Best known for its omnidirectional loudspeakers, the German manufacturer mbl also produces three complete lines of high-performance electronics that, despite being large and built to jewel-like perfection, are sometimes lost in the shadow cast by the dramatic-looking—and -sounding—Radialstrahler 101E, which I reviewed in October 2004.
Still burning in my bank of childhood memories are misty images of the glowing green lettering on the McIntosh tube preamps and tuners that populated the windows of the audio stores that once lined lower Manhattan's Cortlandt Street. Leonard's and most of those other retailers are long gone—as are most of the audio brands that shared their windows with McIntosh, and that once symbolized the might of American innovation and manufacturing. Even the World Trade Center, the controversial complex that replaced Cortlandt Street's "Radio Row," where the hi-fi industry was born, is tragically gone.
Record playback could have been designed to go from the inside out instead of the other way around. With most pieces of music ending louder than they started, doesn't it make more sense to end the side at the widest circumference, longest wavelength, least congested part of the groove spiral? Compact discs read from the center hole out, and they don't even have to.
There is a sweet spot in any manufacturer's lineup where minimum price and maximum performance meet. More expensive products in the line may offer higher fidelity, but the cost may not be commensurate with the improvement. For instance, VPI's HRX and Super Scoutmaster turntables cost more than their standard Scoutmaster model, and they perform better—but for my money, the sweet spot of VPI's line is the standard Scoutmaster, with or without such options as the outer clamp and Signature tonearm.
I told a friend that I'd received a pair of Vienna Acoustics' new Beethoven Concert Grand loudspeakers for review. "They're designed more for music lovers than for audiophiles," he said. I can't imagine a more damning statement—about audiophiles.
In this hobby, nothing's for nothing. To get that gorgeous midrange, with its harmonic depth and inner detail, tube-amp enthusiasts are willing to give up some things in the bass. Tube folks put up with heat and occasional maintenance—routine or otherwise. To get the ideal middle, fans of single-ended triodes are even willing to shave off considerable dynamic range and settle for ultra-efficient speakers that often have limited response at the frequency extremes. Those who say nothing is lost by preferring tubes are in denial.
It was my hunt for new and interesting-looking turntables at the 2004 Consumer Electronics Show that introduced me to the loudspeakers from DeVore Fidelity. In the Glass Amplifier room I spied a Teres turntable with a Darth Vader-ish look and sat down to listen. From a pair of nondescript, two-way, floorstanding speakers so small they were almost lost in the room, came surprisingly present, full-bodied, and notably coherent music. Their sound so far exceeded my low expectations that I exclaimed, "What are those?! Whoever designed them sure knows what he's doing!"
Wilson Audio Specialties' David Wilson likes to say that you should build a stereo system from the speakers down. Of course he does—he sells speakers. But that doesn't mean he's wrong. So recently, when offered an inexpensive new product for review, I decided it would be a good test of Wilson's theory. I tried driving Wilson's $45,000/pair MAXX2 speakers with Outlaw Audio's RR2150, a $599 stereo receiver.
Part New Jersey diner, part Wurlitzer jukebox, with a snakelike tonearm that at certain angles looks vaguely lewd, this boxy, man-sized creation from Australia seems to have been built around its distinctive looks rather than for any functional purpose. Combine that with its sky-high price—itself almost obscene—and the result is apparently the sort of product that envious, cynical, self-loathing audiophiles love to hate, and reviewers love to write about.
Not every audiophile needs an amplifier powerful enough to tax a small town's power grid while simultaneously draining his or her bank account. So, having quickly sold out of its ultra-limited-edition, extravagantly powered and priced combo of kWp preamplifier ($14,995) and kW power amp ($27,995) that I reviewed in January 2004, Musical Fidelity (footnote 1) set about capitalizing on the enthusiastic reviews earned by those giants with less expensive, less powerful, "real-world" replacements.