Audio designers may differ in their specific design approaches, but the best of them have in common a real passion for their craft. I certainly found this when I visited the Hales Design Group factory in Huntington Beach, California. Although still in his early 30s, Paul Hales has been involved in the design and manufacture of high-quality loudspeakers for almost a decade—first with the Hales Audio partnership, then with his own company, Hales Design Group. When he was just 23, an age when most people are still trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives, Paul had a speaker company and a speaker, the System Two Signature, that got a rave review in Stereophile (Vol.13 No.9, September 1990). Naturally, my first question was about beginnings...
In a sidebar to his review of the B&W DM302 speakers in the October 1997 issue (Vol.20 No.10), Wes Phillips mentioned a handy tool he uses for speaker setup—a laser level. The one Wes used was originally intended for construction work, not tweaking one's speaker placement, but now there's one available specifically for that purpose: The 770 SA-S Laser Sound Alignment System by Checkpoint Laser Tools.
One of the differences between mass-market and high-end audio is in product model longevity. By this I don't mean that high-end products necessarily last longer—although I think they generally do—but that models remain in a manufacturer's product line longer, perhaps being refined in an evolutionary manner. This helps products retain their value, and, when new models are introduced, these involve more than a cosmetic upgrade and some additional bells'n'whistles.
Vienna is a beautiful city known for many things, but the design and manufacturing of audio equipment is not one of them. Waltzes and strudel, yes; loudspeakers, no. One exception is Vienna Acoustics, a company that has introduced a line of loudspeakers named after composers: Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, and Haydn. At the 1996 Las Vegas WCES, Sumiko, US distributor of Vienna Acoustics products (footnote 1), demonstrated the second-from-the-top Mozart, and Stereophile reviewers as diverse in their approaches as Jonathan Scull, Tom Norton, and Sam Tellig (as well as yours truly) were unanimous in our admiration of the sound.
Although the term "professional" is often used as part of model designations in consumer electronics, the actual overlap between the audiophile consumer market and the real pro market is quite small. There are speakers in common use as studio monitors that no self-respecting audiophile would want to be caught dead listening to, and the typical audiophile loudspeaker would go up in smoke if asked to pump out the kind of volume that pro application routinely demands. To a lesser extent, the same applies to amplifiers: pro is pro and consumer is consumer, and ne'er the twain shall meet.
The auteur theory of the cinema, first described in the 1950s by François Truffaut, states that a great movie represents the artistic vision of one person, usually the director. Moviemaking may involve collaboration, but it cannot be done successfully by a committee. There has to be a single individual in charge, one whose sensitivity and world view is reflected in the movie. In the same sense that the author of a novel is telling a story through the medium of print, the director of a movie is telling a story through the medium of film.
Victor Khomenko, the "VK" of Balanced Audio Technology's VK-5 preamp and VK-60 amplifier, was born in St. Petersburg (then Leningrad), and grew up two blocks from the Svetlana tube factory. He attended the prestigious Leningrad Polytechnic Institute and received an M.S. in physics and electronics, specializing in electronic emissions. He spent his early working life in the Russian electronics industry, then emigrated to the US in 1979—with $400, a family, no home, and no job.
How important is the use of balanced circuit typology in the design of preamplifiers and power amplifiers? Ask the top audio designers (I didn't, but just play along, okay?) and you'll get a wide variety of opinions. Some reject the balanced approach outright, arguing that it represents a needless duplication of circuit components, and that better results can be achieved if the same attention and resources are devoted to perfecting a single-ended circuit. In his provocatively titled article "Balance: Benefit or Bluff?" (Stereophile, November 1994, p.77), Martin Colloms questioned the advantages of balanced designs, suggesting that while the results may be better in certain respects (eg, noise level), the reproduced sound may suffer in other, perhaps more important ways (eg, rhythm and dynamics).
I remember having a conversation with an audiophile some time ago about the thorny subject of choosing an amplifier. He was convinced, on the basis of an article he had read in Stereo Review, that all amplifiers of a given power rating sound pretty much the same. Although he was sufficiently well off to buy just about anything on the market, he didn't want to waste his money. He chose the amplifier for his system by going through the Audio Annual Directory Issue, calculating the price:watt ratio for each amplifier that was listed, and then bought the amplifier with the lowest price/watt figure that had enough power to drive his speakers. He didn't do any comparative listening and didn't consider buying anything that cost more for the same power, because he knew already that it wouldn't sound any different.