It strikes me that preamplifiers have always so dramatically varied in form -- by era, by manufacturer, by purpose -- that rarely has there been a preamp that one could describe as “typical.” Early on, the functions offered were amazing. Some early preamps provided different phono-equalization curves for the many different ways record labels equalized recordings; thank goodness, now all we have to worry about is RIAA. The famed McIntosh Laboratory stereo models of the 1950s through the 1970s featured a seven-position Mode switch that gave the user the choices not only of stereo, reverse stereo, and mono (L+R to both channels), but left or right channel individually to both outputs, or L+R mono to either the left- or right-channel outputs. The ubiquitous Dynaco PAS-3X, of which more than 25,000 were made, offered three mono modes (L, R, L+R) and full stereo, plus two levels of “blended” stereo that traded a loss of channel separation for a quieter signal.
Usually, I think of Arcam as producing high-value integrated amplifiers. Sometimes I forget that they have a long history of producing high-quality digital audio gear -- their reasonably priced CD players and, later, their DVD-Audio, and universal DVD and SACD players, were some of the best available at the time, and Arcam continues to produce high-quality optical-disc players with their latest BD-and-SACD models. And while, as a maker of digital source components, they’re better known for their optical players, they were one of the first to produce a standalone DAC. A few years ago, Arcam returned to the DAC market, first with the compact, entry-level rDAC, followed by the more expensive, full-size FMJ D33. The latter was reviewed very positively by our own Hans Wetzel, who now uses the irDAC, a later version of the rDAC, as one of his reference DACs.
ECM 2490-93 (475 5832)
Format: CD (4)
Drummer Peter Erskine had been active in jazz for 20 years when ECM released You Never Know (1994), the first of four discs he made for the label with a trio that included British pianist John Taylor and Swedish bassist Palle Danielsson. As It Was gathers all four of the Peter Erskine Trio’s ECM releases into a boxed set that’s part of the label’s Old and New Masters Series.
It’s laughable in retrospect. Parents and grandparents always seem to get starry-eyed when reminiscing about the past, while brows instantly furrow at the mention of some new trend or a popular young whippersnapper doing something unspeakably stupid. It’s funny when you’re a kid, because it’s just old people being old. I think at some point, though, we all become keenly aware, even if we’re unwilling to admit to anyone else, that we are growing old. It’s as if the world around us is slowly turning from a comfortably familiar womb to an alien landscape littered with all manner of the unfathomable. Apropos of this, enough real world experience should be instructive on two main points.
A long time ago, I played electric bass guitar in a little rock’n’roll band. My axe was a ca. 1985 Fender Jazz Special, my amp a Yamaha B100-115III combo. After a while, I replaced the amp’s stock speaker with a JBL E140, then generally regarded as the best 15” bass speaker made. The effect was dramatic: low notes retained their metallic character, and high notes, especially slapping and popping, leapt from the fretboard with a hard, brittle edge. The overall sound was tighter, less diffuse, more focused -- more bass-like.
Atco/Atlantic/Rhino R2 555546
If you don’t count his time with the Yardbirds, Jeff Beck has been making records since 1968, and I can’t recall a single album by him that is in any way political. But Loud Hailer (Britspeak for megaphone), Beck’s first studio album since Emotion & Commotion (2010), proclaims his opinions on current events.
Note: Measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.
It’s been six years since iconic loudspeaker designer and manufacturer Sandy Gross wowed us with one of the first products from his latest venture, GoldenEar Technology: the Triton Two loudspeaker with powered subwoofer section. Since then, GoldenEar has introduced larger and smaller versions of the Triton, including passive models, as well as bookshelf speakers, sound bars, and powered subwoofers, all to near-universal acclaim. But time moves on -- even for products as admired as the Triton Two and the smaller Triton Three, both of which are now available in updated versions: the Triton Two+ ($3499.98 USD per pair) and the Triton Three+ ($2499.98/pair).
My Music Empire MME101CD
The Posies’ Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow solidified their place in pop music in the early 1990s, when they appeared in a reconstituted version of Big Star that included original members Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens. By then, the Posies had themselves recorded three terrific power-pop records: Failure (1988), Dear 23 (1990), and Frosting on the Beater (1993). In the ensuing 17 years they released four more studio albums, with a few gaps along the way as Auer and Stringfellow pursued other interests.
I don’t think I’ve ever been content with my audio gear. When I bought my first hi-fi product, an old pair of Dynaudio Contour 1.8 Mk.II speakers, I was already pining for the larger Contour 3.0s. I followed that up with the purchase of a used Krell KAV-300il -- a handsome, powerful integrated amplifier that was only a stepping stone to my ultimate target: a Mark Levinson No.383 integrated. Almost ten years later, five of them spent as a reviewer, I’m not much closer to feeling content.
All over the world, there are good audio manufacturers you’ve never heard of. As entrenched as I am in high-end audio -- I’ve been with SoundStage! for two decades now, many of those years as editor-in-chief -- not a week goes by that I don’t see online some cool, audio-related thingamabob from a company I’ve never heard of. Granted, many of these “companies” are just a guy with a shop and maybe an uncle who’s helping him assemble his thingamabob. But if you don’t want to buy from the mainstream companies, there are options around every corner.