First, two noteworthy CDs. San Francisco's Cypress String Quartet, whose set of Beethoven's late quartets and high-resolution downloads I praised in the April issue, is back with a new CD (Avie AV2275) that explores their musical roots.
Long experience has convinced me that many audiophiles' stereo systems substantially underperform compared to what they could sound like. This is not because people haven't spent enough money on their electronics or speakers. Instead, people aren't getting all the performance they've paid for because they haven't devoted enough attention to all aspects of the initial setup, and/or to maintenance and updating.
Norway's 2L label has an enviable track record in choral music. In 2006 they were nominated for Grammys for Best Choral Performance and Best Surround Sound Album, for Immortal Nystedt (SACD/CD, 2L-029-SACD). Knut Nystedt's composition Immortal Bach, performed by Ensemble 96 conducted by Øystein Fevang, is a stunning fractal reworking of J.S. Bach's "Komm, süsser Tod."
In 1974, in England, Australian Reverse-Pommy pianist and recording engineer Billy Woodman founded the Acoustic Transducer Co. (ATC) as a maker of loudspeaker drive-units. That makes ATC a few years younger than Spendor (1969) and a few years older than Harbeth (1977). When I mentioned all that to a quick-witted audio buddy, he immediately came back with "Middle Child Syndrome!"
Were it my place to hand out awards for "The Most Forthright People in Audio," Michael Grace of Grace Design would be at the top of the list. Years ago, after I'd given stellar recommendations of Grace's 901 and m902 headphone-amplifier-DAC-line-stage models, I asked Grace if I could audition his full-racksize, more fully featured m904 Stereo Monitor Controller. He told me that he didn't think that was necessary, because the m904's sound was extremely similar to the sound of the smaller m902it just had a different feature set, and he believed that the additional features were not things that Stereophile readers were likely to need. That is the only case I can recall of a manufacturer's declining an offer of additional coverage in Stereophile.
I don't know who originated the idea of "desert island" recordings. I do know that for many years there was a BBC radio program in the UK that asked celebrities to list their choices. While reading quite a few of those lists, I had the sneaking suspicion that the respondents either hadn't entered fully into the spirit of the task, or were tailoring their choices with a view to what the radio or reading audience would think. (Interior monologue: "I am an anorak-wearing viola da gamba player. Hmmm. Birth of the Cool had better be on my list. London Calling, too, just to be safe.")
In my January "The Fifth Element" column, I discussed the concept of value in the context of audio component manufacture. This month's "Letters" includes a response to that column from Austrian distributor Hans Hirner. In his letter, Herr Hirner writes about some of his Web-surfing non-customers: "If that weren't enough, they also call me or my dealers to tell them how proud they are, after having taken all from me that is possible in system matching and trial—and even denoising their systems—to have been able to find 'our' products cheaper out there."
For roughly the same amount of money, you can buy a new Toyota Camry or a used mid-sized Mercedes-Benz sedan. The new car has several things going in its favor: no one else has ever driven it, smoked in it, or ferried dogs and kids and fast-food leavings in it, and it comes with a fresh warranty and the latest safety equipment. But the used Mercedes has other things in its favor: having started with a much larger "build budget," it is, simply, more car for the money all aroundyou just have to pick a good one.
I had had it in the back of my mind for some time to try to hear the Wilson Duette, if only because celebrated classical recording engineer Tony Faulkner had, some time ago, shared with me his opinion that the Duette's simpler crossover made it the most coherent speaker in Wilson's line. Faulkner told me that when a cramped recording venue makes it impossible for him to use his favorite Quad electrostatic speakers for monitoring, he uses Duettes.