It is with regret that I announce that Wes Phillips has resigned from Stereophile in order to take a position, beginning January 1, 1999, with PR company J.B. Stanton Communications, Inc. Wes and his wife, Joan, will be relocating to Connecticut. I wonder how Wes's unreconstructed Virginia ancestors will take to his becoming a Yankee!
I've been musing much of late on what enables some hi-fi components to sound natural while others always seem to add an edge of artificiality to their sound. This dichotomy was examined in last month's "As We See It," where I asked a representative group of Stereophile writers to discuss the fact that many high-end components regarded as being neutral in their sonic character, with apparently little wrong in their measured performance, can actually sound quite unmusical. This would seem to suggest that the nature of what a component does wrong is of greater importance than the level of what it does wrong: 1% of one kind of distortion can be innocuous, even musically appropriate, whereas 0.01% of a different kind of distortion can be musical anathema.
Every CES witnesses something out of left field. In the case of the 2013 Show, it was the ViolinSpeaker, which uses the body of a real violin to emit frequencies above 2kHz. (A conventional 6.5" woofer is concealed in the plinth.) The ViolinSpeaker is offered at two prices: $7200/pair and $3800/pair, depending on the quality of the instrument chosen. The sound? Not as bad as I was expecting, but not very good either.
A much-touted benefit of DVD-Audio and Super Audio CD is that these new media can store digital audio data extending one or more octaves higher in frequency response than the capabilities of the CD. In the August issue's "Industry Update" (pp.27-29), Paul Messenger reported on an add-on supertweeter from English manufacturer Tannoy that would extend the ultrasonic response of loudspeakers so they can reproduce this new information. Putting to one side for now the issue of whether a loudspeaker really needs to be able to reproduce frequencies that no one can hear, the subject of how much ultrasonic content is present in real musical signals is still a contentious one.
The amiable team of industry veterans David Solomon (left) and Jim Spainhour (right) make up Signal Path, who distributes Musical Fidelity products in the US. They are seen here with MF’s new “audio Swiss Army knife,” the kW250, which includes a CD player, an FM tuner, a preamp with an MM phono stage, and a 250Wpc power amplifier for its $9000 price. A digital input on the back takes the feed from your music server and yes, there is a jack for your iPod on the front. "An ‘exit-level’ component," is how Jim describes it, "for the middle-aged music lover who wants system simplicity without sacrificing sound quality."
An acquaintance in the world of CD distribution recently gave me an astonishing statistic: that the average classical title sells fewer than 2000 copies worldwide in its first year of release; which in turn means that many titles sell only about 500 copies! Given that the cost of producing a classical orchestral album can include up to $100,000 in union-mandated musician fees, such minimal sales guarantee financial disaster.
Michael Fremer's review of the AudioPhysic Caldera III loudspeaker in this issue (p.81) reminded me of a subject I have written about many times in the past: what happens when a manufacturer submits a faulty sample for review. I formalized Stereophile's policy on this matter in late 1988, following both an unfortunate series of reviews in which the samples either arrived broken or broke during the auditioning, and my learning about how much went on behind closed doors at other audio magazines, where reviewers and editors too often appeared to collude with manufacturers.1 I wrote back then that:
When I walked into the room of Chicago-based Acoustic Technology LLC, I thought I was listening to speakers that only had tweeters, because the only visible drive-unity was a single 3" unit. Yet the sound, a recording of Rimsky-Korsakov's Schererazade, was definitely full-range,and the soundstaging, as you might expect from such a small radiating diameter and a narrow cabinet baffle, was well-delineated.
Other Stereophile writers, like Wes Phillips and Stephen Mejias, had mentioned how impressed they had been with the sound in the Sjöfn room, but what I had not appreciated until I visited the Swedish manufacturer's room towards the end of the Show was: a) how small these speakers were; b) how good the stereo imaging was despite the speakers being right up against the wall behind them; and c) how much thunderous bass was being produced by just two reflex-loaded 4" woofers! Of course, the Guru speaker ($1800/pair), photographed here by Larry Greenhill, is designed to take advantage of the low-frequency boundary reinforcement afforded by the close-to-the-corner positioning, but even so, I was surprised by the result. The speakers also sung on soprano vocals; Sjöfn is a company to watch out for, especially as the fact that the speakers must not be used out in the room makes them very spouse-friendly.