Audacious Audio

Sort By: Post DateTitle Publish Date
Tom Fine  |  Feb 16, 2024  |  14 comments
Back in August, I received an email from Editor Jim Austin. Subject line: "Want to do a big review?" He had my attention. Jim wrote that he had visited Bowers & Wilkins parent company Masimo Consumer in Carlsbad, California, for a demo of the brand-new B&W 801 D4 Signature and 805 D4 Signature loudspeakers. (That visit was chronicled by Jim in the September 2023 Industry Update section.) B&W had offered Stereophile the first US review of both products—look for John Atkinson's review of the 805 D4 Signature in the coming months—and Jim thought the big 801s would be "right up my alley."

Indeed! The voice of my full-range system in the living room is a pair of B&W 808 speakers, ca late 1980s. The smaller-scale system at our house upstate features a pair of B&W 805 D2s. So, outside of my mastering studio, most of the music I listen to is through Bowers & Wilkins speakers. I am accustomed to and enjoy B&W sound and styling.

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."

Sasha Matson  |  Jan 25, 2024  |  20 comments
Wilson Audio's new Sasha V loudspeaker (that's "V" as in victory, not "five") extends the line that began in 2009 with the debut of the Sasha 1 model. The installation manual includes a page titled "Sasha Evolution," with elegant line drawings of the various versions of the Sasha loudspeaker—now four—which were preceded by the two-box WATT/Puppy combo, which dates from 1989. The Wilson Audio Specialties Sasha V ($48,900/pair) replaces the prior Sasha model, the Sasha DAW, in the Wilson lineup.

The hefty, floorstanding Sasha V maintains a close family resemblance. The new Sasha's width and height are almost identical, logging 14½" and 45 1/16", respectively. The cabinets gain an inch in depth and now measure 23 15/16". The cabinets' subtle beveling is slightly different; probably only recent Sasha owners would notice. Extra thickness in the cabinets adds 9lb for a total of 245lb per speaker.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Jan 05, 2024  |  4 comments
When Jim Austin offered the Plinius Reference A-150 stereo amplifier ($14,995) for review, it felt like a welcome blast from the past. Plinius has, lately, maintained a low profile in the US, likely due to several changes in US distributorship...Under the auspices of Ralph Abramo and California-based Plinius Audio Sales and Repair, Plinius's US profile seems to be rising again.
Jim Austin  |  Dec 15, 2023  |  16 comments
When I was offered the opportunity to review a Burmester product—the 216 stereo power amplifier—I accepted immediately, mainly out of curiosity. Berlin-based Burmester is an important hi-fi brand, but I knew very little about the company and their products. What better way to learn more than to review one of their products?
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Nov 23, 2023  |  45 comments
One of the finest chamber music performances I have ever attended took place this past August under far from ideal circumstances. The venue was one-month-old Field Hall in Port Angeles, Washington, a city of fewer than 20,000 people known more for its port and proximity to the Olympic National Forest than for its rich culture. Perhaps that reputation will soon change, because the performers in the concluding concert of the Music on the Strait chamber music festival included its two local founders, violinist James Garlick of the Minnesota Orchestra and violist Richard O'Neill, the newest member of the Takács String Quartet. These excellent musicians, who have been friends since high school, were joined by the superb pianist Jeremy Denk and cellist Ani Aznavoorian. These are world-class musicians who attract eager audiences to New York's 92nd Street Y and Carnegie Hall, London's Wigmore Hall, and other prestigious venues. . .

What was true for that live performance in Field Hall is also true for performances reproduced on audio systems: A system can be less than technically perfect yet still transmit with eloquence every iota of care and feeling that artists and engineers put into recordings. Perfection is not an essential component of musical truth. Inspiration is.

