In any category of product or service, there is a gold standard—one company that epitomizes the best in its field of endeavor. Consider the Rolex watch, the Ferrari sports car, the Steinway piano, the Dunhill pipe. All of these artisanal manufacturers have spent decades, even centuries, earning their names' cachet with their histories of consistent excellence. While high-end audio boasts no names with a 60-year pedigree, such as Ferrari's—much less Steinway & Sons' +150 years—there is one firm whose storied past stretches back to the very emergence of the concept of high-end audio itself: Audio Research Corporation.
More than any other component, it is the loudspeaker that seems to invite the most audacious—some would say flat-out lunatic—efforts at design. There have been attempts at full-range plasma speakers, speakers one had to hook up to tanks of pressurized gas, speakers with drivers attached to what looked like copper salad bowls (the infamous Tri-Torr of the early 1990s).
Nowadays, when most people think of New Zealand, the first things that probably come to mind are the film trilogy The Lord of the Rings, its director, Peter Jackson, or sheep. Certainly, LOTR was a great achievement in film history and, as its auteur, Jackson reaped no small fame for his efforts, as well as multiple Academy Awards and several krillion dollars. The country is also well known as a place where sheep outnumber humans by something like 12 to 1. However, New Zealand is also the source of some very fine audio equipment; both Perreaux and Plinius are proudly headquartered in beautiful, serene, friendly Kiwiland.
Lord Acton said, famously, that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. If there ever were an amplifier to test that maxim's applicability to audiophiles, it is surely the Chord SPM 14000 Ultimate Monoblock. Priced no less than $75,000/pair, the SPM 14000 is rated to produce power as do very few other amplifiers on the planet: it is very conservatively rated at 1kW into an 8 ohm load, 2kW into 4 ohms, and "will easily exceed" 2800W (give or take a few watts) into 2 ohms.
Tetra Speakers may not be a familiar name to many US audiophiles. Based in Ottawa, Ontario, the company has been around for a decade, but has taken a slow and steady approach to building its visibility in the insanely competitive and trend-conscious world of high-end loudspeakers.
The "Reference" designation is thrown around a lot in the world of perfectionist audio. It's most often used to elevate the top of the line to a higher perceived status. Occasionally, as in the case of the VTL TL-7.5 line stage that I reviewed in October 2003, it genuinely denominates a component that is clearly superior to its competition in most aspects of performance.
New experiences are some of the most pleasurable parts of being an audio reviewer. Despite being involved with the High End for longer than I care to think about, I had never had the experience of owning, living with, or reviewing a pair of electrostatic speakers, be they full-range or hybrid. I'd heard various Quads plenty of times at shows and in the homes of audio buddies, but in my own listening cave? Never.
Introduced in 2003, Siltech's G5 Classic series of cables evolved from their highly regarded Generation 3. The G3 series introduced a new metallurgy in which small amounts of gold were incorporated into the silver used as conductors. The G5 Classics use a proprietary geometry called X-balanced Micro Technology, which, according to Siltech, makes the G5s the quietest cables, with the lowest distortion, to be found. Kapton, Peek, and Teflon insulation is used, and the cables are designed to minimize the pickup of RF and EM interference, with low inductance, low capacitance, and low resistance as design goals.
In August, I reviewed McIntosh's MC501 monoblock power amplifier. In terms of what I'd thought was possible from Mac, this was a revelation. Once memories and lurking preconceptions had been set aside and the amps installed in my system, the MC501 easily established itself as among the finest overall performers I have ever reviewed.
Power-line conditioning and exotic power cords, once considered the lunatic fringe of tweaking, have become normal parts of audiophile life. Over the last several years Shunyata Research, founded by former NSA research scientist Caelin Gabriel, has established itself as a leading innovator in the area. The company's latest efforts include the Hydra Model 8 power-distribution center ($1995), for use with whole systems or front ends; the two-outlet "mini" Hydra Model 2 ($395), intended for use with power amplifiers; and the Anaconda Alpha and Anaconda vX power cords ($1995), the new top models in the PowerSnakes line.