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John Atkinson Posted: Nov 22, 2016 6 comments
I am sad to report that, 19 years to the day after I recorded her performing Schulhoff's Sonata for Solo Violin for Stereophile's Duet CD, Ida Levin passed away on Friday November 18, after a lengthy battle with leukemia. She was 53. Our condolences to her family, her fellow musicians, her students, and to all who, like me, were thrilled by her playing. As a tribute to Ida, from now until January 1, 2017, we are offering Duet to our readers free of charge (though we will still have to charge shipping and handling).
John Atkinson Posted: Nov 18, 2016 3 comments
It has been 20 years since I first became aware of the British company Data Conversion Systems, which manufactures audio products under the dCS brand. Rather than use off-the-shelf conversion chips, the groundbreaking dCS Elgar D/A converter, which I reviewed in our July 1997 issue, featured a then-unique D/A design that they called a Ring DAC. This featured a five-bit, unitary-weighted, discrete DAC running at 64 times the incoming data's sample rate—2.822MHz for 44.1kHz-based data, 3.07MHz for 48kHz-sampled data and its multiples—with upsampling and digital filtering and processing implemented in Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs). Oversampling to a very high sample rate allows the word length to be reduced without losing resolution, and use of a low-bit multi-bit DAC makes for very high accuracy in the analog voltage levels that describe the signal. (If this seems like voodoo, for a given signal bandwidth, bit depth and sample rate are related. To oversimplify, double the rate, and you can reduce the bit depth by one bit while preserving the overall resolution.)
John Atkinson Posted: Nov 01, 2016 5 comments
I wrote several issues back that my first high-end headphones were Koss Pro4AAs, which I bought in 1972 following a positive review in the British magazine Hi-Fi News. Although that review didn't mention that the Pro4AAs were relatively fragile (footnote 1), I nonetheless loved their sound. They were the best headphones I'd heard—until, a couple years later, I was playing bass on some sessions for record producer Tony Cox. Tony had a pair of signal-energized electrostatic headphones, Koss ESP-6es, which were heavy and clunky—but they opened my ears to the sound quality that could be obtained from "cans." I didn't hear better until after I'd moved to Santa Fe, in 1986, and J. Gordon Holt loaned me his review samples of the Stax SR-Lambda Pros.
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John Atkinson Posted: Oct 14, 2016 4 comments
As you can read elsewhere in our RMAF coverage, the incomplete remodeling of the Denver Tech Center Marriott mean that the CanJam exhibits had to be moved to a tent in the hotel parking lot and the seminars and Classic Album Sunday events were held in temporary housing "pods." I wandered into one of the latter to find Channel D's Rob Robinson (above) playing 24/192 rips of LPs on a system featuring a Lynx HiLo digital converter, a Jeff Rowland amplifier, Cardas cables, and Joseph Audio Pearl 3 speakers.
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John Atkinson Posted: Oct 14, 2016 3 comments
The last room I visited before the Wes Phillips Memorial, which was hosted in the PS Audio room Friday night of the show, was conveniently, PS Audio's. In my photo, the company's cofounder, fitness freak Paul McGowan, whom his daily email newsletter has revealed to be a talented writer, poses beside the humongous collection of PS Audio gear that was used to drive the Scaena La Maitresse Ultime speakers ($125,000/pair).
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John Atkinson Posted: Oct 13, 2016 2 comments
My beat at the 13th RMAF was the 7th and 11th floors of the Marriott Tower, so to kick off my reporting, my first room on the 7th floor was Dynaudio USA.
John Atkinson Posted: Sep 29, 2016 17 comments
I have been an advocate of small speakers since I began using BBC LS3/5a's in the late 1970s, continuing through Celestion SL6es in 1981, Celestion SL600s and SL700s in the late '80s, and B&W Silver Signatures in the mid-'90s. Yes, I do like accurate and extended bass reproduction—but you need a big speaker to be able to provide that, and, as the late Spencer Hughes, founder of Spendor, once remarked, "big speakers have big problems." I don't see the point of extending a speaker's low-frequency performance if the result is compromised soundstaging and midrange reproduction. And there is also the intellectual elegance of a speaker that is no bigger than it need be.
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John Atkinson Posted: Aug 18, 2016 67 comments
Last June, Jim Austin briefly discussed the operation of MQA in his review of the Meridian Explorer2 USB DAC, but you can find a more detailed explanation on Stereophile's website here and here. MQA involves two fundamental concepts, discussed in a paper presented to the Audio Engineering Society in October 2014. The first is responsible for a large reduction in the bandwidth required to store and stream high-resolution files, the second for a potential improvement in sound quality. . .
John Atkinson Posted: Jul 21, 2016 9 comments
I am a big believer in supporting events promoted by specialty audio retailers. They reinforce the idea that audiophiles and manufacturers—even reviewers—are parts of a vibrant community that believes that listening to music with the highest possible quality is one of the more important things in life. The "Music Matters" evenings arranged by Audio Advice in North Carolina, Definitive Audio in Seattle, and Listen Up in Colorado exemplify that idea, and it was in April 2015, at Listen Up's Denver store, that I used a pair of PSB's new Imagine T3 tower speakers to play the audience some of my own recordings. The T3 superficially resembles PSB's Synchrony One, a speaker I very favorably reviewed in April 2008, and I was equally impressed by the new flagship—impressed enough to request a pair for review.
John Atkinson Posted: Jun 21, 2016 4 comments
Life is too short to put up with poor-sounding headphones, I mused the other morning, during my 60-minute commute on the NYC subway. All around me, straphangers gripped smartphones and listened to multicolored Beats, noise-canceling Boses, white Apple earbuds, and, only rarely, Sennheisers and Grados.

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