When PR guy Adam Sohmer first told me about the Fosgate Audionics FAP V1, I thought that the impressive-looking device would be the first all-tube preamp-processor—heck, the first tube anything—in my multichannel system. Then I looked closer at the user's manual I'd downloaded from Fosgate's website. Hmmm. No Dolby Digital, no DTS—just Dolby Pro Logic. Of course, the FAP V1 is Jim Fosgate's signature expression of Dolby Pro Logic, and I guess that counts for something. But the more I thought about it, the more interesting a prospect the FAP V1 seemed.
As noted in the March installment of "Music in the Round," there are so many new multichannel hardware goodies to talk about that we need this bonus appearance of the column just to keep up. Nor do I expect the rush of gear to stop—I've just returned from CES in Las Vegas, where there was lots of new multichannel hardware and software that I will report on in June, including a luscious all-tube analog multichannel preamp. This month I report on a universal disc player, a comparison of Sony's top-of-the-line SCD-XA9000ES multichannel SACD player with its respected predecessor, and a multichannel preamp that's almost too good a deal.
Without having intended to, I seem to have collected several "statement" products. I've already reported on the Weiss Medea and Theta Digital Generation VIII digital-to-analog converters. I saw and expressed interest in the Nagra DAC at the 2002 Consumer Electronics Show, when prototypes of it were shown along with a forthcoming multichannel version, the Nagra Digital Audio Processor (DAP). The two units are based on the same chassis and interface, the DAP including additional modules and processing.
Usually, I review a component after it has impressed me at a show or in a store. Though this approach reduces the possibility of a bad review—I pre-select based on real experience—it does not minimize the possibility of disappointment. This makes me a sort of stand-in for the consumer who would like to take something home for a real shakeout, and only then decide to buy it or send it back.
For audiophiles who love multichannel music, the center-channel speaker is a problem second only, perhaps, to that of bass management. In many ways, the rerouting of bass to a subwoofer or to the front left and right main speakers is dictated by room acoustics or the bass limitations of the other speakers. On the other hand, most of us had no real need for a discrete center-channel to fill in the middles of our traditional stereo systems. In fact, one of the glories of really good stereo is the simulation of a convincing central image, such that there's a seamless soundstage from beyond one speaker, across the room, to beyond the other speaker.
For me, the iconic Adcom power amplifier was the GFA-555. As an aspiring audiophile, I was deeply impressed with Tony Cordesman's review in Stereophile in 1985 (Vol.8 No.4). That did it! After years of kit-building and doing it myself, the '555 was the first factory-built amp that I wanted and could afford. Over the years, I changed speakers several times, and even added a fully regulated power supply to the '555, but it never balked. At the end of its tenure at my house, it had been demoted to my third-string backup; today it's making someone else tap his toes.
Some months back, a poll at the Naxos of America website asked visitors about their preferences among high-resolution and multichannel formats. At that time, Naxos had been releasing DVD-As (and DVDs) in the US, but only released SACDs elsewhere.
We audiophiles are ever hopeful that, however satisfying our present equipment and setup, we can achieve even greater enjoyment with a tweak or an upgrade. And we never stop: It was only 16 years (and three turntables) ago that I bought what I declared would be my last turntable, and there's no doubt that this "dead" format has improved substantially since then. Now, even as we make another (but less paradigm-shifting) format transition, from CD to SACD and DVD-Audio, new two-channel DACs continue to appear that show us how far we still are from wresting all the music from the original "Red Book" 16-bit CD format. I reviewed the wonderful Weiss Medea DAC in February 2003, and there are still on my auditioning rack are two more Swiss DACs that might redefine the category: the Orpheus 1 and the Nagra DAP.
The manufacture and marketing of so-called "universal" digital disc players should have been a no-brainer right from the start. I recall the first demo of SACD I attended, when both SACD and DVD-Audio were little more than promises and contentions. That prototype Philips player consisted of several cubic feet of hardware controlled by a computer, even though mockups of more marketable SACD players were arrayed around the room. After the demo, I asked one of the Philips engineers if it were possible to make a player that could handle CD, SACD, and DVD-A. His reply: "Sure, if they let me do it."