At the start of 2020 — it seems an age ago — I’d made some ambitious travel plans for the year: In March, I’d take the train to Montreal for the Audiofest; in April, I’d fly to Chicago for AXPONA. In May, I’d jet off to Munich for the High End show. In October I’d stay in my home city to attend the Toronto Audiofest, and in November it would be off to Warsaw for the Audio Video Show.
It sounds like a nice problem for a speaker maker to have: Some hot new models are launched, and the first batch immediately sells out. That’s what happened when PSB announced powered versions of its acclaimed Alpha P3 and Alpha P5 minimonitors.
In the last decade, recorded music has undergone a sea change -- it has become disembodied. From the late 19th to the early 21st century, music was distributed on physical media. In the early 21st century, digital downloads held sway, then quickly gave way to on-demand streaming.
A year ago this week, Amazon shook up the audio world with its announcement of Amazon Music HD, a streaming service that today offers 60 million tracks in lossless 16-bit/44.1kHz CD resolution, plus “millions” of hi-rez tracks in resolutions up to 24/192. While lossless and hi-rez files were already available from Qobuz and Tidal, the leading streaming services all used lossy codecs, so Amazon’s embrace of hi-rez audio was big news.
On a Friday morning, two years ago this month, an unexpected e-mail from SoundStage! publisher Doug Schneider appeared in my inbox. I say “unexpected” because, at the time, I barely knew Doug. We’d met a few times at such audio events as CEDIA and the Consumer Electronics Show, and I knew Doug by reputation, having been a regular reader of SoundStage! publications since the Network’s launch, in 1995. We arranged to chat by phone.
In the two years I’ve been writing for SoundStage! Simplifi I’ve reviewed 15 stereo loudspeakers, all of them active or powered models. There’s a practical reason for this. I don’t have a dedicated music room, and our living room isn’t big enough to accommodate a conventional audio system of separate components: sources, amplifiers, and passive speakers. So the music systems in our current home have been built around active speakers -- first, Dynaudio’s Focus 200 XD, which, following a firmware update, is sonically and functionally identical to the newer Focus 20 XD ($5999/pair, all prices USD); and, later, Elac’s Navis ARF-51 ($4599.98/pair).
Many of the products I’ve recently reviewed for Simplifi have been DACs with built-in streamers -- most recently, Bryston’s BDA-3.14 ($4195, all prices USD) and iFi Audio’s Pro iDSD ($2749); and, before that, NAD’s Classic C 658 ($1649), Lumin’s T2 ($4500), and Naim Audio’s ND5 XS 2 ($3495).
In my last three columns, I wrote about how streaming is changing the ways people discover and experience music. In my January feature, “The State of Streaming,” I looked at streaming services that deliver lossless CD-resolution and high-resolution music. In “The Name Game,” published February 1, I wrote about how streaming has given rise to whole new classes of audio components, and set out to establish some definitions. And in my March feature, “Rules of the Game,” I discussed the software protocols that enable these new components to talk to one another, and compared their benefits and drawbacks.
In last month’s feature, I looked at the various kinds of components that can make up a Simplifi’d music system. As I noted then, networked music systems include three broad classes of components that traditional hi-fi systems don’t: servers, which send audio data (and metadata) over a home network; streamers, which receive and render that data; and controllers, with which users select music and control its playback.
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