Tom Fine  |  Jun 25, 2024  |  0 comments
Of all the albums in the Grateful Dead catalog, American Beauty is the one with the widest appeal. Its proto-Americana tunes are neither antique nor modern; instead, they are timeless. The album's sound is clean and lean, up to modern snuff even more than a half-century after its original release in November 1970.

The tunes seem to roll like a Sunday drive on a country road, in and out of dark hollows and up and down hills. Three of its 10 songs have become folk-rock standards: "Friend of the Devil," "Sugar Magnolia," and "Truckin'."

Julie Mullins  |  Jun 24, 2024  |  3 comments
It's a truism in business—or if it isn't strictly true, it's at least a cliché—that you can't please everyone. But Mark Mawhinney sees everyone as a potential customer. He does his best to cover all customer bases, from old-school audiophiles to newcomers, from Boomers to Gen Z. "As long as they have two legs and two ears, they can be our customers," he told Stereophile in a recent phone interview.

Mawhinney owns and runs three businesses: Spin-Clean, the longstanding, inexpensive record-cleaning system; Northern Audio, a high-end audio dealership; and Music To My Ear, a record store that also sells some entry-level to mid-tier hi-fi equipment. The three businesses occupy the same building in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Business, he says, is strong.

Tom Fine  |  Jun 21, 2024  |  12 comments
Life is not for Goldilocks. "Just right" is elusive. Every day, we face countless situations where our choices are either too many to navigate or too few to find satisfaction. Behavioral scientists call those dissatisfying alternatives "choice overload" and "choice deprivation," respectively.

I think choice overload may scare some audiophiles away from the glorious world of streaming, where the bulk and finite scope of a physical music-media collection can be traded for (or augmented by) many more listening choices. If you're willing to explore and choose, you can hear as deep and wide as most musical rabbit holes are likely to go, and then return to your favorite songs with a couple of finger-pecks on your phone.

For some people, all that choice is intimidating, paralyzing, overwhelming, highly stressful. That's no way to enjoy music! I sympathize. I'm not ready to leave physical media behind. But I am very happy in the streaming present. In fact, I urge the hesitant: Cast aside your fears and trepidations, sign up for a free month of Qobuz, Spotify, Tidal, Apple Music, you decide—then take it slow. At first, avoid browsing—just search for the music you want to hear. Try something new each day. Over time, you'll adjust to the overwhelming abundance. By the end of the month, especially with a full-resolution service like Qobuz, Tidal, or Apple Music+HD, you may not want to give it up. The future-present beckons loudly.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Jun 20, 2024  |  15 comments
Tubes, tubes, tubes—how we love to bask in their glow, roll them, and take their second-harmonic distortion into our hearts as if it were a child or a pet. Some may put out so much heat that we have no choice but to open a window, turn on the air conditioning, or listen in the garb of Adam and Eve before that fatal first bite. As they and you age, you can never be sure who's at their best. Tubes, at least, can be replaced, albeit at significant expense...

I haven't reviewed much tube gear, but when I have—Bruce Moore and VTL (in my pre-Stereophile days), Audio Research, and in our September 2022 issue, the towering Octave Jubilee Mono SE tubed pentode push-pull monoblocks—I've been enamored of their sound. I waxed ecstatic about the "captivating beauty" and "heavenly" highs of the Jubilee Mono SEs. I can still recall how gorgeous they sounded; every listen was special.

Hence, my enthusiastic "yes" to a solicitation from John Quick, VP of Sales & Marketing for Dynaudio North America, Octave's North American distributor, to review the smaller MRE 220 SE mono push-pull tube amplifier.

Sasha Matson  |  Jun 19, 2024  |  23 comments
What was old is new again. McIntosh Laboratories has been in business long enough that they are able to bring new design thinking, materials, and construction methods to products from their extensive back catalog. Example: McIntosh's first successful loudspeaker, the ML1. The venerable Binghamton, New York, hi-fi company recently released a redesigned "Mk II" version ($12,000/pair, stands included).

