Ken Micallef  |  Feb 08, 2024  |  4 comments
When I reviewed Luxman's L-509X flagship integrated amplifier, in May 2018, that sleek machine shook me to my vitals. I wrote, "Record after record, the L-509X illuminated every important aspect and area of the recording. It lived and breathed in the air around the notes, consistently creating big, solid, spatially natural images that presented me with a) the roundness and complexity of each instrument, b) a holistic sense of the musicians' intent, c) excellent touch and texture and impact, and d) a unified whole, regardless of musical style or dynamic level." I concluded, "the Luxman L-509X integrated amplifier takes a different path to musical involvement. The L-509X is one of the most intimate-sounding, dynamic, texturally nuanced, truthful purveyors of music of my experience."

Luxman's new flagship integrated, the L-509Z, has the same thick aluminum top plate and steel casework as its forebear and weighs a similarly knee-crushing 64lb. The older L-509X cost $9495; its newer, younger sibling rachets that up to $12,495. The front-panel controls are nearly identical, including those big, eye-catching dual VU meters; except for a new 4.4mm Pentaconn five-conductor mini headphone jack and a mute button, the Z matches the cosmetics of the X to a T. But as in all things, appearances can be deceiving.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Feb 07, 2024  |  7 comments
For some, it takes the likes of Scheherazade to seduce; for me, simple sound will suffice. But not just any sound. If I'm going to enter into a relationship with an audio component, I want it to last.

I don't know anyone who, having heard the JMF Audio system at AXPONA 2023—the HQS 6002 dual-mono power amplifier ($40,000; footnote 1) and PRS 1.5 dual-mono line stage preamplifier ($36,000) with Harbeth M40.3 XD speakers—did not rave about the sound. In my show report, I credited the system, assembled by Fidelis Distribution and Audio Skies, with delivering "some of the finestsounding music" I heard at the show. "This is the perfect sound for mellow music," I proclaimed. "Bliss."

Alex Halberstadt  |  Feb 06, 2024  |  1 comments
I said to Hank Williams, how lonely does it get?
Hank Williams hasn't answered yet
But I hear him coughing all night long
Oh, a hundred floors above me in the tower of song

          —Leonard Cohen, "Tower of Song"

When I was a child growing up in Moscow in the 1970s, our pop-musical landscape was dominated by the so-called bards. They were Soviet counterparts to singer-songwriters from the West, and they sang literate, knowing lyrics while accompanying themselves on acoustic guitars. Even the word used to describe them—bard'i—was adapted from English. And because they sometimes sang about aspects of day-to-day life that were off limits in public, their music rarely appeared on records and was circulated mostly on fuzzy-sounding homemade tapes.

The best known among the bards were a Georgian-Armenian poet named Bulat Okudjava—who sang sentimental ballads about (chaste) romantic love, childhood friends, and The Great Patriotic War—and an altogether more daring performer named Vladimir Vysotsky.

Tom Fine  |  Feb 03, 2024  |  14 comments

Anthony H. (Tony) Cordesman, who wrote high-end equipment reviews for Audio, Stereophile, and The Absolute Sound (TAS), died suddenly last week.

Tom Fine  |  Feb 02, 2024  |  2 comments
Do you remember your first really decent hi-fi system? It opened up your music, teased your brain with the possibilities of thrilling aural excitement, of dives to the bottom of the musical ocean. Perhaps it was all you needed, but more likely it was the beginning of a quest for your own ultimate sound-induced bliss.

That quest may be ongoing and never-ending, because our tastes and preferences evolve over time, money comes and goes, and we're simply never satisfied. And even if we are, eventually, we're audiophiles, and the industry always offers something interesting and new, or something old that's new again.

My time with a pair of Klipsch The Nines speaker-gadgets reminded me of the exciting, youthful bloom of my first serious sound system: a Technics SL-D2 turntable with Audio-Technica cartridge, a Philips 45Wpc receiver, and New Advent Loudspeakers.

