Note: for the full suite of measurements from the SoundStage! Audio-Electronics Lab, click this link.
Somehow or another, I keep accidentally undermining my own arguments here on SoundStage! Access. First I questioned the need for standalone D-to-A converters in most modern audio systems. Then I found a standalone DAC compelling enough to add to my own reference system. Last month I took modern hi-fi manufacturers to task for not making affordable audio gear with anything resembling the sense of style or design found in vintage audio gear. Then—almost as if in response—Marantz dropped its new Model 40n integrated amp in my lap as if to say, “Hey, we’ve been rocking this high-style design for over a year now, since the launch of the Model 30.”
Click-bait headlines of the sort you see above have been par for the course in the world of hi-fi for longer than I’ve been into hi-fi. It isn’t hard to understand why. We all want our music to sound as good as reasonably possible, and since so few people understand the fundamentals of sound reproduction (not a criticism, mind you, just a statement of fact), our hobby is susceptible to all manner of snake oil, from green markers applied to the edges of CDs to grounding systems for loudspeakers.
Back in 2008, I reviewed Rotel’s RCD-1072 CD player for GoodSound!, the predecessor to SoundStage! Access. At that time, I wrote: “Twenty-five years after the CD’s introduction and its promoters’ promise of ‘perfect sound forever,’ the little silver disc appears to be spinning out of our lives. CD sales are in a tailspin, superseded by downloads from websites such as iTunes and Rhapsody. Some people are as appalled by this situation as vinyl stalwarts were in 1983. I’m one of them.”
Music for Nations / Sony Music 19439956901
Format: LP, 16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC download
The British band Porcupine Tree took some time off in 2011 so founding member Steven Wilson, its chief songwriter and leader, could work on his second solo album, Grace for Drowning. Four more Wilson solo albums followed, and the band seemed to be on a permanent hiatus. Wilson was busy with his own albums and with remixing and remastering classic albums by King Crimson, Jethro Tull, XTC, and many others. Drummer Gavin Harrison toured with King Crimson and recorded with The Pineapple Thief; keyboard player Richard Barbieri focused on solo projects and other work; and Colin Edwin lent his bass-playing talents to several other bands.
If you’ve purchased a new piece of hi-fi gear in the past few years, you’ve no doubt seen a note like this in the box, with some variation of “Read me!” or “Please read” or “Start here!” or “Read me first.” Frankly, I almost never do. The last time I truly needed to read the literature for a product before digging into the review was for AudioControl’s super-complicated The Director Model M4800 Eight-Channel Network DSP Matrix Amplifier.
My wife and I have mostly given up on the concept of “appointment television,” with but a few exceptions. We always carve out a regular timeslot in our weekly schedule for exactly three shows: Critical Role, in which “a bunch of nerdy-ass voice actors sit around and play Dungeons & Dragons”; Taskmaster, a UK comedy panel game show that’s best described as an unscripted version of Squid Game with way less murder and way more laughter; and Baumgartner Restoration, a weekly series that documents the work of fine-art conservator Julian Baumgartner.
Back in 2018, Sumiko expanded its well-known Oyster line of moving-magnet/fixed-coil phono cartridges with four new entrants. Three of these are the Rainier ($149, all prices in USD), the Olympia ($199), and the Moonstone ($299). The only difference between these models is the stylus, which is upgradeable. For example, you can upgrade a Rainier to a Moonstone just by substituting the stylus. The lineup also includes the related but only partially interchangeable Amethyst cartridge ($599). Very recently the company filled a gap in this lineup with the new Sumiko Oyster Wellfleet cartridge, which lists for $449. The extra $150 you’ll pay over the price of the Moonstone gets you an elliptical 0.3 mil × 0.7 mil stylus, nude-mounted on a 0.5mm aluminum pipe.
Format: 24-bit/96kHz FLAC download
Wilco’s first album, A.M. (1995), seemed to suggest the band would move in the direction of alt-country, but the follow-up, Being There (1996), was the work of a band that was eager to experiment and to avoid being categorized. With Summerteeth (1999) and, especially, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002), Wilco veered into the avant-garde so markedly its music has often been referred to as “art rock” since.
Many of the records in my collection date back to the pre-CD days—some back to the 1960s. Most of them have been played a lot over the years. And until 1972 or so, I regret to say, I didn’t have anything with which to clean them. So some are a bit grungy.
One of my favorite puzzle manufacturers is a company called GAN. It makes a wide variety of WCA (World Cube Association) puzzles, but it’s best known for its flagship 3×3s, which most of you would probably refer to as Rubik’s Cubes, although no serious cuber uses Rubik’s-branded cubes anymore.