Following my review of two high-performance minimonitors last November (footnote 1), I received a letter asking why I recommended a stand-mounted speaker at all when it was possible to buy a floorstanding design with more bass for the same amount of money. Furthermore, the correspondent went on, when you consider that the minimonitor sitting on its stand occupies as much floorspace as the floorstander, it's hard to see why a market for minimonitors exists at all.
The inspiration for this project came from Stereophile's Gretchen Grogan and Erich Vollmer of the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. Music Festivals are perhaps the healthiest aspect of classical music making, allowing ad hoc ensembles to chart the farthest reaches of the repertoire, as well as retracing the familiar ground of the great works. Why not, they thought, capture a representative selection of works performed at the 1995 Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival? This would not only document some of the great performances to be heard, but also allow music lovers everywhere to participate in what has increasingly been recognized as one of the US's best summer music festivals.
As I write these words, it's the height of the fall catalog season in the Atkinson household. Whole old-growth forests must have died to ensure the everyday stuffed state of our mailbox, which adds to the sense of guilt I feel as I pitch the offenders into the trash without even giving their insides a passing glance. But there are three catalogs I do look forward to receiving, that I read from cover to cover, that I deface with multicolored Post-It notes. The Audio Advisor catalog is, of course, a no-brainer for an audiophile. But the Griot's Garage and Levenger catalogs get equal billing from me. For both offer tools (used in the widest sense of the word) that appear to have been designed by people who actually use tools, who appear to care about quality, and who appear to feel that a product that breaks while it is being used for its intended task is an offense against God (footnote 1).
The High End is a tidily ordered world. There are CD players, transports, and processors used to play stereo recordings and drive stereo preamplifiers. There are stereo or mono amplifiers used to drive a pair of speakers. And then there is the British high-end company Meridian, run by one J. Robert Stuart, one of audio's deeper thinkers and a Fellow of the Audio Engineering Society. Meridian does it their way. They put their amplifiers inside their speakers. Heck, Meridian even puts their D/A processors inside their speakers when they can. And two speakers to play back stereo recordings? Meridian believes in re-creating the original soundfield no matter how many speakers and channels it takes to do it right. And they do it sufficiently successfully that their Digital Theatre system, which does all of the above, was one of Stereophile's joint Home Theater products of 1995. [See also the 2000 review of their Series 800 Digital Theatre.—Ed.]
The quest for a full-range electrostatic loudspeaker has occupied many engineers' minds for many years. The problems are manifold: large physical size (which can lead to room placement problems and poor dispersion), the difficulty of achieving high sound pressure levels, the need for a potentially sound-degrading step-up transformer, and the unsuitability for production-line manufacture. Even so, the potential rewards are so great that one can understand why loudspeaker designers keep on attempting the apparently impossible. Epoch-making models do appear at infrequent intervals, keeping the flame burning since the appearance of the original Quad in 1955: Acoustat, Sound Lab, and Beveridge in the US, Stax in Japan, Audiostatic in Holland, Quad, of course, in England, and now MartinLogan.
As someone who started out as a classically trained musician but who then stepped sideways into rock, I'm fascinated by the one music I've never played: jazz. It seems to me that the essential difference between a performance of a classical work and a jazz performance is that in the former, the musicians use their technique to breathe life into dead notes on a page, while in good jazz, the performer not only applies a similar level of technical expertise, but also has simultaneously to have all of music theory at the fingertips in order to decide what the next note should be. It is a rare musician---Keith Jarrett, for example---who can excel in both arenas.
Combine an electrostatic panel to reproduce music's midrange and treble with a moving-coil woofer for the bass foundation. For decades, this has seemed the ideal way of designing a loudspeaker: Each type of drive-unit is used in the frequency region for which its performance is optimized. The resulting hybrid should sing like an angel.
"The only tubes that I want to see in my household are...the picture tube in my TV and the magnetron in the microwave oven," a Glendale, CA, reader recently wrote, and I guess his feelings reflect those of many when confronted by a supposedly "obsolete" audio technology. Forty years after the invention of the transistor and 20 after the widespread introduction of solid-state amplifiers (footnote 1), it must come as a shock to readers of the mass-market "slicks" that not only do a number of American manufacturers manufacture amplifiers and preamplifiers using tubes, but some of those companies—Counterpoint and Audio Research in particular—are among the more successful. It is the Classic 60 power amplifier from Minnesota-based Audio Research that is the subject of this month's lead-off equipment review.
"Who Stole The Bass?" asked Anthony H. Cordesman, writing about minimonitors in the April/May 1987 Stereophile (Vol.10 No.3). And for the designer of a box loudspeaker, the fundamental design decision, at any price level, is how much bass extension to aim for. It will always be possible to design a speaker with extension down to 20Hz, but will the result be musically and commercially successful? Will the designer end up with a speaker hypertrophied in that one area at the expense of every other? Will, indeed, the result be feasible technically? For example, for a given cabinet volume, gains in low-frequency extension have to be balanced against corresponding drops in sensitivity, and it is quite possible that to go for 20Hz extension will result in a 60dB/W/m sensitivity, equating with a speaker that only plays extremely quietly, and thus of no use to anyone.