Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

To paraphrase the titular character of the film V for Vendetta, “who” is but the form following the function of “what,” and what I am is a great big AV geek.

If you regularly read my turntable reviews, you should already have a pretty good idea of the albums and cuts I use when I’m reviewing a table for SoundStage! Access. But you probably don’t know why I use them. Here’s the scoop on the five albums I use most frequently and a couple of outliers that occasionally see the platter.

Wikipedia defines the term ghosting thusly: “A colloquial term used to describe the practice of ceasing all communication and contact with a partner, friend, or similar individual without any apparent warning or justification.” As a matter of principle, ghosting is not something I’d do. As I explained in this feature on our sister site SoundStage! Ultra back in mid-2019, I just needed a change. It wasn’t you, it was me. But to be clear, I’m just making a cameo appearance here as the search continues for a permanent steward and champion for SoundStage! Access.

Putting together a quality audio system for $1500 (all prices USD) is easy. It’s also hard. For audiophiles on a budget -- people like me -- these days it’s easy to find high-quality audio components for not much money. But today there are so many high-quality components that it’s hard to narrow down the choices.

In November 2019, I wrote a feature for SoundStage! Access in which I discussed a few recordings I use to evaluate loudspeakers and subwoofers. This month I write about the reference tracks with which I evaluate how well a pair of speakers can reproduce aural images of singers, instruments, and other sound-producing objects, and to create a three-dimensional soundstage on which to accurately position those images.

For the last several years, turntables have been at the center of my audio life. It had something to do with the vinyl revival, and the fact that I was one of the few SoundStage! Network reviewers who never lost the faith -- mostly because I have somewhat esoteric (read: strange) tastes in music, and own a large library of recordings on vinyl that have never been digitized. So I kept ready for action my late-1980s Dual CS-5000 turntable and myriad cartridges -- one ADC, four Grados, two Shures, one Stanton, one Sumiko -- until what goes around came around again: the LP.

Although I’ve been critically listening to speakers for almost 30 years, I’ve listened and measured for only the last two. I take my own measurements in my home listening room, and help out with measuring the speakers we review in the anechoic chamber of Canada’s National Research Council (NRC), here in Ottawa.

Not long ago, our esteemed publisher, Doug Schneider, presented me with a challenge: “I want you to revisit the five best turntables you’ve reviewed for us.”

How much bass do you want your system’s sound to have? A lot? A little? Whatever’s “normal”? But do you actually know how much bass your system reproduces in your room, or how smooth it is -- that is, how devoid of peaks and valleys caused by room modes? What’s the ideal amount of bass? Is there an ideal amount of bass for most listeners? Is the amount of bass affected by the type of music played?

In my February feature, “My System’s Most Important Component -- My Room,” I mentioned how a system’s sound can be altered by the simplest acoustic tweaks, such as throwing a blanket over a high-backed chair used as the primary listening seat. There’s a personal story behind that.