It's conventional wisdom among audiophiles: Small, high-end audio companies build high-quality products in small numbers. Products which are often expensive. But not always. Big mass-market companies build cookie-cutter products in big numbers. They're usually cheap. But not always.
Reality check number one. Tired of reading about the latest and greatest $65,000 loudspeakers? Or even the current hot ticket at $2500? Such loudspeakers promise to bring you the audio truth, or the golly-gee-whiz, honest-to-gosh, absolutely positively real sound. And some of them do seem to come awfully close, though truth be told, we're still a long way from replicating realityand will never do it with just two channels.
Like most audiophiles, I salivate over the latest Jurassic, second-mortgage-inducing power amplifier. Whether it's about the music itself, or simply "my amp is bigger than your amp" one-upmanship, we all know that those who risk a hernia in pursuit of the ultimate in sound invariably come out winners.
The Model Four is the largest model in KEF's current Reference series of loudspeakers, discounting the R107/2 Raymond Cooke Special-Edition (reviewed in a follow-up in October '95). It's also the largest KEF model that uses their Uni-Q® loudspeaker configuration. When I visited the KEF factory last October with a group of audio journalists from the US, KEF emphasized the importance of Uni-Q technology to their future plans. They consider it proprietary, and intend to enforce the worldwide patents they hold on the design. One look at KEF's current line will be enough to tell you why they're so serious. Uni-Q drivers may be found not only in most of the Reference series, but in most of their other models as well. The most significant exceptions: the Raymond Cooke series, a few inexpensive models, and their THX-certified loudspeaker system.
"Where do you want 'em?" Doug'n'David (of Stereophile's shipping and receiving, not your favorite morning drive-time talk radio co-hosts) had just wrestled over 500 lbs of cocooned Wilson WITT loudspeakers onto the floor of my garage. Like the Thiel CS7s I had parted with just a few weeks earlier, the WITTs came packed in solid, heavy wooden crates. The pained expressions on Doug'n'David's faces indicated that it was time for me to start reviewing minimonitors! The unpacking went more smoothly than I expected, but this is clearly a pair of loudspeakers that demand to be delivered, uncrated, and set up by a dealer.
The Vandersteen 3A is a higher-end variation on the theme established by the company's first loudspeaker, the 2C. The latter is still available, though much updated into the current, highly popular 2Ce. A four-way design, the 3A has separate sub-enclosures for each drive unit; the whole affair is covered with a knit grille-cloth "sock" with wood trim end pieces. A rear-mounted metal brace allows the user to vary the tiltback—an important consideration for best performance with this loudspeaker.
High-end-audio manufacturers are both more and less adventurous than their more mainstream contemporaries. While mainstream-audio manufacturers will almost invariably change their models every year, the changes are more often than not cosmetic—at least in between successive models. High-end manufacturers, on the other hand, will keep the same model in the line for several years, but make cosmetically invisible refinements along the way.
In the October 1994 Stereophile (Vol.17 No.10, p.39), I discussed my experiences with the DTS audio data-reduction code/decode switch box, which, briefly, is a two-channel box that makes use of the algorithm DTS has proposed for their version of discrete multichannel sound for laserdiscs.
Audiophiles have long had a love-hate relationship with dipolar loudspeakers. These devices are nearly always a pain to position properly, they tend to dominate a room, and more often than not they're fussy about amplification. But when it all comes together, the best of them can make magic.
Anyone who's ever looked for it knows how rare audio-friendly living space is. Perhaps someday an enterprising developer will build Audiophile Acres---a whole subdivision of audio houses or soundproofed condos that'll meet these needs---then stand by while hordes of long-suffering audiophiles stampede the sales office, frantically waving down-payments in their sweaty hands.