You might think that a guy who earns his living by writing about technology would want to have the latest and greatest of everything. Not yours truly. When I make a purchase, I’ll spend what it takes to get a product that will meet my needs for a long time—but then I’ll make that thing last and last. I’ll replace a product only if it stops working properly and can’t be repaired economically; or if my circumstances change and the thing no longer suits my needs.
I don’t know how many stereo systems are sitting unused in people’s basements and attics; but I’d guess a gazillion or so, give or take a million. That’s a pity, because it wouldn’t take much to update them. Just connect a streaming DAC like the new Bluesound Node ($549, all prices in USD), and that old system is ready to stream music from the internet, play digital music from an external drive, play soundtracks from a connected HDTV, and perform other 21st-century audio tricks.
In his July 1 editorial, “Rich Guys and Reviewers Running Amok in Hi-Fi,” SoundStage! Network founder and publisher Doug Schneider discussed the amount of exorbitantly priced hi-fi products available today, and the fact that their performance often does not justify their crazy price tags. And he cited academic studies showing that consumers often mistakenly equate price with quality.
Almost all of the products reviewed here on Simplifi, and on other corners of the SoundStage! Network, are fairly new to market—in most cases, less than one year old. And quite often, our reviews are of products that are brand new to market.
At first glance, Q Acoustics’ Q Active 200 ($1999/pair, all prices in USD except where noted) doesn’t look much like a loudspeaker. It could be an appliance of some kind, or maybe a minitower desktop PC. After setting up the speakers on the matching Q FS75 stands ($499/pair) in my living room, I sent close-up pix to a few friends and family members, and asked them what kind of product the pictures showed. Those were some of their guesses.
We’re just past the halfway point of 2021, but I think I’ve already heard my favorite album of the year. On August 6, Impex Records will release Clique, an album of jazz standards by Patricia Barber, on MQA CD, SACD, and hi-rez download. Stereo and 5.1 surround-sound mixes will be included on the SACD, and available as hi-rez downloads. Clique will also be streamed by Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal, and Qobuz. Coming later this year is a 33rpm LP; a 45rpm LP and a reel-to-reel tape release will follow in 2022.
One of the hottest product categories in hi-fi right now is the streaming integrated amplifier—an amp with a built-in network streamer and Wi-Fi connectivity. Just add a pair of loudspeakers, connect the amp to your home network, log on to your favorite streaming service, and you have everything you need to play just about all the music in the world. Of course, these products also have digital and analog inputs to accommodate components like disc players, game consoles, and TVs.
During my three years on Simplifi, I’ve reviewed 27 different powered and active loudspeakers—more than any other product category. There’s a reason for this. Because of their all-in-one designs, speakers with built-in amplifiers work wonderfully for Simplifi’d hi-fi.
In the 21st century, has there been a more successful, more important bookshelf loudspeaker than KEF’s LS50? I doubt it. Just look at how the LS50 and its progeny have fared on the SoundStage! Network.
First Amazon, then Spotify, and now Apple. With the company’s May 17 announcement that it was planning to make the 75 million songs in its Apple Music catalog available in lossless format, and that a substantial number of tracks would be available in high resolution (up to 24-bit/192kHz ALAC), all the major streaming services have now joined the lossless party.
Note: for the full suite of measurements from the SoundStage! Audio-Electronics Lab, click this link.
If there was ever an occasion for an audio manufacturer to release a statement product, this was it. On September 28, 2020, Brian Russell, Bryston Ltd.’s tremendously capable, tremendously affable president, passed away in his sleep from an apparent heart attack. He was 69.
In the past two years I’ve reviewed active studio monitors from Heinz Electrodynamic Designs (HEDD), Focal, and PMC. As you’d expect, all of these speakers work wonderfully for desktop audio. But what about listening Simplifi’d style: sitting on a sofa or comfy chair, cueing up music with a tablet or smartphone, and playing it from a streaming DAC connected to the speakers?
The past five years have been mighty tumultuous for Bowers & Wilkins. In May 2016, the venerable British loudspeaker brand was acquired by EVA Automation Inc., a Silicon Valley startup. The two companies joined forces to develop a series of wireless audio products, which they unveiled in April 2019.
I’m old enough to remember a time, in the 1970s and ’80s, when component hi-fi was a mainstream thing. It seemed everyone either owned or planned to soon buy a stereo system.
Since mid-2019, I’ve been looking for ways to get better bass from the music system in the living room of the 1920s Toronto rowhouse I share with my infinitely better half. My quest began when I reviewed Elac’s Navis ARF-51 speakers ($4599.96/pair; all prices USD). Those active floorstanders delivered deeper bass and more slam than the active stand-mounted speakers I was using at the time, and I enjoyed them so much I bought the review samples.
