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.
Prelude I fell in love with the original Link DAC, as was obvious from my review in the January 1999 Stereophile. I said that "the Link redefines entry into high-quality digital sound," as it provided excellent sound and 24-bit/96kHz conversion for the remarkably low price of $349. It is as firmly ensconced in Class C of "Recommended Components" as it is in my weekend system, where it tames the digital signals from my DMX receiver and my trusty old Pioneer PD-7100 CD player.
I visited the Revel room on the last day of the January 1999 CES, expecting another dynamic demo of their Ultima line. Instead, I found a pair of floorstanding Performa F30s connected to a rack full of the best Mark Levinson electronics. Deeply impressed by the dynamics and clarity of this first model in the new Performa line, I called Revel's Kevin Voecks as soon as I got back to New York City, but was told that another Stereophile reviewer had already got first dibs on the F30. Would I be interested in one of the other Revels? Well, yes, sure, but...
I am biased: On very little evidence, I remain convinced that, in the near future, high-quality music reproduction will be multichannel. While most multichannel demos are still egregiously and aggressively ping-pong, I have attended a few successful demonstrations of discrete multichannel reproduction that have impressed me so deeply that I hunger to have all the music I love transported to me (and me to it) in this way.
Unlike the imposing mbl and Burmester DACs that I review elsewhere in this issue, the Mark Levinson No.360 is New England conservative in appearance. Its operation was simple to master despite the sophistication and flexibility on tap. Flanked by Fasolt and Fafner, the Levinson No.360 seemed as amiable as Freia.