It’s the start of a new year -- and, depending on your math, the beginning of the 2020s or the end of the 2010s. Do the 2020s officially begin on January 1, 2020, or on January 1, 2021? Whichever, it’s time to look at the top audio trends of the past year and the past decade.
Judging by the crowds at Audio Video Show 2019, held Friday-Sunday, November 8-10, in Eastern Europe hi-fi is a family affair. The 23rd edition of the show was held in three venues in central Warsaw, in Poland: the Radisson Blu Sobieski and Golden Tulip hotels, and the PGE Narodowy, or National Stadium.
What would you rather do on a glorious Canadian autumn weekend: Go for a hike in the woods? Do some urban exploring? Listen to great audio equipment in a suburban hotel?
Over the weekend of October 18-20, 3500 people chose the third option, spending hours or days at the second edition of the Toronto Audiofest, held at the Westin Toronto Airport Hotel in Mississauga, Ontario.
On the various websites of the SoundStage! Network you’ll find reviews of all kinds of source components -- CD players, streamers, DACs, turntables, cartridges, and phono stages. But to my knowledge, in its 24-year history SoundStage! has reviewed only one smartphone: the LG G7 ThinQ.
Is classical music in danger of dying “a digital death”? That prospect worries Thomas Steffens, CEO of Amsterdam-based Primephonic, a streaming service that specializes in classical music. “The world is moving toward streaming, where there are no CD stores anymore, and download stores are disappearing,” Steffens told me in an interview. “At the same time, classical music is massively underrepresented on streaming services. Classical music accounts for 5% of all global music consumption, but only 1% of streaming music, and 0.5% of streaming royalties.”
Is a music-management application that costs $499 USD expensive? That’s what you’ll pay for a lifetime subscription to Roon, and I’ve occasionally called it “an expensive option.” If you don’t want to plunk down half a thou, you can pay $119 for a one-year subscription.
If anyone made a list of the 21st century’s most successful hi-fi speakers, that list would surely include the KEF LS50, introduced in 2012 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the BBC LS3/5a minimonitor. Since then the LS50 has received countless honors, including Reviewers’ Choice and Product of the Year awards from SoundStage!.
There’s no doubt about it: Munich’s High End is the greatest audio show on earth. But don’t let the name scare you. High End isn’t only about big, expensive gear -- not that there’s anything wrong with that. Many affordable components made their debuts at this year’s show.
Most active speakers are all-in-one components, with built-in amplifiers and often built-in DACs as well, but no law says that active loudspeaker technology must be neat and compact. It’s possible to create an active speaker system with external amplifiers and crossover, like those offered by Bryston. Bryston’s active systems combine crossoverless versions of its Model T, Middle T, and Mini T speakers with the BAX-1 external crossover, plus amplifiers dedicated to each frequency range.
Like many audiophiles with limited space and limited funds, I often wonder why, at audio shows, so many companies insist on displaying ultra-expensive systems. Why not real-world systems that most people can afford? Systems they can use in day-to-day living spaces, not just man caves?
Two years ago next month, in a feature for sister site SoundStage! Hi-Fi, Doug Schneider posed a question: “Is it time for active speakers?” As Doug noted, audiophiles have traditionally been cool toward active designs, despite their many advantages. This is partly because active speakers take some of the fun out of hobbyist audio. Audiophiles want to choose their own amps and cables, rather than have someone else make those choices for them.
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