There are many benefits accruing to a loudspeaker when its designer goes the active or powered route. The usual losses and distortions associated with passive crossovers can be circumvented, while the fact that the amplifiers and drive-units can be designed as a package enables the designer to squeeze more performance from each than would otherwise be the case. And the savings gained from the absence of a separate amplifier chassis can be passed on to the consumer.
Canadian loudspeaker company PSB International celebrated both its 25th anniversary in July and the 10th anniversary of the introduction of its Stratus series. (I review the latest version of the flagship Stratus speaker, the Gold i, elsewhere in this issue.) Started by Paul Barton and two friends in the summer of 1972, PSB Speakers was named after Paul and his high-school sweetheart Sue (now his wife). Paul & Sue Barton Speakers is now part of Lenbrook Industries, which distributes NAD, Marantz, and Bang & Olufsen in Canada, and which in turn is part of the Canadian conglomerate Lenbrook Inc.
Thirty-five years ago this month, the first issue of a new audio magazine—cover price 50 cents—cautiously made its way out of a Philadelphia suburb. Its black'n'white cover featured a chessboard adorned with tubes and XLR plugs. Its 20 advertising-free pages included a feature on how to write an ad for an audio product, which had been penned by one Lucius Wordburger, a footnote helpfully pointing out that this was the nom de plume for one J. Gordon Holt, "who wishes to remain anonymous."
An acquaintance in the world of CD distribution recently gave me an astonishing statistic: that the average classical title sells fewer than 2000 copies worldwide in its first year of release; which in turn means that many titles sell only about 500 copies! Given that the cost of producing a classical orchestral album can include up to $100,000 in union-mandated musician fees, such minimal sales guarantee financial disaster.
Things are changing rapidly in the world of professional digital audio. After a decade of stability, with slow but steady improvement in the quality of 16-bit, 44.1kHz audio, the cry among audio engineers is now "24/96!"—meaning 24-bit data sampled at 96kHz. Not coincidentally, DVD offers audiophiles a medium with the potential for playing back music encoded at this new mastering standard.
A science-fiction parable I read too many years ago to remember who wrote it used the image of a glass jar stuffed with colored plastic spheres. The story's protagonist was asked whether the glass was full. "Of course," was his reply, whereupon a hidden faucet was turned, the jar filled up with water, and fish swam in the spaces between the balls.
The speaker review in the July 1996 issue of the German audio magazine Stereoplay didn't hold back the praise. "Absolut Spitzenklasse III Referenz" was their overall rating, which I guess translates to "You'd better hear this, buddy," in American English. So when MBL of America's Marc Lawrence called to find out if I wanted to review the subject of that review, the MBL 111, I didn't need to be asked twice.
Blind loudspeaker listening tests are hard work, not least because usually, most of the models being auditioned fail to light any musical sparks. But back in the spring of 1991, when a small group of Stereophile writers were doing blind tests for a group speaker review, one speaker did light up smiles on the listeners' faces, including my own. (We don't talk during our blind tests, but it's more difficult to keep body language in check.) Once the results were in, we learned that the speaker that got the music right in that test was the diminutive ES11 from Epos in England (footnote 1).
There has been much argument in audiophile circles about whether an LP or a CD is a more faithful representation of a master tape. Although we recorded Robert Silverman's thrilling performance of the Liszt B-Minor Piano Sonata for CD release, we also had in mind to issue an LP. As the source for both would be the same, the question we can answer is: Will an LP cut straight from a 20-bit master tape via a Class A 20-bit DAC sound closer than a CD noise-shaped to 16 bits from the same 20-bit original?