For the past couple of decades, the audio industry has been angsting about how to get young listeners interested in hi-fi. It’s not that teens and twentysomethings don’t love music; it’s that their musical lives revolve around smartphones, headphones, maybe a Bluetooth speaker. How can they be introduced to the joys of listening to real stereo from real hi-fi speakers?
Volumio may not be a household name among audiophiles, but it has a huge following among DIY hobbyists. Based in Florence, Italy, Volumio is the developer of an eponymous, open-source Linux distribution designed for music playback that can run on an inexpensive single-board computer (SBC) such as the Raspberry Pi. The company claims to have over 300,000 users, mainly hobbyists who run Volumio on home-built digital music streamers and servers.
Integrating a hi-fi system into a multipurpose living space can be complicated by all the wiring needed to connect the various components. This is particularly true of speaker cables, especially if they have to cross an open area of the room. Even if they aren’t tripping hazards, they’re unsightly.
If you want to establish a new audio brand, where do you start? That was the question faced by Andover Audio, a Boston-area company founded in 2012 by ex-employees of Cambridge SoundWorks, when they decided to offer products under their own brand.
The American brand Audio Alchemy was founded in the 1980s and folded a decade later. It re-emerged in the early 2000s, and was purchased by Elac in 2016, where it has undergone a renaissance. Audio Alchemy founder Peter Madnick now acts as a consulting engineer for Elac, and is responsible for developing Elac’s Alchemy series of electronic components, now in their second generation.
In the past few years, the French speaker maker Focal has had an amazing run on SoundStage!. Reviewed by Diego Estan on SoundStage! Access, the Chora 806 ($990/pair, all prices USD) received a Reviewers’ Choice award, and was later designated a Recommended Reference Component. The same honors were bestowed on Focal’s Stellia headphones ($2990), reviewed by Brent Butterworth on SoundStage! Solo; and on the Spectral 40th floorstanding speakers ($9990/pair) and Sopra No1 minimonitors ($9990/pair), both reviewed by Diego for SoundStage! Hi-Fi. The Spectral 40th was also named a SoundStage! Network 2019 Product of the Year in the Hall of Fame category. That’s a mighty impressive record.
When computer audio took off, a decade ago, many hobbyists opted to use active studio monitors, rather than the usual amplifier and passive speakers. It’s not hard to see why. Especially for desktop audio, where space is at a premium, speakers with built-in amps are convenient.
Do you need a powerhouse computer just to play music? Not everyone does -- I use a nine-year-old, mid-tier Apple Mac Mini, and it does just fine. I’ve modified it for music playback, swapping out its spinning hard-disk drive for a solid-state drive (SSD), and bumping up its RAM from 4 to 16GB, so that music plays from memory rather than storage.
Can an audio component be more than the sum of its parts? Bryston’s new BDA-3.14 streaming DAC-preamp ($4195, all prices USD) invites that question. Essentially, it combines two products on one chassis: the acclaimed BDA-3 DAC ($3795) and a network streamer based on the BDP-Pi ($1495). The BDP-Pi derives its name from the Raspberry Pi single-board computer at its core. Hence the model number of the new integrated product -- 3.14 is an approximation of the mathematical constant pi (π), denoting the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter.
A half-century ago, when I got into audio, most amplifiers had front panels that looked like jet cockpits. And the higher a model was in its manufacturer’s product line, the more knobs and switches it had.
Is there a hobby that’s less domesticated than home theater? Ever since people began connecting their TVs to their stereos in the late 1970s, audio manufacturers have been encouraging them to add more and more speakers -- and it’s gotten a bit crazy.
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