Audacious Audio

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Michael Fremer  |  Jul 25, 2014  |  2 comments
A preamplifier is the port of entry through which you gain access to the sources you've so carefully assembled. It's also the gate through which all of your music passes. So while its sonic performance is obviously critical, you'd also better assess how it feels, how it looks, and how it operates—you're going to be in an intimate relationship with it for a long time. Before choosing a preamplifier, therefore, take some time to drive it around the block, or at least shake hands with it. Use your imagination as much as your ears.
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  |  Feb 04, 2013  |  24 comments
What better way to celebrate the expiration of a noncompetition clause than to debut a product that has no competition? That's what Dan D'Agostino appears to have done with his Momentum monoblock amplifier ($55,000/pair)—his first new product since leaving Krell, the company he cofounded more than 30 years ago.
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Sep 28, 2017  |  24 comments
For as long as I've known about high-end audio, I've put Dan D'Agostino, co-founder of Krell, on the same pedestal reserved for the likes of Frank McIntosh, Saul Marantz, Avery Fisher, H.H. Scott, and Sidney Harman. The reason is simple: Dan's the man whose achievements at Krell led me from the harsh sound of my first high-end amp into another dimension, one of truly musical sound reproduction.
Wes Phillips  |  Aug 24, 2009  |  0 comments
As the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show neared its end, I wandered into Blue Light Audio's room, which was dominated by the innards of darTZeel's new NHB-458 monoblocks—think of a 3D "exploded" diagram and you'll be on target. So impressive was that display of brute engineering that I almost didn't notice the amplifier that was actually making the music: the CTH-8550 integrated ($20,300).
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."
Michael Fremer  |  Aug 03, 2012  |  4 comments
A recent (unpublished) letter to the editor argued that the reference for audio perfection is the sound of real instruments in a real space. The writer claimed that, since the art and/or science of audio is advancing, and because it is a "scientific truth" that the closer you get to perfection, the less divergence there is components, that therefore there should be less difference in sound among the components listed in Class A of Stereophile's "Recommended Components" than among those in Class B, much less Class C. This should be true of loudspeakers, he said, but even more true of top-rated amplifiers, since "they inherently have less divergence."
Michael Fremer  |  Oct 17, 2019  |  55 comments
What's the point of reviewing a pair of monoblock amplifiers that costs more than most people spend on two or even several cars— and far more than most audiophiles spend on an entire music system? That's a good question. Another is: Why should I write this review when, just seven years ago, I reviewed a pair of darTZeel monoblocks that look exactly like this new pair?

I realize that products such as the darTZeel NHB-468 ($170,000/pair) are for the very few, but the very few include far more people throughout the world than you may realize— people who can afford such costly audio products and who do buy them. I know, because in my travels I've met a lot of them, and they deserve to read reviews of products they're considering buying—things most of us can only dream of owning.

Michael Fremer  |  Jan 21, 2011  |  0 comments
Don't have $80,000 to drop on dCS's four-component Scarlatti SACD stack that I reviewed in August 2009, or $17,999 for their Puccini SACD/CD player that John Atkinson raved about in December 2009? Even if you do, the new Debussy D/A processor ($10,999) might be a better fit for your 21st-century audio system. Sure, you don't get an SACD transport—or any kind of disc play, for that matter—but the odds today are that you already have a player you like that's got an S/PDIF output that can feed the Debussy.
John Atkinson  |  Dec 14, 2009  |  0 comments
It's now 10 years since the launch of the two high-resolution audio disc formats, SACD and DVD-Audio. Yet, perhaps partly because both were hobbled in various ways to please the record industry, perhaps partly because too many supposed hi-rez releases sounded no better than CD, and perhaps partly because record retailers weren't sure how to display the formats to their best advantage, neither took off in any substantive way. DVD-A disappeared, and SACD survived only as a niche format for high-quality classical releases in both two- and multichannel forms. As we got deeper into the same decade, digital technology, despite various sparks and flashes, went into the doldrums. Mainstream digital technology was increasingly concerned with squashing the music into fewer and more portable bits, not with increased sound quality. Even the concept of "CD sound quality" began to seem an unattainable goal, as MP3 files became the dominant music carrier.
John Atkinson  |  Nov 18, 2016  |  3 comments
It has been 20 years since I first became aware of the British company Data Conversion Systems, which manufactures audio products under the dCS brand. Rather than use off-the-shelf conversion chips, the groundbreaking dCS Elgar D/A converter, which I reviewed in our July 1997 issue, featured a then-unique D/A design that they called a Ring DAC. This featured a five-bit, unitary-weighted, discrete DAC running at 64 times the incoming data's sample rate—2.822MHz for 44.1kHz-based data, 3.07MHz for 48kHz-sampled data and its multiples—with upsampling and digital filtering and processing implemented in Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs). Oversampling to a very high sample rate allows the word length to be reduced without losing resolution, and use of a low-bit multi-bit DAC makes for very high accuracy in the analog voltage levels that describe the signal. (If this seems like voodoo, for a given signal bandwidth, bit depth and sample rate are related. To oversimplify, double the rate, and you can reduce the bit depth by one bit while preserving the overall resolution.)
Michael Fremer  |  Aug 18, 2009  |  0 comments
Is anyone in this economy shopping for a four-box, rack-swallowing, two-channel SACD/CD player contending for the state of the art and costing $79,996? dCS is betting that its Scarlatti will attract a small crowd of those wealthy music enthusiasts who, in any economy, reliably pony up for the best. For the rest of us, the Scarlatti will be a spectator sport.
Michael Fremer  |  Jan 04, 2014  |  First Published: Jan 01, 2014  |  2 comments
More than a decade ago, Data Conversion Systems, aka dCS, released the Elgar Plus DAC, Purcell upsampler, and Verdi SACD/CD transport, for a total price of $34,000. In 2009 came the Scarlatti—a stack of four components for $80,000, also available individually (see my August 2009 review). The latest variation on the English company's theme are the four Vivaldi components, launched at the end of 2012 for a total price of $108,496.
John Atkinson  |  Dec 28, 2012  |  15 comments
Most reviews are straightforward. One preamplifier or power amplifier replaces another. DACs are swapped out. A new pair of speakers takes up residence in the listening room.

But some products demand a complete revision of a system's architecture. Such was the case with Devialet's D-Premier ($15,995). Not only is this French product an integrated amplifier, with phono and line analog inputs; it has digital inputs and an internal D/A section.

Steven Stone  |  Aug 24, 1998  |  First Published: Aug 24, 1996  |  0 comments
In this age of $70,000-plus "flagship" designs, perhaps $25k is no longer an obscene amount to pay for a pair of loudspeakers. Still, it's mucho dinero. What makes a speaker worth this kind of bread? Does the product's intrinsic value really warrant such a lofty cost, or is it merely a matter of pricing at what the market will bear? The answers to these questions requires careful examination of not only the speaker, but also of the buyer's own soul, priorities, and pocketbook.

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