John Atkinson

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John Atkinson Thomas J. Norton Posted: Nov 03, 2007 Published: Dec 03, 1986 0 comments
It was eight years ago that I first met Aalt Jouk van den Hul. I was visiting Ortofon in Denmark, and, with a group of hi-fi journalists from all over Europe, was traveling by bus to visit the cartridge-production facility in the far south of that country. Bus journeys are not my ideal way of passing time; naturally I gravitated to the rear of the bus, where bottles of Tuborg were making their presence felt. One journalist, however—a pixieish fellow hailing from The Low Countries—resisted the blandishments of the opened bottles. Producing a sheath of black-and-white glossies from his briefcase, he announced that he had just developed the ultimate stylus profile!
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John Atkinson Posted: Nov 03, 2007 Published: Sep 03, 1996 0 comments
In recent months, Stereophile's "Letters" column has been filled with complaints about the equipment we choose to review. "Too rich for my pocketbook" is the universal sentiment. This puzzles me, considering that Stereophile does review many "affordable" components. In part, I think this reaction is due to the high profile invariably associated with very expensive gear. Although we did put both speakers on our cover, one review of a Wilson Grand SLAMM or a JMlab Grand Utopia seems to outweigh 10 reviews of more realistically priced products. Our writers love to cover the cutting edge of audio—witness Martin Colloms's report from HI-FI '96 in this issue—because progress is more easily made when a designer is freed from budget constraints. But without the Grand SLAMM or Utopia, would Wilson have been able to produce the $9000/pair WITT, or JMlab the $900/pair Micron Carat, to name two high-value, high-performance designs recently reviewed in the magazine?
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John Atkinson Posted: Oct 28, 2007 0 comments
The invitation looked intriguing: "We are happy to welcome you to The Netherlands in September for the offical introduction of the Siltech Pantheon Loudspeaker." Siltech introducing a loudspeaker? I was well familiar with the Dutch company, celebrating its 25th anniversary next year, as a cable manufacturer. Indeed, some of the first high-end cables I had found to sound better than what I had been used to were Siltechs, back in the mid-1980s. Paul Bolin had been impressed by his auditioning of more recent G5 models in 2004. And Siltech's founder, Edwin van der Kley, is married to the irrepressible Gabi van der Kley, principal of Crystal Cable with whom I had had a rather intense breakfast meeting with during last May's Home Entertainment 2007. (All conversations with Gabi are intense.) But loudspeakers?
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John Atkinson Posted: Oct 21, 2007 0 comments
A Show like last week's Rocky Mountain Audio Fest presents me with conflicts. As a member of the press I should be spending my time covering the Show. However, I am also spending my time as a participant, in this case giving a series of presentations in which I allowed Showgoers the opportunity to listen to the hi-rez masters of many of my Stereophile recordings and compare them with CD and MP3 versions.
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John Atkinson Posted: Oct 16, 2007 4 comments
After hosting three hour-long seminars on Sunday (following five on Friday and Saturday), I spent the final hours of the 2007 RMAF racing around rooms I really wanted to hear before the Show closed at 4pm. At 4:30pm, I stopped by what would be my last room, the one featuring a new name to me, Salagar Speakers. This Illinois company is aiming high: its first product is a beautifully finished, physically large two-way active design, the Symphony S210, that combines a 1" soft-dome tweeter with a 10" woofer in an unusual curved enclosure. Power is provided by internal ICEpower class-D modules, and the integral X-ACT crossover operates in the digital domain and includes the facility to adjust the speaker's balance to cope with room acoustics problems. The Symphony S-210 costs $7,999/pair complete with crossover, and showed promise, even in the less-than-optimal hotel room.
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John Atkinson Posted: Oct 16, 2007 0 comments
After several years of collaboration with Lew Johnson and Bill Conrad with McCormack Audio, Steve McCormack went it alone a year or so back with SMc Audio. He was demming SMc's first product at RMAF, the $6800 VRE-1 line preamplifier ("VRE" stands for "Virtual Reality Engine"). The solid-state design uses Lundahl and Jensen coupling transformers and uses J-FETs in a zero-feedback circuit. Unusually, it dispenses with the otherwise ubiquitous solid-state voltage regulators in its power supply. Instead, it uses a choke-smoothed voltage rails, which Steve feels eliminates any trace of "transistor" sound. Next to come will be a matching phono stage.
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John Atkinson Posted: Oct 16, 2007 0 comments
The penultimate room I went into on the RMAF's final day was being shared by SMc Audio and Audience. I was assuming the latter company was demonstrating its well-reviewed AC conditioner and cables, which indeed it was. But I was not expecting to see and hear loudspeakers from the Californian company. The ClairAudient LSA 16 (LSA for "Line Source Array) was designed by the late Richard Smith, cofounder of Audience, and features 4, 8, 16, 24, or 32 50mm drive-units, used full-range, with no tweeters or crossover (something I have not seen since the Ted Jordan designs of the late 1970s). A separate subwoofer handles the low bass and with a very high claimed sensitivity, the ClairAudient design will produce very high spls in-room, but with great clarity. The sound of the 16-driver version in the RMAF room was a little lacking in top-octave air, but was otherwise very detailed. The rest of the system comprised a McCormack Audio UDP-1 universal player, McCormack monoblock power amps, and a preproduction example of Steve McCormack's new SMc VRE-1 line preamp.
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John Atkinson Posted: Oct 16, 2007 5 comments
Of the many speakers I have reviewed over the years, the one I now regret the most having had to return to the manufacturer was the mbl 111B. No other tweeter has so efforlessly floated high-frequency sounds into my listening room like the German manufacturer's unique, omnidirectional "Radialstrahler" design. At RMAF, mbl was demming the larger 101E speaker, which Michael Fremer reviewed in October 2004. The sounds of Brian Bromberg's solo double bass on "Come Together" and Nils Lofgren's Ovation guitar on his Live Acoustic CD, played on mbl's new digital gear, were to die for.
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John Atkinson Posted: Oct 16, 2007 0 comments
I experienced a fascinating comparison in one of the RMAF rooms featuring systems from Colorado dealer ListenUp. With Sonus Faber Cremona Elipsa speakers (review forthcoming) driven by a combination of Musical Fidelity X-T100 integrated amplifier "supercharged" with MF's 550K monoblocks, and Shunyata AC conditioning and power cables, CDs played back on MF's new top-loading CD player were being compared with lossless-encoded files of the same recordings played back over WiFi via a Sonos ZP80 that fed its S/PDIF digital output to the MF player's DAC section. The data were the same, so other than the WiFi connection, there was no reason for the sound to be different. And I did indeed find it very difficult to hear any consistent difference between the two presentations. Perhaps the low frequencies were a little better-defined and extended via CD, but I don't think I could have identified that without knowing which was which. Interesting.
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John Atkinson Posted: Oct 16, 2007 4 comments
After my final hi-rez seminar on Sunday, and triggered by my very positive experience with the inexpensive Avalon NP2 speakers, I went across the hallway to the room Denver dealer HD Home Cinema & AV Design was using to debut Avalon Acoustics' new $9300/pair Ascendant loudspeaker. This combines the composite-dome tweeter from the NP2 with a pair of Kevlar-composite woofers in the angled, faceted enclosure that has become a de facto trademark of the Colorado company's high-end speakers. With Ayre MX-R monoblocks, Ayre C-5xe universal player, K-5xe preamp, and P-5xe power-line conditioner, and wired with Cardas cable, the Avalon system proved one of the best-sounding of the Show.

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