainless steel plinth.
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.
Audio Plus/Plurison is the importer of the Pathos line of audio electronics. Like Cambridgeanother Audio Plus importthese fall into the moderately priced category. The products pictured are the Convert o DAC ($1295) and the Aurium ($1495) headphone amp.
Audio designers may differ in their specific design approaches, but the best of them have in common a real passion for their craft. I certainly found this when I visited the Hales Design Group factory in Huntington Beach, California. Although still in his early 30s, Paul Hales has been involved in the design and manufacture of high-quality loudspeakers for almost a decade—first with the Hales Audio partnership, then with his own company, Hales Design Group. When he was just 23, an age when most people are still trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives, Paul had a speaker company and a speaker, the System Two Signature, that got a rave review in Stereophile (Vol.13 No.9, September 1990). Naturally, my first question was about beginnings...