Audacious Audio

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Jason Victor Serinus  |  Mar 24, 2023  |  15 comments
At AXPONA 2022, I eagerly headed to the Esoteric exhibit, where I spoke with Keith Haas, national sales manager of 11 Trading Company, Esoteric's US distributor. When I learned of the forthcoming Grandioso M1X monoblock ($35,500 each), the culmination of a complete revision of the company's top-selling M1 monoblock (now discontinued), I worked with Haas and Editor Jim Austin and set up a review.
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Feb 17, 2023  |  24 comments
Within seconds after hitting play on the 2006 remaster of "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," played back with the dCS Vivaldi Apex DAC, what I thought would be a lovely opportunity to wax nostalgic morphed into something far deeper. The first few bars of the song grabbed us like nothing else we'd listened to over the past 10 days. Flack's complete calm, unwavering focus, and unapologetic intimacy took our breath away. The soundstage was wide, the silence profound, the presentation pristine. The beauty of Flack's voice and passion, enhanced by John Pizzarelli's guitar, Ron Carter's bass, and Ray Lucas's drums, transformed the music room into a holy sanctuary. Toward the end of the first verse, right before "To the dark and the endless skies," I rose long enough to turn off the lights. We sat together in silence, barely breathing.
Jim Austin  |  Jan 27, 2023  |  30 comments
If you're reasonably handy, you can probably build your own digital-to-analog converter. It won't cost much, and if you're careful, and knowledgeable enough to understand and follow some rather technical instructions, or if you have patience enough to follow advice from a few different online discussion forums—and the judgment to distinguish the good advice from the bad—then the DAC you make may end up sounding very good.
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Dec 22, 2022  |  19 comments
In the very first copy of Stereophile I encountered, back when issues were digest size, one review infuriated me. The writer went on at inordinate length about the fine wines he'd consumed during the review period. On and on he went, gushing about the costly drinks, until I exclaimed (in a sentence laced with expletives), "What in the world does any of this have to do with audio?!"
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Aug 26, 2022  |  67 comments
When I was a young man, blind dates were always laced with anxiety. (Proms were even worse. Once, when I arrived in a rented tux and my father's prized dress gloves, my date's father ordered me to take out the trash.)
Michael Fremer  |  Aug 17, 2022  |  28 comments
Some time ago, an amplifier in for review caught fire when first powered up. I don't mean it smoked and sizzled and shut down—I mean that actual flames shot through the top grate. Fortunately, I was able to grab a kitchen fire extinguisher and douse the thing with foam. (Sorry, this was decades ago, and I don't remember the brand, but I think the company had a fire sale and was shut down.)
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Jul 08, 2022  |  74 comments
The Kingdom of Audiophiledom rests on a paradox. Inanimate audio systems and rooms aim to deliver music that animates our senses and touches our souls. The inherently lifeless exists to bring music to life.

This holistic reality—that systems and rooms function as living organisms where every part is interconnected and interrelated—came home to me when, during one of the first AXPONAs in Chicago, I entered a long, cavernous basement room with several spongy "conference room" walls. "There is no way that any setup can deliver good sound in this room," self said to self. Yet, the system sounded unbelievably good.

Michael Fremer  |  Jun 17, 2022  |  108 comments
Are well-heeled audiophiles ready for a knob-free future? Gryphon Audio Designs thinks so. In contrast to Gryphon's volume knob–dominated Pandora preamplifier, the Danish company's new Commander offers nothing on its bold front panel to grab or turn.

Instead, there's a large, extra-thick, triangular glass protuberance that extends dramatically below the chassis's vertical dimension. That's where you'll find an "on/off" button, the main unit's only physical switch.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Apr 01, 2022  |  32 comments
Have you ever walked through fresh snow in the woods with all your senses heightened? When I did, shortly before the New Year, it was as if I was seeing nature for the first time, through a fresh lens. Never had white-coated surfaces appeared so white. Nor had shapes seemed so magical. It felt as if I had happened upon a pristine landscape unexplored by human or beast.
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Feb 23, 2022  |  6 comments
Like the proverbial pot of gold, darTZeel's golden equipment beckons. That, at least, is how it felt in January 2010, when John Atkinson and I ended our coverage of T.H.E. Show Las Vegas in the room shared by darTZeel, Evolution Acoustics, and Playback Designs. Listening to darTZeel's discontinued NHB-458 monoblocks (footnote 1) and NHB-18NS reference preamplifier (now updated), I was transfixed by the fullness of the system's midrange and overall beauty of the sound. "It was as though the system was opening its heart and welcoming us in," I wrote. "That's how warm and nurturing the sound was."
Jim Austin  |  Feb 16, 2022  |  27 comments
There's a school of thought that maintains that among all hi-fi components, the D/A converter is easiest to perfect or come close to perfecting. Just make sure that every sample is converted accurately, that there's little rolloff in the audioband, that aliased images are suppressed almost completely, and that background noise is extremely low, and you have a top-quality D/A processor. Use of a high-quality DAC chip is assumed.
Jim Austin  |  Nov 17, 2021  |  22 comments
The Wilson Audio Specialties Alexx V ($135,000–$151,000/pair) is the biggest, heaviest, most expensive loudspeaker I've had in my listening room. It replaces the original Alexx in Wilson's lineup; Michael Fremer reviewed the earlier Alexx, bought it, and owned it until replacing it recently with the Wilson Chronosonic XVX.
Michael Fremer  |  Oct 22, 2021  |  25 comments
You've got your 2001: A Space Odyssey speaker, which of course is a tall, black, featureless monolith. Then there's your wooden "Who's buried inside?" speaker, your "R-I-C-O-L-A" speaker, your enema bag or double-inverted enema bag speaker, your menacing hooded-Klansman speaker, your "looks like a robot, praying mantis, or Transformer" speaker (mine), and your "Does it leave a slime trail?" speaker (looks like a snail). You've got your "Is that a room divider?" speaker, your "looks like you stepped on a duck's head" speaker, and your "whipped cream dollop suspended in time" speaker.
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Oct 20, 2021  |  19 comments
We audiophiles so frequently get caught up in the pursuit of perfection that some have attempted to rebrand high-end audio as "perfectionist audio." But is it even possible for a single piece of audio gear, let alone an entire audio system, to attain perfection when there's no common agreement as to what "perfection" means? It's easier to cue up a Nirvana track than to find the way to audio nirvana.

Michael Fremer  |  Sep 28, 2021  |  46 comments
If you're going to spend a year-plus in COVID lockdown, it doesn't hurt to have a million dollars' worth of turntables keeping you company, right? That's been my good fortune. Sounds like a roomful, but it's only three: the SAT XD1, the TechDAS Air Force Zero, and the OMA K3 ($360,000, footnote 1).

You'll find this issue's cover girl either strikingly beautiful or homely. Visitor reactions fall strongly into one of those two camps, with nothing in between. I love the looks. Whatever your opinion, the K3's visual distinctiveness cannot be denied. The innards are equally unique.

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