In the ongoing debacle that has been the introduction and promotion of high-resolution digital audio and the record industry's struggles to engage the public's interest in it, two recent events stand out.
How much amplifier power do you need? Most audiophiles figure a maximum of a few hundred watts per channel—beyond that, you're wasting your money or showing off. Others think that anything more than a few watts will mess up an amplifier's musical coherence or "purity," so they stop there and find uncommonly sensitive speakers, usually compression horns with cone woofers.
Audiophile eyes usually roll when a manufacturer describes a loudspeaker as a "genuine musical instrument." Musical instruments have specific characteristics of pitch and timbre. Ideally, a loudspeaker should be a portal to the music; the speaker itself should be neutral in pitch and timbre—in other words, the opposite of a musical instrument. That the sound produced should be "musical" is a different argument.
With the introduction of the 1000 Be series in 2005, Focal slipped its exclusive, high-performance beryllium tweeter out of the stuffy-looking Utopia series and into a sleeker, more stylish, more modern form.
With the introduction of the NHB-108 stereo amplifier, Swiss-based darTZeel quickly established a reputation for pristine, hand-built quality, fanciful industrial design, and elegant circuitry—all accompanied by a healthy jolt of sticker shock. (See John Marks' coverage in his September 2003 "Fifth Element" column, followed by Wes Phillips' full review in April 2005 .) The 100Wpc (into 8 ohms) NHB-108 costs more than $18,000. A lot of change for not a lot of power, but the reviews were unanimous in praising the amp's exceptional sound quality.
The devil's in the details, so here's one detail you should know going in: The El Diablo, a deceptively modest-looking, casket-like, compact, three-way loudspeaker from Danish firm Peak Consult, will cost you a penny less than $65,000/pair. Why? Yes, the dollar's continued slide has alarmingly driven up the price of imported audio gear, but even so...
These are great times for analog, and I'm happy to have played a small part in the revival, but recently the demand for some products has outstripped supply; getting review samples has been next to impossible. I've requested an Audio Research PH7 phono preamplifier for literally years now, but ARC can't build them fast enough, so they don't need a review. The more they sell, the greater the buzz, and the greater the buzz, the more e-mails I get from readers asking for a review. It's not nice to not be needed.
Almost immediately on entering the analog marketplace in 1982, Franc Kuzma, a mechanical engineer based in Slovenia, then part of the former Yugoslavia, established a reputation for manufacturing finely engineered, high-performance products that sold at reasonable prices. Kuzma's early industrial designs, however, while serviceable, looked less than distinguished.
Back in 2000, when Lyra introduced the Helikon moving-coil cartridge, which replaced the then six-year-old Clavis D.C., the company inexplicably retained the Clavis D.C.'s retail price of $2000. This was inexplicable because the Helikon's revolutionary design was new from the ground up, and because audiophiles—like most, if not all, consumers—perceive price to be a reflection of quality and performance.
Simaudio's Moon LP5.3 MM/MC phono preamplifier ($1400) is silly good! It has single-ended RCA inputs and both single-ended and true balanced-differential outputs. It also offers a wide range of adjustments for gain (54, 60, and 66dB), resistive loading (10, 100, 470, 1k, and 47k ohms), and capacitive loading (0, 100, and 470pF), all accomplished via a series of internally mounted jumper banks. You can even choose RIAA or IEC equalization. Removing the top plate to get to the adjustments reveals boards filled with high-quality parts for the well-isolated power-supply and signal-handling circuits.