During a recent visit to Canada's National Research Council, I noticed stuck to the wall of the prototype IEC listening room a page of results from one of Floyd Toole's seminal papers on the blind testing of loudspeakers. The scoring system was the one that Floyd developed, and that we adopted for Stereophile's continuing series of blind tests. "0" represents the worst sound that could possibly exist, "10" the perfection of live sound—a telephone, for example, rates a "2." The speakers in Floyd's test pretty much covered the range of possible performance, yet their normalized scoring spread, from the worst to the best, was just 1.9 points.
I was once in a sushi bar in Osaka; sitting next to me was a live abalone, stoically awaiting its fate. It stuck its siphon out of its shell, the waiter tapped the tip with a spoon, the siphon withdrew. Again the siphon appeared, again the waiter tapped it with a spoon, again it withdrew.
In this space last January, I enthused about the sound of linear 20-bit digital recordings which, I felt, preserve the quality of a live microphone feed. "I have heard the future of audio—and it's digital!" I proclaimed, which led at least a couple of readers to assume I had gone deaf. Putting to one side the question of my hearing acuity, 20-bit technology has been rapidly adopted in the professional world as the standard for mastering. The remaining debate concerns how to best preserve what those 20 bits offer once they've been squeezed down to the 16 that CD can store. Sony's Super Bit Mapping algorithm and Harmonia Mundi Acustica's redithering device have been joined by new black boxes from Apogee Electronics, Lexicon, and Meridian; it appears likely that, in next to no time at all, all CD releases will be offering close to 20-bit resolution—at least in the upper midrange, where the ear is most sensitive.
In recent years, computer modeling, finite-element analysis, and laser interferometry have brought about a huge increase in our knowledge about what makes the moving-coil loudspeaker drive-unit work. Nevertheless, it has remained fundamentally unchanged since it was invented by Rice and Kellogg more than 60 years ago. That doesn't mean that it hasn't been refined considerably; in this review I examine the performance of a design whose drive-unit technology has been taken to the limit of what is currently possible, the B&W Silver Signature.
Silicon Valleybased Velodyne was founded in 1983 to develop a range of subwoofers that used servo-control to reduce non-linear distortion to vanishingly small levels. They succeeded in this goal to the extent that Velodyne is now perhaps the best-known subwoofer company in the US, currently employing 65 people. At the 1994 Winter CES, Velodyne launched the subject of this review: the DF-661 ($1800$2600/pair), their first full-range loudspeaker (the "DF" stands for "Distortion-Free").
The three-way DF-661 was designed from the ground up to continue the Velodyne tradition of ultra-low distortion. "We had developed the technology and resources to attack distortion elsewhere in the audio chain," wrote company President David Hall, "and started with the premise that, by definition...distortion in loudspeakers is wrong." (His italics.) "We went to the laboratory for a solution, with the living room as the ultimate goal." Velodyne calls this attention to technological detail "The Silicon Valley approach to sound."
In last month's "As We See It," I examined how I decide upon ratings in Stereophile's biannual "Recommended Components" listing. This leads me to talk about who writes our equipment reports. Stereophile currently has a team of 16 active reviewers. The core are professional: J. Gordon Holt, Robert Harley, Thomas J. Norton, Corey Greenberg, and Martin Colloms. The others—Sam Tellig, Jack English, Robert Deutsch, Don Scott, Jonathan Scull, Larry Greenhill, Dick Olsher, Guy Lemcoe, Lewis Lipnick, and Steven Stone—may be enthusiastic amateurs, but they are amateurs only in the sense that they don't earn their livings from writing. I'm the team's catcher, both calling the game and keeping the stray balls from getting away. Why, then, is it this cast of characters (footnote 1) who gets to cast judgments in stone in my magazine?
The very first "Recommended Components" listing appeared in Vol.1 No.5; this is the 16th time I've put the listing together since I took over the task from J. Gordon Holt in the November 1986 'phile. No other Stereophile feature seems to be as popular, or as misunderstood. While it might inform, it never fails to offend, particularly when it involves the dropping, or—horrors!—the not listing at all, of components that the magazine's readers own.