For serious, sit-down stereo, active loudspeakers have traditionally been a tough sell. I’ve never understood why -- their domestic advantages are obvious. Active speakers can make possible audiophile-quality sound in spaces where traditional components are unwelcome -- as outlined in my recent feature on "How I Simplifi’d My Hi-Fi."
So much is made these days of powered speakers with Bluetooth connectivity that, presented with one of these wonder puppies, I was prompted to plug it in, invoke Bluetooth, link it to my iPhone, et voilà -- music!
The Canadian electronics manufacturer New Acoustic Dimension, since renamed NAD Electronics, was founded in 1972, and released its famous 3020 integrated amplifier in 1978. For many in the late 1970s and 1980s, the 3020 was their first serious audio purchase. Five years ago, to mark its 40th anniversary, NAD released the first version of the D 3020 integrated amplifier ($499 USD), to positive reviews. Last January, at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show, they announced the launch of the D 3020 V2 ($399). Along with a $100 reduction in price from the original D 3020, NAD has added a full-range preamp-only output and an RIAA-equalized moving-magnet phono stage, while dropping one of the optical inputs and the USB input. The V2 shares the original D 3020’s compact case -- they’re identically sized -- and is energy efficient. While both versions produce 30Wpc, the V2 offers slight improvements in its specified signal/noise ratio and channel separation.
Smartphones are the quintessential jacks-of-all-trades. Beyond their basic function (telephony), you can use them to surf the Web, shoot pictures and videos, play games, feed the parking meter, check your bank balance, navigate strange cities, and a million or so other applications.
Does the trades corollary follow? Are they masters of none? You can tap out an e-mail on your phone’s screen, but you wouldn’t want to write a novel on it. Smartphone cameras are fine for snapshots, but if you’re a serious photographer, you’ll want a serious camera.
While many audio writers have questioned the desirability of smart speakers, the general public seems to have no such reservations. Estimates project that more than 80 million of these voice-controlled products will have been sold worldwide by the end of 2018. The market’s been dominated by Amazon and Google, but neither of those brands is synonymous with good sound. Fortunately, mainstream audio companies are now incorporating voice-command technology from Amazon or Google into their speakers. The Polk Assist ($199.95 USD), which includes Google Assistant, is one of the first of this wave.
Pro-Ject’s Juke Box E shows how stereo systems ain’t what they used to be. That statement is not a lament for an imagined better past, but an observation of what kinds of systems today’s listeners want and need. The Juke Box E ($499 USD) caters not to the traditional audiophile, but to a new generation with different listening habits. It combines a turntable, phono stage, integrated amplifier, and Bluetooth receiver, all in a package no larger than a typical budget turntable. All you add is speakers.
Apparently, MartinLogan’s Unison wireless preamplifier was designed with Simplifi readers in mind -- it offers Wi-Fi, TosLink digital, and analog inputs and outputs, a 12V trigger, and an Ethernet connection. You can use the Unison with DTS Play-Fi or Apple AirPlay to set up a whole-house streaming system. And the Unison includes Anthem Room Correction (ARC) -- essentially the same version of ARC used in Anthem’s own flagship products. Add it all up and combine it with MartinLogan’s stellar reputation, and you have a product that probably goes for several thousand bucks, right? Nope. The Unison costs $399.95.
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