Bright April Sunday sunshine beams through the bay window of my listening room. The light catches four loudspeakers on stands, two stacks of electronic equipment, a small video monitor, black cables strung behind furniture, and a pile of freshly opened DVDs. I sit in the center in a large, overstuffed chair covered in blue velvet, listening to an array of six loudspeakers and a TV monitor playing The Haunting's DTS soundtrack. The floor rumbles as the sounds of creaking timbers come up from below.
When I learned that Madrigal Audio Labs was marketing their first integrated amplifier, the Mark Levinson No.383, I felt this was a big change for the Connecticut company. Mark Levinson literally started the high-end marketing revolution back in the early 1970s by manufacturing cost-no-object separate amplifiers and preamplifiers. The purist designs had one overriding rule: employ the simplest circuit path possible. Each amplifier or preamplifier used only individual circuit-board components (no integrated circuits) and had a minimal number of controls, eschewing elaborate switches and tone controls. Mark Levinson Audio Systems and its successor, Madrigal Audio Laboratories, has continued this philosophy of separate components for the past 25 years.
I can't resist reading about a company's flagship loudspeaker—the price-no-object product that embodies the most advanced ideas from a company's research and design department. Flagship loudspeakers tend to be large, heavy, and complex, and are designed to perform best in large rooms; often, each part of each driver is hand-built to the highest level of quality, with precisely tight tolerances. The cost? Don't ask. Some two-channel, audio-only flagships cost more than a BMW M5 sports sedan or a Porsche 911.
In his 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Verne presents the enigmatic Captain Nemo, commander of the great submarine Nautilus, as powerful, charismatic, and mysterious. On first meeting Nemo, the narrator, M. Aronnax, notes, "I made out his prevailing qualities directly: self-confidencebecause his head was well set on his shoulders, and his black eyes looked around with cold assurance; calmnessfor his skin, rather pale, showed his coolness of blood; energyevinced by the rapid contraction of his lofty brows; and couragebecause his deep breathing denoted great power of lungs." All in all, "this man was certainly the most admirable specimen I had ever met."
If you've read Stereophile regularly over the past decade, you know that ProAc Audio's Stewart Tyler has a winning formula for designing loudspeakers. In review after review, this magazine's writers have celebrated the sonic profile he has created for ProAc speakers: a spacious soundstage with a big, coherent image; a clean, grain-free midrange; extended highs that don't intrude on the music; and tight, tuneful bass response.
The Random House Dictionary of the English Language defines "myriad," derived from a Greek word meaning "ten thousand," as "a very great number of persons or things." British and unabashedly ambitious, Myryad Systems has set itself myriad design goals for its M-series stereo components: audiophile performance, real-world pricing, convenience, circuit simplicity, common remote-control function, and physical beauty.
Unless you've recently returned from a five-year tour of Tibetan monasteries, the odds are pretty good you've heard about the Nautilus revision of B&W's classic three-way floorstanding monitor, the 801. Having sold 30,000 of the earlier 801, the Matrix, B&W recently revised this classic to incorporate some design features of its $40,000, four-way concept speaker, the Nautilus. Wes Phillips reviewed the new Nautilus 801 in the January 1999 Stereophile (p.107) and found it "incredibly dynamic, images and soundstages like crazy, and has that special magic that marks it as one of the great loudspeakers."
My father could not resist buying electronic and photographic gear. As soon as he heard about a new Polaroid camera, or a new weather radio, tape recorder, or color television, he'd go shopping. He'd be even more eager to buy an updated version of what he already had, particularly if this meant there was a story to tell. He'd buy one for himself, and sometimes he'd give me and my three brothers one of our own for a birthday or Christmas gift. (I often thought he took more pleasure from giving to us than he did from getting his own.)
Émile Durkheim (1858-1917) once wrote, "The less limited one feels, the more intolerable all limitation appears" (footnote 1). Although directed at the paradoxical observation that suicide rates are higher in newly prosperous countries than in those mired in poverty, his comment applies equally well to subwoofers.
The patter of the snare drum began softly and I leaned forward in my seat. Avery Fisher Hall fell silent as Riccardo Muti led the New York Philharmonic in Ravel's Boléro. Ravel once described this masterpiece as "lasting 17 minutes and consisting wholly of orchestral texture without music—of one long, very gradual crescendo." Though the hall was silent and expectant, the stage was packed with musicians waiting for...what? To gradually join in, one by one and layer by layer, to drive that gentle but relentlessly mounting crescendo. Ravel accomplished this by "having solo instruments play the melody...[then progressing] to groups" and finally "arranging the scoring so that the dynamics are self-regulating" (footnote 1). When the final, thunderous E-major chord stopped the piece by locking "all its harmonic gears," the hall erupted in ecstatic applause, and we all leapt to our feet.