Ever since the introduction of high-resolution digital formats, audiophiles have been waiting for the smoke from the format wars to settle. What would the winning software be? DVD-Audio? DVD-Video? SACD? 24 bits at 96kHz or 192kHz? As new formats struggled to establish themselves, upconverting technology became commonplace for the playback of the familiar 16-bit/44.1kHz "Red Book" CD format. What to do? Invest large amounts of cash in a system that played "Red Book" (maybe with upconverting, but if so, by how much?) and one other format, and hope that you've bet right? And what about movies on them new-fangled DVDs, Tex?
Symphony orchestras once had definable national characters. When high-end audio came along, those characters became the national sounds of the gear. While most audio manufacturers, like most symphony orchestras, have tended in recent decades to homogenize into an "international" sound, most French audio gear has remained distinct.
It's no longer news that uncontrolled spurious vibration is one of the greatest threats to high-quality sound and video reproduction. Source components are, by themselves, a nightmare to isolate from the omnipresent vibrations in the environment. The intrusion of uncontrolled spuriae into the playback of LPs, CDs, SACDs, and DVDs has a deleterious and occasionally disastrous effect on the ability of the stylus or laser to precisely do its almost-molecular-scale job. Electronics are nearly as susceptible to such vibration-induced headaches as microphonics.
My last visit to Planet Halcro transformed my audio life. All but the newest readers will recall that the Australian dm58 power amplifier was Stereophile's Amplification Component of the Year and overall Component of the Year for 2002. To this day, I have yet to hear any amplifier that equals the dm58's combination of complete neutrality, harmonic generosity, lightning reflexes, and a sense of boundless power that is difficult to describe. Though some others have come close, the dm58 shines as a singular beacon of excellence among power amplifiers.
Revolutionary is a word that's tossed around all too lightly in the world of audio. The understandable impulse to tout every new development as a quantum leap forward in sound reproduction has made it difficult to sort out the evolutionary from the truly groundbreaking. And there's not that much left to do in amplifier design that is worthy of being described as "revolutionary," or so it seems. Vacuum-tube circuitry has been thoroughly understood since the late 1940s, and 40 years of development of solid-state has rendered it, in its finest implementations, a worthy competitor and alternative to the venerable tube.
For better or for worse, appearances can make a profound first impression. Think of the bold, muscular curves of an Audi TT coupe, the planes and facets of a Lamborghini Murcielago, the sleek lines of a Gulfstream jet. In these vehicles, function and art are combined with smooth facility and perfect aesthetic balance.
New experiences are some of the most pleasurable parts of being an audio reviewer. Despite being involved with the High End for longer than I care to think about, I had never had the experience of owning, living with, or reviewing a pair of electrostatic speakers, be they full-range or hybrid. I'd heard various Quads plenty of times at shows and in the homes of audio buddies, but in my own listening cave? Never.
The "Reference" designation is thrown around a lot in the world of perfectionist audio. It's most often used to elevate the top of the line to a higher perceived status. Occasionally, as in the case of the VTL TL-7.5 line stage that I reviewed in October 2003, it genuinely denominates a component that is clearly superior to its competition in most aspects of performance.
How did Michael Jordan, talented as he was at the peak of his powers, always manage to impose his will on his teammates to push them to victory when it counted most? What made Sandy Koufax able to elevate his pitching to a superhuman level when the stakes were highest? A knowledgeable, hardcore sports fan can watch the performance of two players with nearly identical statistics and, after not too long, tell you which one is merely very good and which one is great. What makes a star are intangibles—those qualities you can't quantify or analyze, but can't help but recognize when you're in their presence.
I was introduced to Legacy Audio at the CEDIA Expo in September 2002, and I'll long remember it. A pair of Legacy's huge new Helix loudspeakers anchored the company's silent display, and I was irresistibly drawn to them. Sales manager Bob Howard introduced himself, and, after a few minutes of chatting, introduced me to Bill Dudleston, Legacy's founder and chief designer. Within two minutes, Dudleston had told me "I don't design speakers for hi-fi people. I design speakers for people who love music."