Like many music-lovers, I’ve changed my listening habits drastically in the last ten years. A decade ago, all of the music I listened to at home was stored on shiny discs. A decade later, those discs are long gone. My music library is now stored on a LaCie 2Big Thunderbolt RAID system connected to an Apple Mac Mini computer in my second-floor office. The Mac Mini runs Roon Core, and streams music via Wi-Fi to the music system in my main-floor living room.
In her song “Big Yellow Taxi,” Joni Mitchell famously observed “That you don’t know what you’ve got / Till it’s gone.” There’s a lot of truth in that. The converse is equally true -- you don’t know what you’ve been missing till you experience it. Both thoughts occurred to me as I reviewed Elac’s Navis ARF-51 active floorstanding speakers.
Cute, adorable, funky -- you rarely read those adjectives in reviews of serious audio products, but they do describe the appearance of Devialet’s Phantom Reactor active loudspeakers. Perched on their matching tripod stands, the Reactors evoke memories of R2D2 from Star Wars (though each Reactor is much smaller), or characters from the game Angry Birds (the Reactors look way friendlier).
As regular visitors to this site surely know by now, I’m a big proponent of active loudspeakers. My reference system is built around a pair of Dynaudio Focus 200 XDs, which have dedicated 150W class-D amps for their 1” tweeters and 6.5” woofers. This choice was driven by domestic considerations -- it would be almost impossible to fit a system of audio separates into the living room of the century-old row house I share with my much better half.
It was a deal that left many audiophiles scratching their heads. In May 2016, the venerable British loudspeaker manufacturer Bowers & Wilkins was sold to California-based EVA Automation Inc. If few people had ever heard of EVA Automation, that’s not surprising -- the Silicon Valley startup had been founded only two years before, and had never released a product.
Five years ago, if someone had asked me if there was a market for a tabletop all-in-one music system that cost $1499 (all prices USD), I’d have replied, “You’re kidding, right?” For that kind of dough, you could get a nice integrated amp and speakers, or a really good set of powered speakers. I had nothing against all-in-one music systems -- not then, not now. But for serious listening, I want the immersive experience you get from a stereo pair of speakers spaced several feet apart.
When most people think of audio components from McIntosh Laboratory, they think of serious high-end separates: preamps and big, powerful amplifiers. But there’s another side to this iconic brand, which this year celebrates its 70th anniversary. McIntosh now offers several lifestyle audio products, including integrated music systems, streamers, headphone amplifiers, and the subject of this review: what they call an integrated turntable.
For people who want to enjoy their music in real-world living spaces, two of the most welcome developments of recent years have been the integration of streaming capability into integrated amplifiers, and the downsizing of these components. With a streaming amplifier and good pair of speakers, you have everything you need to enjoy a vast range of music, in sound quality far beyond that of most all-in-one tabletop speakers. And you can do this without breaking the bank, or cluttering up your living area with audio gear.
In the Toronto home I share with my infinitely better half, the hi-fi lives in the living room. Of course, I want it to sound great -- and it does -- but it also has to look as if it belongs. We’ve put a lot of effort into the design and décor of our home: If the hi-fi is to occupy a public space, it must be suitable for civilized company.
One thing that differentiates enthusiast audio from other areas of consumer electronics is the amazing proliferation of brands. Most CE categories are dominated by a few big names -- think TVs (LG, Samsung, Sony, TCL, Vizio), or smartphones (Apple, Huawei, Samsung again). But audiophiles shopping for speakers, amplifiers, source components, or cables can choose from among literally hundreds of brands.
Is the Compact Disc on its deathbed? Not yet, but there’s cause for concern. According to the 2019 Global Music Report from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), worldwide sales of physical media declined 10.1% in 2018. Vinyl sales grew 6%, and now account for 3.6% of worldwide music-industry revenues. So based on a little back-of-the-envelope math, it looks like global CD sales declined by around 12% last year.
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