It’s not often that I second guess my choices of review gear. For the most part, I’m left to my own devices for arranging products, although a fair number of items come my way by recommendations from Doug Schneider or Jeff Fritz, who manage SoundStage! But they know my system and my preferences. And for damn sure, they know the size of my room when they’re choosing speakers.
When the Estelon X Diamond Mk II loudspeakers ($78,000 USD per pair in standard finishes) arrived at my home, they were in two flight cases stacked atop each other and sitting on a plastic skid. Although the plastic skid had minor damage (most wooden ones do after a transatlantic flight from Estonia in northern Europe and truck delivery after landing in the US), the speakers’ flight cases and the plastic wrap surrounding them were perfect. Once I removed the wrap, I noticed a couple of interesting details.
When I reviewed the original NAD Masters M17 surround-sound processor six years ago, I admired its exceptional sound and high quality of construction, but I found that the Audyssey MultEQ XT room correction was good with movies but just okay for music. It also didn’t support the recently announced Dolby Atmos object-based surround-sound format, so I thought it offered good but not outstanding value at the time. However, a couple of years ago, NAD introduced the M17 V2. I didn’t take much notice at the time, but I should have. Not only did the V2 version include Dolby Atmos and DTS:X object-based surround decoding, but it also featured Dirac Live room correction and support for the BluOS streaming system. And best of all, for those who had previously purchased the original M17, it was upgradable to V2 status simply by replacing two of its MDC modules, a refreshing change from the usual obsolescence of most surround-sound components after just a few years.
Over the past decade of reviewing audio equipment, whether speakers, amplifiers, preamplifiers, or what have you, I’ve grown skeptical of products bearing an “SE” designation. While I will agree that “SE” often equates to the likes of a V2 or MkII of a product and doesn’t literally have to mean special edition, I do expect that these initials carry with them some meaning—and offer customers something noticeably special, unique, or superior beyond a higher price tag. Audio Research is a prime example of such a company. When it releases an SE version of a product, it’s typically aesthetically identical to the standard version yet dramatically different in terms of parts and performance.
For me, the key to most good unboxing experiences is the juxtaposition between expectations and initial impressions. Unfortunately, that put me at something of a disadvantage when I was tearing into the packaging for DALI’s new Oberon home-theater speaker system, comprising the Oberon 1 bookshelf speakers ($599/pair, all prices in USD), Vokal center ($549), and E-9 F subwoofer ($799). Given that this was my first hands-on experience with the manufacturer’s offerings, my expectations were nebulous, to say the least.
The launch of the Apple AirPods Max on December 8 caused the biggest stir about a set of headphones that I’ve ever seen—partly because they’re the over-ear version of the hyper-popular Apple AirPods Pro earphones, partly because they look so different from anything else on the market, and partly because they’re from Apple. I don’t normally review big-hype, mass-market products like the AirPods Max headphones, but considering that they’re a radical design packed with advanced signal processing, I knew I couldn’t call myself an informed reviewer if I hadn’t spent some time with them.
Reasonable or not, we all have our biases. One of mine is that I am generally reluctant to buy an audio cable or power cord from a component manufacturer. Frankly, when someone mentions that they’ve done just that, I cringe a bit inside. But I always hold my tongue, especially if they have already completed the purchase.
Rotel originally released its Michi series of products in the Japanese market back in the early 1990s. The word michi, in Japanese, literally translates to the road, or path. In the 1990s, Michi products were primarily targeted toward the Japanese market, but the products quickly found global success, as they delivered a step up in audio performance over the company’s other lines. Michi also finished them with classic Japanese rosewood side panels and priced them competitively. The brand’s new products, while still competitively priced, pack a wallop of performance and look anything but traditional. They also don’t appear to be aimed at any specific market, so I asked Daren Orth, Rotel’s chief technical officer, what precipitated the development of the new line. Orth’s response was eloquent and informative:
I’m closing in on almost 100 reviews for the SoundStage! Network, and for the very first time, I find myself in possession of a product before it has been officially announced. That, in and of itself, feels pretty good. But when a 224-pound pallet lands on your doorstep from Sonus Faber — shipped directly from the company’s factory in Arcugnano, in Italy’s Vicenza province — the satisfaction and expectation are all that much greater. Enter the third offering in SF’s Heritage Collection, the Maxima Amator ($15,000 per pair, all prices in USD).
