The launch of the Apple AirPods Max on December 8 caused the biggest stir about a set of headphones that I’ve ever seen—partly because they’re the over-ear version of the hyper-popular Apple AirPods Pro earphones, partly because they look so different from anything else on the market, and partly because they’re from Apple. I don’t normally review big-hype, mass-market products like the AirPods Max headphones, but considering that they’re a radical design packed with advanced signal processing, I knew I couldn’t call myself an informed reviewer if I hadn’t spent some time with them.
Reasonable or not, we all have our biases. One of mine is that I am generally reluctant to buy an audio cable or power cord from a component manufacturer. Frankly, when someone mentions that they’ve done just that, I cringe a bit inside. But I always hold my tongue, especially if they have already completed the purchase.
Rotel originally released its Michi series of products in the Japanese market back in the early 1990s. The word michi, in Japanese, literally translates to the road, or path. In the 1990s, Michi products were primarily targeted toward the Japanese market, but the products quickly found global success, as they delivered a step up in audio performance over the company’s other lines. Michi also finished them with classic Japanese rosewood side panels and priced them competitively. The brand’s new products, while still competitively priced, pack a wallop of performance and look anything but traditional. They also don’t appear to be aimed at any specific market, so I asked Daren Orth, Rotel’s chief technical officer, what precipitated the development of the new line. Orth’s response was eloquent and informative:
I’m closing in on almost 100 reviews for the SoundStage! Network, and for the very first time, I find myself in possession of a product before it has been officially announced. That, in and of itself, feels pretty good. But when a 224-pound pallet lands on your doorstep from Sonus Faber — shipped directly from the company’s factory in Arcugnano, in Italy’s Vicenza province — the satisfaction and expectation are all that much greater. Enter the third offering in SF’s Heritage Collection, the Maxima Amator ($15,000 per pair, all prices in USD).
Since he was a small boy, Oliver Göbel, founder of Göbel High End, has loved music. His company is located in Alling, Germany. But unlike most in his family, who fell in love with music through playing an instrument, Göbel was more interested in designing the instrument that played the music. With a background in electronics and communications, Göbel got his first taste for designing loudspeakers while working for Siemens. Specializing in designing specific acoustic solutions for large OEM manufacturers and often focusing on loudspeaker designs, Göbel discovered bending wave technology while he was there. Fascinated by the science and driven by his passion for designing loudspeakers, he soon patented his own acoustic application for bending wave transducers.
Loudspeakers come in all shapes and sizes these days, with some of the most familiar ones being bookshelf and floorstanding models. One of the most overlooked types of speakers, by both the audiophile community and manufacturers alike, is the on-wall. This type of speaker hangs on your wall, usually through a bracket, as opposed to an in-wall speaker, which requires you to cut a hole in your drywall.
Chances are good that most musicians who perform gigs with their own PA system have at least a passing familiarity with the pro sound line of Bose products and with its L1 range of portable line-array speaker systems, in particular, a series the company invented 17 years ago. While a plethora of similarly designed systems from competing manufacturers now exist in the marketplace, Bose cites on its website the L1’s emphasis on high vocal projection and clarity, strong output levels over distance, and consistent coverage and tonal balance throughout venues of various sizes as the line’s key differentiators.
In May of 2016, Bowers & Wilkins (B&W), parent company of Classé Audio at the time, was sold to EVA Automation. This acquisition proved detrimental to Classé Audio, as it was forced to lay off most of its staff and close the doors to its Montreal, Canada-based headquarters for the first time since opening them in 1980.
We audiophiles are a compulsive, persnickety bunch. We fuss, fiddle, tweak, adjust, calibrate, measure, tinker, and toil -- all to achieve the highest quality of sound reproduction possible. A generation ago, this obsession with getting everything just right was pretty much limited to the equipment itself. Most components came with captive or detachable power cords, the sufficiency of which was seldom questioned. Interconnects and speaker cables were also fairly basic affairs -- rarely did audiophiles feel the need to experiment with replacements. Then something happened: Early makers of cables -- e.g., Monster Cable, Cobra, Vampire Wire -- set out to convince us that wires could alter the sound of an audio system.
