When a well-respected analog disc-mastering veteran like Stan Ricker says that the Alesis MasterLink ML-9600, a hard-disk-based digital recorder/CD burner, is "the best tool in my mastering bag...done right it can sound better than all but the absolute top drawer analog," you take the endorsement seriously. Progress is possible. Mastering tool, CD burner, 24-bit/96kHz recorder, audio reviewer's best friend—the versatile MasterLink is one of the coolest products I've ever had my hands on.
Reviewing a vacuum-tube power amplifier is like having your pants pulled down in front of a large crowd of people. I don't know how else to describe the feeling of spending a month or two luxuriating in fabulous sound, then writing a glowing review, then receiving a copy of the review as it will appear in the magazine, complete with John Atkinson's assessment of the amp's test-bench performance, which is usually miserable.
Not since Sonus Faber's Amati Homage loudspeakers took up residence in my listening room has a piece of audio gear elicited so many "Oohs," "Aahs," and "Wows" from friends as Hovland Company's dramatic-looking, EL34-driven Sapphire power amplifier—especially when it was switched on and glowing orange and blue. It drew unsolicited attention and admiration even when turned off. Not that, on or off, its unusual looks didn't also have their share of detractors. As with Hovland's chrome-façaded, blue-backlit HP-100 preamplifier, some found the Sapphire too shiny, too gaudy, and generally just too much. Me, I'm thumbs-up on the Sapphire's looks—I found myself staring at it incessantly. But anything that draws such intensity of response, whether love or hate, must be doing something right. B&O shouldn't have a monopoly on striking-looking audio gear.
If your audiophile habit goes back more than a couple of decades, you're probably doing a double take looking at the Smart Devices 2X150VT. Looks like a Hafler DH-200, doesn't it? That's because, at its core, a Hafler DH-200 is exactly what it is. Smart Devices doesn't name names in its brochure, but they do say that "You may recognize this amplifier as one of the dominant premium performers of the 1970s and '80s"—a reasonable enough description of the MOSFET-output DH-200, which combined outstanding sound with a very reasonable price—especially if you built the kit.
The Manley Steelhead tube MM/MC phono preamplifier was first demonstrated at the 2001 Consumer Electronics Show. Nine months later, my long-promised review sample of Eveanna Manley's new baby was delivered. While Ms. Manley may have given birth to the audacious product, it was conceived by the company's chief hi-fi designer, Mitch Margolis.
What's next for you? Your last CD player? Your first SACD player? DVD-Audio? Looking forward to multichannel music? Still satisfied with two-channel stereo? Maybe you're waiting for an affordable combination SACD/DVD-A multichannel player, or for the format feud to shake out and leave a clear winner. So many options, so much excitement, so little software.
Success can be a two-edged sword. With the Virgo (reviewed in September 1995), Audio Physic created a $5000/pair benchmark product at the midpoint of the company's speaker lineup. While an upgraded, $5800 Virgo is due out soon, the original version will remain in production, its price dropping to $4495/pair—less than it cost six years ago.
You can bet Infinity plans on selling a respectable number of $8000/pair Prelude MTS speakers (reviewed in the May 2000 Stereophile) over this ambitious, full-range design's anticipated lifespan. But will the company make enough money to recoup the megabucks spent on researching, designing, and developing the all-new CMMD (Ceramic Metal Matrix Diaphragm) drivers, BASH (Bridge Amplifier Switching Hybrid) powered subwoofer, and RABOS (Room Adaptive Bass Optimization System) bass-equalization system? NOWAY (Never Over-Estimate What Acronyms Yield).