The economy took its toll on digital audio in 2009, with CD sales continuing to decline (even as vinyl makes a resurgence), digital start-ups going bankrupt or disappearing after takeovers, and labels expressing dissatisfaction with would-be digital saviors like MySpace Music. Even so, there was actually quite a lot to cheer this year. The following five products aren't necessarily the best, but to me, they did the most to move the state of digital audio forward in 2009.
Renowned piano manufacturer Steinway & Sons has partnered with Danish high-end audio manufacturer Lyngdorf to create a new company, Steinway Lyngdorf.
I've met with Peter Lyngdorf many times and enthusiastically reviewed some of his products (back when his company was called TacT Audio). Lyngdorf founded, co-founded, or bought a number of high-end audio companies, including Dali Loudspeakers, NAD Electronics, Gryphon Audio, and Snell Acoustics.
Lyngdorf is also the founder and owner of Hi-Fi Klubben, Europe's largest chain of hi-fi shops specializing in high-end audio. Founded in 1980, Hi-Fi Klubben has 70 shops and is still expanding.
The Steinway connection dates back to 2005, and Steinway Lyngdorf is the first time the piano maker put its name on something other than a music instrument. Steinway Lyngdorf offers music and home theater systems. … Read more
Marantz currently offers a full line of stereo and home theater components, but in the 1950s, the company was one of America's most prestigious hi-fi brands. Early Marantz products were designed and built by Saul B. Marantz in his home in Kew Gardens, New York. Those hand-built components now fetch huge dollars on the used market.
So naturally, I was interested in what Home Entertainment magazine's Richard Ames had to say about the Marantz UD9004 "universal" player. The $6,000 machine spins Blu-ray, SACD, DVD-Audio, and CDs.
It certainly looks the part: the Marantz UD9004's … Read more
In our current roundup of retail-specific laptops, we've divided our 25-plus systems into four price categories, from sub-$700 budget models to high-end ones that cost more than $1,000.
In the "high-end" category, we looked at four off-the-shelf models that all retail for $999 and above. While there's certainly a lot to like about the $2,000 HP Envy 15 (it sported the highest screen resolution and a new Core i7 processor), we thought the best bang for your buck was to be found in the Sony Vaio FW560, which has a big 500GB hard drive and Blu-ray, all for $999.
Note: For a roundup of retail laptops in all price ranges, check here.
Check out details of each system below:… Read more
I've recently reviewed most of the contenders for the world's best headphones: the Audio Technica ATH-W5000, Denon AH-D7000, Sennheiser HD 800, Grado PS-1000, Ultrasone Edition 8, and the best headphones I've heard so far, the Stax electrostatic SR-007Mk2. I listened to the Stax with the Woo Audio WES headphone amplifier. If you want and can afford the best, go for the Stax-Woo combination.
But now I have yet another headphone to check out, and this one is a very different-sounding design. Oh, and it's less than half the price of the least expensive of those models!
It's called the Hifiman HE-5, and it uses planar-magnetic drivers to create sound. A planar magnetic driver is a large, flat Mylar diaphragm, coated with superthin aluminum, suspended between rows of slender bar magnets. The HE-5's diaphragm is therefore driven over its entire area, which dramatically reduces distortion; conventional dynamic headphone drivers are "driven" by a voice coil on the outer edge of the diaphragm, so the inner portion is more likely to distort.
The HE-5's driver is similar to the Stax electrostatic 'phones in that way, but the HE-5 doesn't use the bias charging scheme that all electrostatic headphones use, which also means the HE-5 can be used with standard headphone amplifiers. The Stax cannot.
The HE-5 is incredibly detailed sounding, but at the same time it's very smooth and laid back. Swapping between the HE-5 and the Sennheiser HD 800--considered by many to be the world's best dynamic headphone--the two headphones are opposites. The HD 800 is brighter, crisper, with more apparent treble detail; the HE-5 is softer, warmer, and more natural-sounding. … Read more
Recession? What recession? New York City's venerable fixture of high-end audio and video, Stereo Exchange, celebrates its 25th anniversary this weekend. It's running a sale through Sunday, November 8 with substantial discounts on select products from several manufacturers. The opening night party on Thursday was jam-packed and there were no shortage of customers!
For the opening night party, many of the participating companies were demonstrating their wares. Featured products on display include: Panasonic's new 85-inch plasma HDTV; NAD's new M2 Direct Digital Amplifier; McIntosh Labs' MEN220 Room Correction System; and Grado's PS 1000 headphones, which … Read more
Until now, as a POLST program coordinator explained to me, someone with chronic or terminal illness has had the option to go to a doctor's office and fill out a POLST form in the presence of a doctor or nurse, and then keep the document at home where, ideally, emergency medical personnel could find it (such as the refrigerator). If the paper is lost, determining the wishes of the patient … Read more
Harry Pearson, who coined the term "high end," spoke at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2009, held last week in Denver. "High end" has long since spread to cars, cameras, jewelry, real estate, boats, and a gazillion other categories, but audio is where it all started.
Starting in 1973, Pearson's flamboyant writing style and deep love of gear and music helped prod the state of the art forward through the 1980s. The Absolute Sound's tiny circulation and sporadic publishing schedule didn't hurt its prestige and importance in the industry. A rave review, especially by Pearson, could put a start-up company on the map.
Pearson made people curious about, well, the absolute sound. That is, the sound of musicians and vocalists, recorded in an appropriate acoustic space. We all wanted a hi-fi system good enough to put us in that space. That's impossible, but the goal, reproducing the absolute sound, still drives at least some audiophiles.… Read more
Germany has the high-end headphone market covered, as Beyer Dynamic, Sennheiser, and Ultrasone are all headquartered there.
Ultrasone is the newcomer of the group, but it's hardly new. It was founded in 1991 in Tutzing, close to the Alps in southern Germany. The headphones are manufactured in the U.S., Germany, Austria, and Taiwan.
Ultrasone has just announced a new flagship model, the HFI-2400 ($329). It features Ultrasone's S-Logic technology that promises to create "natural surround sound" by reducing pressure on the eardrum up to 40 percent. The new headphone also features ULE-technology that reduces electro-magnetic … Read more