In mid-February, SoundStage! editor-in-chief Jeff Fritz e-mailed to ask if I’d be willing to put together a “virtual system” as part of a series he was writing for SoundStage! Ultra: “If you had an unlimited budget and wanted the best performance money could buy on the desktop, what would you pick?”
Note: measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.
Three years ago, when Kevin and Jonathan Couch formed Heavenly Soundworks, the father-and-son team planned to make only conventional passive loudspeakers—active speakers weren’t on the agenda. “My dad has been into audio as long as I can remember—since before I was born,” Jonathan told me in a phone interview, “which is why I’m into it too.”
For his February 1 “SoundStage! UK” column on SoundStage! Hi-Fi, Ken Kessler wrote an entertaining (but slightly unhinged) rant, “I Hate Streaming.” Characteristically, Ken spiced up his piece with colorful prose. “As for streaming, I can’t even be bothered to dignify it by hating it,” he proclaimed. “Rather, I prefer to disrespect it with the ultimate insult: I couldn’t care less about it. . . . Indeed, when suffering insomnia, I think of streaming. Then, when I invariably wake up at 3 a.m., being of pensioner age, streaming is exactly what I do. In the loo.”
Is the Compact Disc on its last legs? It sure looks that way. According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), US sales of CDs fell 45.2% (units) and 47.6% (dollars) in the first half of 2020, compared to the same period a year earlier. In that same period, revenues from streaming grew 12%, to $4.8 billion—85% of recording-industry revenues in the US.
In the last three years, Danish Audiophile Loudspeaker Industries (DALI) has introduced active versions of models from three of its speaker series:
Introduced in 1991, PSB’s affordable Alpha series of loudspeakers have since earned a reputation for performance and value, and received many awards. PSB’s Alpha P5 two-way minimonitor ($399/pair, all prices USD except as noted) received a Reviewers’ Choice Award when it was reviewed on SoundStage! Access by Hans Wetzel in March 2019, and was subsequently named a SoundStage! Network Product of the Year for Exceptional Value.
During the 2018 Toronto Audiofest, I had an interesting conversation with an industry colleague about active speakers and streaming music. As previously observed on Simplifi, my living room can’t accommodate a conventional component system comprising amps and passive loudspeakers. Nor can it accommodate physical media such as CDs and LPs. For that reason, I’ve built my main hi-fi system around a pair of Elac Navis ARF-51 active speakers ($4599.96/pair, all prices USD), which have 300Wpc of built-in amplification. I stream all my music to the living room over our home network.
When he visited my home last summer, SoundStage! founder and publisher Doug Schneider asked what I thought was a strange question. Which am I into more, music or sound? Am I first and foremost an audiophile or a music lover?
In no other area do audiophile aspirations collide more forcefully with the laws of physics than in the reproduction of deep bass. That’s especially true with audio systems installed in multipurpose living areas, as opposed to dedicated media rooms. There are two main reasons for this, one quantitative, the other qualitative.
A trick question: What are the most valuable components of your music system? I don’t know about yours, but the most valuable parts of mine are space and time. If that sounds like new-age hokum, stay with me—that insight has a lot to do with how I’ve configured my hi-fi system, how I use it, and the writing I do in this corner of the SoundStage! Network.
Last spring, I added a new component to my audio wish list: a subwoofer. It happened after I’d conducted an experiment in which I compared my Elac Navis ARF-51 active floorstanding speakers ($4599.98/pair, all prices USD) with a pair of Elac Navis ARB-51 active stand-mounted speakers ($2299.98/pair), the latter augmented by an SVS PB-2000 Pro subwoofer ($899.99). I wanted to find out which would give me better sound: a pair of full-range floorstanders, or a pair of minimonitors plus a sub. The Navises employ the same drivers, crossovers, and amplifiers—in short, that minimum of variables made these two models an ideal test bed for my experiment.
I didn’t expect to be writing this review -- at least, not now. As I mentioned a month ago, in my feature article “A Perfect Pair,” when I read PSB’s announcement of their new Alpha AM3 and Alpha AM5 powered speakers, I immediately requested for review a pair of AM5s. I was told that samples would be shipped to me that very week -- only to hear, a few days later, that review samples weren’t available, due to robust initial orders and pandemic-related product shortages. When PSB offered to supply the smaller AM3s, I gladly accepted.
At the start of 2020 — it seems an age ago — I’d made some ambitious travel plans for the year: In March, I’d take the train to Montreal for the Audiofest; in April, I’d fly to Chicago for AXPONA. In May, I’d jet off to Munich for the High End show. In October I’d stay in my home city to attend the Toronto Audiofest, and in November it would be off to Warsaw for the Audio Video Show.
Most audiophiles know SV Sound (SVS) as a manufacturer of high-performance, high-value speakers and subwoofers. The Ohio-based company’s catalog also includes one electronic component: the Prime Wireless SoundBase ($499.99, all prices USD), which combines a powerful integrated amplifier and network streamer in one compact case.
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