Lest readers think this preamble is intended to suggest some shortcoming in the component under review, the Accuphase A-300 monophonic power amplifier ($51,900/pair), let me reassure you at the outset: Time and again, the A-300, like Jeremy Denk's artistry, inspired a state of wonder. The more I listened to the A-300 monoblocks, the more I wanted to listen. In my too-busy life, every occasion for listening was an occasion indeed, a special event.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Aug 31, 2023  |  63 comments
I should have trusted my ears. When I first encountered Infigo (pronounced In-FEE'-go) electronics, paired with Alta Audio's Adam loudspeaker, at T.H.E. Show 2022 in Long Beach, California, I wrote, "Timbres were beautiful on bass and high-pitched percussion. The chimes and vibes sounded special and clean, colors were plentiful, and deep bass was all of one piece." Nor was I exaggerating. In that system, Infigo's Method 3 monoblocks ($55,000/pair) pleased my ears as much as their blue-illumined interiors delighted my eyes.

Rather quickly, Editor Jim Austin suggested I review the Method 3. Perhaps he'd already been tipped off by Ken Micallef's praise when he first encountered Infigo in November 2021 at the Capital Audio Fest, and by the ensuing buzz.

Rogier van Bakel  |  Jul 21, 2023  |  69 comments
In my high-school days, I visited a friend whose well-to-do dad proudly demonstrated his new Quad ESL system for us. First up was a recording of a man with heavy footsteps traversing the space from left to right. Next came a speeding police car, siren engaged, complete with Doppler tail. I found it impressive, and a little lame at the same time. My friend and I, in love with our own artsiness, preferred Fear of Music by Talking Heads and Drums and Wires by XTC, or (in a pinch) U2's Boy.

It wouldn't have occurred to me that I'd ultimately derive frequent joy from listening to sound effects (though in my case they're usually integral to the music, not apart from it). When I hear Yosi Horikawa's bouncing marbles on Wandering, I prick up my ears and smile. A panting dog on Holly Cole's Temptation, an overhead hovercar on the Blade Runner 2049 soundtrack ... bring it on. A babbling river on Andrew Bird's Echolocations; seed pods on Tom Waits's Blood Money; liquid splashes and crinkling paper on Felix Laband's Dark Days Exit ... yes, please. I don't care if it's a little gimmicky. It's also sensual in the original meaning of the word, an aural pleasure.

The Raidho TD3.8 speakers that, after three months, just departed my home, do the trick of conjuring points in space with great acuity.

Michael Trei  |  Jul 20, 2023  |  7 comments
Creating a new flagship model is never an easy task for an audio company. A good designer will have already incorporated all his or her best ideas into the prior flagship. For a follow-up, you typically get a scaled-up version of what came before, incorporating the kind of improvements a bigger budget will allow.

SME's history is well-documented. The company started out, in 1946, as an engineering company for hire. In 1959, after a few years supplying parts for the scale modeling and various other high-tech industries, company founder Alastair Robertson-Aikman wanted a better tonearm for his personal use. He leveraged the capabilities of his small engineering company to create what eventually became the legendary 3009 and 3012 tonearms. The reputation of the new arms spread quickly, and from the mid-1960s through the 1970s, SME dominated the high-end tonearm market. SME's corporate slogan was The Best Pick-Up Arm in the World, and few people at the time would have challenged that claim.

Ken Micallef  |  Jul 10, 2023  |  21 comments
A phenomenon formerly unique to Japan, which in recent years has been emulated in cities around the world, is the jazz café (known as jazz kissa in Japan), where salarymen can find respite from their hectic lives, loosen their ties, and enjoy hi-fi jazz over coffee or a drink. Jazz kissaten are typically charming, smaller shops, traditionally furnished and paneled in beautiful wood, which serve superb artisan coffee in artful ceramic cups.

Such respect for artistry, craftsmanship, and attention to detail—the Japanese word is shokunin—is reflected in many aspects of Japanese life. This is where you find double handrails to accommodate people of different heights, intricate, ornately designed manhole covers, and bento lunch boxes with hand-carved vegetable figurines. While upholding strict conformity to societal norms, the Japanese highly value creative individualism. This shokunin mindset underlies their reverence for artisanal expression—and their love for jazz.

