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Kalman Rubinson Posted: Apr 27, 2017 12 comments
Several years ago, at a Consumer Electronics Show, Bob Stuart, then with Meridian Audio, took John Atkinson and me into a private room to demonstrate something new. He played individual tracks of mostly familiar recordings, twice each: first, straight from the commercial release, and then again, this time after processing with technology he was still developing. The differences were subtle, but usually we favored the second version. It was all very hush-hush, and despite our requests for technical information, Stuart spoke of his new process only in terms of results—as a way to recover the original sound at the microphone by knowing and compensating for the transfer functions of that mike and the analog-to-digital converter originally used, as well as of the digital-to-analog converter used in playback. The process had no name, and there was no timetable for its commercial launch.
Kalman Rubinson Posted: Mar 24, 2017 12 comments
When it comes to Focal loudspeakers, I've been a lurker. For decades now, their demonstrations at audio shows have been memorable—a highlight was when, several years ago, I got Focal to play a powerful percussion track through a pair of their Grande Utopias at very high volume on a show's last day. Just to hear and feel how this mammoth system could deliver clarity and impact was awe-inspiring, and it was underscored by seeing folks from all the neighboring rooms quickly entering to enjoy it with me. It has also been a continuing pleasure to relax and listen to music with Stereophile's former Senior Editor, Jonathan Scull through his Focal Utopias, which he purchased in 1998. Alas, the years have turned, speakers have come and gone, and I had not yet had any Focal speakers in my own system. (Bob Deutsch seemed always to get the jump on me!)
Kalman Rubinson Posted: Mar 02, 2017 10 comments
The power-amp saga continues. For months, I've been plowing through the market, searching for something to drive my three front speakers. (I use a two-channel amp for the surrounds.) It can be a three-channel amp or three monoblocks—it just has to sound great with my speakers, and be light enough that I can lift it by myself when I need to rearrange my system. I'd finally settled on Classé's Sigma Monos for their transparency, and because I can manage their weight, one at a time. At the CEDIA Expo in September 2016, I saw two more candidates worthy of consideration. Review samples of both arrived here almost simultaneously.
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Kalman Rubinson Posted: Dec 29, 2016 13 comments
Bang & Olufsen's revolutionary BeoLab 90 loudspeaker, which I examine in greater depth elsewhere in this issue, has had some profound effects on me, not least of which is that the review pair prevented me from listening in multichannel for nearly two months. Additionally, I and a few friends found that the two BeoLab 90s delivered an absolutely stunning and convincing soundstage. So when the time came to relinquish them, I was anxious. Would my reference 5.1-channel surround system now disappoint when I played two-channel recordings? Would I still find multichannel to be a substantial advance over stereo, or no improvement at all? Would I need to come out of retirement and find a new day job so that I could afford the BeoLabs' price of $84,990/pair?
Kalman Rubinson Posted: Dec 20, 2016 21 comments
Bang & Olufsen's BeoLab 90 is not a loudspeaker to take on lightly. Though its size—49.33" high by 28.9" wide by 29.4" deep—and weight (302 lbs each) meant a major disruption of my listening room, which is also our living room, my wife assented. Its price of $84,990/pair puts it far beyond anything I might consider buying—and the complexity of the BeoLab 90, which has its own dedicated amplifiers and DACs, makes it impossible for a reviewer—or consumer—to directly compare it with any other loudspeaker. So be it.
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Kalman Rubinson Posted: Nov 01, 2016 5 comments
Last spring, when I was listening to Bowers & Wilkins's 802 D3 Diamond loudspeakers, Classé Audio offered a pair of their new Sigma Mono amps for the review. They claimed a synergy—B&W's D3 series had been developed using Classé amps. I declined, only because using unfamiliar amplifiers would add to my assessment an uncontrolled variable. Now that the B&Ws have settled in—three 802 D3 Diamonds across the front, two 804 D3s at the back—it seemed time to hear what they could do when driven by the Classés.
Kalman Rubinson Posted: Sep 29, 2016 5 comments
Has it really been more than seven years since I reviewed Bel Canto's REF1000M monoblock? According to the Bel Canto website, that model, based on Bang & Olufsen's ICEpower class-D modules, is no longer available. But now, like so many manufacturers, Bel Canto has adopted for its new models the NCore class-D module from Hypex—although the REF600M monoblock ($4990/pair) is not Bel Canto's first product to use it . . .
Kalman Rubinson Posted: Sep 01, 2016 4 comments
In January, I reviewed JL Audio's Fathom f113v2 subwoofer (footnote 1), which features, among other improvements over the original Fathom f113, a better multiband equalizer. The significance of this relates to the great influence exerted by room dimensions and acoustics on a loudspeaker's performance.

The matter of room acoustics itself relates to the Schroeder frequency: a transition point, usually between 200 and 300Hz above which a room will exhibit a high density of reflections that are analyzed statistically, and below which that room will display a limited number of discrete modal reflections. (Thus, it should not to be confused with the number of times that Beethoven's music appears in Charles Schulz's comic strip "Peanuts.")

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Kalman Rubinson Posted: Jun 30, 2016 5 comments
The SOtM sMS-1000SQ Windows Edition with AudiophileOptimizer and Roon: Not only does that very long name require finger-twisting shifts between upper and lower case, it really doesn't tell you what the sMS-1000SQ WE is.

Korean manufacturer SOtM, Inc. describes it on their website as a "music server based on Windows Server OS besides the original Linux [Vortexbox] OS based sMS-1000SQ." I'd describe it as a Windows-based PC that's designed and optimized to manage a database of music files and stream the music to local or networked DACs, and that supports multiple options for file management, playback, and target devices. (Hmmm: that's not much better, is it?)

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Kalman Rubinson Posted: May 30, 2016 3 comments
In August 2015, I visited loudspeaker manufacturer Bowers & Wilkins in England. It was an exciting prospect to see the factory, and meet the people who designed and built the speakers I've been using for years. Of course, as the time of my visit approached, it was impossible not to speculate that something important was afoot—there was growing Internet buzz that it was time for B&W to update its 800-series speakers. Nonetheless, B&W remained tight-lipped.

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