Since he was a small boy, Oliver Göbel, founder of Göbel High End, has loved music. His company is located in Alling, Germany. But unlike most in his family, who fell in love with music through playing an instrument, Göbel was more interested in designing the instrument that played the music. With a background in electronics and communications, Göbel got his first taste for designing loudspeakers while working for Siemens. Specializing in designing specific acoustic solutions for large OEM manufacturers and often focusing on loudspeaker designs, Göbel discovered bending wave technology while he was there. Fascinated by the science and driven by his passion for designing loudspeakers, he soon patented his own acoustic application for bending wave transducers.
Loudspeakers come in all shapes and sizes these days, with some of the most familiar ones being bookshelf and floorstanding models. One of the most overlooked types of speakers, by both the audiophile community and manufacturers alike, is the on-wall. This type of speaker hangs on your wall, usually through a bracket, as opposed to an in-wall speaker, which requires you to cut a hole in your drywall.
Chances are good that most musicians who perform gigs with their own PA system have at least a passing familiarity with the pro sound line of Bose products and with its L1 range of portable line-array speaker systems, in particular, a series the company invented 17 years ago. While a plethora of similarly designed systems from competing manufacturers now exist in the marketplace, Bose cites on its website the L1’s emphasis on high vocal projection and clarity, strong output levels over distance, and consistent coverage and tonal balance throughout venues of various sizes as the line’s key differentiators.
In May of 2016, Bowers & Wilkins (B&W), parent company of Classé Audio at the time, was sold to EVA Automation. This acquisition proved detrimental to Classé Audio, as it was forced to lay off most of its staff and close the doors to its Montreal, Canada-based headquarters for the first time since opening them in 1980.
We audiophiles are a compulsive, persnickety bunch. We fuss, fiddle, tweak, adjust, calibrate, measure, tinker, and toil -- all to achieve the highest quality of sound reproduction possible. A generation ago, this obsession with getting everything just right was pretty much limited to the equipment itself. Most components came with captive or detachable power cords, the sufficiency of which was seldom questioned. Interconnects and speaker cables were also fairly basic affairs -- rarely did audiophiles feel the need to experiment with replacements. Then something happened: Early makers of cables -- e.g., Monster Cable, Cobra, Vampire Wire -- set out to convince us that wires could alter the sound of an audio system.
On August 21, 2020, Richard Schram, the founder, president, and CEO of Parasound, gave a Zoom presentation to over 50 members of the New York-based Audiophile Society.
I was in Munich at High End 2012 when KEF officially released the LS50 bookshelf-type loudspeaker, which the company designed to celebrate its 50th anniversary. It was being marketed as a modern-day version of the BBC’s LS3/5A minimonitor.
Linn recently held a press event via Zoom to announce the launch of the next-generation Majik DSM single-box network music player and integrated amplifier ($3835, all prices USD). A similar event for customers was held shortly after. Linn states that the Majik DSM is an entry-level network player aimed at both first-time hi-fi buyers and existing ones who want to bring audiophile sound to places in their homes that are outside of their main listening rooms.
Italy’s Sonus Faber just released its newest speaker line: Lumina. The lineup comprises the floorstanding Lumina III, priced at $2199/pair (all prices USD); the bookshelf Lumina I for $899/pair; and the center-channel Lumina Center I for $699. They are all available in Walnut, Wengè, and Piano Black finishes. It’s only a three-piece series right now, but because there’s a jump from I to III for the main speakers, it’s obvious that Sonus Faber has allowed some wiggle room to produce a Lumina II, which could be another bookshelf or floorstanding model, and perhaps even a Lumina IV on top of it all. Time will tell.
On July 30, 2020, speaker manufacturer Alta Audio held a brand and product relaunch event for retail dealers and the press. The event was a precursor to a similar event for customers, and it introduced several new and updated products scheduled for release this month. Attending the press event on behalf of the company was Michael Levy, the firm’s founder and chief executive officer, as well as Adam Sohmer, its public relations representative. Also present was Krell Industries’ chief operating officer, Walter Schofield, who spoke about his experiences with Alta’s speakers.
I first became aware of Finland’s Amphion Loudspeakers from reading SoundStage! founder Doug Schneider’s review of the company’s Argon2 two-way minimonitor almost two decades ago. Back then I wasn’t yet a contributor to SoundStage!, but I read the sites regularly. While most of my audio magazine reading was for entertainment, Doug’s Argon2 review piqued my curiosity. It was early in my audio journey, and I was on the upgrade path -- besides which I had moved into a smaller place, and the big and bassy Mirage OM-10 bipolar floorstanders that I had been using just weren’t appropriate.
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