It's not unusual for a high-end audio company to originate in another segment of the high-tech electronics world, but it is a bit unusual when the spin-off is a cable company. That's the case with Empirical Audio, whose founder, Steve Nugent, spent 25 years as a digital hardware designer for Unisys and Intel. The key is that, in addition to standard design work, he chased "the more esoteric sides of design, namely grounding, shielding, ESD (electrostatic discharge), EMI (electromagnetic interference), transmission-line effects, and power delivery." Voilà—cable design.
I've encountered a number of audio products over the years whose thoughtful design and intricate craftsmanship brought to mind the expression "built like a Swiss watch." As often as I'd thought or even written that phrase, however, I don't think I'd ever stopped to seriously consider what an audio component might be like if actually built by the nation that produces Rolex and Breitling wristwatches.
The original plan, back in mid-2004, was to audition an entire Ensemble system and then review the individual components over the next two years. Most audio companies produce lines of matching products, but Ensemble takes it a bit further, with a modular approach and extensive commonality of everything from chassis to circuit boards. They firmly believe that everything affects sonic performance, and their approach helps ensure a consistent sound throughout their line.
"They're cuuuute!" Not a very professional reaction, but what can I say? When the Monster Cable folks pulled out their new Entech Number Crunchers during a recent visit to Santa Fe, I couldn't help myself. I was edging John Atkinson and Wes Phillips out of the way, using my long arms to reach over...gotta get one! There would be time later for the critical evaluation and cool, detached objectivity—first, I had to get one. The Entechs are the Beanie Babies of the audio world
About once a week, I hear about some new audio accessory heralded by breathless claims of stunning performance gains that "you've got to hear for yourself." Most of these I ignore, and of those I do consider, nearly all wither when subjected to logical engineering analysis. Every so often, however, one of these wonder widgets finds its way into my system.
I was in a jam. John Atkinson was gently reminding me of rapidly approaching deadlines, and my longtime reference CD player, the Simaudio Moon Eclipse, had just been recalled for an upgrade. This wouldn't normally have been a problem, but I was also in the middle of relocating from New Mexico to California, and all of my backup gear was either in storage or on a moving truck somewhere.
When I went to my shelf of Stereophile back issues to find Paul Bolin's seminal review of the Halcro dm58, I was shocked to find myself leafing further and further back—through not only 2004 but 2003 as well, all the way back to October 2002 (Vol.25 No.10). It doesn't seem possible that it's been almost four years since Halcro exploded onto our radar screens, the dm58 emblazoned on that issue's cover alongside the banner headline "THE BEST AMPLIFIER EVER!"
One of the nicest surprises at any audio show is encountering a new—to me, at least—manufacturer whose products seem to stand out from the competition. At the 2002 Consumer Electronics Show, one such standout was the Kirksaeter line of loudspeakers from Germany. I spent quite a few minutes listening to and enjoying the performance of these modestly sized and priced speakers, but since my writing assignment was electronics, I tucked the experience away in the back of my mind and moved on.
On the occasion of a recent major birthday, my significant other, Bonnie, gave herself a "mid-life crisis" present—a beautifully restored, bright yellow Porsche 911. She'd spent the previous several weeks wading through reference books to figure out exactly which year and model she wanted, and each night we'd discuss the pros and cons of various models, options, and points in the 911's +30-year evolution. Bonnie explained to me that, throughout its production run, the 911 maintained the same basic design and a consistent set of engineering goals, but was continually updated and refined. In her mind, the 1973 Targa was the one to have, the last and fastest of the lightweight 2.4-liter models.