Robert Baird  |  Feb 01, 2024  |  2 comments
In Jan Swafford's excellent 2020 Mozart biography The Reign of Love, he intimately weaves the composer's life story with the music he created. Along the way, he confirms a legendary scene. Played to the hilt in Amadeus, Milos Forman's 1984 film adaptation of Peter Shaffer's play, the then-reigning Hapsburg monarch, Joseph II, rushes backstage after the premiere of Mozart's first operatic blockbuster, The Abduction from the Seraglio, and opines, "Too beautiful for our [Viennese] ears, my dear Mozart, and monstrous many notes." Sassy by nature or perhaps just stung by the implied criticism, Mozart supposedly replied, "Exactly as many as necessary, Your Majesty."

That quote rings in my head each time I listen to Bruce Springsteen's still-astonishing 1973 debut album, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., which has just turned 50 and been reissued in Mobile Fidelity's Ultradisc One-Step series.

Phil Brett  |  Jan 31, 2024  |  3 comments
Shane MacGowan (Photo: Creative Commons-Share Alike 2.0.)

There was a time in London, in the mid-'80s, when a party would invariably close with a couple of Pogues songs. It didn't matter what music had preceded them—it could be reggae or soul or whatever—but the Pogues would be played, to enthusiastic sing-a-longs by the party guests. Even I was known to join in occasionally.

As often as not, one of the songs would be the Pogues's cover of Ewan MacColl's "Dirty Old Town." It didn't matter that the song had been written about Salford (a city in Greater Manchester): Everyone would feel it had been written about their own town. This wasn't true just in my part of London, which has a large Irish diaspora, but in many other places across the world.

This was one of several gifts possessed by Shane MacGowan, who died November 30, 2023: Whether he had written the song or not, you felt he was singing about your world, your life.

Herb Reichert  |  Jan 30, 2024  |  7 comments
I always say I can't find what I'm not looking for, which doesn't mean I always know what I'm looking for. And not knowing what I want is unsettling. Recently, I was reminded of the thoughts of French polymath-philosopher René Girard (1923–2015), who suggested that people are not actually motivated by specific things like lust or capital or power, as major philosophers have declared, but by subtle, disconcerting forces of existential desire for something outside ourselves, never actually knowing what that something is.

Girard explains how this not knowing drives history and invention. His main premise is that we feel desire but, not knowing what we desire, mimic the desires of others. These "others" we mimic constitute a third element, interrupting the lines of force between a person and the objects desired. This, according to Girard, makes desire, and by extension human evolution, a nebulous but powerful anthropological force engaged in forming human cultures.

In other words, you might like big speakers and fat speaker cables, but maybe only because people around you appear to like them. Same with cars and clothes and lovers.

Robert Baird  |  Jan 29, 2024  |  4 comments
"When I first listened to the tape I thought, this is so good that if I do anything else in my life, I have to make sure the world hears this," David Prinz says with obvious intensity. "That's how I really feel. It makes me happy that all these Gram fans are finally going to get to hear what he was really like live."

The love of music can drive human beings to astonishing lengths. For Prinz, cofounder/owner of California's Amoeba Music chain, that fervor revolves around the work of country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons. Despite the often-outlandish mythology that's grown up around this shooting star since his tragic 1973 overdose at age 26, Prinz has made it his quixotic mission to find, restore, and release unreleased Gram Parsons live shows.

Herb Reichert  |  Jan 26, 2024  |  32 comments
I can roll out of bed and install a $10,000 phono cartridge while finishing my coffee, but I postpone DAC installations until I am in the exact right mood to handle the potential stress—especially DACs with a touch screen and a complex menu. To my delight, Ferrum Audio's new Wandla digital converter was completely stress-free to install. It took only minutes to connect the USB-C cable, the Cardas Audio Clear Beyond interconnects, and 24V DC power adapter.

Connecting the power adapter caused a power-switch symbol to appear on the front panel touch screen. The moment I touched it, I smiled like the Cheshire Cat, because I saw a USB-C symbol, a loudspeaker symbol, three dots in a box, and a volume control bargraph. That told me the Wandla recognized my chosen input and was waiting for a signal. All that remained was for my Roon Nucleus+ server to recognize and enable the new DAC, which it did without prodding or reprimand. For me, that was a wow moment, a good start to what promised to be an interesting review.