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John Atkinson  |  Aug 22, 2019  |  3 comments
DALI's loudspeaker factory in Nørager, Denmark. (Photo: DALI.)

Seen from the air, Denmark is a vista of farms and wind turbines. But once your plane touches down, it is a land of loudspeakers. Perhaps this is because audio has a long history in Denmark—it was a Dane, Valdemar Poulsen, who developed a magnetic wire recorder in 1898—but there are more loudspeaker manufacturers per person than any other country. According to Wikipedia, Denmark is home to 5.75 million people, compared with New York's five boroughs, which have a population of 8.67 million However, as well as drive-unit manufacturers Audio Technology, Peerless, Vifa (which merged with Peerless to form Danish Sound Technology), and ScanSpeak, there are Bang & Olufsen, DALI, Dynaudio, Gamut, Gryphon, Jamo, Lyngdorf Audio, Peak-Consult, and Raidho all making loudspeakers. Lots of loudpeakers.

Robert Schryer  |  Jul 23, 2019  |  31 comments
Dear Newbie: Welcome to the wonderful world of hi-fi! If you're besotted with a desire for audio gear that can make your recorded music sound better than you've ever heard it, you've come to the right place.

And at just the right time: Not only is there an unprecedented amount of sanely priced, excellent-sounding audio gear on the market; there's this thing happening between us right here and now—the fact that you're reading a letter I wrote especially for you.

Jim Austin  |  Dec 04, 2018  |  16 comments
If there's one thing audiophiles agree on, it's that snake oil is bad—even if they can't agree about what snake oil actually is.

In audio, snake oil means fake science or fake technology—anything that's claimed to improve the sound of a system but that looks like an obvious rip-off. For some people, expensive speaker cables and interconnects are snake oil. A few objectivists consider AC power treatments snake oil: most modern audio components, after all, can correct for AC line-voltage flaws and reject "ripple" in a power supply's output. A handful of hard-core objectivists maintain that every new digital technology since the advent of the Compact Disc is snake oil.

Art Dudley  |  Nov 21, 2018  |  44 comments
Since fake news is on everyone's minds these days—I would say it's been in the news a lot, but that kind of reasoning is too circular even for me—it's worth keeping in mind that there's also such a thing as fake praise. You see it every day, whether it's a fake Google review—an alarming number of businesses seem unaware that real people don't actually say things like "the team at New Hartford Chevrolet really listened to all of my needs"—or fake trophies handed out to all 20 co-captains of your child's soccer team.

Then there are fake awards.

Jim Austin  |  Oct 02, 2018  |  43 comments
The most notable aspect of Benchmark Media Systems' DAC3 HGC ($2195), which I favorably reviewed in the November 2017 Stereophile (footnote 1), is its low noise floor. John Atkinson's measurements corroborated Benchmark's claim that the DAC3 is capable of "at least" 21-bit performance. While significantly less than the theoretical potential of a 24-bit data format, 21 bits is still the state of the art, and corresponds to a dynamic range—the ratio of the highest achievable digital-domain volume to the DAC's internal noise—of 128dB. That's well above the dynamic range that most power amplifiers can achieve. A good-measuring high-end solid-state amplifier is likely to have a dynamic range—the highest attainable ratio of signal to noise—of about 100dB ref. its maximum power.
John Atkinson  |  Aug 14, 2018  |  47 comments
In a series of recent feature articles for Stereophile, Jim Austin has examined how the controversial MQA codec works: "MQA Tested, Part 1," "MQA Tested Part 2: Into the Fold," "MQA Contextualized," "MQA, DRM, and Other Four-Letter Words," and, most recently, "MQA: Aliasing, B-Splines, Centers of Gravity." I doubt there is a Stereophile reader who is unaware of the fracas associated with MQA, and I have been repeatedly criticized on web forums for describing its underlying concept as "elegant."

But elegant it is, I feel.

Stereophile Staff  |  Aug 14, 2018  |  10 comments
EISA is the biggest and, at nearly 40 years, the oldest general consumer-electronics awards association in the world; its members include 50 special-interest magazines in over 23 European countries and, now, the US, Canada, India, and Australia. Through its annual Awards program, EISA has been celebrating the very best consumer-electronics products for over 30 years. Each spring, the editors of the member magazines in the Hi-Fi Expert Group vote on products that have been nominated in up to 15 categories: turntable, floorstanding loudspeaker, amplifier, etc. The winners are announced at the EISA Awards Gala at the Internationale Funkausstellung (IFA), which takes place each September in Berlin, Germany.

