It's "Recommended Components" Time!

Not only does the April 2018 Stereophile feature our new "Recommended Components" listing, updated and revised (p.47), featured on the cover and reviewed inside is Bel Canto's Black ACI 600. This is a revolutionary kind of all-in-one product, a network-connected integrated amplifier that accepts both digital and analog inputs, including phono. Turn to p.110 to see what we think of it.

And there are more equipment reports to be found in this 188-page issue: Mikey Fremer reviews a massive monoblock from Greek company Ypsilon; Larry Greenhill reviews an almost-as-massive stereo amplifier from Australian company Constellation; Herb Reichert reviews an English Harbeth speaker; and John Atkinson reviews both the English Callia DAC from Prism Sound and the newly restored, MQA-encoded reissue of Radka Toneff's classic Fairytales album from Norway. And in other music coverage Moby talks to Robert Baird about his fight against the Loudness Wars.

COMMENTS
Axiom05's picture

Bravo for Jon Iverson's As We See It.

tonykaz's picture

As We See It -- MQA is pretty much a "done deal" -- well said !

500 Recommended has nearly everything PS Audio Makes in the A+ level, even those PS Audio M700 Mono Amps that the Reviewer said were Class A ( actually Class D, hmm )

Herb Reichert writes Amplifier Love Letters -- the best Audio writing so far this year. Did HP at TAS write this well ?, I don't think so. Michael Moore of "Fire and Fury" doesn't write this well! Mr. HR could write for the NYTimes.

Tony in Michigan

Herb Reichert's picture

Those are kind generous and humbling words. Truth is I not only venerate HP - I study him. I believe he was the best at hooking his readers in (I have read every word he wrote). I study and admire HP like I study and admire Stephen Mejias, Jana Dagagan, Michael Lavorgna, Art Dudley, and Michael Fremer -- all of whom create genuine intimacy with their readers. I believe intimacy is an important trait in writers.

thank you again,

herb in Brooklyn

tonykaz's picture

Thanks for writing back but...

I'm not being generous and I certainly don't intend to humble.

Writing is Mental Telepathy ( Steven King's definition ) that begins with thoughts and experiences , second comes digging around the dusty bins for the wonderful words that have the descriptive essence. Third comes having someone wiling to put them in front of a wide audience.

It's hard work getting to that place, it's not generosity or being humble it's grinding out re-write after re-write and finally settling on a compromise as the deadline approaches.

It's hard work, like putting together a row of Sightseeing Railroad Cars to make the Canadian Pacific Cross Country or the Orient Express. Each Month builds a fresh Audiophile Adventure where the readers get to view a new experience ( in their mind's eye ).

I'm delighted the Manufacturers seem eager to share thier interesting designs for exhibition, critical examination and discussion. ( I certainly would )

and I'm delighted that you still have the curiosity, skill and interest in discovering the "diamond in the gravel parking lot" and that JA has barrels of ink set aside for your reporting.

An Agent will find the occasional 5,000 Word piece that would pay $2+ per and provide a widening of expressiveness...

...or are you already writing for the Atlantic under another name?

Bon Vivant

Tony in Michigan

ps. Steve G and Paul McGowan are "crushing-it" ( as they say ) on YouTube. ( Steve needs a Make-up lady for just a bit of tidy, no lipstick or wigs pleeeeeeze )

ckharbeth's picture

Herb, I also appreciate your cogent and passionate writing and reviews. One comment on your appreciative review of the Harbeth 30.2 in this latest issue is how useful it would have been to provide some contrast to your own system's speakers? Not sure why you may have missed comparing with your associated equip of Falcon, Sterling and KEF. All reasonable alternatives to the Harbeth in possible sound quality. As you can see from my username my own personal preferences are with the Harbeth for an openness and naturalness that continues to astonish me daily.

Glotz's picture

Herb's column was fantastic, and I could sense him in a high for sure. All of the columns were great. Loved LG's review of the Constellation; valuable comparisons for those in that market.

As We See It hits all the points well... As does Kal and his MQA multi-channel issues with MQA. Having MQA foisted upon the industry has always been the issue, not the quality inherent in it's technology. MQA prevents IP development as it shuts the market down, as well as killing off other subsets, like multichannel playback.

It makes sense the major labels would want to 'project their jewels', but why did most of the high performance audio manufacturers embrace MQA so quickly?

