Amid a week featuring the debut of a fashionably small laptop, Dell has announced a line of products that move firmly in the opposite direction. The new XPS line of laptops are a high-end-targeted set of media-featured notebooks aimed squarely at the HP Envy and MacBook Pro crowds. The design, from a backlit keyboard to lots of anodized and brushed aluminum, feels like an upscale fusion of the Studio and Adamo lines. They aren't flashy, but they seem quite sleek, and Dell offers its arsenal of Design Studio tweaks for anyone looking to pop these XPS models up a … Read more
Not too many years ago, any laptop $999 or less was considered a budget machine, and spending between $1,000 and $2,000 was the standard buy-in for constructive computing. Starting around the same time as low-cost Netbooks came onto the scene, laptop prices across the board took a dive, and today's mainstream user can easily get away with spending less than $700 for a fully functional midsize laptop, or just a few dollars more to add high-end extras like Blu-ray or discrete graphics.
What this means is that one of the hardest things to find right now is … Read more
High-end audio, just like high-end everything else--cars, clothes, watches, boats--is in large part about style. Sure, high-performance is part of the appeal, but exquisite build quality and eye-catching designs are essential for market success.
With that in mind I put together a nice assortment of some of the more dazzling high-end components currently on the scene.
Magico's speakers are built with solid, massively inert structures designed to ensure the only sound you hear comes from the speaker's tweeter, midrange, and woofer drivers. No other speaker I've heard approaches Magico's resolution and precision. The company's latest designs upped the ante and now feature even more extensive frames designed to quell structure borne resonance to produce the highest-resolution sound possible.
Founded in 1991 by legendary audio designer Nelson Pass, Pass Laboratories, sells its unique amplifiers, preamplifiers and speakers throughout the world. The company has been based in Foresthill, California, since its beginning, and is widely regarded as one of the most innovative audio brands in the world. Many Pass Labs amplifiers, like my XA100.5 are pure Class A designs, and deliver breathtakingly beautiful sound.
The Ayre MX-R mono amplifier (you need two for stereo) is a looker, but pardon me for a second while I get tweaky and gush over the MX-R's zero-feedback and fully-balanced circuitry. Ayre's founder and chief engineer Charles Hansen invests vast amounts of time fussing over the tiniest circuit details, listening obsessively to eke out a sound that gets his designs ever closer to perfection. Some of the MX-R's resistors and capacitors are built to his specifications.
The Krell Modulari Duo Reference is a blatantly original, thoroughly masculine design, but at 44 inches tall, 11 inches wide, and 29 inches deep, it can still fit in average size rooms. Each speaker weighs 345 pounds, it's fair to assume the bulk of the weight can be attributed to its thick-walled aluminum construction. If the goal was to make an absolutely dead cabinet, I'd say Krell has done it. The speaker's design shows a clear aesthetic kinship with Krell electronics.… Read more
It's one thing to buy a CD or a toaster oven online, but what about audio components? Wouldn't it be great to compare one speaker with another? With receivers it's impossible to gauge the touch and feel of the controls online. Sure, professionally written reviews can steer you in the right direction, but in the final analysis buying a hi-fi or home theater is mostly about personal taste. Buying "the best" at the cheapest price isn't always the ideal option; I think it should be more about getting the product that's right for you.
Sadly, expert advice isn't so easy to find, now that more and more independent brick-and-mortar audio shops have closed. That's no concern for buyers who happily forgo the advantages offered by the shops in favor of the lowest possible price. The online retailer can easily afford to give greater discounts; they don't have to pay high rent for a showroom, have hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in demonstration units, provide on-site service technicians, and pay sales commissions. They can pass some of their savings onto their customers. Everybody wins, or do they?
I don't think so; it's the buyer who is losing out. Yes, the online discounters and factory-direct companies can always undercut the independent brick-and-mortar guys, but how do their customers know they're buying the speaker, amplifier, or turntable that best suits their needs? Have they listened for themselves and heard three or four competing speakers with their own ears? And if they wind up with a malfunctioning piece of brand new gear, they'll have to deal with it on their own. They won't get a "loaner" to use while they wait for the repair or replacement unit. Hookup questions will be answered by an anonymous person on an 800 line, not by the sales person at the local shop who knows you by name. … Read more
Though budget and surprisingly affordable laptops are all the rage lately, there are still quite a few high-end models out there that aren't exactly cheap. Even so, many of these "high-end" laptops offer far more for the money than ever before, making for potentially compelling buys for people looking for big screens and superpowered processors offering desktop-replacement-level performance.
