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John Atkinson Posted: Sep 29, 2015 3 comments
Perhaps because I grew up in post-WWII England, with austerity and food rationing the norm, I learned at an early age the value of frugality. It was a financial stretch for me to buy, in the late 1960s, my first real audio system: Garrard SP25 turntable with Audio-Technica cartridge, Kenwood integrated amplifier, Wharfedale Super Linton speakers. Even when I could afford to upgrade the system, other than replacing the Garrard with a Thorens TD 150 and the Audio-Technica with a Shure, I went the DIY route. Back then, in the early '70s, I assumed that the advent of op-amp chips like the Fairchild Semiconductor µA741 would make it possible for me to design and make, for example, a good-sounding preamplifier for a lot less than it cost to buy one from an established manufacturer. That assumption turned out to be wrong, of course, but frugality was, by then, a habit: too ingrained for me to shake entirely.
John Atkinson Posted: Sep 03, 2015 15 comments
I got an early start on computer audio. At the end of the last century I was using WinAmp with first a CardDeluxe PCI soundcard, then a similar card from RME, to play files on a Windows PC. After I became a MacPerson, I used FireWire audio interfaces from pro-audio company Metric Halo and an inexpensive USB-connected ADC/DAC from M-Audio. But it was with the USB version of Benchmark's DAC 1 that the computer began taking over from physical discs for my music listening. At first I used iTunes au naturel, but as I acquired more high-resolution files, I began using Pure Music to handle all the tedious audio housekeeping, assigning as a dedicated music server a G4 Mac mini I'd bought in 2006.
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John Atkinson Posted: Aug 28, 2015 8 comments
Photo: Stephen Mejias

We were saddened to hear of the death of loudspeaker designer Bobby Palkovic, apparently by his own hand. We had published positive reviews of Bobby's Merlin speakers, including one of his VSM Millennium design and the VSM-MX at Following is the news posted to Facebook by Bobby's friend, Rich Brkich of audio retailer Signature Sound...

John Atkinson Posted: Aug 27, 2015 2 comments
Danish manufacturer GamuT Audio's patchy history in the US includes a succession of distributors that failed to establish the brand here. But in 2014 GamuT tapped Michael Vamos to spearhead their own US-based distribution company, which is now energetically promoting the company's products. That change coincided with my auditioning, at the 2014 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, of GamuT's two-and-a-half-way RS5 tower loudspeaker ($31,900/pair). I was sufficiently impressed that I asked to review it—but then, at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show, I experienced the RS7. This was the GamuT speaker I wanted to spend some time with, and at the end of March, GamuT's R&D manager, Benno Meldgaard, joined Michael Vamos in setting up a pair of RS7s in my listening room.
John Atkinson Posted: Jul 23, 2015 8 comments
Of the hundreds of product reviews I have written over the years, it is perhaps those of power amplifiers that present the hardest task in defining their worth. This is not because power amps are unimportant. As I wrote in my review of the MBL Corona C15 monoblock, in June 2014, "it is the power amplifier that is responsible for determining the character of the system's sound, because it is the amplifier that must directly interface with the loudspeakers. The relationship between amplifier and loudspeaker is complex, and the nature of that relationship literally sets the tone of the sound quality." But because the amplifier's role is so fundamental, it can at first be difficult to determine a given amp's balance of virtues and failings. A paradox.
John Atkinson Posted: Jun 11, 2015 1 comments
Aurender was a name new to me when I encountered the company at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show, where they displayed a range of music servers designed in California and manufactured in South Korea. But what caught my attention in Aurender's suite was their Flow portable D/A headphone amplifier ($1295). This handsome, battery-powered device, housed in a machined aluminum case about twice the size of a pack of playing cards, offers optical S/PDIF and USB 2.0/3.0 input ports and a single ¼" stereo headphone jack. Two features distinguish the Flow from the pack: Its USB input can be used with iOS (iPhone/iPad) and Android smartphone sources, and it can accept an mSATA drive (not included in price) of up to 1TB capacity for internal storage of audio files. Visually, the Flow's distinguishing feature is its round LCD display, which stands proud of the faceplate; the bezel encircling the display acts as a velocity-sensitive volume control operating in 0.5dB steps.
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John Atkinson Posted: Jun 09, 2015 Published: Jan 01, 1995 2 comments
It was with regret that I heard John Ulrick had passed away on May 20, 2015 due to complications from cancer. With Arnie Nudell and Cary Christie, John was one of the founders of loudspeaker manufacturer Infinity, a company that, with Audio Research, Magnepan, Mark Levinson, and Threshold, epitomized the nascent High End that emerged in the early 1970s. After leaving Infinity, John Ulrick started Spectron, to manufacture class-D amplifiers.

Just by chance, I met with the John Ulrick, in Los Angeles in late 1987, when he was doing some design consultancy on a switch-mode power amplifier to be used with the Sumo Samson subwoofer. As I had my Walkman Pro with me, I took the opportunity to tape some background from John about the birth of Infinity and about switching/pulse-width-modulated/class-D amplifiers—boy, can this man talk about switching amplifiers! The natural kickoff question was, How did Infinity get going?

John Atkinson Posted: May 28, 2015 8 comments
The story's been often told: 30 years ago, British speaker manufacturer KEF was asked to design a small, spherical loudspeaker that could be used in a European project to research room acoustics. The speaker had to have wide, even dispersion, so KEF's solution was to mount the tweeter coaxially, on what would have been the woofer's dustcap. That "point source" drive-unit, called the Uni-Q, began appearing in KEF's commercial speaker models in 1989, starting with the Reference 105/3—but it wasn't until the appearance of KEF's 50th-anniversary loudspeaker, the LS50, which I reviewed in December 2012, that I felt that the Uni-Q drive-unit had fully fulfilled its promise, at least in a speaker I had auditioned in my own room.
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John Atkinson Posted: Apr 15, 2015 Published: May 01, 2015 109 comments
I write this in a Seattle coffee bar—my flight home to New York has been canceled due to a snowstorm. As I try to put down these thoughts, I'm listening to the high-resolution masters of the April issue's "Recording of the Month," Sasha Matson's jazz opera Cooperstown, on my Pono player using Ultimate Ears UE18 in-ear monitors. I was in Seattle for Music Matters 10, held by retailer Definitive Audio, and this was my first road trip with the Pono since I reviewed it for the April issue. (Bruce Botnick and Charles Hansen comment on that review elsewhere in this issue.)
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John Atkinson Posted: Apr 08, 2015 Published: Sep 01, 1984 4 comments
As reported by Michael Fremer on, legendary mastering engineer and co-founder of Sheffield Lab, Doug Sax, passed away on April 2. Doug had been suffering from cancer and would have been 79 on April 26.

Coincidentally, we had just posted J. Gordon Holt's October 1982 review of the Sheffield Track Record, which Doug had cut direct-to-disc. This reminded me that Robert Harley had interviewed Doug in the October 1989 issue of Stereophile; rereading that interview reminded me that in September 1984, I had published an interview with Doug in the magazine Hi-Fi News, which I edited at that time.

So, in tribute to Doug, here is my 1984 interview, reprinted with the kind permission of Hi-Fi News editor Paul Miller.—John Atkinson


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