When I was a young amateur photographer, I subscribed to all the major photo magazines and avidly read all the articles. However, I was bugged when I realized there was a cycle of repetition—that I was reading about the basics of Ansel Adams' Zone System for the third time.
Along with speakers and their placement, the greatest influence on the sound of a music system are the acoustics of the room itself. With two-channel stereo, some reflections and reverberations are necessary in order to maintain the perception that one is listening in a real space. So, while many experts recommend having a "dead" end behind and near the speakers that absorbs most sound, few suggest such treatment for the rest of the room. With too few sonic reflections, the stereo image would narrow; without the aid of "room gain" to enrich the bass, the sounds of instruments and voices would be thin. Listening in an anechoic chamber is interesting and informative, but far from pleasurable.
The modification of disc players is a hot topic on the various audio newsgroups, where the discussion includes do-it-yourself options and the recommendations of commercial modifiers. These range from tweak guys to such serious engineering firms as EMM Labs and everything in between. Not surprisingly, the objects of these endeavors are usually players made by one of the electronic behemoths: Sony, Philips, Technics, Toshiba, etc. In fact, it was just such a discussion that precipitated John Atkinson's purchase of and recent comments on a stock Toshiba 3950 player, a popular target of modifiers.
With the new power and furniture arrangements in my multichannel room, I've begun to reexamine all the other things that affect system performance, including power conditioning and signal cables. However, I could not get my wife to accept the presence in that room of an ASC Sub Trap, which lifted my Paradigm Servo-15 subwoofer to eye level. Not that I protested the Trap's departure all that much—at that height, Trap and sub partly blocked direct radiation from my rear left speaker. But I felt its absence immediately, as my system returned to the usual somewhat boomy, overly punchy bass. The ASC left me with the determination to deal with room problems, particularly in the bass.
California Audio Labs is a child of the digital age. Originally, they made a noise by offering modified CD players with tube output stages, a practice for which I found no intellectual justification. On the other hand, the results were successful, even if (probably) due to the CAL units' softening of the harshness of early digital sound.
I am biased in favor of Paradigm loudspeakers. I've used them for 10 years; they offer good sound and good value, properties they share with a number of other Canadian makes who have taken advantage of Canada's National Research Council facilities in Ottawa. In fact, the first components I bought specifically for what is now my multichannel system were Paradigm Esprit/BP speakers, which had impressed me at a Stereophile show. When I took the step into multichannel and found that there wasn't a matching center-channel speaker for the Esprits, I replaced them with Paradigm's Reference Studio/60 v.2s. But while the smaller Reference Studio/20, and the larger Studio/100 have both been reviewed in Stereophile, the Studio/60 had not. The release of the v.2's successor, the Reference Studio/60 v.3 ($1699/pair), was an opportunity to fill that gap.
At nearly simultaneous press receptions in London and New York on November 17, B&W unveiled its new 800 series loudspeakers, the first complete redesign of this respected and venerable line in more than six years. Wisely, the presentation began with cocktails and a surprisingly entertaining technical description of the innovations. The latter offered many reassurances that, although all aspects of the 800 line were examined, no changes were made simply for the sake of change, and the basic design principles withstood this re-examination. Thus, when we were, at last, treated to the displayed speakers themselves, we were not surprised that they greatly resembled their predecessors, and we focused, instead, on the new features.
Non-audiophile friends and relatives raised their eyebrows when they saw the Classé Omega Omicron monoblocks. Not only is the Omicron more expensive than any other amp I've used; at 108 lbs, it's heavier than some of the speakers I've used. The Omicron is Classé's next-to-top-of-the-line amp in its Omega series, but is still definitely a "statement" product. Brian Damkroger reviewed the Omicron's big brother, the Omega Mono, in the July 2003 Stereophile. I refer you to that review for a more detailed description of the Omicron's basic circuitry.