Our high-end laptops from this year's 2010 back-to-school retail roundup are actually a pretty affordable bunch, including an $829 Toshiba Portege R705-P25 that offers an executive feel for less than the white Apple MacBook. In fact, only one of these laptops breaks $1,000: the $1,349 Sony Vaio F126FM/B. In fact, the two Vaio models here are virtually identical, designwise. The more-expensive version has a faster CPU and better graphics card, but the $999 Vaio F12A may be a better overall deal, offering a big screen, Blu-ray, and mainstream/casual gaming graphics for $350 less than its big brother.
Editors' note: See our roundup of retail laptops in all price ranges.
Check out details of each system below:… Read more
Do you remember when you bought stereo receivers based on their power and connectivity? The entry-level models were low in power and had just a few inputs. As you moved up in the line, they got more power, more ports, and an extra feature or two. The top models looked cooler than the entry-level ones, with a more high-end design flair and they hid their lesser-used controls under a flip-down panel. If someone bought a more expensive model, it's because they wanted better sound quality.
Home-theater receivers followed the same course, except the higher end models had more speaker … Read more
Sales of ridiculously expensive and absurdly powerful cars are holding steady, and the same can be said for extreme, high-end speakers. Granted, there's no practical reason for the existence of the new 450-horsepower Audi R8 Spyder 5.2 Quattro supercar ($161,000), or a Klipsch P-39F tower speaker ($20,000), but if you can afford them, why not? High-end speakers have one very practical advantage over extreme performance cars; they can provide satisfaction on a daily basis. Few Ferrari and Maserati owners use their flashy wheels as everyday rides, and far fewer are brave enough to drive them anywhere near their top speeds! No, these prized possessions remain stowed in garages most of the time.
Prices listed in this top-10 list are for pairs of speakers, and if these are all out of reach, please don't fret, as the next top-10 speaker list will feature the best sub-$1,000 speakers on the planet. Or check out my "Top-10 must-have audio bargains" list.
I've auditioned many of these ultra-high-end speakers personally, so I can attest that they can take you places everyday speakers never go. … Read more
I've known my share of audiophiles who own lots of speakers, amplifiers, etc., but Wayne McManus has 40 high-end headphones. He's slowed adding to the collection, and now mostly concentrates on out-of-production classics--Sennheiser HE90 electrostatics, Sony MDR R-10, Sony Qualia 010, AKG-K1000, Audio Technica L3000, Grado HP-2--because each one has its own distinctive character and feel. McManus thinks speaker-only audiophiles are missing that aspect of the hobby; they're stuck with one sound. For the price of a pair of high-end speakers you can buy a healthy selection of the world's very best headphones. McManus has invested around $50,000 to date.
McManus bought a motor home three years ago, and now spends every April through August exploring the U.S. and Canada. He's semiretired and takes a small selection of headphones with him on the road.
At home he uses a very impressive hi-fi outfitted with MBL 101E speakers, MBL electronics, and a VPI turntable, but headphones have superior detailing. He put it this way: "You may have heard the same album a hundred times over speakers, but you pick up on new stuff over headphones, and when you move up to IEMs [in-ear monitor headphones] you hear even more of that microscopic effect. But you lose the sense of being at a live concert."
So I was hardly surprised to hear that McManus owns a Smyth Realiser A8 processor that makes headphones sound like speakers. He thinks the Realiser A8 makes it almost impossible to distinguish between the sound coming from headphones and speakers. It improves the stereo localization of all of his headphones.… Read more
I get this question all the time, "Do I need to spend a lot of money on wire?" The short answer is no. It's like asking if you need to drop $50 or $100 to buy a good bottle of wine. No, unless you're a wine connoisseur; most folks are perfectly happy with a nice $10 variety. True, you'll use a cable a lot longer than it takes to drink a bottle, but I wouldn't recommend spending more on a single set of wires than you'd spend on wine--unless you're an audiophile.
Audiophiles obsess about the tiniest details of sound quality. That, and we frequently listen attentively, an activity few non-audiophiles ever do. Everybody else puts music on and then reads, talks, works, exercises, or cooks. So if you're not really listening, I wholeheartedly agree, spending money on expensive cables isn't a smart move. Another thing, you'd have to own a pretty decent set of speakers to hear the benefit of better cables, and if you already have a set of great speakers you're probably an audiophile.
So all of you non-audiophiles can rejoice. Don't let anyone talk you into spending a lot of money on a speaker or interconnect cable! Head on over to your local hardware store, Blue Jean Cable, or MonoPrice and buy dirt-cheap, decent quality cables. … Read more
Amar Bose started Bose in 1964 when he was a professor of electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He went on to build a very successful company that is one of the top selling hi-fi, headphone, and car audio brands in the United States.
Bose's popularity isn't based on selling budget-priced gear; the company aims higher and has earned its success with a more quality-oriented approach. CNET's Matthew Moskovciak recently blogged about Bose's new Lifestyle home theater systems, that cost from $2,000 for the T20; $2,500 for the V25; and $3,300 … Read more