Experienced reviewers know that shows are the wrong environments for critical audiophile listening. Convention centers—especially the one at Las Vegas—are huge, cavernous airplane hangers, not the intimate listening rooms reviewers thrive in. Extraneous sounds from subwoofer blasts and the constantly milling crowds leak in to sully the music. Booths set up by manufacturers on the show floor have very thin, flexible walls, and no bass treatment.
On a very special Saturday night in early September—late winter in Australia—I was deeply moved by hearing Brahms' Symphony 1 in the concert hall of the Sydney Opera House complex. Perhaps it was Marek Janowski's fiery, inspired conducting, but I keep recalling the hall itself. Earlier that day, I had photographed—first from my hotel room, later from a ferry—the huge, nesting sail-like roofs, covered with a million white ceramic tiles, that enclose an opera theater, concert hall, and restaurant. Twenty-five years in construction and costing over $107 million, the Sydney Opera House is described in my Fodor's '98 Australia guide as "the most widely recognized landmark of urban Australia." Attending the concert that night—all 2679 seats were occupied—I found the acoustics lovely, dark, and rich.
It was one of those uncommonly warm late winter Sundays when you hardly need a coat. The fine weather had set aside any critical listening sessions, the door to the kitchen was open, and I was playing my audio system—then equipped with a pair of Spendor BC-1 loudspeakers—at moderate levels. Playing on the Linn turntable was an LP that the kids loved—"The Magic Garden Song," sung by the two female leads from the children's television show of the same name (footnote 1), My wife doesn't often comment positively on audio equipment, but that day she walked in from the kitchen to say, "Those voices sound real—as if two people just walked in our living room and started singing."
I first auditioned a pair of Chario Academy One minimonitors five years ago, but the review was aborted when the Italian Chario company lost its US distribution. When I reheard the Chario Academy Ones at the 1997 WCES, I found their elegant cabinetwork appealing and their sound listenable and involving. I therefore requested a pair for review from the new US importers.
I first heard the Canadian-made Waveform Research Mach 17 loudspeaker system in New York City at HI-FI '96, Stereophile's Home Theater & Specialty Audio Show. Another Ontario native, Chris Russell of Bryston Ltd., had raved to me about their sound. His recommendation sent me outside my assigned reporting area and down to the sixth floor of the Waldorf=Astoria, to dimly lit room 602—full of ASC Tube Traps, amplifiers, cables, and the twin truncated pyramids of the Mach 17s.
I first heard the Totem Acoustic Tabù loudspeakers at HI-FI '96, Stereophile's Home Theater & Specialty Audio Show at the Waldorf=Astoria in New York City last June. A startlingly realistic vocal recording drew me to Totem's sixth-floor demo room. Vincent Bruzzese, the speaker's designer, was playing Michael Jonasz singing "Si si si le ciel" from la fabuleuse histoire de Mister Swing (WEA 2292-42338-2, imported by May Audio Marketing). The small, two-way Tabù cast a holographic, palpable musical image with clear highs and sizzling dynamic pace. I was bitten, and set things in motion for this review. And two other things drew me to the Tabù: its capacitor-less crossover and its similarity to Totem's Model 1.
The Bryston BP-25MC preamplifier is a full-function control center with one balanced and four single-ended inputs, including one input for a moving-coil cartridge. The BP-25 is shielded in a black steel cabinet said to reduce electromagnetic interference effects. The power transformer is housed in a small external chassis, the BP-PS. The BP-25's remote control allows volume up/down, along with buttons for mute and absolute polarity. Signal switching and audio connections, including balanced and unbalanced input and output connectors, are heavily gold-plated to provide good long-term connections. A 12V AC/DC screw terminal connector on the rear of the power supply provides convenient use when used in conjunction with the remote start feature optionally available on Bryston power amplifiers.
Canadian electronics manufacturer Bryston Limited has been producing consumer and professional amplifiers since 1974 [see Robert Deutsch's interview elsewhere in this issue—Ed.]. Bryston amps are engineered to be physically and electrically rugged, to meet the stringent demands of professionals, many of whom leave their studio amplifiers turned on for years. While chassis had to be light instead of the audiophile massiveness found in some high-end consumer amplifiers, studio engineers and concert pros continued to favor Bryston amps, which easily passed the "steel toe" test. The 4B, for example, became a standard amplifier for recording engineers and touring musicians.
The Type A has served as Snell Acoustics' flagship loudspeaker since 1974. The Type A Reference System reviewed here is the sixth update of the late Peter Snell's original three-way floorstanding design, and is the most radical departure from Snell's original. Gone is the pair of "upright bricks of polished wood and stretched cloth" (footnote 1) that delighted decorators because they functioned best against a wall. Today's Type A Reference $18,999 price tag (footnote 2) purchases two tall midrange-tweeter towers, two huge subwoofers, two short but heavy enclosures housing the outboard passive crossover networks, and a small electronic crossover.
The No.331 is the latest iteration in a series of Mark Levinson 100Wpc, solid-state, stereo power amplifiers. Extensive cosmetic alterations, internal structural changes, and new circuit designs make it quite different from the No.27 and No.27.5 models that preceded it. These design refinements emanate from Madrigal Audio Laboratories' latest flagship amplifier, the $32,000/pair, 300W RMS Mark Levinson No.33 Reference.