Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

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?”

Audio electronics reviews are weird things. Each review is, after all, a snapshot in time—an assessment of a product’s strengths and weaknesses compared to the current baseline. That’s perfect for TVs and A/V receivers and media streamers and the like, which are cranked out on something approaching an annual basis and packed with ever-newer features, formats, and performance enhancements. Other gear—like speakers and amps—doesn’t go through quite the same cycle of planned obsolescence. And somewhere in between those two extremes, you have a product like the Musical Fidelity M6si integrated amplifier ($2999, all prices USD).

You’re sitting at your desk, minding your own business one fine April afternoon, when you get an e-mail from Sonus Faber’s PR and communications manager asking if you’d like to get an early look at a super-secret new speaker. It’s the new flagship of the company’s entry-level Lumina line. $2799 per pair (USD). Three-way floorstanding tower. Something something Hybrid IFF-Paracross crossover topology. You gloss over the rest. You’ve heard enough. This is totally in your wheelhouse. You fire off an enthusiastic reply—“Let’s do it!”—and then sit and wait for the speakers to arrive.

I have a secret. Well, it’s not so much a secret anymore, now that Sonus Faber has let the cat out of the proverbial bag. But for the past few weeks, I’ve been rocking out to the company’s new Lumina V loudspeakers, which it publicly unveiled today.

There are two people in the world with whom I willingly speak on the phone on a regular basis: my daughter and SoundStage! Solo senior editor Brent Butterworth. My little girl makes the cut for obvious reasons. Brent, on the other hand, is my mentor and sounding board and one of my best friends, but since he lives on the left coast and I live in the armpit of Alabama, I get to see him once or twice a year at most. Hence the reliance on that damned infernal contraption.

It may seem a bit strange that we’re reviewing Rotel’s CD11 Tribute at a time when the compact disc is practically on life support. We’ve all seen the sales figures. In 2020, the music industry sold a measly 31.6 million compact discs in the US—the format’s worst showing since 1985, just two years after its debut. Overall, physical media represented just 9% of music sales last year, and CDs made up just over 56% of physical media sales in terms of units shipped and 42% in terms of revenue. Let’s split the difference and call it half. 50% of 9% is . . . well, you can do the math. The format represents an ever-smaller piece of an ever-shrinking pie.