In Venezuela, where my wife is from, you are wise to wear your wealth with caution. With inflation at an all-time high and crime rates soaring, you're either a complete fool to wander out in public with any kind of jewelry on display, or you're simply looking for trouble -- you'll be robbed in no time, likely at gunpoint. So if you cherish your valuables and your life, you're better off to dress down in public and display that stuff behind closed doors, preferably at home.
Fellow reviewer Philip Beaudette (in photos below) lives in my city, and he knows exactly what I mean when I call him and ask for some help. Basically, he’s being recruited to do some heavy lifting in order that I can safely get whatever review product that just arrived at my doorstep up to my listening room, which is on the third floor. Since boxes don't fit around all the corners in my house, everything usually has to be unpacked on the main floor and then moved up. I've come to the conclusion that Philip is a good guy -- he never says no (although that's not saying he hasn't wanted to). The latest: a pair of PSB's Imagine T3 speakers.
I've been an audiophile since 1981 and a reviewer since 1995, yet I'd be hard pressed to tell you that I've ever had a conversation with PSB's founder and chief engineer, Paul Barton, without learning something new or coming away with something to think about. In fact, Paul's talks almost always remind me of how little I really know compared to someone like him, who has been designing speakers for more than 40 years. But I also feel grateful, since these talks are like periodically receiving personalized PhD-level courses in loudspeaker design from one of the greatest speaker-engineering minds in the world.
One of the highlights of High End 2014, which was held in Munich in May, was KEF's introduction of its new Reference-series speakers, comprising two floorstanders (5 and 3), two center-channels (4c and 2b), a subwoofer (8b), and the model that caught my eye, the stand-mounted 1. Why was the Reference 1 so appealing to me? Because it's the kind of speaker I'd been hoping manufacturers would build for a long, long time -- a cost-no-object stand-mounted design that's not a two-way like most are, but a true three-way, for all the advantages that kind of topology provides. I've been calling such a beast a "muscular monitor." The Reference 1 sells in the United States for $7499 per pair.
Shortly after we published "Thursday Afternoon Ripping Experiment," fellow writer S. Andrea Sundaram wrote me and posed a good question: Do you think byte size is a reliable way to determine file differences? My answer to him was mixed.
At about noon yesterday I found myself with an hour to kill, so I did something that I've been meaning to do for years (yes, literally that long) -- convert digital music files between numerous lossless music-file formats to prove to myself once and for all that the lossless file type you initially rip to, compressed or not, is irrelevant, because you can convert files to other formats many times with no degradation or change. This is something others have done numerous times, so there was really no need for me to do it, but with that hour on hand, I felt compelled to since I could then tell someone that I in fact did it myself and witnessed the results.
Frankly, I never expected so much equipment to arrive in such a short time. About a month ago I received the Sonus Faber Olympica III speakers, Luxman C-900u preamplifier, and Luxman M-900u power amplifier for review, all of which I just blogged about here. Shortly after their arrivals came the Reference 1 preamplifier from JE Audio, which is based in Hong Kong. The Reference 1, which carries a retail price of $10,000 in the United States, is now the company's flagship preamplifier. The company's owner and chief designer, John Lam, asked me to review it, likely since I had reviewed his previous top-of-the-line model, the VL10.1. As with every other JE Audio product, the Reference 1 is an all-tube design -- this one, though, obviously has features and technologies that JE's other preamplifiers lack.
Some 18 years into this reviewing gig, it takes a lot to get me excited anymore given what I've seen and heard so far -- something that goes doubly true for solid-state preamps and amps, which rarely have anything new, innovative, or special about them. But as you'll read below, Luxman, which began life in Japan in 1925 as Lux Corporation, charged me up more than I ever thought they could with their new C-900u preamplifier and M-900u amplifier, which I saw in Montreal in January at Philip O'Hanlon's music demonstration at retailer Coup de Foudre. The C-900u and M-900u retail for $19,000 apiece in the United States, so they're certainly not cheap, but they're not as outlandishly priced as some of the high-end separates you can find these days.
It's been a long time since I've written a blog entry -- way too long -- but there's good reason: I've been extremely busy working to improve the SoundStage! group of sites, a task that has required not only a lot of typing at my desk but also a lot of traveling. Ironically, there would've been many interesting hi-fi-based stories to tell in that duration, but there was just no time to get my thoughts into text.
It was probably the coldest, bleakest week of the year so far to travel to Montreal, Canada -- sunlight was minimal and temperatures dipped close to -30°C on some nights. But Philip O'Hanlon, owner of distribution company On a Higher Note, still saw it as his duty to travel from his home in Southern California to the Frozen North on January 23rd to conduct music and equipment demos over two nights at Coup de Foudre (CDF), which is his main dealer in the city. The modern-looking store is owned by Jennifer and Graeme Humfrey and is home to many well-known brands, including Luxman and Vivid Audio, which On a Higher Note distributes. There's also a mixing/mastering studio in the back -- so they know their sound.
When I was preparing for my trip to Japan to see the 2013 Tokyo International Audio Show, I realized that I was missing two key elements from my headphone rig to make it a true audiophile-grade setup: an external headphone amp and a digital-to-analog converter (DAC). Not that I really needed them to simply listen to headphones, since every computer has a headphone amp and DAC of sorts built in. The problem is, what's in a computer isn't usually any good, so for serious listening you need more.
“I’m an audiophile first,” Peter J. Moore said when we first sat down for what was supposed to be a fairly quick interview in his Toronto, Ontario, studio on November 27. “I’m a modder to the nth degree -- nothing I have is stock. I use Black Gate caps, which you can’t get anymore, so I bought all of them I could get. There are military-grade parts in a lot of my gear, including my ½-inch tape players.”
I'm rarely at a loss for words, but I was when it came to describing the differences between the EMM Labs DAC2X and Meitner Audio MA-1 digital-to-analog converters, which sell in the United States for $15,500 and $7000, respectively. (Note: Howard Kneller reviewed the DAC2X for SoundStage! Ultra earlier this year, while Uday Reddy reviewed the MA-1 for SoundStage! Hi-Fi last year, so see those reviews for more details on these products.) That's why it's taken me just over two months since the DAC2X arrived to come up with something to say on the subject!
There's an old saying about not knowing a man until you walk a mile in his shoes. Likewise, you don't know how well a set of headphones will travel with you until you take them on a 14-hour flight from Toronto to Tokyo, which is what I did on October 30 with the PSB M4U 2 headphones.
I travel often, and I haven't boarded a flight in the last two years without my Bowers & Wilkins C5 earphones. These earphones, in concert with Air Canada's (my usual airline) excellent inflight entertainment system, have actually made flying fun -- there's usually an outstanding selection of new and old movies, in addition to plenty of TV programs and a decent music section.
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