In this, McIntosh is not unique; KLH, JBL, Klipsch, and other companies have rethought and reworked vintage products for the current marketplace, employing new approaches and technologies. Think of it as remastering classic hardware.

Michael Trei  |  Jun 18, 2024  |  15 comments
It has been more than a decade since 2012, when Lyra launched the original Atlas moving coil cartridge as the company's flagship, but in the intervening years, there have been a few updates. First, in 2016, Lyra introduced what they call the SL versions of the Atlas and also the Etna. These cartridges were designed to take advantage of a new crop of transimpedance phono preamps like the CH Precision P1 and the Sutherland Phono Loco, which boast exceptionally low noise levels but work best with cartridges that have very low impedance. Cutting the number of turns on each of the cartridge's two coils in half reduces the moving mass and inertia, allowing the stylus/cantilever assembly to respond more accurately to the tiny groove modulations. This results in improved tracking at the cost of a lower output level, which, thankfully, transimpedance phono preamps are well-equipped to handle.

Then in 2020, both Atlas and Etna versions were updated to new λ Lambda versions, with a redesigned suspension and damper system that Lyra says delivers enhancements in clarity and resolution.

Robert Baird  |  Jun 17, 2024  |  3 comments
Cannonball Adderley: Somethin' Else
Julian "Cannonball" Adderley (alto saxophone), Miles Davis (trumpet), Hank Jones (piano), Sam Jones (bass), Art Blakey (drums)
Mobile Fidelity UD15 2-022 (2 45rpm "Ultradisc One-Step" LPs). 2024. Alfred Lion, prod.; Rudy Van Gelder, eng.; Krieg Wunderlich, Shawn R. Britton, mastering engs.
Performance *****
Sonics *****

For those who care about sonics, the current wave of expensive 45rpm vinyl reissues has made one question urgently relevant: Does convenience trump better sound? Put differently, does the ease of not getting up every 10 minutes to turn over or replace the record offset improved sound quality? It's settled science that a higher rotational speed can result in a better frequency range, better stereo imaging, less frequency fluctuation, and increased low-end response—if a record is well-pressed.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Jun 15, 2024  |  0 comments
My second press day at Munich High End began with an intimate press conference at the Ideon/Baun loudspeaker booth in Halle 3. Benno Baun Meldgaard, former speaker designer for Gamut, Raidho, and Gryphon, was not on hand to discuss the latest developments in his forthcoming speaker line. I didn’t have time to view the latest prototype of those speakers, which I first encountered at the 2023 Pacific Audiofest, but the first speaker in the Baun line-up is due by the end of 2024. Designed to sit very close to the rear wall, the speakers will range upward in price from about $23,000/pair.
Jim Austin  |  Jun 14, 2024  |  11 comments
Photo: John Atkinson

If buying a hi-fi product from an internet retailer is like an arranged marriage, a hi-fi show is like speed dating. Not everyone, I realize, approaches hi-fi shows (or speed dating, for that matter) the same way, and anyway, the analogy between hi-fi and dating is far from perfect. Speed dating is how this year's AXPONA, America's biggest hi-fi show, held at the Renaissance Schaumburg Hotel & Convention Center (above) near Chicago in April, often felt to me as I moved from room to room. Every new system I heard had the potential to become a long-term relationship. Could I live with this one forever?

Michael Trei  |  Jun 13, 2024  |  1 comments
These days, there's a hi-fi show taking place somewhere on the planet pretty much every weekend, but for me, spring is show season. First, in April, comes AXPONA, which is held near Chicago. AXPONA is the largest North American high-end audio show, making it pretty much impossible for one person to see everything during the three-day event. Even with my focus on record-playing gear, I found myself skipping some rooms, telling myself that I could catch them a month later at High End Munich. Munich is even bigger than AXPONA, so we'll have to see how that plays out.

With that in mind, here are a few things that caught my eye at AXPONA 2024.