Herb Reichert  |  Oct 04, 2023  |  13 comments
With a system like this, Thoreau would never have gone into the woods to begin with.

Last weekend, I visited an old friend who lives near Walden Pond of Henry Thoreau fame. I hadn't visited him since before the pandemic. He had just finished adding a wing to his house that included a dedicated hi-fi listening room the size and shape of a small church. Below a cathedral ceiling, the sweet spot featured seating for no fewer than 30 guests. Besides serving as his main listening room—he has another one that's smaller—it serves as a large residential parlor with a baby grand piano for use in chamber music performances, which feature prominently in his and his wife's social calendar.

It was a high-SPL thrill to experience his towering, field-coiled RCA theater horns powered by RCA 845 amplifiers.

Andrey Henkin  |  Oct 03, 2023  |  1 comments
In 1984, Metal Blade Records of Van Nuys, California, released the fifth edition of its Metal Massacre series, which had already unleashed such bands as RATT, Metallica, Slayer, and Lizzy Borden onto an unwitting music-buying public. On the second track, among future stalwarts Overkill, Fates Warning, and Metal Church as well as no-hit wonders Lethyl Synn and Jesters of Destiny, was an oddly named band from Jonquière, Quebec: Voïvod, spelled Voi Vod on the album cover. Voïvod's four members were Blacky, Away, Piggy, and Snake.
Herb Reichert  |  Sep 29, 2023  |  9 comments
In red letters on the first page of Chinese audio manufacturer Audio-GD's website are these words: Wisdom in mind, enthusiasm at heart.

I like this goodwill greeting because it sets a mindful tone. I presume that sentiment was issued by one Mr. He Qinghua, because farther down the page, it states, "All Audio-GD's products are designed and developed under the leadership of Mr. He Qinghua." When I began my auditions, I took this salutation as an advisement, making it my plan to study Audio-GD's Vacuum HE1 XLR line-level preamp with as much wisdom as I could muster and the enthusiasm of high expectations.

Tom Fine  |  Sep 28, 2023  |  7 comments
Hi-fi is at a crossroads. One road takes us toward modernized versions of the gear we grew up with, stuff that has been around since the 1950s. The other road faces the future. While sometimes accommodating physical media, including vinyl records, that's not where that road leads. On that road, streaming is the norm, and equipment may be hooked up with traditional signal cables or with no cables at all, just GHz-range electromagnetic radiation, the digital kind. In the more extreme cases, the music may remain digital all the way to the amplifiers, which themselves are likely to be class-D.

I keep a foot on both paths, hoping they don't diverge so much that they split me in two. I've got a substantial collection of physical discs, black and silver, and I play them often. But I love the convenience of my network-attached storage (NAS) appliance, Qobuz, even lossy Spotify, especially when I want my world filled with music for hours with no thought or action on my part.

Alex Halberstadt  |  Sep 27, 2023  |  8 comments
Writing a regular column can be a funny thing; the repetition it requires brings up questions that grow increasingly urgent. Chief among them: What are we doing here, and what is this for? For all the handwringing about story-telling and prose style, what we're up to in the equipment-review section of this magazine is writing about metal boxes filled with wire, capacitors, circuit boards, and other bits of hardware. Life is difficult and goes by in a flash, love and satisfaction are fleeting at best—so why should we care? Well, because some of these boxes manage to connect us to beauty and meaning in a way that can enhance and gradually change our lives. (And yes, both have to be in the mix: Beauty without meaning is anodyne and lacks whupass.)
Laurence Vittes  |  Sep 26, 2023  |  3 comments
Brahms first scored what was to become his Quintet in F minor, Op.34, for piano, two violins, viola, and cello for two violins, one viola, and two cellos—no piano. The scoring and perhaps the music was inspired by Schubert's similarly piano-less, two-cello Quintet in C major. The original Brahms score has been lost.

Cellist Terry King, a protégé of the great Gregor Piatigorsky and the first American-born teacher to teach a Tchaikovsky Competition Gold Medal winner, long wondered what the original quintet sounded like. He sent me this quote, from Clara Schumann, from just after she read Brahms's original score, playing all the parts on her piano. "What a world of strength and richness there is in the first movement, how the first theme takes hold of one at once," Schumann wrote. "How beautifully it is scored for the instruments! I can see them bowing. Dreamy at times and then the accelerando and [the] wild, passionate ending—it has taken hold of me. And how rapturously the Adagio sings one long melody from start to finish! I play it over and over again and never wish to stop."

King decided that he would recreate the original version of the Brahms quintet.

Ken Micallef  |  Sep 22, 2023  |  21 comments
Can an audio brand maintain a "house sound" if the original creator of that sound is no longer among the living? If the brand in question is Ayre Acoustics, the answer is a resounding Yes.

When Ayre founder Charley Hansen passed in late 2017, Ariel Brown, who is now Ayre's vice president and chief technology officer, was ready, waiting in the wings. Brown has worked for Ayre since he was a sophomore in college. As John Atkinson wrote in his February 2019 review of Ayre's EX-8 Integrated Hub, "Brown says that for better or worse, he was indoctrinated in Hansen's way of thinking and design. 'I only know the Charley way! Charley never wanted to introduce a product unless we had something new to offer with that product. 'New–Better–Different' was his philosophy; every product had to be a step up from before.'"

Michael Trei  |  Sep 21, 2023  |  7 comments
I have found that turntable designers typically fall into one of two camps. First are what I call the obsessive machinists. These are the people with impressive manufacturing chops and a sharp eye for fine detail and precision. For them, making a better turntable usually involves taking what we already know and simply doing it better.

Whether it's a thicker chassis, more powerful motor, more precise bearing, more effective isolation system, or something else, the emphasis is always on stepping things up a notch or two, rather than reinventing the wheel. This obsession can result in some impressive 'tables—some of the most impressive in the world, with awesome attention to detail. But are they the best sounding?

The other camp is what I call the deep thinkers. They approach the task of playing a record from a theoretical perspective and leverage their knowledge of physics to come up with fresh and innovative designs. The results may look unconventional, or even odd at first glance, but when such lateral thinking clicks, it can really push the boundaries of what's possible.

Ken Micallef  |  Sep 20, 2023  |  4 comments
Today's scrappy record labels understand that an intimate brand connection captures consumers. Every major label has its own boutique imprints, from Columbia's Legacy to Blue Note's Tone Poet and Classic Vinyl. Craft Recordings, the catalog label for Concord, is set up well for achieving such a connection, since the parent company also owns Fania, Prestige, Milestone, Pablo, Telarc, Vanguard, Concord Jazz, and Riverside (not to mention Stax, Rounder, and Sugar Hill). For vinyl reissues, that's the jazz motherlode.

Craft created Jazz Dispensary to reissue some of this music, with shall we say uplifting goals: "With jazz as its source, ... Jazz Dispensary blurs boundaries and opens minds to the psychoactive potential of music, introducing a new generation to the grooves that elevated the hippest heads of the '60s and '70s." One Jazz Dispensary review copy came with branded rolling papers.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Sep 19, 2023  |  80 comments
Note: This is a developing story. Updates will be posted as they unfold.

Lenbrook Corp, the privately owned Canadian enterprise whose holdings include NAD electronics, PSB speakers, and Bluesound (the maker of the BluOS music operating software system) has acquired the assets of MQA, Ltd, including MQA technology and the SCL6. The press release announcing the acquisition, which went public September 19 at 8am EDT, notes that the deal "further solidifies Lenbrook's commitment to excellence and innovation in the evolving landscape of audio technology."