I've been reading and sometimes participating in a number of Internet discussions that begin with something like "Is SACD (and/or DVD-Audio) Dead?" Regardless of your one-word answer, it seems that the issue is still quite lively. I won't address the question here (you know where I stand), but it almost doesn't matter. Many high-resolution multichannel recordings are still being made. It's just that they may be distributed in different ways.
I hate all those automobile reviews that go on and on about a car's design aesthetics. C'mon, I can see what it looks like, even if only in the pictures. Just tell me things I can't appreciate without a run on the Autobahn.
Good things come in threes, they say. Well, three-channel power amps suit me just fine. My main component rack is at the back of the room, so I split power duties between a two-channel amp under the rack to drive my rear-channel B&W 804S speakers and, way at the front, either three monoblocks or a three-channel amp for the front three B&W 802Ds. I do this to ensure that the timbre of the front three channels is consistent. The outstanding performance of the Simaudio Moon W-8 dual-mono power amp (Stereophile, March 2006) almost tempted me to go with a stereo amp and a monoblock, but voicing and balancing a multichannel system with equanimity makes me want as much simplicity as possible. I guess manufacturers and users see it the same way; many new three-channel amps are coming on the market.
More than a decade ago, I bought a new pair of speakers and sought to find the most suitable cables for them. After auditioning a number of borrowed sets, I enlisted my daughter to confirm my selection. She grew up in a household where there was always good music playing on good equipment, but had no active interest in either. To placate Dad, she listened to a few of her own recordings with each of the various cables and then, lo and behold, reached the same conclusion I had. In fact, she described the differences almost exactly as I would have. I was ecstatic. Not only did it confirm my opinions about the cables, but it confirmed to me that any motivated listener can hear what golden-ear audiophiles obsess about. As I tried to express my joy to her, she left the room with this parting shot: "Yes, of course, but who cares?"
My first exposure to Burmester electronics was some years back at a New York Hi-Fi Show, where they were powering a pair of B&W 801s and impressed the hell out of me. But Burmester's distribution seemed sporadic and the prices beyond my consideration, so I put them out of my mind.
My reviews of the TacT RCS (Stereophile, September 2001) and the Rives PARC (July 2003) are ample evidence that I've been fascinated with room equalization for quite a while. This is because I don't have a dedicated, purpose-built listening room in either of my homes, and having experienced what such rooms can do for recorded sound, I've always been somewhat dissatisfied with what I do have. Sure, I've got lots of great equipment, and a wife who understands enough to let me install some acoustic treatments (as long as she approves their appearance). Still, I'm sympathetic to those audiophiles who, when I suggest acoustic treatments to resolve their particular problems, say that it's simply not possible for them, either because of the Spousal Acceptance Factor or the need to accommodate other activities in the same room. Room equalizers seem to offer the hope for a panacea for what ails such spaces.
Iván Fischer, founder and conductor of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, has performed with many major orchestras and recorded for a number of major labels, most significantly with Philips, from 1995 to 2004. Fischer/BFO made the first multichannel orchestral recording for SACD, which Philips used as a demonstration disc for their first SACD players. I still treasure that disc—it demonstrates many of the advantages of the medium with a wide and varied program—but it has never been commercially released.
One of the highlights of such annual events as the Consumer Electronics and Primedia Home Entertainment shows has been the demonstrations of loudspeakers from TAD, the professional division of Pioneer Electronics. Designer Andrew Jones is always generous in using recordings brought by visitors, and enthusiastic in explaining the technology behind these beautiful behemoths. Among these speakers' unique features are a beryllium dome tweeter mounted concentrically inside a beryllium midrange cone, and a cabinet built of stacked, carved horizontal sections, for incredible rigidity without using exotic materials or excessive mass. The concentric upper-range driver is a reminder that, some time back, Jones worked for KEF, where the coaxial UniQ driver was developed, but the materials and details of the TAD drivers are all new. While the TAD Model 1s are always good for musical and audiophile thrills, their price is in the upper five figures, which put them out of serious purchase consideration.
The last Classé power amplifier I reviewed, back in November 2004, was the imposing Omega Omicron monoblock ($20,000/pair), which made glorious sound with the Revel Ultima Studio speakers. But things change. First, my reference speakers are now B&W 802Ds. Second, my system now has three front speakers, supplemented by two B&W 804S speakers for surround sound. While a quintet of Omicrons would undoubtedly be dandy, five such monoliths would take up so much space that I'd be wondering about their effects on the room's sound. With so many channels, it seemed time to investigate whether a multichannel amp could carry the load.
California company Now Hear This (NHT), which has been around since 1986, has always taken a no-nonsense route based on good engineering principles and innovative thinking. Two of their strikingly good ideas were the use of side-firing woofers, and integrating an active subwoofer with a pair of small monitor speakers. Both philosophies culminated in the Xd series of DSP-EQ'd active loudspeakers, which I had the pleasure of reviewing in the November 2005 issue. My first reaction to the concept was "Why hasn't anyone done this before?" The results completely justified an approach that, I believe, points loudspeaker design in a new direction.