Grado Labs is located in a small, four story building in the Sunset Park neighborhood in Brooklyn, where Joe Grado started making phono cartridges in 1958. John Grado (Joe Grado's nephew) took over day-to-day operations right after he graduated from college in the late 1970s, but he started working at the factory when he was 12 years old. The little company was producing 10,000 cartridges a week (520,000 a year), so everybody pitched in to get the orders out on time. The CD eventually lowered demand, but they currently turn out 60,000 cartridges a year, and … Read more
The Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2010, held last weekend at the Denver Marriott Tech Center Hotel, showcased the best and brightest high-end audio designs.
Hundreds of high-end manufacturers from North America, Europe, and Asia, from tiny one-person operations all the way up to industry giants like JBL were on hand. RMAF has a very different vibe than the Consumer Electronics Show held in Las Vegas every January--RMAF is a more grassroots affair.
Vandersteen Audio's incredible Model 7 ($45,000 per pair) features balsa wood/carbon-fiber woofer, midrange, and tweeter drivers individually hand-crafted by Richard Vandersteen himself. Each driver can take up to one day to build. The sound is more believably natural and realistic than that of any other speaker at the show. Stereo imaging was full-bodied and dimensionally convincing in ways no other speaker can match. Vandersteen speaker prices start under $1,000, and they're all made in Hanford, CA.
Vandersteen's sound just nudged past Kaiser Acoustics' stunning Kawero speakers. These slender towers are priced about the same as the Model 7, but were even more transparent and pure sounding. The made in Germany speaker's transient speed and dynamic punch were spectacular. The design is said to produce excellent sound quality in real rooms, without any acoustic treatment. Kaiser invested seven years into research and development of the Kawero speakers.
Entry-level audiophile gear from Napa Acoustic made an immediate strong impression. Their NA-208S ($199 a pair) speakers, mated with their NA-208A ($399) tube integrated, 25-watt amplifier sounded rich, with lots of detail. Napa's build quality is the best I've seen for budget-priced gear.
The best headphone sound came from the Audeze LCD-2 ($945). These full-size headphones had a huge, open sound, with effortless clarity. Audeze has a hit on its hands, and its customer waiting list is currently running to four weeks! I hope to get a pair for review soon. The LCD-2 was plugged into Red Wine's Isabellina HPA headphone amplifier, but the headphone can also work with iPods.
I had a great chat with headphone guru and Head-Fi founder Jude Mansilla about the future of high-end audio. Our conclusion: today's younger headphone audiophiles will be tomorrow's high-end audiophiles. That is, headphones are a great way to discover what high-end sound is all about, for a fraction of what a speaker-based high-end system would cost. Mansilla promised to introduce me to a bunch of young Head-Fi-ers, who are just starting to get into speakers. The next-generation audiophiles are an intensely passionate group of people! I'll report back soon about what they have to say. … Read more
Denon will commemorate 100 years of audio innovation with its Anniversary Product Collection offerings.
One might wonder what an electronics company built in 1910, but I never really got a definitive answer at the media event held at the D&M Holdings (Denon's parent company) headquarters in Mahwah, N.J., last Thursday. True, there was some mention of the introduction of Japan's first phonograph (turntable) in 1910, but no one gave any specific information. According to Denon, it was honored to produce the very first audio recording of Japan's Emperor Hirohito's voice at the close of World War II in 1945.
Actually, the biggest surprise of the event, at least for me, was learning that Denon was founded by an American entrepreneur Frederick Whitney Horn. With Denon, he started Japan's first audio company; apparently, globalization isn't a new idea.
Denon focused most of its media event on presenting its Anniversary Product Collection's offerings, which include new amplifiers, SACD/CD and Blu-ray players, a direct-drive turntable, phono cartridge, and headphones. All of the products, except the phono cartridge and headphone, share the same $2,499 MSRP; the phono cartridge and headphone are $499 each. The Anniversary Product Collection models are limited editions and will be sold at 40 specially selected dealers in the United States starting in November. They will all be sold with five-year warranties. … Read more
Maybe it's an American thing; we love big stuff. We equate size with quality, and think that exquisitely designed, silly, expensive products are always better than more affordable alternatives. Is the new iPod always better than last year's model? Then again, how do you define "better"?
A lot of audiophiles believe more watts, more power, higher digital sampling rates, higher resolution, heavier turntable platters, speakers with more drivers, bigger drivers, or more channels of sound will always produce better sound. It ain't necessarily so.
Don't get me wrong, I love high-end audio. But I … Read more
I have no idea why giant electronics companies like Sony, Panasonic, Sharp, or Samsung never really tried to enter the audiophile market in the U.S.
Sure, Sony's very first SACD player, the $5,000 SCD-1 was a spectacularly good-sounding component; Sharp made an exotic, very high-end digital amplifier a few years ago; and back in the 1970s Panasonic's Technics gear was pretty impressive. I'm sure those companies are still producing no-holds-barred audio for their home markets. So the know-how is there, but apparently little interest in sending it here.
The first-generation Marantz audio products were designed and built by Saul B. Marantz in his home in Kew Gardens, New York, in the 1950s. The company truly advanced the state of the art, and those early Marantz designs now fetch big bucks on eBay. By the 1960s Marantz started building gear in Japan, and the company was sold and resold over the intervening decades. But through good times and bad, Marantz stayed true to its roots and always made above-average-sounding products, bettering the offerings from larger companies like Sony and Panasonic sold in the U.S.
Robert J. Reina's enthusiastic Marantz PM5003 integrated amplifier review in the January 2010 issue of Stereophile started me thinking about affordable high-quality gear from mainstream manufacturers. Yes, it can happen.
The Marantz PM5003 ($450) is a stereo integrated amplifier; it puts out 40 watts per channel. It was designed in Japan and made in China.
Do you have a turntable? Great, you can plug it directly into the PM5003; it has a rather sophisticated moving-magnet phono stage that'll bring out the very best sound from your records. The PM5003 also has five line-level inputs, two record outputs, a balance control, a headphone amplifier, treble, bass, and loudness controls. … Read more
Kiss your blistered fingers and headaches goodbye--tangled cords are a problem of the past as long as you use Flexicords. If you're someone who sets up and breaks down your television, home theater kit, laptop, or desktop computer, Flexicords' coiled design eliminates the need to measure exactly how much cable you'll need to hook up your gear.
The cables come curly and extend out up to 10 feet, ensuring that you have just enough slack without any excess clutter.
Flexicord offers cables for just about any application, including USB, phono jacks, S-video, networking cables, and HDMI. Once extended, the coils retain their shape thanks to a thick pipe cleaner that bends alongside the cable itself.
Finally, each wire comes with its own "recoiling tool," aka an inanimate plastic rod that helps you coil it back up. Prices vary depending on size and maximum length, but they all generally cost around $20, with the exception of the 10-foot HDMI cable that goes for $34.
More pictures after the jump!… Read more