I've heard my share of Krells, Levinsons, Rowlands, and the like in other people's systems—expensive solid-state amplifiers are not my usual beat. With the exception of an inexpensive Adcom a few years back, for more than a decade I've owned and reviewed only tube amps. In fact, until the $7500 Ayre Acoustics V-1 showed up, I'd not had one in my system. Similarly, I'd had only tube preamps until I reviewed the Ayre K-3, which so impressed me that I asked to hear the more expensive K-1—and ended up buying it.
At a hi-fi show in Germany a few years ago, an audio club had set up a room filled with a dozen well-known turntable/tonearm combos. I recall seeing the Clearaudio/Souther, Immedia RPM-2 and arm, VPI TNT Mk.IV/JMW Memorial, Basis 2500/Graham 2.0, Oracle/Graham, Linn LP12/Ittok, SME Model 20/SME V, and some others I can't remember, including a few not exported from Germany.
After establishing a reputation for building small, magnificent-looking, very expensive, stand-mounted loudspeakers, the Italian manufacturer Sonus Faber has hit the ground running. First came the moderately priced ($3500/pair) floorstanding Concerto Grand Pianos, and now the company's "statement" loudspeaker, the Amati Homage--a $20,000/pair visual stunner that earns its keep almost by looks and touch alone.
I literally dropped everything when Rega's new Planar 25 turntable arrived a few weeks ago. I'd heard the 'table compared with the Planar 3 at designer Roy Gandy's house when I visited Rega last fall—see "Analog Corner" in the January '99 Stereophile—and was anxious to audition it in my own system and tell you what I heard.
Conrad-Johnson is one of audio's "marquee" companies, and charges accordingly. The Premier Twelve tube monoblock power amplifier, rated at 140W, sells for a rather steep $3495 each, meaning that unless you listen in mono, be prepared to lay out almost $7000 just for the amplification link in your audio chain. Apparently, many audiophiles feel the money is well spent: according to Conrad-Johnson, the Twelve has been a consistently strong seller during its approximately five-year production history.
I've never heard a pair of the Italian Sonus Faber speakers I didn't like. What I've never liked was the US price: too high. And then you have to put them on costly stands. Plus, you're paying a premium for the magnificent woodworking and exquisite design—something I wasn't into, since I live with my stereo in a basement office/workshop/listening room some (who shall remain nameless) refer to as the "habitat for inhumanity."
When Bob Graham introduced his 1.5 tonearm at the end of the 1980s, many thought he was dreaming: Vinyl was going the way of the console radio—who would invest two-grand-plus in a tonearm? But there was a method to Graham's madness—he'd designed his arm to be a drop-in replacement for more than 20 years' worth of SME arms, all of which shared the same mounting platform. Perhaps, in his wildest dreams, Graham had already envisioned the current "analog revival"—but even without it, he figured there'd be a robust replacement market, and he was poised to exploit it with what he thought was a superior product.
Got a garage, a router, and a band saw? Poof! You're a speaker designer. How many audiophiles dream of buying some raw drivers, some MDF and veneer, building a baffle, soldering up a computer-designed crossover, and assembling the Shmendrick Audio 2001? Plenty.
Prejudice is bad—whether it's directed at people, places, or things. You know how it goes: digital is "bright," analog is "warm," solid-state is "brittle and etched," tubes are "smooth and soft" dynamic drivers are "low-resolution," electrostats and planars are "high-resolution" copper wire is "smooth," silver is "bright," etc. While putting everything that crosses your path into one box or another makes life simpler and seemingly more organized, the truth, musical or otherwise, usually gets mutilated in the process. Not that we all don't have preferences—but those are not the same as prejudices.