Blame the Puritans! say I. The high end has always had an ostinato accompaniment of grumbles from those who appear to feel that it is immoral to want to listen to music with as high a quality as possible. In a recent letter, for example, Fanfare and Stereo Review contributor and author Howard Ferstler states that "the audio world has more products of bogus quality and shills promoting them than any other industry, bar none," and trots out the old saw that audiophiles "end up spending an excessive amount of money on equipment or tweaking techniques of surprisingly dubious quality."
"Suicide junctions," I calls 'em. The ones with which I'm most familiar are on I-278, just north of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge in Brooklyn, New York, and along North Mopac in Austin, Texas, but they must exist all over the US. Traffic about to enter the freeway must first cross the line of faster-traveling offcoming cars, the intersection's on- and off-ramps crossing in a shallow X.
Welcome back, Ladies and Gentlemen, to the continuing saga of the Englishman's Search for True Bass. In the previous episode (footnote 1), you witnessed Our Hero tussling with the problems of ported vs sealed-box woofer loading for full-range speaker systems. His conclusion? That ported designs may offer low-frequency quantity but it always seems to be at the expense of quality. If it's bass quality you want, you are better off with well-tuned sealed boxes, which explains why he is an unashamed fan of relatively small speakers with fast, tight upper bass. In this month's thrilling installment, JAstiff upper lip thrust forwardwrestles with the problems of extending the bass response of his preferred speakers with a subwoofer from the Californian company of Sumo! Now read on . . .
In his very English way, Sony's then managing director for the UK, Tim Steele, was getting a touch, er, desperate. His oh-so-cultured voice rose a smidgen as he resorted to a direct selling of the benefits of what he was talking about. "Look, you're all sitting on riches," was his fundamental pitch. "You can sell music-lovers your entire back catalog all over again—at a higher price!"
Jason already blogged about the sound from the big rig in the Cary Audio room, which was being run by Florida retailer Let There Be Sound. I had enjoyed the sound of Ry Cooder's classic Jazz from LP in that room Saturday night after the Show closed, as well as a CD-R of songs from the Who's Tommy, burned from an acetate of the master by Mikey Fremer using his awesome Continuum record player. But Sunday morning, LTBS's Oswaldo Martinez was playing Rebecca Pidgeon's classic "Spanish Harlem" from CD on a system featuring the 5Wpc Cary Exciter integrated amplifier driving these beautifully finished single-driver bookshelf speakers, the Sur. Pidgeon's voice sounded smooth and natural, the double-bass accompaniment evenly balanced and more extended in the lows than I was anticipating, though when a Showgoer asked for The Doors' "Waiting for the Sun" to be played, the electric guitar sounded a little peaky in the mid-treble. To be priced at $2000/pair, the Sur features a port-loaded, full-range Fostex drive-unit and will only be available from LTBS.
The Surreal Sound Speaker ($10,000/pair) is the small, three-way floorstander finished in cherry, not the massive bass bin behind it, which belongs to the GOTO Horns speaker (see next story). Surreal Sound's Ralph Helmer is passionate about midrange, feeling it is in the midrange where the music truly lives. To that end, his speaker features a beryllium-disc midrange unit, mounted in an open baffle. A Heil Air Motion Transfomer supertweeter and three spider-less, aluminum-alloy, 10" cone drivers for the bass, all also mounted in open baffles, complete the drive-unit line-up. Mr; Helmer believes that one of the advantages of his dipole speakers is their high Wife-Acceptance Favor, in that they are smaller than expected for same amount of bass.
One reason I have never felt the need to invest in a high-end home-theater system is that it is all too easy for me to go 'round to Tom Norton's house. As well as contributing the amplifier measurements and the all-too-rare component review for Stereophile, Tom is technical editor of our companion book, Stereophile Guide to Home Theater (footnote 1). As you might expect, he has access to video equipment that the rest of us can only dream about.
"I made this for myself," explained the genial Ron Sutherland, as he showed me the interior of his new monophonic phono preamplifier ($9800/pair). The power supply on the right, which uses both choke and RC smoothing, feeds DC to the active circuitry on the left via a ribbon cable running in a channel machined in the front panel. Plug-in daughterboards are used to change loading and gain and three chassis grounding options allow for the lowest noisefloor: floating, grounded directly, and grounded via a 50 ohm resistor. Ron has used 1/8"-thick circuit boards to lower dielectric effects. There are two outputs to allow a mono cartridge to to be fed to both left and right inputs of the phono preamplifier.
Perhaps it was the ridiculously expensive 20Wpc Lars tube amplifiers that Wes Phillips blogged about yesterday, but the modest-looking Prio 620 speakers (price starting at $5750/pair) from Finnish manufacturer Amphion, sounded both sweet and powerful on a track from bassist Brian Bromberg. The titanium-dome tweeter is loaded with Amphion's proprietary waveguide, which matches its dispersion above the low 1.2kHz crossover frequency to that of the twin 6.5" paper-cone woofers.
"Let me turn off the Tranquility Bases and you'll hear what I am talking about," said Synergistic Research's Ted Denney.
I sighed inside. Ted had been subjecting me to the improvement on room acoustics wrought by his ART Acoustic bowls for the past few years and despite my skepticism, I kept hearing that improvement. Now he was talking about his series of Tranquility Bases. Ranging in price from $995 to $2995, these powered platforms have a ground plane and generate beneficial electromagnetic fields that are said to condition the signals passing through the components sitting on them and drain away the bad fields to ground. Yeah, right!