Japanese audio, much like jazz kissaten, reflects the shokunin mindset: craftsmanship pursued with both pride and humility.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Jun 21, 2023  |  0 comments
Servers, servers, servers. How we who embrace digital hi-fi love them for their potential to make files and streams sound better (more alive, vital, streams sound better (more alive, vital, musical, moving, transparent) than music served from a computer. How we curse them when we experience the limitations of their software. How we despair when, shortly after ascending to Peak Digital Mastery, we download a software update that hurls us back into the Valley of Digital Unknowns.

I've climbed then slid down multiple hi-fi peaks as I've moved from computer to a Roon-equipped NUC, Roon Nucleus+, and Innuos Statement Next-Gen music servers. Along the way I've reviewed the original Innuos Statement from Portugal and the Antipodes Audio K50 from New Zealand. Now I'm exploring Antipodes's top-of-the-line server/streamer/reclocker, the Oladra ($25,000), which is designed for precise clocking, low noise, and high bandwidth.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Jun 08, 2023  |  18 comments
The Momentum M400 MxV Mono amplifier ($79,500/pair) is the latest iteration of Dan D'Agostino Master Audio Systems' debut amplifier of 2011, the Momentum Mono amplifier. Weighing 95lb, it is smaller and lighter than its entry-level sibling, the more powerful, 125lb Progression M550 Mono amplifier ($47,500/pair), and is veritably dwarfed by some other monoblocks, including the flagship D'Agostino Relentless Epic 1600 (570lb) and the Karan Acoustics POWERa mono (231lb), which I reviewed in May 2023. But if the M400 MxV's rock-solid look and feel and its exquisite aesthetics—a sleek amalgam of silver and copper fronted by a power meter that glows green and radiates Rolex quality—are any indication, a helluva lot is going on beneath its showy exterior.
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Apr 13, 2023  |  23 comments
It began with a bad outlet. Perhaps two weeks after my husband and visiting friend created several delightful holiday light displays in the living room, one of the living room outlets died. Every time I tried to plug in part of the light show, it, along with the living room sound system and reading lights, lost power. If the Grinch didn't exactly steal Christmas, he sure tried to guarantee it would arrive silently under the cover of darkness.

I moved fast. Distributor Wynn Wong would arrive from Toronto in less than a month, to install two Serbian-made Karan Acoustics POWERa monoblocks ($106,000/pair) for review. These monoblocks weigh an astounding 231lb each, with a shipping weight of 286lb; each contains two 2700VA toroidal transformers and a 210,000µF bank of custom capacitors. Each monoblock requires two 15A power cables, one for each amplifier stage.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Mar 24, 2023  |  15 comments
At AXPONA 2022, I eagerly headed to the Esoteric exhibit, where I spoke with Keith Haas, national sales manager of 11 Trading Company, Esoteric's US distributor. When I learned of the forthcoming Grandioso M1X monoblock ($35,500 each), the culmination of a complete revision of the company's top-selling M1 monoblock (now discontinued), I worked with Haas and Editor Jim Austin and set up a review.
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Feb 17, 2023  |  24 comments
Within seconds after hitting play on the 2006 remaster of "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," played back with the dCS Vivaldi Apex DAC, what I thought would be a lovely opportunity to wax nostalgic morphed into something far deeper. The first few bars of the song grabbed us like nothing else we'd listened to over the past 10 days. Flack's complete calm, unwavering focus, and unapologetic intimacy took our breath away. The soundstage was wide, the silence profound, the presentation pristine. The beauty of Flack's voice and passion, enhanced by John Pizzarelli's guitar, Ron Carter's bass, and Ray Lucas's drums, transformed the music room into a holy sanctuary. Toward the end of the first verse, right before "To the dark and the endless skies," I rose long enough to turn off the lights. We sat together in silence, barely breathing.

Pages

X