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John Atkinson Posted: Feb 29, 2008 Published: Mar 29, 1990 0 comments
According to the conventional wisdom, companies selling consumer products fall into two categories: those whose sales are "marketing-led" and those whose sales are "product-led." Marketing-led companies tend to sell mature products into a mature market where there are no real differences between competing products—soap powder, mass-market beer, or cigarettes, for example—whereas product-led companies tend to sell new technologies, such as personal computers and high-end hi-fi components. In the audio separates market, conventional wisdom would have a hard time categorizing any individual company: no matter which you choose, it would be simplistic to say that it is either product- or marketing-led. No matter how good the product, without good marketing the manufacturer stands little chance of success; a poor product superbly marketed may make a company successful overnight, but that success will have hit the end stops by the following night.
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John Atkinson Posted: Feb 24, 2008 Published: Nov 05, 1987 0 comments
Scene the First. You are sitting in a concert hall, dead center, row M; the cellist walks on to the stage, sits down and starts to play the prelude to the first of Bach's solo cello suites, that intricate unfolding of a rhapsodic melodic line within the tight framework of an implied chordal structure. Melody, harmony, rhythm—none exist at any one point of time in this most exquisite of Bach's solo instrumental writing, yet the skill of the composer, coupled with the artistry of the musician, allow you to perceive the abstract as reality.
John Atkinson Posted: Feb 17, 2008 0 comments
After reviewing a long series of minimonitors, I am now working on what may well be an equally varied selection of large floorstanding loudspeakers. This trend began with my review of the Sonus Faber Cremona Elipsa in the December 2007 issue, and continues this month with the Series 2 version of the KEF Reference 207, until recently the flagship model from this English manufacturer (footnote 1). I reviewed the original Reference 207 in February 2003, and was very impressed by what I heard.
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John Atkinson Posted: Feb 13, 2008 0 comments
"Where did the music go?" I remember vividly the crestfallen looks on the faces of the listeners when, at the demonstrations I did at last October's Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, I played the MP3.
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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 27, 2008 Published: Jun 01, 1987 0 comments
Enid Lumley accosted me in the corridors of Santa Monica's BayView Plaza Hotel in March: "That doesn't sound like a real piano!" I was taken aback. The sound to which the redoubtable Ms. Lumley was referring emanated from a 7' Steinway we had hired for James Boyk to play at the Stereophile show. Jim was conducting a series of tutorials on how the sound of a real piano is constituted, so Enid's criticism, on the face of things, seemed absurd. As my face obviously showed this conclusion, she hastily explained that, of course it was a real piano, but the fact that it overloaded the 40-seat room in which it was being played caused it to sound different from the sound of a real piano played in a concert hall. To lead visitors to the show to expect piano records to sound similar to what Jim was producing was dishonest.
John Atkinson Posted: Jan 18, 2008 0 comments
In his July 2003 "The Fifth Element" column, John Marks enthusiastically wrote about the Benchmark Media Systems DAC1 D/A processor and headphone amplifier. Comparing its sound playing CDs with that of a three-times-more-expensive Marantz SA-14 SACD player, he concluded that the DAC 1's "Red Book" performance was at least as good as that of the Marantz, being "slightly more articulate in the musical line, and slightly more detailed in spatial nuances, particularly the localization of individual images in space, and in soundstage depth."
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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 14, 2008 0 comments
As I wrote in this space last month, test-equipment manufacturer Audio Precision has loaned Stereophile a sample of their top-of-the-line SYS2722 system, which has both significantly greater resolution and greater bandwidth than the Audio Precision System One Dual Domain we have been using since 1989. The reviews you can read in this issue include the first measurements I have performed with this impressive piece of gear, though there are still a number of graphs I produced using our System One. In fact, with the equipment I tested using the SYS2722, I performed duplicate sets of measurements using both the System One and the Miller Audio Research QC Suite in order to get a handle on how close the three systems agreed. (They did on the tests where the SYS2722's improved resolution was not a factor.)
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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 13, 2008 3 comments
The Benchmark DAC1 D/A headphone amplifier has long been our affordable digital recommendation, both in its original form ($975) or with an additional USB data input ($1275, reviewed in the January issue of Stereophile). The DAC1 looked a little different when I went into the Benchmark room at the THE Show; "That's because you're looking at the new DAC1 PRE," explained Rory Rall. The NY company has added a pair of single-ended analog inputs so that the DAC1 can act as the system preamp. It still has digital inputs, of course, though the AES/EBU XLR had to be omitted to make the rear-panel real estate available for the analog inputs. A switch scrolls between the four digital inputs, the USB computer input, and the analog input. The DAC1 PRE is expected to begin shipping in February 2008 and will retail for $1575.
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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 13, 2008 5 comments
In their suite at the Mirage, Nagra introduced the VPS (Valve Phono Stage), shown here under the Swiss company’s well-regarded PL-L line preamplifier. The front-panel switch selects between A and B inputs and mute, while the rear panel features two sets of inputs and outputs and an output level switch. The A inputs accommodate MC cartridges, while the optional B input can be set for either MM or MC operation. Capacitive and resistive loading can be changed with modules that plug into the pcb close to the input connectors. The MC circuit is based on high-quality transformers wound in-house by Nagra, followed by gain and RIAA stages using ECC81 and ECC83 tubes. The RIAA equalization can be set with internal jumpers either to the 1953 standard or to the 1976 standard. The circuit boards are mounted on compliant supports, to minimize microphony and the power supply is housed in a separate chassis. Unusually, the output can be taken either directly from the tube stage or via a solids-state buffer.
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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 13, 2008 1 comments
At a press conference on the first day of CES, TEAC Esoteric launched a new range of source components. That was expected. But what was not expected was Esoteric's manager of overseas sales, Kazutaka Tsuda (above), introducing a new monoblock tube amplifier, the AT-100. Using KT88s in its output stage, the 50Wpc Esoteric amp features a new variable bias system and an output transformer using specially treated copper foil as the secondary winding to give the best coupling from the primary. The heaters of the input and driver tubes are DC-powered, to give the lowest noise; in fact, Esoteric claims the AT-100 is extremely quiet, despite its all-tube design. While it was designed as a power amplifier, a rear-panel switch, in conjunction with a volume control knob on its front panel, turns the AT-100 into an integrated, with three RCA inputs ands one XLR. Price will be $18,500.

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