Here are the 2018–2019 winners...

Jim Austin  |  Apr 19, 2018  |  47 comments
In an article published in the March 2018 Stereophile, I wrote that critics have been attacking MQA, the audio codec developed by J. Robert Stuart and Peter Craven, by accusing it of being lossy. The critics are right: MQA is, in fact, a lossy codec—that is, not all of the data in the original recording are recovered when played back via MQA—though in a clever and innocuous way. For MQA's critics, though, that's not the point: They use lossy mainly for its negative emotional associations: When audiophiles hear lossy, they think MP3.
Jim Austin  |  Feb 13, 2018  |  173 comments
When you come to a fork in the road, take it.—Yogi Berra

Over one busy week in 1986, Karlheinz Brandenburg laid the foundation of a technology that a few years later would upend the record business. Brandenburg, a PhD student in electrical engineering at the Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg, was figuring out how to code digital music efficiently enough that it could be delivered over digital telephone lines. A patent examiner had concluded that what the application proposed was impossible, so over a week of late nights, Brandenburg produced the proof of concept and more. It was another decade before the technology—MPEG-2 level III, more commonly known as MP3—would find its true home, the Internet.

Jim Austin  |  Jan 06, 2018  |  28 comments
Loss is nothing else but change, and change is Nature's delight.—Marcus Aurelius

Master Quality Authenticated (MQA), the audio codec from industry veterans Bob Stuart and Peter Craven, rests on two pillars: improved time-domain behavior, which is said to improve sound quality and what MQA Ltd. calls "audio origami," which yields reduced file size (for downloads) and data rate (for streaming). Last month I took a first peek at those time-domain issues, examining the impulse response of MQA's "upsampling renderer," the output side of this analog-to-analog system (footnote 1). This month I take a first look at the second pillar: MQA's approach to data-rate reduction. In particular, I'll consider critics' claims that MQA is a "lossy" codec.

Jim Austin  |  Dec 12, 2017  |  213 comments
I don't think I've ever seen an audio debate as nasty as the one over Master Quality Authenticated (MQA), the audio-encoding/decoding technology from industry veterans Bob Stuart, formerly of Meridian and now CEO of MQA Ltd., and Peter Craven. Stuart is the company's public face, and that face has been the target of many a mud pie thrown since the technology went public two years ago. Some of MQA's critics are courteous—a few are even well-informed—but the nastiness on-line is unprecedented, in my experience.
Art Dudley  |  Nov 16, 2017  |  9 comments
The mice in the walls call summer to close while nets come down and leaves turn dead red, but by the time you see this there'll be holiday music in the air . . . and some generous soul might, just might, sneak a few looks through this issue of Stereophile to see what gifts to buy before the tree goes up and presents are opened—and all will be nice!

And what better way to serve those possible givers of audio gifts—and, at the same time, honor our hobby's most deserving designers and manufacturers—than with our annual Product of the Year awards?

Jim Austin  |  Oct 19, 2017  |  12 comments
It's day five of our planned month-long stay à Paris, late April through most of May. My wife is here for work—for me, it's strictly for pleasure—and we're enjoying Paris's rich, sensual goodness: food, museums, architecture, coffee, people, food. And yet, earlier today, when we were out for a walk—we've been walking close to 10 miles each day, exploring the city—I realized that my life here has been missing something important.
Robert Baird  |  Jul 27, 2017  |  2 comments
The three most traumatic events anyone can experience in life? The death of a loved one? A surprise audit by the IRS? Your entire LP collection purloined by a disgruntled ex-lover?

And, oh yes—moving.

As 2016 turned to 2017, my wife and I were forced to move from an apartment we wrongly assumed we'd never ever have to leave, which in New York City means a lot. Perhaps we were just a tad naïve?

Stephen Mejias  |  Jul 11, 2017  |  21 comments
The New Analog: Listening and Reconnecting in a Digital World, by Damon Krukowski. The New Press, 2017. Hardcover, 240 pp., $24.95. Also available as an e-book.

Defining noise is tricky business.

In high-end audio, noise is often defined as the enemy—of music, beauty, truth. Engineers and enthusiasts alike spend significant amounts of time, energy, and money attempting to minimize or control noise so that it has the least possible impact on the source signal: music. In this way—if we are intelligent, careful, and fortunate—we can extract from our stereos cleaner, clearer, more naturally beautiful sound for listening experiences that are enriching, emotionally compelling, and, above all, fun. On the other hand, when noise is allowed to excessively modulate the signal, music can sound relatively abrasive, more mechanical, and, ultimately, less engaging.

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