"Bugger!" A Pennsylvania state trooper had stepped out from behind the overpass on the Turnpike and was aiming his radar gun straight at me. I reflexively jammed on the anchors, which was a) pointless and b) downright dangerous, considering I was in the middle of a phalanx of cars and trucks all cruising 5-10mph over the speed limit. But what can you do?
You get used to hearing expensive over-the-top systems at an audio Show, but the real delight is discovering more affordable set-ups that sound better than you expect. Such was the case when I entered the Bluebird Music room, where the Spendor A6 two-way tower speakers were being demmed with Exposure's 3010S integrated amplifier and an Exposure CD player, wired with van den Hul cable. The total system prices was $7500, and, again playing "The Mooche" from Editor's Choice, I was struck by how seamless the presentation was, with natural tonal qualities, well-defined stereo imaging, and good dynamics, if not quite in the same class as the much more expensive system featuring the Avantgarde horns I had heard just before.
I am puzzled. No, really. I know you find it hard to believe that we sacerdotes of the golden-eared persuasion could ever be perplexed, but I have been pondering the imponderables of ports. Ever since the classic work of Richard Small and Neville Thiele in the early '70s showed how the low-frequency response of any box loudspeaker can be modeled as an electrical high-pass filter of some kind, with the relevant equations and data made available to all, there would seem to be very little reason why all loudspeakers with the same extension should not sound alike (or at least very similar) below 100Hz. Yet after reviewing 20 dynamic loudspeakers (and using 24) in the same room over the last seven months, I am led to the conclusion that speakers vary as much in the quality of their mid-to-upper bass as they do in any other region. A few are dry, more are exaggerated in this region; some are detailed and "fast," most are blurred, with the upper bass "slow" (by which I mean that the weight of bass tone seems to lag behind the leading edges of the sound).
As far as I can tell, Santa Fe–based speaker engineer John Bau had designed but four commercial loudspeakers before the TC-60 was launched at the 1994 Winter CES: in order of appearance, they were the Spica SC50i (1980), the TC-50 (1983), the Angelus (1987), and the SC-30 (1989). None were expensive, and all garnered much praise, both in Stereophile's pages and elsewhere.
In this space last January, I enthused about the sound of linear 20-bit digital recordings which, I felt, preserve the quality of a live microphone feed. "I have heard the future of audio—and it's digital!" I proclaimed, which led at least a couple of readers to assume I had gone deaf. Putting to one side the question of my hearing acuity, 20-bit technology has been rapidly adopted in the professional world as the standard for mastering. The remaining debate concerns how to best preserve what those 20 bits offer once they've been squeezed down to the 16 that CD can store. Sony's Super Bit Mapping algorithm and Harmonia Mundi Acustica's redithering device have been joined by new black boxes from Apogee Electronics, Lexicon, and Meridian; it appears likely that, in next to no time at all, all CD releases will be offering close to 20-bit resolution—at least in the upper midrange, where the ear is most sensitive.
This essay first appeared in the May 2005 Stereophile eNewsletter. But as the opinions and comments are still relevant in 2014 and in some ways the phenomenon of over-compression in recorded music (footnote 1) is just as bad, I thought it worth republishing.John Atkinson
I write these words mere hours after returning home from Home Entertainment 2005, the Show cosponsored by Stereophile magazine that took place from April 28 through May 1 at the Manhattan Hilton. A full report will appear in the August 2005 issue of the magazine.
The Salon Son & Image has been organized for the past 4 years by Michel Plante and Sarah Tremblay, who were to be seen everywhere on the Show's opening day. I have been involved in running Shows for almost 30 years, and I must say that from the visitors' perspective and, I hope, the exhibitors', the 2010 event was superbly organized. Good signage, a great venue, and overall good sound, I take my hat off to Michel and Sarah. They even partnered with CEDIA for the first time at the 2010 Show to present "CEDIA University," a series of training seminars for custom installation. The evening of the first day, Michel thanked everyone in a short speech at the opening reception and wished them "Bon Salon!" before handing the stage over to the Give Band.
I couldn't resist posting one more photo of Bruce Thigpen's fan-driven infrasonic subwoofer, this time showing the drive-unit in operation. Loaded with an infinite baffle—it is in the next room—it fires into a foam-lined sub-chamber, which low-pass filters the residual fan noise, leaving just the awesome infrasonics to pressurize the room next door. Because the fan is providing the main motive power, just 30W of audio signal was required to create an spl of 115dB at 8Hz!
Sad news this week: We heard from Ken Kessler of the passing of legendary UK engineer Stanley Kelly, who died in his sleep on November 13, after suffering a stroke the previous week. Stan would have been 89 next month. While he was, of course, the "Kelly" of the classic Kelly Ribbon Tweeter, he was also one of the founders of Hi-Fi News and was the only person to have been listed on the English magazine's masthead since Vol.1 No.1, the June 1956 issue. In recent years, Stan had developed a series of high-sensitivity speakers for UK manufacturer Musical Fidelity.