Indydan's picture

"It makes sense the major labels would want to 'project their jewels', but why did most of the high performance audio manufacturers embrace MQA so quickly?"

Aurender
Berkeley
Mytek
Audioquest
And a few others.

Certainly not most.

Glotz's picture

"Most" perhaps means 'most visible' here as well.

T.S. Gnu's picture

Perhaps instead of the posing the question:

Quote:

It makes sense the major labels would want to 'project their jewels', but why did most of the high performance audio manufacturers embrace MQA so quickly?

it would be more useful to ask, Why did most of the high profile audio reporters — I am loath to use the term "journalists" — embrace MQA so quickly (and uncritically)?

The answer to the first question is simply that anything with another new logo and enough cheerleading leads to an increased bottom line. In fact many consumers led blindly by the cheerleading opinion setters actively asked for MQA. The answer to the second question is more...nebulous. The fact that objective data are coming from sources other than the professionals trading on their name recognition is recorded online for posterity.

http://www.theabsolutesound.com/media/issues/TAS_263_Cover.jpg.200x275_q...

The actions, and inactions, of those leading and cheerleading the "revolution" in digital audio is may have the unfortunate consequence of history viewing them as having been, indeed, revolting.

There are some manufacturers (of software and hardware) with more forethought who took a step back and actually displayed spine: AIX, Ayre, Benchmark, Linn, Schiit...to name a few. They, unlike the mainstream reporters, saw the disadvantages to both industry and consumer of supporting a proprietary format — something that ought to have been more closely and critically looked at by the press.

It is disturbing that the press has yet to address valid Schiit on the topic:
Supporting MQA means handing over the entire recording industry to an external standards organization.
MQA wants:
• Licensing fees from the recording studios
• Licensing fees from the digital audio product manufacturers
• Hardware and/or software access/insight into the DAC or player (i,e. ramifications for IP)
• Subscription fees from every listener via Tidal, and/or royalties from purchases of re-releases by the recording industry
Failure to do this in a timely fashion has done the industry, manufacturer, consumer and readership a disservice.

Glotz's picture

The rest of the argument sounds reaching, and insulting. "Loathe to call them journalists"..?

Moreover, do you really think that the majority of the MQA coverage has created a ground swell of approval from the public? I would think quite the opposite, from TAS' site and this one.

There are also several articles that covered the pros and cons of the tech, and I would consider JI's As We See It, a critical essay, as well as KR's follow-up. I think your expectations of this publication (in this 'social' era) are a little high.

Coverage of new technology is what they do... And while it may have an impact on the reading public, I highly doubt the record labels who value control of their own IP, would care to listen beyond their own interests. They look at the entire market's needs and interests. Will the rest of the larger market be served by MQA more adequately?

I wonder if JA feels responsible for partial industry acceptance of this format. I doubt it. There has not been any failure of coverage, nor do I believe that the manufacturers 'on-board' professionally consulted with the major rags first.

If MQA has some positives over current high-resolution format, what can be kept and what can be thrown away? Do any of us know the tech well enough to comment on that? I doubt it.

dalethorn's picture

"I wonder if JA feels responsible for partial industry acceptance of this format. I doubt it. There has not been any failure of coverage, nor do I believe that the manufacturers 'on-board' professionally consulted with the major rags first."

I just imagine being in the boardroom when they made the decision. Once they got past the basic questions of "Will our customers accept it? Will a significant number of them revolt? Anyone out there who can damage us?" Then like most tech companies, they make decisions that do a lot of damage, but the damage gets spread around and amortized.

volvic's picture

"Will our customers accept it?" Not so sure that even crossed their minds in the boardroom. I remember reading Marc Andreesen pulling out his Blackberry to Steve Jobs and saying how much he loved the keyboard, then Jobs pulled out his iPhone prototype and showed him the touchscreen, sans physical keyboard. Andreesen asked Jobs do you think customers will get used to it or like it? Jobs replied by saying they will learn to like it. I think the same has happened here with MQA. I might be wrong. But Jobs always used to say that designing products through focus groups was useless because people didn't know what they wanted until it was shown to them. Perhaps the same has occurred here.

dalethorn's picture

The story about Jobs and the touchscreen sparked some thoughts. We had the IBM PC, keyboard only, navigation could be difficult. The mouse, via 1984's Mac and Windows ca. 1986/87, gave nearly instant access to anywhere on the screen. But still the mouse was an indirect access, and now the touchscreens are very direct for most things. Siri and other AI are even more direct and convenient than touchscreens, albeit Siri needs a lot of work to be able to access things that have a long description.

