It's been five years since David Wilson's X-1/Grand SLAMM speaker system invaded our audio consciousness with its 500W power capacity and very high (95dB/W) sensitivity (footnote 1). Capable of an earsplitting 123dB at 1m, with a bandwidth to match, this was one speaker system that refused to be ignored. The X-1 has since evolved to $70,000/pair Mk.II form. It now provides some flexibility of tonal balance for different room acoustics, and is distinguished by greater subtlety in its differentiation of timbre. Beneath the X-1 in Wilson's range comes the WATT/Puppy ensemble, now in its 5.1 iteration (footnote 2). The WATT/Puppy has survived for over 10 years, and sets a benchmark for the Wilson line at its $17,270 system price.
How can a reviewer possibly put a value on a loudspeaker as costly as the Wilson Audio Specialties X-1/Grand SLAMM? When he reviewed Wilson's WATT 3/Puppy 2 system ($12,900-$16,000/pair, depending on finish) a few years back (footnote 1), John Atkinson said that it was "one of the more expensive loudspeakers around." The Grand SLAMM costs almost five times as much!
Over the years as a reviewer, I have tracked the swings of opinion and popularity of various audio ideas and technologies. Amid a sea of advanced designs that achieve powerful technical performance and laudable specifications, I'm reminded of a major blind listening test of 18 power amplifiers that I set up for the long-since-defunct UK magazine Hi-Fi for Pleasure back in 1975. We had "advanced technology" then: the transistor amplifier had matured and was well accepted by audiophiles. Prices of the review samples ranged from $300 to $3000 (equivalent to $1000-$10,000 in today's dollars). The auditioning sessions were graced by the presence of many industry leaders, among them the late Spencer Hughes of Spendor, Julian Vereker of Naim, Philip Swift then of Audiolab, Alan Harris then of retailer Audio T., Bob Stuart of Meridian, and John Wright of IMF (now TDL in the UK).
Latest and largest in Krell's current range of power amplifiers, the 600Wpc, $12,500 Full Power Balanced 600 joins the 300Wpc FPB 300 ($9000) and the 200Wpc (originally 150Wpc) FPB 200 ($5900). All are single-box stereo chassis and are specified as "Full Power Balanced"—I think to distinguish the essence of these designs from ordinary stereo amplifiers operated in balanced-bridged mode, usually with impaired performance. The FPB 600's speaker output is balanced; ie, neither "positive" or negative" terminals are connected to ground or the amplifier chassis. (Note that no speaker switches or headphone adaptors, which often have joined channel grounds, may be used, as they will short the outputs.) The output terminals are electrically at 0V, but float above the chassis ground.
Is Krell risking its reputation? With the KAV-300i, an integrated amplifier that was originally envisaged as an export model, but for which home demand is clearly increasing, the Connecticut-based amplifier manufacturer is dabbling in low-cost territory. Previous Krell amplifiers have been known for their prodigious drive capability. Time and time again, it is found that the true measure of the bass performance of a big speaker isn't realized until a Krell power amplifier is brought into service. But how could an amplifier with a meaty 150Wpc specification and full remote control be built to sell for just $2350.
In the audio field, the British have traditionally thought "small," scoring hits both with their compact loudspeakers and with medium-priced amplifiers. The continued growth of the audiophile speaker market in the US, however, which favors larger loudspeakers, has at the same time stimulated the research and design of more powerful, excellent quality amplifiers. In their turn, these have placed increased demands on the speakers they drive.
Sonus Faber provides a fascinating and challenging insight into the art of high-quality sound reproduction. This Italian company makes two costly two-way stand-mounted speakers that couldn't be more different from each other.
Sonus Faber was founded in 1981 by Franco Serblin. Real wood has always featured strongly in the construction of this company's evolving range of costly, compact loudspeaker systems (footnote 1). The first was called the Parva, now in its FM4 form. This was followed by the Minima, a Tablette-sized model. The upmarket Electa came through in the last few years, followed by the Amator-Electa. This series increases in size and weight with each new introduction—for example, the Minima weighed 6kg, the Electa 12kg, the latest Extrema a massive 40kg or 88 lbs.
Although I still haven't been able to listen to the Cary Audio Design 805 single-ended tube monoblocks that Stereophile praised so highly a year ago (Vol.17 No.1, p.104), I've recently auditioned many other tubed single-ended designs. Undeniably, a good SE design has a distinctive quality of harmony and atmosphere in the midrange that reaches well beyond the average attainment of its solid-state brethren.