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John Atkinson Posted: Apr 04, 2008 0 comments
Dynaudio's 30th-anniversary Sapphire speakers had impressed the heck out of the magazine's scribes at other Shows, so I made a point of taking a listen in the room the Danish manufacturer was sharing at FSI with home-team electronics manufacturer Simaudio. The system included Simaudio's Moon SuperNova CD player, Moon P-7 preamplifier, and Moon W-7 power amplifier, all wired with Siltech cable. The speakers are not that large, visually, and use a pair of 8" woofers per side, but they appear to have excellent bass performance, to judge by the ease they reproduced some subterranean stirring on a performance of Miles Davis' "So What" from a Flanger CD called Midnight Sounds. Then I noticed that there wasn't a CD playing!
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John Atkinson Posted: Apr 04, 2008 0 comments
I was as impressed as Robert Deutsch had been with KEF's $140k/pair Muons, and enjoyed a couple of tracks from the late Joe Zawinul's Faces & Places CD, Musical Fidelity's new 750k Supercharger monoblocks driving the speakers to satisfyingly high levels. Except there was no CD playing. It turned out I was listening to a 320kbps AAC file on an iPod sitting in the Wadia dock you can see in the photo. This takes an I2S digital output from a late-generation iPod and KEF were using the S/PDIF datastream to drive the digital input of the Musical Fidelity CD player at the top of the equipment stack. Given how much ink I have spilled recently on the dangers of lossy-compressed file formats, my face must have been as red as the room’s illumination had been at the time.
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John Atkinson Posted: Apr 04, 2008 0 comments
Not too long after I got my first audio magazine job in 1976, I reported on the founding of a new speaker company, Harbeth, featuring the designs from ex-BBC engineer Dudley Harwood, who had pioneered the use of polypropylene as a cone material. Dudley is long since retired but I have followed his company's progress with interest since it was acquired by Alan Shaw, and the little Harbeth HL-P3ES2 has long been a favorite of mine. Harbeth's Canadian distributor, Planet Sound, was demonstrating the larger Super HL5 speakers (around $5000/pair), the next step up from the Compact 7ES-3 that has been a favorite of both John Marks and Sam Tellig in Stereophile's pages. The sound with Audio Research electronics (CD3 Mk.3 player, LS26 preamp, and Ref.110 power amplifier) suffered a bit from a rather boomy room acoustic, but Ella Fitzgerald dueting with Louis Armstrong worked her magic.
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John Atkinson Posted: Apr 04, 2008 1 comments
It is to be expected at Shows that cost-no-object systems will sound great. But it is also a joy to listen to modest systems that over-achieve. In one of the two rooms sponsored by Bluebird Music, a pair of Neat Motive 2 tower speakers (CDN $2195/paor) made sweet sounds driven by the Exposure 2010S integrated amplifier that had so impressed Art Dudley in November 2005 and the English company's matching 2010S CD player. System price with Chord Company Chameleon Silver Plus interconnect and Carnival 2 speaker cable was a very affordable CDN $5274. I listened to my recording of Hyperion Knight playing the three Gershwin Preludes and was impressed by the balance of performance on offer.
John Atkinson Posted: Apr 02, 2008 Published: Jun 02, 1992 0 comments
I believe Ken Kantor said it first: a couple of years ago, in his September 1990 interview with Robert Harley (Vol.13 No.9), he remarked that "there's no reason why a two-way 6" loudspeaker can't be the equal of almost the best speaker out there from a certain frequency point upward, with the possible exception of dynamic range." When I read those words, they rang true. If you put to one side the need to reproduce low bass frequencies and can accept less-than-live playback levels, a small speaker can be as good as the best, and allow its owner to enjoy the benefits of its size—visual appeal, ease of placement in the room, and the often excellent imaging afforded by the use of a small front baffle.
John Atkinson Posted: Mar 14, 2008 0 comments
My very first review of a preamplifier, for British magazine Hi-Fi News & Record Review in May 1984, was of the Audio Research SP-10. In my opening to that review, I wrote that, "more than any other component," a preamplifier "should approximate to the late Peter Walker's 'Straight Wire with Gain.'" By this I meant that a preamplifier should not be in the business of effecting dramatic changes, and in any case, dramatic changes are not the kind that prove to be of lasting value. However, I also wrote back then that what I became increasingly aware of while using the SP-10 "was the fact that 'neutrality' is a positive virtue rather than just an absence of aberration."
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John Atkinson Posted: Mar 12, 2008 0 comments
I'm writing these words on the flight home from the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show, held January 7–10 in Las Vegas. I wasn't sure what to expect at this year's CES. Though the official stats show that the US economy has grown for the fourth straight year, audio retailers I spoke with before the Show feel that that economic growth has not resulted in any increase in consumers' disposable incomes. In fact, with the drying up of credit, retailers are concerned that 2008 may well be a step back from 2007 in overall sales, and that high-end audio—a niche category within a niche category—will be adversely affected by the relative impoverishment of the middle class.
John Atkinson Posted: Mar 08, 2008 14 comments
As Wes Phillips recently reported on this website, CD sales are down and legal downloads of audio files are up. Stereophile has been criticized more than once for not paying enough attention to the subjects of MP3 and other compressed file formats, such as AAC, and for offering no guidance at all to readers about how to get the best sound quality from compressed downloads.
John Atkinson Posted: Mar 01, 2008 Published: Jun 01, 1992 0 comments
I believe Ken Kantor said it first: a couple of years ago, in his September 1990 interview with Robert Harley (Vol.13 No.9), he remarked that "there's no reason why a two-way 6" loudspeaker can't be the equal of almost the best speaker out there from a certain frequency point upward, with the possible exception of dynamic range." When I read those words, they rang true. If you put to one side the need to reproduce low bass frequencies and can accept less-than-live playback levels, a small speaker can be as good as the best, and allow its owner to enjoy the benefits of its size—visual appeal, ease of placement in the room, and the often excellent imaging afforded by the use of a small front baffle.
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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