One question posed by John Atkinson at the July 1991 StereophileWriters Conference had to do with the ease of reviewing: Is it harder to write a bad review of an expensive product than a good review? I find it hardest to write a good review of an inexpensive product. If I admire a less expensive loudspeaker, for example, it may become a recommended component, and can displace a more expensive speaker (that received mixed comments) from our twice-yearly rankings. This can be a big responsibility; even a conditional rave of a low-cost product means that JA may assign another Stereophile reviewer to do an immediate follow-up report. The Snell Type E/III loudspeaker may be a good case in point.
The patter of the snare drum began softly and I leaned forward in my seat. Avery Fisher Hall fell silent as Riccardo Muti led the New York Philharmonic in Ravel's Boléro. Ravel once described this masterpiece as "lasting 17 minutes and consisting wholly of orchestral texture without music—of one long, very gradual crescendo." Though the hall was silent and expectant, the stage was packed with musicians waiting for...what? To gradually join in, one by one and layer by layer, to drive that gentle but relentlessly mounting crescendo. Ravel accomplished this by "having solo instruments play the melody...[then progressing] to groups" and finally "arranging the scoring so that the dynamics are self-regulating" (footnote 1). When the final, thunderous E-major chord stopped the piece by locking "all its harmonic gears," the hall erupted in ecstatic applause, and we all leapt to our feet.
Imaging, imaging, imaging. That's what I thought when I first heard the Sonus Faber Electa Amators reviewed by Jack English last October. How could such small speakers create such a wide, deep soundfield? John Hunter, president of Sumiko, Ltd. and importer of Sonus Faber products, was amused but not surprised at my reaction. I did the natural thing and begged for a review pair.
It was a late Friday afternoon in May and I wasn't having much luck getting into Sony's multichannel SACD demo room at the Home Entertainment 2001 Show. Surely, as a member of the audio press and a freelance writer for Stereophile, I should have no trouble. Not this time. After several polite "Nos," a Sony consultant managed to snare for me the last ticket of the day.
Sony describes the $700 TA-P9000ES as "a pure audio multichannel preamplifier equipped with two inputs for 5.1 analog multichannel audio sources, enabling selection, volume control, and amplification." A relay with twin gold-plated crossbars switches the two six-channel sources. Then follows a class-A solid-state push-pull amplifier in discrete configuration. Separate transistors, resistors, and capacitors populate the printed circuit boards. An oxygen-free copper shield surrounds each channel to prevent crosstalk between the channels. In addition, there is a relay-controlled gain stage offering 0, +6, and +12dB amplification.
At the 2012 CES, Soulution Audio's Cyrill Hamer introduced me to the Swiss company's reference line of 700 monoblock amplifier ($130,000/pair) and the dual-mono, dual-differential 710 stereo (now $55,000) amplifier Michael Fremer reviewed and liked so much in August 2011. At this year's CES, Soulution presented its less-expensive 500 line. While keeping the same appearance as the Reference line, the 500 line features different internal designs, including the company's first integrated amplifier, the 530 integrated preamplifier/amplifier ($49,000).
Soulution Audio's Cyrill Hammer was on hand to discuss the company's "small" Soulution 501 mono Amplifier ($55,000/pair). Similar in design to the Soulution 710 stereo amplifier that had so impressed Michael Fremer in the August 2012 issue of Stereophile, the more diminutive 501 monoblock amplifier is rated at 125W into 8 ohms, utilizes six switching-mode power supplies, and features a high-bandwidth, zero-feedback voltage-amplification input stage. Unlike the 176 lb Soulution 710 stereo amplifier that required three good men to move into Mikey's listening room, the 501 weighs in at a "mere" 80 lbs per chassis.
Soundsmith introduced a strain-gauge cartridge system in the Joseph Audio room at the Alexis Villas. The output of the dedicated battery-powered preamplifier can be fed to a preamp's line input as it does not require any equalization.
English manufacturer Chord Electronics is known for its sophisticated CD players, which use sophisticated DACs. Indeed there was a huge picture denoting Chord's latest-generation DAC, the QBD 76, at the center of the back wall. As my beat was amplifiers, Chord's designer, John Franks (pictured above), spent the next 30 minutes walking me through the design of Chord's latest amplifier, the SPM 1200 Mk.II ($14,000), a solid-state, 350Wpc stereo mode. The amplifier sits at the bottom of the short stack of audio equipment John is leaning on. He explained that the amplifier has a high-frequency, 2kW, switch-mode power supply, and uses an output stage based on dual-die, lateral-structure MOSFETs with a soft turn/on-turn/off characteristic. This allowed John to use a sliding class-AB design.