Back in the 1970s, I used to hang out at an audio store on Northern Boulevard's Miracle Mile. After business hours—and sometimes during them—a group of us audiophiles would put every new product through the wringer. One of the most anticipated was the original B&W 801, which appeared in 1979. The 801 was simply unflappable. Fed enough power, a pair of them played louder and cleaner than anything we had ever heard, including the mammoth, multimodule Fultons that were the pride of that shop. But—and this was a big but—the 801 lacked immediacy and engagement, and I soon fell back to preferring an earlier B&W model, the DM6, which seemed more coherent and to offer the music out to the listener. The 801 was more objective and detached, but boy, could it knock you over with the right source material.
In the past few installments of this column I've promised to talk about another subwoofer equalizer system. Now I'm going to pull the old switcheroo and discuss a different subwoofer EQ. The SMS-1 is a new, standalone digital equalizer system from Velodyne, based on the EQ built into their DD-series subwoofers. Larry Greenhill went gaga over the Velodyne DD-18 in the June 2004 Stereophile, particularly because of the ease and sophistication of the EQ system. Apparently, one of the Velodyne sales guys asked the obvious: What about making the EQ available separately for use with other subwoofers?
NHT's Xd system is what audiophiles have been saying they want: a matched loudspeaker system that optimizes the performance of its components for a real-world domestic listening environment. But with their dollars they've voted against just such systems for years. If we put our money where our mouths are, active speaker systems such as Meridian's DSP or those used in recording studios would dominate the High End.
In a press conference held September 28 at Sony Music Studios on West 54th Street, MusicGiants —see Wes Phillips' earlier story on this company—announced the launch of a new music download service that offers CD-resolution digital recordings from the major artists on the major music labels, EMI, Sony/BMG, Universal, and Warner.
Looking back to see which of the multichannel discs I've reported on that have made a splash in the market, I detect an ominous trend. Most are reissues of classic performances, including all the RCA Living Stereo and the Mercury Living Presence SACDs, as well as a number of classic jazz and rock albums (including yet more editions of Kind of Blue, Dark Side of the Moon, and Brothers in Arms).
I recently had a house guest who is a music lover and amateur pianist but who had never heard of the SACD or DVD-Audio formats. I explained what they were and demonstrated examples of both, to his amazement. He then blew them off, saying that my system always sounds great and that the average person couldn't or wouldn't afford the kind of equipment I have. But when I told him that there were universal players available for less than $200 at retail and that, in fact, the player I was using was based on a transport drawn from a similar mass-market product, his interest was piqued. Of course, I didn't emphasize that one's expectations may not be the same, or that the boys designing the high-end stuff do make it sound different and, usually, much better. Heck, I'll do whatever I can to hook a music lover on these new formats, even if their future is uncertain. Once he's hooked, audiophilia will have him forever.
In this, its 50th year of company operations, Phase Technology announced and demonstrated a new type of loudspeaker system. The series, named dARTS for Digital Audio Reference Theater System, is obviously aimed at the custom-install, home-theater market, but the components and concepts are applicable to music reproduction in any number of channels. As described by PT's director of sales and marketing, Tony Weber, the dARTS system is (1) modular and (2) actively powered and equalized by DSP, incorporating Audyssey's MultiEQ XT for digital room correction.
The ongoing reissues of Mercury Living Presence and RCA Living Stereo recordings, have been the signal successes of the SACD format. Despite having been recorded in only (!) three channels, these releases have given us very good justifications for going beyond two-channel stereo to get as unrestricted a hearing as possible of live performances.
I have a soft spot in my heart (some say my head) for transmission-line designs. I remember being entranced by the authoritative but effortless bass of John Wright's IMF and TDL Monitors, and I have been inspired to experiment by building my own lines in various sizes. Then, as demonstrated by Bryston's Jim Tanner at the 1997 WCES and at HI-FI '97, PMC's IB-1S loudspeakers threw an enormously deep soundstage. (I have a soft spot for that as well.)
Ever since I installed dedicated power lines for my multichannel system, I've been wrestling with the issues of surge protection, power conditioning, and voltage regulation. I start with a bias based on decades of happy listening without being concerned about any of these problems, and my belief that competent electronic components must be, and are, designed to perform in the real world. After all, whether the device's AC power supply is a traditional transformer-bridge-reservoir or a switching supply, its output should be a DC source that is sufficient to let the active circuitry meet its specifications. Many manufacturers, such as Bryston, recommend bypassing any line conditioners and plugging their components directly into the AC outlet.