Going to the software, the transition from LP to CD gave much greater convenience, compact size, and a more consistent sound for a large number of plays without cleaning chores. Digital, starting with CD rips, offered far greater convenience with near-infinitely smaller size, instant access, and no deterioration at all given proper care.

We seem to be past the point where slightly smaller file sizes via MQA have anything to offer, so looking at this from the mass consumer point of view, where would MQA fit in as a newer paradigm?

miguelito's picture

Nice. I shall keep my Stereophile subscription after all!

NeilS's picture

I read the review of the "Recording of the Month", Radka Toneff's masterpiece, "Fairytales". I was surprised that in an audiophile publication there was no mention (maybe I missed it) of the significantly reduced dynamic range of the remastered recording (must it always be so, now even in jazz?)

I wondered at the lack of mention in the review that the MQA version (which I believe is listed as the 2015 "Original Master Edition on the Dynamic Range Database website) appears to be dynamically compromised (DR 8-12) compared to the 1986 ODIN CD (DR 12-15), and the associated 16 bit FLAC download (Odin 2008) which is still available on Qobuz.

http://dr.loudness-war.info/album/list?artist=radka+toneff&album=

Yet the review rates this as a "5 star" for "sonics", based on paragraph after paragraph of discussion seeming related to the horrors of the original recording's pitch being A=442HZ and the resultant glories of the MQA "restoration" tuned to A=446HZ.

Whatever. I love the original.

Just as a thought experiment, if there were two otherwise identical versions of this release, one with the wider dynamic range of the original CD and the Qobuz download, and this one, which would rate five stars in Stereophile? Would there be no points off for dynanmic compression of an all-acoustic recording ? Not even a mention?

There is repeated mention in the review of the MQA remastered recording being "restored". Seems to me, that, whatever has been "restored", in the process they've significantly reduced the dynamic range. Why? It's all-acoustic music - voice and piano; the wide dynamic range on the original recording is full of depth and space and subtlety. Why reward the gratuitous reduction of dynamic range with a five star "sonics" rating?

And that's before what I understand is the reduced bit depth of the undecoded MQA compared to the original Redbook CD if you don't want to buy an MQA DAC. But I see that's in another discussion :)

dalethorn's picture

I have the regular CD and it is amazing, with a huge dynamic range. The MQA release doesn't seem to be available for download in the U.S. as yet, but I'm anxious to get a copy.

John Atkinson's picture
NeilS wrote:
I read the review of the "Recording of the Month", Radka Toneff's masterpiece, "Fairytales". I was surprised that in an audiophile publication there was no mention (maybe I missed it) of the significantly reduced dynamic range of the remastered recording (must it always be so, now even in jazz?)

As far as I could tell, the dynamic range of the decoded MQA version was identical to that of the 24/192 needle drop of the 1982 LP release: a DR of 13 or greater.

NeilS wrote:
I wondered at the lack of mention in the review that the MQA version (which I believe is listed as the 2015 "Original Master Edition on the Dynamic Range Database website) appears to be dynamically compromised (DR 8-12) compared to the 1986 ODIN CD (DR 12-15), and the associated 16 bit FLAC download (Odin 2008) which is still available on Qobuz.

I believe you are referring to the the flawed 2015 edition, which, as I write in the review, was at the wrong speed and had been "mastered." It was withdrawn from release and the version I reviewed was the 2017 Original Master MQA Edition.

NeilS wrote:
Yet the review rates this as a "5 star" for "sonics", based on paragraph after paragraph of discussion seeming related to the horrors of the original recording's pitch being A=442HZ and the resultant glories of the MQA "restoration" tuned to A=446HZ

You misread the review. The original 1982 LP and the 2017 MQA reissue are pitched at A=442Hz. The flawed 2015 version was at A=446Hz.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

NeilS's picture

I stand corrected for misreading and conflating the 2015 release with the 2017 release. Do you have any actual DR measurements for the 2017 release?

volvic's picture

An enjoyable review of all those cartridges by Mr. Reichert, might make me consider an EMT for my SME rig. Such enjoyable writing.

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