I once got a fortune cookie that read, "Ask and ye shall receive. This includes trouble." A few years back, shopping for speakers, I inquired about reviewing the B&W Nautilus 802, but it was too soon after Wes Phillips had reviewed the Nautilus 801 for Stereophile. So, other auditioning and reviewing (and buying) other speakers, I asked again, and again was met with deferral. Recently, out of the blue, B&W offered the Nautilus 802—then, in the next breath, asked if I'd rather have the Signature 800s.
What could be easier to review than a power amplifier? No features or functions aside from inputs, outputs, and a power switch. So when Jonathan Scull asked if I could help out by taking on the Rotel RB 1080, which another reviewer hadn't been able to get to, I accepted the assignment. Before I could click my heels and say "FedEx!" twice, Rotel's 200Wpc RB 1080 had appeared.
I anticipated the installation of the TacT Audio RCS 2.0 room-correction processor with mixed emotions—I already liked my system and room, and such a device threatened to make all my studied efforts trivial. What if one might use any decent amps and speakers, cables that were merely conductive, and no room treatment at all? And what if, on top of that, you could just put them wherever your significant other thought they looked right? What if all the magic you needed was contained in this box? Scary.
I have been a proponent of methodical modeling and room analysis as aids in setting up audio systems and rooms. They work hand in hand: Modeling predicts a feasible room arrangement, and analysis, along with careful listening, determines how close the outcome is to that predicted. Of course, there should always be another round of modeling to see if the current setup can be improved with more work. The spiral continues, toward, one hopes, perfection.
Listening to multichannel music with the new SACD and DVD-Audio players has produced equal parts contentment and consternation. The contentment is easy to understand: Here are media that can reproduce music with better-than-CD resolution and, for the first time, re-create a believable illusion of the entire acoustic space in which the performance was recorded. The consternation is related to those same two issues: 1) maintaining the resolution and tonal balance relished with high-quality stereo, and 2) making the psychological transition from two-channel to multichannel listening. Both of these are barriers to audiophile acceptance of multichannel music.
In my February 2000 review of Meridian's multi-talented, multichannel, multi-kilobuck Digital Theatre system, I fumed about the lack of a medium for discrete multichannel music. Even more loudly, I railed against the irresponsible mastering of many Dolby Digital and DTS discs, which place the listener in the middle of an ensemble and swirl the voices around his or her head with little concern for musical or artistic coherence.
The word on Bel Canto's upsampling DAC was already out when I visited their room at the 2000 Consumer Electronics Show looking to get one of the first samples. But despite my protestations, all Bel Canto's Mike McCormick wanted to talk about was their company's new digital amp, the eVo 200.2. Sure, there's a future out there in which all sources will be digital and D/A conversion will occur in the speaker (or later?). But today, I see no practical advantage in a digital amplifier with only an analog input. It may be more efficient and it may be new technology, but the amplifier has got to stand on the same footing as any analog design and justify its existence by the way it sounds. The eVo did make a good case for itself at the demo, so I signed up to get one for review.
I've been attending the annual Consumer Electronics Show for years, and usually come away with the impression that there are too many "me-too" products. I see a numbing similarity of approach of manufacturers within a chosen discipline: solid-state power amps in black and silver bristling with heatsinks, single-ended triode amps with their glow reflecting from bronze or wood panels, MCPU/DSP-centered devices with sleek, flat cases and intimidating remote controls, etc.