Like most people, I'm not interested in long, windy essays about audio reviewing, having barely enough time and interest for audio itself. But I do perk up when the debate turns to the audio reviewer's purpose in life: Should I write about everything that crosses my path, or should I limit my attention to those products that interest me, and that stand a chance of being good?
The first time I heard a PHY driver was in an enclosure designed and made by Ocellia Audio, 15-odd years ago. During the years since then, Ocellia head Samuel Furon has continued to refine his complex, intentionally thin-walled designs, and the line has expanded to include some new models. The latest of these is the Calliope.21 Signature ($14,000 as shown, with configurations of this model starting at $9900), which was demonstrated at SSI with an Ocellia Quero integrated amp ($14,000), prototype Ocellia Quero phono preamp (price TBD), and a vintage Platine Verdier turntable with EMT 997 tonearm and Ocellia-modified Denon 103 cartridge.
Strange that I should travel 1800 miles to hear products that are designed and manufactured less than two hours from my home. Happily, the McIntosh experience at RMAF was worth the effort, especially inasmuch as the hallowed brand distinguished itself by playing real music as opposed to audiophile chestnuts. (Think of it!) I especially enjoyed some selections from the Beatles' Anthology 3 collection, played via JRiver software on an HP laptop, through a McIntosh C50 preamp ($6500) and MC452 amp ($7500), along with the McIntosh MEN220 room-correction system ($4500, which includes the microphonebut not the standseen in this photo). Rounding out the system were the company's recent XR100 speakers ($10,000/pair): certainly the best McIntosh loudspeakers I have yet to hear.
In the fall of 2005, while the People's Republic of China continued to hold political dissidents in prison without due process, the US government wiretapped its citizens with impunity, tensions rose on the border between Chad and Sudan, Israeli citizens annexed thousands of acres of land from poor Palestinian farmers, Saudi Arabia executed more petty thieves and adulterers in the name of Allah, Russia "lost" a few more tons of nuclear armaments, and the polar icecaps continued to recede as the levels of preventable greenhouse emissions climbed out of control, a small band of middle-aged men took to the Internet to express their seething outrage.
Verity Audio’s entry-level Finn ($6495/pair) was an intriguing beast: a 91 dB sensitive loudspeaker that sounded open, authoritative, and smooththe latter quality more so than the dearer Verity Sarastro II, which sounded overly sibilant in another room. (But the good Lord knows that might have been caused by something else in the chain, so do keep these comments in perspective.) Music was supplied by digital files on a MacBook Pro (running Amarra playback software), addressing the digital inputs of a Musical Fidelity M6CD CD player ($2499), while the controller was Musical Fidelity’s new M1 CliC ($1999). Power was supplied by another new Musical Fidelity product, their M6500 integrated amplifier ($6995): a seemingly sweet-sounding 500Wpc monster that’s dual-mono from A through Z.
On my last day at the show I got to meet the founder and chief designer of Gradient, Jorma Salmi: a trim, quietly intense man with a boyish mop of hair. I introduced myself and complimented the originality of his designs; Dr. Salmi looked at me over the tops of his steel-rimmed glasses, smiled kindly, and said, “A little strange, aren’t they?” A moment later he quoted Becket, saying that, in his next design, he would “fail better.” What a cool guy!
Naim Audio has a reputation for making products that are truer than most to music's temporal content: rhythm, pacing, the beat almighty. Beginning with their classic solid-state amps of the mid-1970s, Naim's designers have stressed, above all else, the reduction of distortions that puff up and pad the attack and decay components of musical sounds: Getting rid of those additives seems to clarify the timing relationship between different notes in a line, making music more compelling and easier to enjoy. That their gear has historically favored musical content over sonic attributes is no shock to the Naim faithful.
In an industry whose newest products are often as discouragingly unaffordable as they are short of the sonic mark, the Naim Audio Uniti ($3795) stands out. In a single reasonably sized box, the Uniti combines the guts of Naim's Nait 5i integrated amplifier and CD5i CD player with various additional sources: an FM/DAB tuner, and interfaces for an iPod, a USB memory stick, an iRadio, and a UPnP-compatible connected computer or serverall for the price of a very good television set.