The Tease of Show Reports, or My System Search Begins
here is something lascivious about show reports: short, tight paragraphs designed to tease, photos that reveal a bare shoulder of information, vital stats to fire a sybarite's imagination. A half-year hiatus since the CES finds me ogling The Audio Beat's show reports for glimpses of hi-fi products to ponder, perhaps even to lust over. Since January, I have been cash rich and space poor -- whoops, better make that just poor on both counts. Consequently, I am searching for compact loudspeakers and an integrated amplifier that promise full-bodied sound. Less important to my latent desires are big systems based upon vinyl playback. Nevertheless, one turntable/tonearm combo that I read about did stir the loins. In light of my special needs, I have culled a short wish list from the two TAB show reports to date.
In the tiny TV alcove that serves as Jim's Man Cave, there's no need for 20-, nor 30-, nor even 40-Hertz response. Apparently, top manufacturers are aware of undedicated-room types like me and are designing lovely little loudspeakers to tuck in close to rear and side walls. Foremost among these new gems is the Wilson Audio Duette 2 (pricing said to be near that of the Sophia 3), whose design requires the user to locate them at minimal distance to a rear boundary.
My situation identifies me as an ideal candidate for a speaker like the Duette 2, albeit at about one-tenth the price. The Wilson's sleek appearance certainly passes the eye test.
Another loudspeaker that would cuddle up nicely in the kitty's den is Silverline Audio's Prelude Plus, a floorstanding loudspeaker of miniscule dimensions. At $1995 per pair, it's priced a bit above my price range, but I'd justify the purchase on the grounds that decent (i.e., costly) stands are not needed.
The main question I have is whether the tweeter is placed too near the floor for optimum high-frequency funneling toward the listening seat. My ears like to "see" a tweeter slightly above the direct fire line. Perhaps, it's an ocular illusion.The speakers that intrigue me the most are from a company of which I've never heard, which means nothing. As my late step-dad would say, "There's a lot of things you've never heard of, Jim."
The Emerald Physics MS3 (left) features a pair of 7" paper woofers in isobaric loading, which means there's a second woofer behind the one you can see. Shades of the old Linn Majik Isobariks, circa 1979! Astoundingly, the MS3 is said to have an in-room response down to 27 cycles. Although sub-30Hz bass would be inaudible in a cubby hole (it might even muddy the sound), who could resist the bragging rights such a stat affords? At $3000 per pair with inboard crossover, the speaker definitely makes the list, but unfortunately it's likely to stay there.
The D3020 (similar looking to the D7050 shown above) from the venerable firm NAD has exactly what I am looking for, or will have by the end of the year. A "direct digital feedback" integrated amp, it contains a digital-to-analog processor as well. All I'd have to do is hook up a DVD player and voila! "Music playback present and accounted for, sir." Whether placed vertically or horizontally, the diminutive unit allows plenty of room for the statue of Buddha, the trumpeting elephant, the crystal raindrop and other knickknacks with which I like to adorn the equipment rack.
However, a much more tempting integrated amplifier is the new Moon Neo 250i from Simaudio ($2400). With its two-tone face plate and chunky side "cheeks," the Neo 350i is drool-inducing to look at, although for me it promises to be a budget-buster. This, despite being the "budget" line from a Canadian company known for offering good value for money. The simple fact is a nearly fixed income is not compatible with the steady rise in high-end audio production costs.
Thanks to TAB's show reporters for unveiling the amplifier I must have, even it requires me to sell an organ. At $8000, the new VSi75 tube integrated from Audio Research is a bargain, at least to this curmudgeon. Having heard the Reference 75 stereo power amplifier at the CES, and assuming a few corners were cut for the non-Reference model, I am nevertheless thrilled that ARC has let the key parts of the their best-sounding amplifier trickle down to a cost-, space-, and cable-saving design.
As a disc-spinning Luddite throwing up his hands "in horror," I am crestfallen to learn that the CD player appears to be all but dead, at least by show-reporting standards. For now, a sweet-sounding Onkyo Blu-ray player enables me to enjoy the ritual of CD insertion. Perhaps a safe bet is to add a fancy new outboard digital-to-audio converter with more number-crunching capability than a first-generation UNIVAC.
Here I have to cheat. The digital-to-analog converter that is within my budget did not appear in a show report but rather in a TAB news listing. The tiny M2TEch HiFace thumb-drive DAC ($295) not only has enormous decoding power, but with a full-size component output of 2V it can drive the aux input of an integrated amplifier. As soon as I buy a laptop, this tiny tool will enable me to join the in-crowd of music-file swappers.
The Focal Sprint Classic headphones are just the right accompaniment for a 45-minute walk. At under $500, these wireless ear warmers might actually make the budget cut. If so, I promise to send a photo of me wearing them to replace this one of Focal's Gérard Chretien.
Is seems ironic that someone who uses a CD player is now considered a knuckle-dragger, while one who employs a turntable is a neo-classicist of Epicurean tastes (with a friendly banker). While I have no intention of going back to vinyl, if I did, the only spinning wheel I'd even consider using is the German-made Pro-ject Signature 10. Besides having a magnetically decoupled platter and chassis, this objet d' art costs a mere 9900 in piano-black finish, with 10" tonearm thrown in for free. Compared to other modern turntables, the Signature 10 is a practically a Blue Light Special.
From my reading of the show reports, the cable that would find a home in my system, had I not squandered my inheritance on women and song, would be the Nordost Valhalla 2 (interconnects, $7600 per meter pair; speaker cables, $9600 per 1.25-meter pair), which, I have been assured, Joe Reynolds of Nordost did not use as a lasso. Ah, such stuff as dreams are made of.
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