I know that many lament the slow decline of traditional high-end hi-fi, perhaps best exemplified by the funeral that was the Venetian Las Vegas at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show. But for people who, like me, just want good sound for not a lot of money, it’s a great time to be an audiophile. When I travel to Munich, Germany, later this month for the 2017 edition of the High End show, I expect to see a wide variety of hardware that fits neatly within my budget and my current listening habits.
I love class-AB amplifiers. You get most of the midrange magic of the space heaters that are pure class-A amps, while also getting meaningful amounts of power. They’re not too big, not too expensive, and -- crossover distortion aside -- have no major limitations in sound quality. And a well-engineered class-AB amp should last for years, even decades.
In January, we opened the door to the possibility of buying a vinyl-playback system to those of you who’ve never had one. I discussed numerous considerations, and some of the nuts’n’bolts of turntable ownership. Today, we continue . . .
If you followed our live coverage of the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show on SoundStage! Global, it should come as no surprise to hear that CES 2017 was a disappointment for the high-end audio industry. While other media outlets waffled concerning the merits of CES -- or dodged the issue altogether -- SoundStage! Editor-in-Chief Jeff Fritz wasted no time in labeling it a “graveyard.” The next day, Jeff doubled down, condemning the city of Las Vegas as a “cesspool.”
If you read SoundStage! Access regularly, you’ve seen the increase in our coverage of vinyl and equipment to play it on. LPs have been on the rebound for over a decade now, and many listeners prefer the sound of vinyl to that of digital sources. If you’re new to vinyl, you need to know that buying and setting up a turntable is not as simple as with a new digital source. It takes some skill, forethought, and knowledge. This and March’s articles will give you the information you need to make a good choice.
A false narrative surrounds visions of the idyllic days of yore. People today are no less self-interested than they were a half-century ago, even if we may be more self-involved. Nor is the world any more dangerous than it has ever been. In fact, an argument could be made that we live in the most peaceful era in the history of our species. The existence of strife, discontent, and clear opportunities to improve our collective lot in life does not somehow imply that we should revert to the known but wildly imperfect quantities of our past. The familiar aromas of history, allied with our tendency to airbrush our memories in soothing sepia tones, make it an easy and comfortable alternative to the uncertainty of the future. Of course, the tension between the past and present has always existed, and those clinging to the former will, at one point or another, be left behind to rue how the world has gone to hell.
I jumped on the computer-audio bandwagon early and eagerly. I pivoted from a bush-league, big-box-store-bought Sony carousel CD player to a Benchmark Media Systems DAC1 USB -- the first Benchmark DAC with a USB input. Besides, after four years of college in the mid-2000s, I was listening far more to iTunes than to CDs. Back then, Apple’s iTunes was a passable front end, if only due to the lack of competition. Now, though, there are innumerable alternatives, on both the hardware and software fronts.
The CEDIA Expo is a trade show held each September by the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association (CEDIA). For most attendees, it provides an opportunity to learn about the latest developments in home automation, to see the best and brightest new 4K-capable video projectors, and to hear spectacular, sometimes ear-splitting demos of object-based audio formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. On the fringes of all this high-tech overload is a surprising amount of two-channel audio -- everything from integrated amplifiers to statement tower speakers. Happening as it does roughly midway between the annual January installments of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the CEDIA Expo also gives audio manufacturers a chance to unveil new gear that may have been only hinted at in Las Vegas.
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.
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.