I had been sent a sample of the Woodside SC26 tube preamplifier during my June 1994 review of Woodside's MA50 monoblock amplifier (Vol.17 No.6). Although I used a number of preamplifiers during that review, I was most impressed with the MA50s' spacious, three-dimensional soundstage when driven by the SC26. At the time, I had an impression that the SC26's sonics combined a midrange richness with a good dynamic range. Although I had to return the Woodside MA50s to the importer after I reviewed them, I continued listening to the SC26.
I think every audio reviewer hopes for a surprise—when a good, but not outstanding, product is refined by the manufacturer into something special. The review then becomes an exciting discovery, reaffirming the pleasure one takes in good audio, and in listening to music being reproduced as it should be. It makes the listening exciting and the writing easier. The Classé Fifteen solid-state stereo amplifier is just such a surprise.
Brian Tucker, the US Quad importer, introduced me to the Woodside MA50 tube amplifiers and their manufacturer, John Widgery, during the 1992 Summer CES. Tucker's combination of Woodside MA50 tube amplifiers and Quad ESL-63 USA Monitors sounded unusually neutral, dynamic, and detailed. This was good news; back in 1987, Dick Olsher (Vol.10 No.6, pp.104–5) was unable to recommend an earlier Woodside-manufactured amplifier, the Radford STA 25 Renaissance. Brian mentioned that the MA50's design is a much-improved version of that earlier Radford model. Time for another review.
This compact, $1600/pair monitor employs many of the same design features found in the company's highly rated Matrix 801 system. Although the price is high for a two-way minimonitor, the 805 fits right into a growing high-end marketplace for such designs, one which emphasizes high quality in a small enclosure which will fit into most living-room environments without calling much attention to itself.
Imaging, imaging, imaging. That's what I thought when I first heard the Sonus Faber Electa Amators reviewed by Jack English last October. How could such small speakers create such a wide, deep soundfield? John Hunter, president of Sumiko, Ltd. and importer of Sonus Faber products, was amused but not surprised at my reaction. I did the natural thing and begged for a review pair.
The word totem is powerful in its own right. Totems have conscious and unconscious meanings, depicting powerful supernatural forces in nature and within us. Native Americans of the Northwest Coast tribes, starting with the Chippewa, or Ojibwa, used the term for the animals or birds associated with their clans. Tall wooden columns were carved with the clan totem, which could be a bird, fish, animal, or plant. Later, the Kwakiutls of the Pacific Northwest held feasts called Potlatches, during which poles carved with family and clan emblems were erected. Totems were also involved in worship and rites of passage. So elemental were the forces depicted by these symbols that Freud used totem to depict basic cultural laws, both spoken and unspoken, that guide daily behavior and proscribe what remains forbidden. It is fitting that the Totem loudspeaker reviewed here comes from Canada, the home of the enduring Kwakiutl Potlatch, where totems were so powerful.
On January 1, 1990, Canadian electronics manufacturer Bryston instituted a remarkable warranty program that covered each of their products for a full 20 years. This warranty includes all audio products ever manufactured and sold under the Bryston name. Besides covering parts and labor costs, the company will also pay shipping costs one way. This is all the more significant for their 4B NRB amplifier, which has been in production since 1976. The amp's $2k price, while not cheap, is at the lower end of what well-heeled audiophiles typically pay for amplifiers.
One question posed by John Atkinson at the July 1991 StereophileWriters Conference had to do with the ease of reviewing: Is it harder to write a bad review of an expensive product than a good review? I find it hardest to write a good review of an inexpensive product. If I admire a less expensive loudspeaker, for example, it may become a recommended component, and can displace a more expensive speaker (that received mixed comments) from our twice-yearly rankings. This can be a big responsibility; even a conditional rave of a low-cost product means that JA may assign another Stereophile reviewer to do an immediate follow-up report. The Snell Type E/III loudspeaker may be a good case in point.
I should begin this review by confessing that I've never been a fan of subwoofers. Most subwoofer systems I've heard have been plagued by a familiar litany of sonic horrors: poor integration between subwoofer and main speakers, boom, bloat, tubbiness, slowness, excessive LF output, and an overall presentation that constantly reminds the listener he is hearing a big cone moving. To me, subwoofers often sound detached from the music, providing an accompanying thump that bears little relationship to the sound from the main speakers. Rather than revealing the music's harmonic underpinnings, subwoofers often obscure them in a thick morass of featureless boom. In addition, adding a subwoofer often destroys the qualities of the main speakers that made you buy them in the first placejust to name a few of my observations (footnote 1).
Velodyne introduced their series II subwoofer line in the fall of 1988, and it seems timely to review their largest, most powerful unit, the ULD-18. As the line's flagship, this Velodyne subwoofer represents the most sophisticated and expensive system offered by the company. It is sold as a system, complete with driver, enclosure, amplifier, control unit, electronic crossover, and servo cable and circuitry. Velodyne's unique servo circuitry, manufacturing techniques, and aggressive sales technique emanate from the company's designer, David Hall.