• SoundStage! Shorts -- Anthem's STR Integrated Amplifier (May 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Paradigm's Perforated Phase Alignment (PPA) Lenses (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Paradigm's Persona 9H Loudspeaker (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Contrasts: Dynaudio's Contour and Focus XD Speaker Lines (February 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - New Technologies in MartinLogan's Masterpiece Series
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Dynaudio/Volkswagen Car Audio (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Gryphon Philosophy and the Kodo and Mojo S Speakers (January 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- What's a Tonmeister? (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - AxiomAir N3 Wireless Speaker System (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 90 (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Gryphon Diablo 120 Integrated Amplifier (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Dynaudio History and Driver Technology (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - The Story How Gryphon Began (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Devialet History, ADH Technology, and Expert 1000 Pro (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Devialet's Phantom Loudspeakers (August 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh Home Theater and Streaming Audio (July 2016)

Pro-Ject Audio Systems knows its customers well -- the Debut Carbon turntable ($399 USD), while not quite plug-and-play, comes with everything the aspiring vinyl-loving audiophile needs. And while not quite an exit-level turntable, its build quality tells me that Pro-Ject cares about the entry level of the market.

When I consider upgrade options for newbie audiophiles, a name that instantly comes to mind is Rotel. Like many, I bought my first hi-fi as a teen, at a store that, along with audio gear, sold major appliances: dishwashers, air conditioners, washing machines. Later, when I began browsing specialty audio shops, it was components from Rotel and NAD that caught my attention, mostly because they looked cool -- and I could afford them.

Today, selecting the right universal player isn’t always as simple as driving down to your local Best Buy and opting for the disc spinner with the highest number of codec badges or the hottest video engine under its hood. For many, particularly those of us who have a single system comprising components for both high-end music listening and watching movies, this decision is often one of the most multifaceted, complicated decisions we are forced to contend with. Consider the requirements: universal players must not only perform such basic chores as playing the DVDs -V and -A, BDs, CDs, and SACDs -- they must also be able to process, or at least pass along, 3D and 4K signals; decode the latest object-based 3D audio formats such as Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, and Auro-3D; offer myriad connectivity options enabling both computer- and network-based streaming; and possess circuitry sophisticated enough to minimize the inherent problems associated with each of these demands. Additionally, universal players are also expected to provide satisfying levels of sound, video, and build quality, while offering efficient ergonomics.

Note: Measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.

Reviewers' ChoiceDynaudio takes a lot of pride in the fact that it makes its own components, including its drivers, crossovers, and cabinets, and manufactures its loudspeakers in its various facilities in Denmark. But when I think of Dynaudio, cutting-edge industrial design is not the first thing that springs to mind. Their more affordable offerings of the past 15 years, such as their DM and Excite product lines, are unmistakable: simple, modest boxes with bolt-through drivers, including the company’s signature soft-dome tweeter. The drivers’ mounting bolts remain visible, despite most of Dynaudio’s competitors making efforts to shroud this unsightly and inelegant aspect of hand-built speakers.

Mad Scientist Audio came to my attention when fellow SoundStage! Network reviewer Howard Kneller told me I had to request free samples of the company’s BlackDiscuses. Made from a formula described, tongue in cheek, as being part science and part voodoo, the BlackDiscus is a little thing in the shape of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup that, when placed on a connector, interconnect, or speaker cable, makes it sound better -- or so Mad Scientist claims. I’ve found that they so improve the sound of my system that I now don’t have a power cord, interconnect, or speaker cable that I haven’t equipped with one. What’s more, they not only work great but are silly inexpensive, their various sizes ranging in price from $10 USD per pair to $49.95 each. An audio tweak that doesn’t cost a lot and clearly and immediately benefits the sound is as rare as . . . well, an audio tweak that doesn’t cost a lot and clearly and immediately benefits the sound.

Note: Measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.

Anyone with more than a passing interest in hi-fi should be familiar with Bowers & Wilkins, aka B&W. Founded in 1966, the British manufacturer has been making speakers for 50 years. Its flagship speaker models are staples of recording studios, where they are used as monitors. Its lifestyle products, including headphones and Zeppelin all-in-one wireless systems, are staples of electronics stores. Filling the gap between is a range of speaker lines, the venerable 600 Series representing the company’s entry-level offerings.

Recently, I reviewed Anthem’s new AVM 60 surround-sound processor, which replaced the AVM 50v 3D, the last version of the second generation of Anthem’s AVM surround-sound processors. And while Anthem had continually upgraded that generation during its long run of nearly 15 years, the accompanying MCA series of amplifiers, after a few iterations in its first few years of production, remained unchanged during that time -- until 2016, when Anthem unveiled, alongside the AVM 60, the new MCA ’25 amps.

Reviewers' ChoiceFor 15 or so years, until very recently, Anthem continued to produce upgraded versions of their second-generation AVM surround-sound processor. That’s a long time for any component, and especially for a surround-sound processor. Although the original AVM 20 had little more than Dolby Digital EX, DTS-ES, and THX Surround EX processing, Anthem continually updated it throughout its long run; the last version, the AVM 50v 3D, had all of the latest audio codecs and processing, save for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, along with Sigma Designs’ VXP “broadcast quality” video processing and Anthem’s own Anthem Room Correction (ARC). The original AVM 20 cost $3199 USD at its debut; before being discontinued earlier in 2016, the AVM 50v 3D was priced at $6499.

Reviewers' ChoiceSpeaker maker Sonus Faber was established in 1983, in the Veneto region of Italy, and in 2007 was acquired by the McIntosh Group, owner of such brands as McIntosh Laboratory and Audio Research. SoundStage! publisher Doug Schneider visited Sonus Faber in 2013, and saw their production line in Vicenza. SF’s many lines of speakers are mostly designed for listening to two-channel music recordings, but they also make speakers for multichannel systems and for supercar manufacturer Pagani, down the road in Modena. No surprise, given that Sonus Faber has repeatedly won SoundStage!’s Aesthetics and Sound award.

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends. . . . Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.