Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

I’m not sure why, but there’s always something particularly exciting to me about unboxing a new pair of tower speakers. Maybe it’s because it’s the only unboxing process that feels like an undressing—I don’t know. Or perhaps it’s just the extra effort involved. If I had to bet, though, I’d guess it has something to do with that first fleeting instant of discovery—that moment when you figure out which side goes up and what accessories greet you upon first popping the tape and opening the cardboard flaps.

I envision a day in the not-too-distant future when the average audiophile loudspeaker will be active, not passive, and will have built-in amplifiers and DSP optimally matched to the drivers, ensuring the entire speaker safely performs to its fullest potential. But we’re not there yet. So if you’re new to the world of hi-fi and looking to build a component stereo system, one of the most critical purchasing decisions you have ahead of you is selecting the right amp and speakers for your needs.

Not to bore you too much with the sausage-making process, but what follows is not the article I originally intended to write this month. The goal here was to author an introductory article for budding audio enthusiasts who probably already have a lot of experience listening to headphones but perhaps don’t know what they get—and what they give up—when moving to a proper component stereo system.

In addition to spotlighting high-performance gear that won’t break the bank, one of my main goals here at SoundStage! Access is drawing attention to newbie-friendly gear. Gear that’s accessible—in terms of price, ergonomics, installation, setup, and operation—for someone who’s never owned or operated a real stereo system before. And that, ultimately, is what drew me to Emotiva’s new BasX TA1 stereo receiver. The company has a long history of making and selling super-affordable gear, so it’s no real shock to see it offering a product like this at $549 (all prices USD). What is surprising for me is just how much the TA1 attempts to accomplish within the confines of its itty-bitty chassis. Because calling it a “stereo receiver” hardly does it justice.

Tinkering with a successful formula is an incredibly risky proposition. Don’t believe me? Just ask Chevrolet’s designers about the hate mail they receive every time a new generation of Corvette is unveiled. Or maybe ask Jack Dorsey how things went after Twitter’s last big redesign. Change things too much, and you run the risk of losing the spirit of what made the product successful to begin with. Don’t tinker enough, and what’s the point?

What’s the point of all this, really? And I don’t mean that in some existential sense. By “all this,” I’m referring to the subject matter of this publication. When you get right down to it, why do we care about high-fidelity sound reproduction? I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, ever since someone asked me to explain, in as few words as possible, the real benefit of acoustical room treatments. Not with math. Not with RT60 graphs. But with simple, direct, easy-to-comprehend non-jargon.

Someone recently asked me, “What’s the point of doing unboxing blogs?” Admittedly, I didn’t quite grok this uniquely 21st-century phenomenon at first, but I’ve come to realize that they tell a story. Sometimes that story is about the care put into packing and shipping a piece of gear. Sometimes it’s about presentation. Sometimes it’s just about initial impressions and a closer look at connectivity. In the case of the SVS PB-1000 Pro subwoofer, though, the packaging itself tells a neat story.

Kids these days, with their hula hoops and their disco music and their pet rocks. It’s a foregone conclusion that they’re destroying civilization with their ravenous consumption of avocado toast and refusal to use plastic straws. But the biggest crime against humanity committed by millennials and zoomers is apparently the fact that they use YouTube as a streaming music service.

For most of my career, I sort of treated hi-fi and distributed audio as wholly separate domains. “Non-overlapping magisteria,” to borrow a phrase from the great Stephen Jay Gould. That isn’t to say that distributed audio can’t sound good, but that’s generally not the point. Most multiroom audio amps, I think you’ll agree, are designed to deliver listenable music around the home (or commercial environment) in acceptable quality, without having to litter every room with Wi-Fi-connected plastic boxes. But my first experience with AudioControl’s The Director Model D3200, way back in the bygone days of 2012, disabused me of this bias. It was a technological marvel with control features I didn’t even know I needed. But most importantly, it delivered legitimately audiophile-caliber sound. Who even knew that was a thing?

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?