It has been a disrupted spring. Late last year, my wife and I committed ourselves to a long-needed renovation of our main living space: an apartment in Manhattan. Articles, books, and TV shows have illuminated the trials and triumphs of home renovation, but as far as I know, none has included a redo of the listening room of an obsessive audiophile, let alone one who is also an audio writer facing copy deadlines.
For some time now I've wanted to upgrade my weekend system in Connecticut, and have been surveying three-way floorstanding speakers priced below about $2500/pair. I've focused on the stereo performance of each pair with music because, despite my interest in surround sound, the great majority of recordings are available only in two-channel stereo. Not wanting to look like a Bowers & Wilkins fanboymy main system has long included their 800-series speakersI put off auditioning B&W's 683 S2. But my goal was to get the best bang for my buck and with the 683 S2 costing $1650/pair, it would foolish to be influenced by such extraneous considerations. Besides, the 683 S2's three-way design and physical proportions were precisely what I was looking for.
It seems that the rising popularity of downloading of music files is going to affect not only the distribution of high-resolution recordings but also the availability of multichannel recordings. Once freed from the technical, marketing, and distribution constraints of physical media, large hi-rez and/or multichannel files can more easily be made available. The established providers of music downloads, such as Acoustic Sounds, HDtracks, and iTrax in the US, are being joined by: sites that specialize in particular genres of music, such as the Classical Shop (UK); other sites, that focus on particular formats, such as Native DSD Music (Netherlands) and the Promates Music Store (DXD files, Denmark); and music producers, such as Blue Coast Music and the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO.org), that offer their work directly to listeners.
Readers of Stereophile need no introduction to Bryston, a venerable Canadian electronics manufacturer known for the quality and reliability of its amplifiers and preamplifiers, and for its unique 20-year warranty. In the past few years, Bryston has ventured into digital audio with notable success, producing D/A converters, multichannel preamplifier-processors, and music-file players. While an evolution from analog into digital audio would seem logical, their most recent expansion, into loudspeakers, is more surprising. Apparently, James Tanner, Bryston's vice president, designed a speaker for his own use, and it turned out well enough that the company decided to put it into production.
While Dolby Atmos, which adds height information to both cinema soundtracks and domestic surround-sound reproduction has created a strong buzz in the mainstream market for home-theater A/V receivers and preamplifier-processors, it's too early to know what, if any, impact it will have on music-only recordings. I'm not sanguine about the prospectsas impressive as I've found Atmos to be for movies, the expansion of sources to the vertical plane would seem to be of little value for music performed on acoustic instruments. Moreover, it seems unlikely that mainstream record labels will adopt this format any more than they have embraced multichannel or even high-resolution audio. Sound of CD quality or below still dominates the recording industry, even if hi-rez downloads are a bright but tiny point of light.
Manley Labs' Evanna Manley was deeply involved in discussion so I asked around about what new amps/preamps are showing. The answer was that, since there were no new products being introduced, they decided to present their current offerings to emphasize their aesthetics by having them framed and hung. Point taken. Picture taken.
Dynaudio North America's Michael Manousselis was proudly demonstrating the Danish parent company's Contour S 3.4 LE speakers with the new Octave V 110 integrated amplifier ($8000), a fixed-bias pentode design that has been optimized specifically for the KT120 tube. Features include wideband output transformers while utilizing soft-start circuitry, extensive monitoring and protection circuitry, as well as an energy-saving EcoMode feature.
While his multipurpose integrated amp lurked in the background, I took immediate notice of Dan D'Agostino's hulky 6U form-factor multichannel amplifier, the Cinema Standard. Available with two ($12,000) and three ($15,000) channels, it offers 250Wpc into 8ohms and doubles down to 500 into 4 and 1000 into 2, at 0.1% total harmonic distortion! Now that's dynamic headroom.
I visited the Burson room because I retain a strange interest in this Australian company’s innovative discrete op-amp modules even though I am long past my DIY years. (JA has a pair of Burson's op-amp modules in for evaluation.)
The big news at Ayre is that the standing range of "5"-series components is being upgraded to "The Twenty Editions," which incorporate the circuit and performance facilities of the well-received flagship KX-R Twenty, MX-R Twenty and VX-R Twenty.