As I was taking a second pass through my rough draft of the intro for this review, it occurred to me that I was effectively aping the theme song for Cheers. It seems to me that the hardest part of making your way in today’s world of connected, streaming, networked, Bluetoothed, AirPlayed, Chromecasted audio—especially for a traditional hi-fi company—is figuring out how to spin what makes your thing different from any number of other things that do the same thing, not to mention how to compete with the Sonoses, BluOSes, and HEOSes of the world.
What would you expect to pay for a 60Wpc class-D amplifier with a built-in phono stage and Bluetooth receiver? $400? $500? $600? How about $170? That’s the difference in price between a pair of Triangle’s Borea BR03 standmount speakers, which were enthusiastically reviewed by Diego Estan on SoundStage! Access in May 2020, and the Borea BR03 BT, the subject of this review.
Read more: Triangle Borea BR03 BT Powered Loudspeaker System
When I’m reviewing a hi-fi product, I sometimes ask: “Why do you need to spend more?” More and more these days, iFi Audio is the brand that prompts my rhetorical question. If you’re looking for a good DAC, why would you need to spend more than you’d pay for the brand’s Zen One Signature ($349, all prices in USD)? If you’re simply looking to add audiophile-quality Bluetooth reception to a system that lacks it and you don’t need crazy range or digital outputs, why would you spend a dime more than the cost of the Zen Air Blue? And if you’re looking for a good music streamer that supports everything from Roon and AirPlay to network-attached storage and connected solid-state drives—assuming you don’t mind a few operational quirks—what could you want that the $399 Zen Stream (reviewed last year by Gordon Brockhouse) doesn’t offer? Mind you, I’m not saying there aren’t valid answers to these questions. In fact, in many respects, the Neo Stream network audio streamer ($1299) seems to be iFi’s own answer to that last one.
In audio, as in other pursuits, looks are often deceiving. A case in point is PSB’s new Alpha iQ active loudspeaker system. Priced at $1499 (all prices in USD except where noted), the Alpha iQ looks a lot like PSB’s Alpha AM3 powered speaker system, which costs only $549. The Alpha iQ and Alpha AM3 even have the same driver complement for each speaker: a 4″ polypropylene midrange-woofer with a rubber surround and steel basket, mounted above a 0.75″ ferrofluid-damped, aluminum-dome tweeter with neodymium magnet.
Since COVID-19 arrived in North America three years ago, I’ve been to exactly two audio shows, both in my home city: the 2021 and 2022 editions of the Toronto Audiofest. Fellow SoundStagers Doug Schneider and Jason Thorpe also attended TAF 2022, and as Doug outlined in his show report on SoundStage!Global, they came upon some pretty exotic gear at the show.
Read more: Elac Debut ConneX DCB41 Powered Loudspeaker System
To purists and zealots, compromise is a dirty word; but for most of us, compromising is how we get along in life. This is as true of audio as any other pursuit. We can daydream about our ultimate systems, but we have to reconcile those dreams with reality—with our budgets, our living spaces, and the people who share those spaces.
Inspired by a SoundStage! Audiophile Podcast episode, I posed a rhetorical question in a Simplifi feature published a few months ago: “Is Component Hi-Fi Dead?” During that podcast episode, Brent Butterworth, senior editor of SoundStage! Solo, had asked if we really need amplifiers anymore, given the growing acceptance of powered and active speakers with built-in amplification. “Amps are never going to die,” Brent opined, “but are amps kind of dead?” Dennis Burger, senior editor of SoundStage! Access, replied: “I don’t know if they’re dead. I just think they are unnecessary.”
I’ve had a soft spot for Dynaudio for many years. For one thing, the Danish brand practically invented high-performance Simplifi’d hi-fi. When Dynaudio launched its Xeo range of active speakers in 2012, there were many excellent tabletop music systems on the market. But Dynaudio’s Xeo 3 standmount and Xeo 5 floorstanding speaker systems were different: they delivered real stereo from two discrete enclosures. Other than two-prong power inlets, the enclosures had no connectors of any kind. Instead, they received 16-bit/48kHz PCM audio from a companion wireless transmitter, which had mini-USB, optical (TosLink) S/PDIF, and line-level analog inputs (RCA and 3.5mm). The Xeo speaker systems made it possible to get serious stereo sound in multipurpose living spaces without cluttering them up with gear and cables.
Quite often, when a manufacturer updates a popular product, the new model offers only incremental improvements over the one it replaces. But sometimes, the new product represents a major upgrade over the original; and that is the case with SVS’s Prime Wireless Pro active loudspeaker system ($899.99, all prices in USD). The Prime Wireless Pro costs 50% more than the company’s Prime Wireless active speaker system (discontinued, $599.99 when available), but it contains a host of improvements.
This year, Canada’s Totem Acoustic celebrates its 35th anniversary. Since its founding in 1987, Totem has released an impressive range of passive loudspeakers, including standmount and floorstanding models, soundbars, on-wall speakers, and in-wall and in-ceiling speakers aimed at the custom integration channel.
Read more: Totem Acoustic Kin Play Tower Powered Loudspeaker System
Life gets in the way of a lot of things, and sometimes it gets in the way of hi-fi. Audiophiles who have dedicated listening rooms are lucky in this respect; audiophiles who must set up their sound systems in multipurpose spaces can find their hobby conflicts with other activities that go on in those rooms. The speaker locations that might deliver the best tonal balance and soundstaging might be occupied by an armchair or end table. Freestanding speakers might present a tipping hazard for households with rambunctious toddlers or pets.
Read more: System Audio Legend 7.2 Silverback Active On-Wall Speaker and Stereo Hub
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