The SoundStage! Network’s multi-author blog about hi-fi, home theater, and more.
I consider myself unreasonably lucky. In 1999, I moved into my current home, which is one of a block of nine townhouses. The houses were built in 1986 as what’s known in Toronto as infill housing. The land was part of a farm in the late 1800s, and as Toronto spread outward, the land was sold off in parcels. Encircled by houses, ours was the last remaining undeveloped lot in the area, which is less than two miles from the city’s core.
Seldom does a consumer product attain the success or longevity to affect a collective consciousness, let alone a hi-fi product. But the Bose 901 speaker system is exactly one such product. With a nearly half-century-long history, the 901 has enjoyed incredible commercial success and has generated much conversation amongst audiophiles. The 901 is one of the most unconventional designs in the history of audio and one of the most recognizable.
I knew that Portland, Oregon, was noted for its fine audio emporiums: Pearl Audio, Encore Audio, and Fred’s Sound of Music among them. But on a recent vacation trip to the City of Roses, my wife, a friend, and I discovered a new one, the Record Pub (TRP), in the city’s Sellwood-Moreland neighborhood. We were intrigued and went in.
When I first heard from Yamaha Canada about its yet-to-be-released integrated amplifier with an integral DAC and streaming capabilities over a year ago, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. All of the previous models in the company’s four-digit series of high-end integrated amplifiers and preamplifiers have been all-analog affairs requiring an outboard DAC or optical disc player for digital playback. Case in point, the gorgeous A-S3200 integrated amplifier I reviewed a couple of years ago. While I loved the sound of the A-S3200, including its fabulous MM/MC phono stage and its absolutely stunning cosmetics and build quality, I lamented its lack of an internal DAC.
The past two years have been great for me, as a reviewer, having had the opportunity to audition a good number of fine turntables, from entry level to the top of SoundStage! Access’s purview. (You can find my turntable reviews on SoundStage! Access almost every month.) For this posting, I revisited my reviews for the past two years, selected the finest examples of the science and art embodied in high-value turntables, and summarized my findings in reverse order of preference.
I’ve known about Kharma for a very long time. I’ve seen their speakers reviewed in magazines and encountered them at shows over the years. And it’s always been the beautiful, raked, “entry-level” Elegance models that sprang to my mind on hearing the Dutch brand’s name. For one reason or another, I’ve never had the opportunity to sit and listen to a pair, but 18 months ago I began a conversation with Vivienne van Oosterum, the daughter of Kharma founder, Charles van Oosterum, that ultimately led to a pair of Kharma’s Elegance dB7-S loudspeakers (US$31,250 per pair) being deposited on my driveway, in mid-December 2022.
Since I’m mostly* unable to spend paycheck money on this hobby, I tend not to hold on to extra gear for very long. Freeing up old and unused gear on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace is a great way to meet like-minded local enthusiasts, but it also allows me to fund other, later purchases. It was with both these thoughts in mind that I listed my Ortofon 2M Bronze ($419, all prices USD) moving-magnet phono cartridge for sale, even though it saved my butt for a few weeks recently.
A few months back I wrote about the system in my new living room, which includes an NAD M10 V2 integrated amplifier-DAC, Focal’s 1000 IW6 two-way in-wall loudspeakers, and KEF’s KC62 microsubwoofer. I love the KC62 because it’s perfect for my use case: a tiny 10″-cubed footprint married to extension and control below 30Hz. It looks unobtrusive in my room while still offering proper audiophile performance. If there’s an asterisk to this heroic little subwoofer, it’s the matter of output. Above a certain volume its extension begins to roll off to ensure that the little-sub-that-could doesn’t blow itself to pieces, and no matter how accomplished the hardware or DSP is, there is no replacement for displacement (as they used to say in the car world).
A system is only as good as the room that it’s in, and as I explained in my last article, I’ve had some pretty mediocre rooms over the last decade. But my now-six-month-old daughter gave me and my wife an excuse just over a year ago to move from South Philadelphia to the Philly suburbs in search of additional space and more in the way of peace and quiet. One of my non-negotiables for our new abode was a finished basement that I could turn into a listening room, and after failing to land any of the first five homes we bid on in the historic pandemic housing market, we struck gold on our sixth and landed our dream home.
November 11 is Veterans Day in the United States, the day we honor U.S. military veterans. Despite occurring during cold, grey November, it’s a happy day—as opposed to Memorial Day, which is not a happy day, since it’s the day we mourn those who have fought and died while wearing our nation’s uniform. Conversely, that day occurs in May at the joyous onset of summer . . .
Earlier this year, SME launched one of the world’s truly great turntables, the state-of-the-art Model 60 flagship. Evidently, engineers have been busy at SME, in Steyning, West Sussex, UK, because the company is now releasing updated, Mk2 versions of every model in their range, from the Model 12 and Synergy to the Model 30. When you consider that the Model 30 has been in production since 1990 without major revisions and is still regarded as one of the world’s finest vinyl spinners, the significance of this launch is obvious.
Our new-to-us forever home is a mid-century modern designed by architect Carter Sparks for builders Jim and Bill Streng, Sacramento’s mid-century modern specialists. Sparks studied under Joseph Eichler’s architects, the former designing more than 3000 homes in the Golden State’s capital. Ours features a post-and-beam aesthetic, east-facing sliders and windows, and a large internal atrium skylight with exposed aggregate walkways and three internal garden beds.
Since I began writing for SoundStage! back in 2011, I’ve written from—erm—compromised listening spaces. My grad school apartment building was full of senior citizens whom I respected too much to play music too loudly. My first apartment with my now-wife was a 750-square-foot concrete studio in Center City Philadelphia that was an acoustic nightmare. And our century-old, 1020-square-foot first home together, in South Philadelphia, was a long, narrow row house that left my stereo most of the way down the long wall of its open-floor-plan first floor, resulting in horrendous room modes. I vowed that if we ever lived that suburban life, I would have two things: (1) a proper listening room that was truly my own, with as few compromises as possible, and (2) a big family room with a nice television and an audio system that was both inconspicuous and super user friendly.
When I spoke with Rotel’s CTO, Daren Orth, last year about the company’s decidedly high-end Michi X5 integrated amplifier-DAC I was reviewing at the time, he emphasized how the Michi products weren’t just intended to be one-off designs to show off what Rotel engineers could create at higher price points. Instead, they were designed as scalable platforms that could be used as a basis for other Rotel products. Some of that Michi technology went into very affordable models like the MKII versions of the brand’s A and RA series of integrated amplifiers, but to celebrate its 60th anniversary, Rotel has gone all out by introducing two top-of-the-line components in its new Diamond series, the DT-6000 DAC/CD transport ($2299, all prices in USD) and the RA-6000 integrated amplifier-DAC ($4499). While products in the new Diamond series have the same general appearance as other Rotel products with traditional black and silver finishes and slightly updated cosmetics, they are described as having “Michi-inspired” circuit designs.
Though they were less numerous than today, a plethora of hi-fi companies in the postwar era developed and sold the products that laid the groundwork for stereo both as a hobby and as ubiquitous home entertainment. Some of their names are recognizable to us still: loudspeakers by Klipsch and Tannoy; electronics from McIntosh Laboratory and Harman/Kardon; turntables by Thorens and, later on, Technics. Today, these companies are regarded as hi-fi royalty, with reputations built on their accomplishments more than half a century ago. However, off-the-shelf speakers and electronics weren’t an early hi-fi enthusiast’s only option: in the days of stereo’s infancy, it was not uncommon for one to assemble or even fabricate the components of the system oneself.
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