On August 21, 2020, Richard Schram, the founder, president, and CEO of Parasound, gave a Zoom presentation to over 50 members of the New York-based Audiophile Society.
I was in Munich at High End 2012 when KEF officially released the LS50 bookshelf-type loudspeaker, which the company designed to celebrate its 50th anniversary. It was being marketed as a modern-day version of the BBC’s LS3/5A minimonitor.
Linn recently held a press event via Zoom to announce the launch of the next-generation Majik DSM single-box network music player and integrated amplifier ($3835, all prices USD). A similar event for customers was held shortly after. Linn states that the Majik DSM is an entry-level network player aimed at both first-time hi-fi buyers and existing ones who want to bring audiophile sound to places in their homes that are outside of their main listening rooms.
Italy’s Sonus Faber just released its newest speaker line: Lumina. The lineup comprises the floorstanding Lumina III, priced at $2199/pair (all prices USD); the bookshelf Lumina I for $899/pair; and the center-channel Lumina Center I for $699. They are all available in Walnut, Wengè, and Piano Black finishes. It’s only a three-piece series right now, but because there’s a jump from I to III for the main speakers, it’s obvious that Sonus Faber has allowed some wiggle room to produce a Lumina II, which could be another bookshelf or floorstanding model, and perhaps even a Lumina IV on top of it all. Time will tell.
On July 30, 2020, speaker manufacturer Alta Audio held a brand and product relaunch event for retail dealers and the press. The event was a precursor to a similar event for customers, and it introduced several new and updated products scheduled for release this month. Attending the press event on behalf of the company was Michael Levy, the firm’s founder and chief executive officer, as well as Adam Sohmer, its public relations representative. Also present was Krell Industries’ chief operating officer, Walter Schofield, who spoke about his experiences with Alta’s speakers.
I first became aware of Finland’s Amphion Loudspeakers from reading SoundStage! founder Doug Schneider’s review of the company’s Argon2 two-way minimonitor almost two decades ago. Back then I wasn’t yet a contributor to SoundStage!, but I read the sites regularly. While most of my audio magazine reading was for entertainment, Doug’s Argon2 review piqued my curiosity. It was early in my audio journey, and I was on the upgrade path -- besides which I had moved into a smaller place, and the big and bassy Mirage OM-10 bipolar floorstanders that I had been using just weren’t appropriate.
Located in Brooklyn, New York, Bache Audio mostly manufactures audiophile speakers. On July 5, 2020, Greg Belman, Bache’s founder, invited me over for a listening session. It was my first face-to-face audio meeting since the global pandemic’s start.
The times have changed. If not for the global pandemic, I would have been reporting recently from audio events that were scheduled to be held in Germany and Switzerland, not the least of which was Munich’s High End 2020 show. Of course, those events were cancelled, and SoundStage! Global, which covers worldwide audio happenings, has had to at least temporarily scramble to find content. So on June 26, 2020, I attended an Audiophile Society Zoom meeting during which members of Krell Industries gave a presentation. Truth be told, since I am a Society member, I would have attended the meeting and reported on it anyway.
Doug Schneider, the SoundStage! Network’s founder, isn’t much into audio gimmickry. He’s seen a lot of products in his 26 years as a journalist, and he pretty quickly separates the wheat from the chaff. Products that are based on suspect or imaginary technologies don’t get much attention from him.
On February 14, Andrew Singer, proprietor of Sound by Singer, an audio store in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood, hosted Denmark’s Gryphon Audio Designs for a demonstration that asked a simple question: could Gryphon’s statement Ethos CD player/upsampling digital-to-analog converter ($39,000, all prices USD) compete with a high-end turntable?
Having only one unallocated day left to meet with audio manufacturers during my planned January 2020 trip to Japan, I called Andrew Jones, Elac’s vice president of engineering, for a manufacturer recommendation. Before joining Elac, Jones designed speakers for Japan’s Pioneer Corporation and its high-end subsidiary, Technical Audio Devices Laboratories, better known as TAD. Perhaps not surprisingly, Jones suggested that I contact TAD’s Tokyo headquarters, which I did. Shortly thereafter, January 16 was confirmed as the date of my visit.
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