I was surprised not only by the ease to the sound of my hi-rez audio files played on the system in the Wavelength room, but also by the resolution. Surprised, because I am not naturally a tube guy, and not only is Gordon Rankin's gear tubed, it is unshamedly single-ended.
I am always intrigued by Wavelength's combination of cutting-edge digital technology and tubes. Their room at RMAF featured new developments in both areas. Shown in the photo are the latest HS 24(32)/192 version of the Cosecant asynchronous USB DAC (left, $4000), which features the new Denominator D/A module with 9016 ESS converters, and the new Royal preamp (right, $7500). Wavelength's Gordon Rankin walked me through the design of the minimalist preamp. The input signal is taken to a transformer hat inverts the polarity and feeds high-precision Penny & Giles two-channel attenuator. The wipers of the attenuator are connected directly to the grids of two 71A triodes and that's it! (The third tube is a rectifier.) Because the single tube stage inverts polarity, the preamp output is again in correct absolute polarity.
A close-up of the Wavelength Cosecant v3 DAC ($3500) that I used for my hi-rez dems. Using a single 6GM8/ECC86 dual-triode to drive the single-ended, transformer-coupled output, this is one of a very few USB-input DACs on the market that runs the USB link in "asynchronous" mode, whereby the DAC controls the flow of data from the computer and not vice versa, thus drastically reducing word-clock jitter when those data are fed to the DAC chip. I was impressed by its sound, playing 24-bit/88.2kHz files from my laptop, so I have asked for a review sample.
As I write these words, it is exactly 15 years to the day since I left the English magazine Hi-Fi News (then Hi-Fi News & Record Review) to take the editorial helm of Stereophile. What has driven my editing of both magazines (and, Carol Baugh, p.10, I certainly do "edit" them) has been the view that the traditional model of a magazine—that it dispense and the readers receive wisdom—is fundamentally wrong. Instead, I strongly believe that a magazine's editors, writers, and readers are involved in an ongoing dialog about their shared enthusiasms. Stereophile's involvement in Shows stems from this belief, and it is in this light that its "Letters" column should be regarded as the heart of each issue.
One of my mentors, John Crabbe—my predecessor as editor of the English magazine Hi-Fi News—used to insist that a magazine's soul is its "Letters" column. If a magazine was able to publish a lively collection of readers' letters, said John, it would enjoy a lengthy life. Conversely, if its letters column was dull or nonexistent, then no matter how much advertising it had or how many readers it could boast, it was just a matter of time before it had the lid shut on it. In the 28 years since John told me this, I have not found an exception. The kicker, of course, is that there's no easy way of ensuring that a magazine has lively letters to publish.
AAudio Imports' Brian Ackerman holds what must the world's most expensive AC strip, the Weizhi PRS6. Priced at $3200, the PRS6 is machined from a block of Super Duralumin alloy and features a graphite grounding module. There are no isolating transformers or conditioning circuits, the PRS6 is purely passive. The thinking behind the product, said Brian, is "to get the noise out of the line without changing the sound."
Yes, the Weizhi is a gorgeous piece of audio jewelry but do people really pay $3200 for peace of mind? Brian told me that he is currently shipping 10 units a week, so I guess they do.
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.