I once got a fortune cookie that read, "Ask and ye shall receive. This includes trouble." A few years back, shopping for speakers, I inquired about reviewing the B&W Nautilus 802, but it was too soon after Wes Phillips had reviewed the Nautilus 801 for Stereophile. So, other auditioning and reviewing (and buying) other speakers, I asked again, and again was met with deferral. Recently, out of the blue, B&W offered the Nautilus 802—then, in the next breath, asked if I'd rather have the Signature 800s.
What could be easier to review than a power amplifier? No features or functions aside from inputs, outputs, and a power switch. So when Jonathan Scull asked if I could help out by taking on the Rotel RB 1080, which another reviewer hadn't been able to get to, I accepted the assignment. Before I could click my heels and say "FedEx!" twice, Rotel's 200Wpc RB 1080 had appeared.
I anticipated the installation of the TacT Audio RCS 2.0 room-correction processor with mixed emotions—I already liked my system and room, and such a device threatened to make all my studied efforts trivial. What if one might use any decent amps and speakers, cables that were merely conductive, and no room treatment at all? And what if, on top of that, you could just put them wherever your significant other thought they looked right? What if all the magic you needed was contained in this box? Scary.
I have been a proponent of methodical modeling and room analysis as aids in setting up audio systems and rooms. They work hand in hand: Modeling predicts a feasible room arrangement, and analysis, along with careful listening, determines how close the outcome is to that predicted. Of course, there should always be another round of modeling to see if the current setup can be improved with more work. The spiral continues, toward, one hopes, perfection.
Listening to multichannel music with the new SACD and DVD-Audio players has produced equal parts contentment and consternation. The contentment is easy to understand: Here are media that can reproduce music with better-than-CD resolution and, for the first time, re-create a believable illusion of the entire acoustic space in which the performance was recorded. The consternation is related to those same two issues: 1) maintaining the resolution and tonal balance relished with high-quality stereo, and 2) making the psychological transition from two-channel to multichannel listening. Both of these are barriers to audiophile acceptance of multichannel music.
The word on Bel Canto's upsampling DAC was already out when I visited their room at the 2000 Consumer Electronics Show looking to get one of the first samples. But despite my protestations, all Bel Canto's Mike McCormick wanted to talk about was their company's new digital amp, the eVo 200.2. Sure, there's a future out there in which all sources will be digital and D/A conversion will occur in the speaker (or later?). But today, I see no practical advantage in a digital amplifier with only an analog input. It may be more efficient and it may be new technology, but the amplifier has got to stand on the same footing as any analog design and justify its existence by the way it sounds. The eVo did make a good case for itself at the demo, so I signed up to get one for review.
I've been attending the annual Consumer Electronics Show for years, and usually come away with the impression that there are too many "me-too" products. I see a numbing similarity of approach of manufacturers within a chosen discipline: solid-state power amps in black and silver bristling with heatsinks, single-ended triode amps with their glow reflecting from bronze or wood panels, MCPU/DSP-centered devices with sleek, flat cases and intimidating remote controls, etc.
The Revel Ultima Studios came to me by chance. I'd wanted to review Revel's high-value Performa F-30—see my May 2000 report—but the Studio was offered instead. By the time a pair of Studios had arrived, however, the F-30s were also on their way, and the Studios were put on the back burner. Because of the mix-up, I thought the Studios would be freebies—just listen for a while and send 'em back. I am now obliged to do the honest thing and fess up in public: Many months have passed and the Studios are still here.
Back in 1992, Robert Harley's Stereophile review of the McCormack DNA-1 and Parasound HCA-2200 amplifiers (April 1992, Vol.15 No.4) and the accompanying technical measurements piqued my interest. So, with great curiosity, I arranged to borrow a DNA-1 to audition, along with competitive amps from Aragon, Bryston, and PS Audio. They were all a leap ahead of my Adcom GFA-555, but it took an act of great courage to accept that, despite its less-than-stellar measured performance, the DNA-1 was my favorite. The bottom line was that the DNA-1 excelled at driving my Apogee Duettas to make lively and harmonically pure sounds. I bought my McCormack DNA-1 amplifier before I began reviewing equipment for Stereophile, and it still occupies an honored place in my system.