Make It Simple. . .
Ah, for the old mono days. I remember assembling my first audio systems in my early teens and as a novicethings were easy. My first amp had four RCA input jacks, each clearly labeled and corresponding to an identically labeled setting on the input selector switch. There were screw-down speaker connectors for 4, 8, and 16 ohms, and ground. Tape output was defaulted to whatever input I was listening to. The amp had but four knobs: Input Selection, Volume, Bass, and Treble. And although it would seem almost impossible to go wrong, I did exercise focus and care as I tended to my first setup.
Sonus Faber is an iconic Italian high-end company whose loudspeakers have always evinced innovative technical design, superb construction, spectacular appearance, and great sound. I was intrigued with the design and performance of their stand-mounted Extrema (reviewed by Martin Colloms in the June 1992 Stereophile, Vol.15 No.6), which combined a proprietary soft-dome tweeter and a mineral-loaded polypropylene-cone woofer with an electrodynamically damped but passive KEF B139 driver that occupied the entire rear panel.
Recently, my wife and I made a trip to Europe, where we heard some great music in some great halls. Those concerts reinforced my already strongly held opinion that the acoustic of the venue is a major determinant of the sound of music heard in that venue, and that each space has its own sound. One evening in Amsterdam, we heard Iván Fischer conduct the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in their own hall, the Concertgebouw, in a concert that underscored this interaction of performance and place.
I don't think that the Bowers and Wilkins 804, in any of its incarnation, gets its due respect. As the smallest floorstander in B&W's elite 800 series, it has historically been overshadowed by its larger brethren and outmaneuvered by the smaller, stand-mounted 805. However, the 804 Diamond is unique, and deserves special attention for reasons I discovered when I chose the earlier 804S for the surround channels of my 5.1-channel surround system.
Sometimes, things happen so fast it's almost unsettling. DSD is the high-resolution recording format used on SACDs and I closed my May column with the expressed hope that the exaSound e18 multichannel DAC would eventually be able to decode DSD data, that Oppo would implement DSD streaming in its universal players, and that I'd be able to get my hands on a working trio of Mytek DSD DACs. I didn't expect that, even before that issue went to press, I'd have to add a footnote (p.61) indicating that stereo DSD streaming was a reality for the exaSound e18, and that Oppo had made available "test" firmware to empower their universal Blu-ray players for stereo and multichannel DSD. On March 26, Oppo publicly announced that this DSD capability was part of the comprehensive "Public Beta Test Release" made available that day. Then, with the May issue not yet hitting the streets, I got a proper multi-Mytek setup. I had a lot of catching up to do.
I had been anticipating getting to audition a pair of TAD loudspeakers in my system since the introduction of the original TAD Model-1, in 2003. It was designed by Andrew Jones, who had recently assumed the mantle of chief designer at Technical Audio Devices Laboratories (TAD), at that time a subsidiary of Pioneer. Although TAD dates back to the mid-1970s, its research and development efforts had been focused on the professional sound market, something that continues. Jones came from a long line of speaker innovators at KEF and was assigned the goal of developing state-of-the-art speakers for the domestic market.
Yes, more Oppos. First off, let's put aside the expected superiority of the D/A conversion and outputs of the BDP-105 ($1199) and state that the BDP-103 ($499) is itself no slouch in these departments. In two or many channels, the '103 was good enough to let me distinguish among various high-resolution media, and to provide me with satisfying enjoyment of music in even the best of systems.
There has been a lot of buzz lately generated by show demonstrations of DSD recordings played directly from files and as the opportunity to download DSD files is expanding. The reactions of our writers have ranged from "impressive," to an "epiphany," to my own delight reported in the upcoming May issue of Stereophile. The hardware used has been mostly professional (Sonoma workstation) or semi-professional (Mytek Stereo 192-DSD) or, at the very least, costly enough for the unconvinced to hesitate. Now, in one fell swoop, Oppo has made this possible at no cost at all for those of us who own an Oppo BDP-103 or BDP-105.
Growing up as an audiophile in the 1950s, I always aspired to owning Marantz equipment, and finally attained that status when, late one night in 1974 in Greenwich Village, a friend found a Model 8 amp sitting on a pile of discards on a curb. He quickly ran for his car, and scarfed up the amp and a pair of Acoustic Research AR1 speakers. All turned out to be in perfect working order, though their appearance reflected their history of ill-use. The speakers went into his machine shopbut I got the Model 8! Few products have ever given me so much pleasure and pride; Marantz will always occupy a warm spot in my heart.
Though the original Artemis Systems Eos has been around for a few years, it doesn't seem to have made a big impression on audiophiles. Judging by a brief but exciting audition of the new Eos Signature and its accompanying Base Module at HI-FI '96, I found it hard to understand how it could remain such a well-kept secret. A few weeks later, to my surprise, Wes Phillips asked me if I wanted to review a pair and, throwing caution to the winds, I jumped at the opportunity. Rash move.
The movers delivered three large boxes and two absolutely huge crates. Inside the boxes were the two Eos Signatures and their external crossovers. Each crate contained a Base Module, and their appearance struck fear into my heart. I had gone too fareach one weighed 300 lbs, and together they were more commodious than some apartments in my Manhattan neighborhood. I signed for the delivery, then panicked when I realized there was no way to get these unpacked before my wife came home. Indeed, I didn't know how I was going to do it at all.