Every article that you read on SoundStage! (or anywhere, for that matter), generally starts with a question. “Is this product good?” “Are tubes B.S.?” “What the heck are balanced armatures?” Something like that. The question that led to this article, though, was a bit of a sticky wicket: “Does the country in which your electronic gear is manufactured really matter?”
Audio electronics reviews are weird things. Each review is, after all, a snapshot in time—an assessment of a product’s strengths and weaknesses compared to the current baseline. That’s perfect for TVs and A/V receivers and media streamers and the like, which are cranked out on something approaching an annual basis and packed with ever-newer features, formats, and performance enhancements. Other gear—like speakers and amps—doesn’t go through quite the same cycle of planned obsolescence. And somewhere in between those two extremes, you have a product like the Musical Fidelity M6si integrated amplifier ($2999, all prices USD).
You’re sitting at your desk, minding your own business one fine April afternoon, when you get an e-mail from Sonus Faber’s PR and communications manager asking if you’d like to get an early look at a super-secret new speaker. It’s the new flagship of the company’s entry-level Lumina line. $2799 per pair (USD). Three-way floorstanding tower. Something something Hybrid IFF-Paracross crossover topology. You gloss over the rest. You’ve heard enough. This is totally in your wheelhouse. You fire off an enthusiastic reply—“Let’s do it!”—and then sit and wait for the speakers to arrive.
I have a secret. Well, it’s not so much a secret anymore, now that Sonus Faber has let the cat out of the proverbial bag. But for the past few weeks, I’ve been rocking out to the company’s new Lumina V loudspeakers, which it publicly unveiled today.
There are two people in the world with whom I willingly speak on the phone on a regular basis: my daughter and SoundStage! Solo senior editor Brent Butterworth. My little girl makes the cut for obvious reasons. Brent, on the other hand, is my mentor and sounding board and one of my best friends, but since he lives on the left coast and I live in the armpit of Alabama, I get to see him once or twice a year at most. Hence the reliance on that damned infernal contraption.
It may seem a bit strange that we’re reviewing Rotel’s CD11 Tribute at a time when the compact disc is practically on life support. We’ve all seen the sales figures. In 2020, the music industry sold a measly 31.6 million compact discs in the US—the format’s worst showing since 1985, just two years after its debut. Overall, physical media represented just 9% of music sales last year, and CDs made up just over 56% of physical media sales in terms of units shipped and 42% in terms of revenue. Let’s split the difference and call it half. 50% of 9% is . . . well, you can do the math. The format represents an ever-smaller piece of an ever-shrinking pie.
If you haven’t noticed already, there’s a bit of a theme being established with my new and upcoming reviews for SoundStage! Access. To call it “all integrated amplifiers, all the time” would be a bit of a stretch, but not by much. I recently took a deep dive into Marantz’s PM-KI Ruby, and I’m following that up with reviews of Rotel’s A11 Tribute and Vincent Audio’s SV-500. And those will hardly be the last integrated amps to cross my threshold in the coming months.
These days, most of the better room-correction systems give you the ability to set an upper limit for the frequencies being “corrected.” And for my money, it’s not only the most useful feature of such systems but also the most misunderstood.
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.