Not too long ago, the word "convergence" had everyone in the High End ready to duck'n'cover. Asia was on the ropes, and a shakeout was thinning the ranks of high-end audio manufacturers. Some US companies were marketing and selling most of their output to the Pacific Rim. The writing was on the wall: High-end was dead, and we'd all just better get used to listening to music on our computers.
The dCS Purcell is named after Henry Purcell, the English composer, organist, bass, countertenor who was born in 1659 and died in, alas, 1695. It's a digital/digital converter intended for consumer use, as opposed to the less elegantly packaged pro-audio version, the dCS 972, that I reviewed in February 1999. Both devices increase the sample rate and/or word length of the output from linear PCM digital audio sources like CD or DVD up to a maximum sample rate of 192kHz and a word length of 24 bits. According to the extensive documentation, this is achieved by "using extremely powerful and accurate digital interpolation filters, which yield an output signal having negligible levels of distortion."
When I first laid eyes on the Paravicini M100A monoblock power amplifiers at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2001, an audiophile in the room squinted at my badge and cried out, "Hey, J-10, these amps have your name written all over 'em!"
John Atkinson recently forwarded me an e-mail from reader Daniel Sandmeier. Eight full months after moving into a new home, Mr. Sandmeier had finally experimented with speaker placement. He was flabbergasted by the result.
Last month (click here for previous Fine Tunes) I tipped you on how to check the AC plug orientation for transformer current leakage—the best sound is often found at the lowest voltmeter reading. Roger Skoff of XLO suggests another technique that's worth passing on to you, if only because the imagery is so . . . piquant: Leave the speaker cables hooked up and pull the interconnects from the power amplifier. Turn it on and "stick your head in the speaker," as Roger puts it, checking for the level of hum. (Imagine a pair of bony audiophile legs waving crazily out of the bell of an Avantgarde Acoustics horn speaker.)
Sometimes you have to sweat the details, sometimes they just fall in your lap. Take Victor Tiscareno. Victor's company, AudioPrism, has been making electronics, accessories, and power-conditioning products for quite some time. While he was visiting and installing a pair of his Mana Reference tube amplifiers for an upcoming review, Victor and I got to talking about power---the kind that comes out of the wall. Victor studied electrical engineering and is very au courant in such matters. During these ruminations he shared with me a recipe for what he calls The Poor Man's Dedicated Line.
Now that we've gained a basic understanding of speaker setup, cable dressing and hygiene, and electrical theory, it's time to consider where and how to site your equipment. I've seen all sorts of weird, jerry-rigged shelves and poor component placement, some of the worst in pricey systems whose owners really should have known better. But you can achieve a stunning level of improvement from a haphazardly set-up system---even an entry-level one---when it's rearranged so as to let the components breathe.