Overachievers tend to rankle people after a while. Musical Fidelity, a relatively small British company run by Antony Michaelson, has issued a stream of high-performance, high-value electronic products over the past few years, along with a limited-edition line of pricier designs based on the military-spec nuvistor vacuum tube. With few exceptions, Musical Fidelity products have garnered outstanding reviews worldwide, with consumer acceptance to match. Michaelson is also an accomplished clarinetist, recording and issuing classical-music CDs in his "spare" time.
The dCS Verdi/Purcell/Elgar system's ultra-high resolution and superb focus, and its ability to drive an amplifier directly, provided a good opportunity to compare my current reference cables, Harmonic Technology's Magic Woofer ($2000/8' set) and Pro-Silway II interconnects ($399/m pair, $240/add'l. meter) with Analysis Plus's far less expensive Solo Crystal Oval 8 speaker cable ($969/8' set) and Solo Crystal Oval 8 interconnect ($399/m, longer lengths available).
Well into dCS managing director Mike Story's attempted explanation of upsampling, there came an epic moment when the ever-expanding universe of his thoughts—which we had been following to new heights of digital enlightenment—broke free of our collective grip, snapped back on itself, and caused a conceptual implosion of nearly cataclysmic proportions. The blank, spent expressions on the faces of the journalists gathered in the small attic-like meeting room at dCS's Great Chesterford (UK) facility all seemed to say, "What the hell was that? Was it just me, or did you feel that too?"
At the 2003 Consumer Electronics Show in January—see the report in this issue—Sony and Philips held an SACD Event at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas. There were trippy lights. There were the Grand Pooh-Bahs of Sony, Philips, and the record labels. There was loud multichannel Big Brother and the Holding Company. And there was Sony's main SACD man in the US, David Kawakami, supplying the pep talk.
Dense, compact, and built to run O-rings around the competition, SME's flagship turntable makes every other design I've encountered—with the possible exception of Rockport's System III Sirius—look almost homemade. I don't mean to insult the many fine, well-engineered designs out there, but I've seen nothing else to compare with SME's tank-like approach to spinning a record. Comparing the Model 30/2 to a tank isn't exactly fair: the machining is done to higher than mil-spec tolerances. I don't think anyone else building turntables today is capable of this level of construction quality, never mind design ingenuity and fit'n'finish.
Thirty years ago, the upstart audio company NAD revolutionized the manufacturing of consumer-electronics components by "internationalizing" the process. Instead of physically making products, NAD hired a project team in one location to design a product that was then built at a sub-contracted factory located elsewhere. The arrangement allowed NAD to go into business with relatively little capital outlay and low overhead. Other companies have since copied this ingenious business model, and, as transportation and communication have improved, doing so has become easier and more efficient. It has brought prices down and quality up—mostly in the low and middle segments of the high-end audio and video markets.
Not for nothing did I name the Kharma-Lamm room at Home Entertainment 2002 the "Best Sound in Show." Show attendees slotted it 17th best [see September 2002, p.59—Ed.], behind other rooms to which I also gave high marks—mostly larger rooms featuring far bigger loudspeakers—but to me, the sound emanating from the Kharma Ceramique 3.2 ($19,000/pair), driven by Lamm electronics, possessed a sublime balance of sonic qualities heard in few other rooms.
In an ideal world, I'd have every phono section I've reviewed in the past 16 years on hand to compare with these three and with all that arrive in the future. But because I have a life, I don't, and I wouldn't even if I could, though some readers (and one retailer) have insisted that that's the only way that I could possibly be of any use to them. Ha! And for those who are concerned that I've neglected the Manley Steelhead, not so! It's still my reference.
Computers and vacuum tubes go together like Trent Lott and flyaway hair, right? The last time filaments glowed in computers was during the 1960s, when a computer was a building. I remember laughing at the ponytailed computer-science dweebs back then, who spent their college days playing nursemaid to a football field's worth of electronics capable of little more than adding two plus two. Chained to a computer half the day, as most of us now are, guess who had the last laugh?
How much fun can you have with an audio component? Fun for me is having a Nakamichi BX-300 analog cassette deck running into Musical Fidelity's evolutionary, revolutionary CD-Pre24 preamplifier, with the unit's digital output feeding the Alesis Masterlink hard-drive-based digital recorder, and being able to monitor the digital loop through the preamp once again in the analog domain.