You'll never find a comparably equipped 1980 Corvette outperforming a 2011 'Vette, or a 1980 TV or computer blowing away a '11 model. Audio is a different matter; a lot of decades-old gear really does sound better than its 2011 equivalents. That's especially true when comparing 1970s and 1980s receivers with today's models. I covered why that is so in last weekend's "How can 30-year-old receivers sound better than new ones?" blog.
I recently wrote about Musical Fidelity's M1 HPA headphone amp. It sounded spectacular, on par with what I'd expect to hear from a $799 high-end amp. It's expensive, but a significant portion of its retail price is the result of its gorgeous chassis and excellent build quality. Right, just like with all luxury goods--cars, watches, and hi-fis--some portion of the price is just for show, but doesn't enhance the performance capabilities of the product. When people buy luxury goods, they better look the part.
I love the sound of the Musical Fidelity amp and recommend it … Read more
Regular readers of this blog know that bad sound comes from a variety of sources, and not just MP3s; there's no shortage of crappy-sounding CDs and LPs. But I know one place that delivers great-sounding music day after day: Soundcheck on WNYC. Right, it's a radio show, but one that features live music, and I certainly can't name another daily show that's as entertaining as Soundcheck.
It's a strange turn of events, but mainstream manufacturers long ago gave up on the idea of selling receivers on the basis of superior sound quality. I'm not claiming today's receivers sound "bad," but since almost no one ever listens to a receiver before they buy one, selling sound quality is next to impossible.
Back in the days when brick-and-mortar stores ruled the retail market, audio companies took pride in their engineering skills and designed entire receivers in-house. Right up through the 1980s most of what was "under the hood" was designed and … Read more
Bass may be the single most important sound characteristic people focus on when auditioning headphones. There's either not enough or too much bass, or it's too thick or boomy, and getting just the right balance can be tricky. I like bass, but it has to be clear and well-defined, and Audio Technica's new ATH-WS55 full-size headphones ($100) are exceptional in that regard. Before you get the wrong idea, the ATH-WS55's midrange and treble are just as pure and detailed as the bass.
It's a lightweight (165 gram) design and features Audio-Technica's new Double Air … Read more
My brief exposure to the Altec Lansing's Octiv 650 iPod/iPhone speaker dock ($199) at the CNET office in New York made a strong, very positive impression. It sounded so nice, I had to try one for myself at home.
Before we go any further I have to say I'm not a big fan of iPod/iPhone speakers. The cheap ones mostly sound pretty awful, and while the best of the expensive ones are fine, they aren't worth the money. Think about it: for $600 you can buy a pair of bona-fide hi-fi speakers (from Aperion, Boston … Read more
I recently bought a NAD 3020 integrated amplifier on eBay for $66. The little amp was a smash hit in 1980 and instantly put NAD on the map. While the amp made its reputation as a giant killer, it's not very big--just 16 by 3.75 by 10 inches. And the look is bare-bones basic. The sound is something else again; as soon as I fired it up I remembered why budget-minded audiophiles bought more than a half million 3020s in about three years, making it the best-selling integrated amp of all time.
It was rated at just 20 … Read more
Audio Arts may be NYC's newest high-end audio shop, but you can tell it isn't really competing with the more established stores in the area. You see, the others carry a mix of high-end and mainstream brands to cater to the broadest possible market, but Audio Arts' Gideon Schwartz only sells products from the most esoteric manufacturers. That said, the services all of these NYC brick-and-mortar shops offer--side-by-side auditions of audio components and hands-on customer service--can't be duplicated by online retailers. Maybe that's why despite astronomical rents, NYC high-end retailers aren't just surviving, new shops … Read more
Unless you're a regular reader of hi-fi magazines, you're probably unaware of some of the most innovative designs coming out of Europe and America. That's why from time to time I highlight a small sampling of the exotic high-end gear that catches my fancy. I think it's a shame that the major consumer electronics brands like Denon, Pioneer, and Sony are content to sell only the blandest designs year after year.
The Elipson Planet L is an 11.4-inch spherical speaker available in red, white, or black painted lacquer finishes. A few other brands have dared to make spherical speakers, but Elipson claims to have been the first; they've been perfecting round speaker design for more than 70 years. The Planet L has received glowing reviews, and I think it looks great. Considering its small size, the Planet L can make a fair amount of bass. The speaker is the culmination of two years of research and development, and the Planet L is fitted with a special two-way woofer-tweeter driver. Elipson is based in France; L'Atelier Audio is the North American distributor.
The Kuzma Stabi S turntable's unique shape and construction provide an extremely rigid platform for its platter, bearing, and tonearm. The motor is housed in a separate tower to ensure the lowest possible background noise. The turntable's bearing is fabricated from highly polished, fine-grain carbon steel and has a one-point contact.
The Kuzma Stabi S and matching Stogi S tonearm have been in production for more than a decade. Kuzma turntables and tonearms are designed by Franc Kuzma; his small work force handles the machining, polishing, assembly etc. on-site and at various vendors in Preddvor, Slovenia. The turntable sells for $1,750, plus $1,000 for the Stogi S tonearm. Kuzma products are imported by Elite Audio Video Distribution.
The Jeff Rowland Design Group, based in Colorado Springs, Colo., has been making state of the art electronics for more than 30 years. … Read more
Most of today's music on CD, LP, or download is compressed to sound loud all the time. The engineers, producers, and record labels are afraid not to make music sound as loud as possible.
Dynamic range compression isn't new, it's been used by recording, mixing, and mastering engineers for decades. A little bit of compression is fine, but the unnatural onslaught of dynamically compressed sound obliterates musical nuance, delicacy, and emotional power. Compression's loud-all-the-time nature sucks the life out of music. The overuse of compression has become known as the Loudness War.
Before we go any … Read more