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.
The German hi-fi brand Elac dates back to the 1920s, but has lately undergone a renaissance. Following a business reorganization in 2014, Elac established an American subsidiary charged with developing affordable, high-performance loudspeakers. That task was assigned to Andrew Jones, who in 2015 joined Elac as vice-president of engineering, following gigs at KEF, Infinity, TAD, and Pioneer.
Last October, Lenbrook International announced a comprehensive upgrade of its Bluesound lineup of whole-house audio products. Bluesound’s 2i series offers such new features as Apple AirPlay 2 support, improved Bluetooth capability, Amazon Alexa voice control, and updated Wi-Fi connectivity.
Over the past several years, Ohio-based SVS has earned a reputation for making affordable, high-performance loudspeakers and subwoofers. Its subs, of course, are active, but until recently, all of its full-range speakers were passive designs. Last year, SVS introduced the fully active, two-way Prime Wireless speakers ($599.99/pair; all prices USD).
I’ve never thought of myself as having sharp elbows. But here I am, the new guy in the SoundStage! neighborhood, and I keep muscling in on my colleagues’ territories. For my first review on Simplifi, I tackled LG’s G7 ThinQ MQA-compatible smartphone, a product that would fit nicely on SoundStage! Solo. More recently, I opined that the Kii Audio Three DSP-controlled active speakers would be right at home on SoundStage! Hi-Fi or Ultra.
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