If you were around in the '80s, you know what a big deal MTV was. It launched on August 1, 1981, with the Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star," and MTV changed the way we listened to tunes. Music was an all-analog medium, the CD was still a year away, and YouTube was beyond our imaginations. Thirty years ago MTV brought a new dimension to music, and we started to care a lot more about the way bands looked and moved on camera. Before MTV, music programming on TV was mostly limited to bands playing a song or … Read more
Over the past year or so we've seen a new product category emerge: the portable digital converter/headphone amplifier. Of course, no one "needs" such a device -- phones and iPods already have converters and amps built-in -- and sound perfectly fine with average headphones. The sound is good enough, but your phone's converter and amp share space and battery power with the phone's electronics. A separate converter and amp, about the size of a phone, has only one mission: improved sound quality. So if you upgraded to a high-end in-ear headphone, like the $399 … Read more
Let's face it: our "indulgences" can get expensive, so whether we go to sports events or concerts, buy flashy clothes or jewelry, gamble, drink, or take lots of vacations, those things can add up to a lot of money. Smoke a $6 pack of cigarettes every day, and you'll see close to $22,000 go up in smoke over the next 10 years. In that context, dropping serious cash on a great hi-fi doesn't seem out of line.
Middle-class audiophiles with $10,000 hi-fis might appear to be a wee bit over the top, but … Read more
Elegantly designed, affordable products are marvels of our age, but then there are the extreme, defiantly outrageous ones designed to thrill. Take the new 640-horsepower Dodge SRT Viper GTS: this $120,000 supercar looks like a venomous snake with wheels and can propel its owner to insanely fast speeds, but the car probably won't be of much practical use as a grocery hauler or picking up the kids from soccer practice. The Abyss AB-1266 is the SRT Viper GTS of headphones. It's a no-holds-barred attempt to build the best-sounding headphone on the planet.
The mostly metal design is … Read more
I'm usually a sound-first guy, but this time I have to talk about the way these Marten FormFloor speakers look. The stunning, three-sided cabinets looked spectacular at the Wes Bender Studio in Brooklyn. The sleek, apartment-friendly towers are works of art.
Luckily enough, the sound is no less brilliant; their astonishing purity really enhances the experience of listening to music. Bass definition and "speed" are exceptional, and vocals sound present, like the singer is in the room with me. With jazz CDs the spontaneity of the band's improvisations was captured with unusual fidelity. The 43-inch-tall towers … Read more
We don't manufacture TVs, computers, cameras, or phones in the U.S., and American audio companies have been outsourcing production for years, but it's starting to come back. Not just for ultra-high-end products -- Schiit Audio's $99 Magni headphone amp and $99 digital converter were designed and built here. Magnepan, Tekton, and Zu Audio are all making affordable high-end speakers in the U.S. And this past Wednesday, Dan Laufman, president of Jade Design, announced the acquisition of Bob Carver, LLC, a manufacturer of tube amplifiers.
I've interviewed Bob Carver a number of times -- he … Read more
Cardas Audio has been making audiophile cables since 1987, so I was taken aback when I heard George Cardas was working on a headphone model. That was four years ago, when Cardas was approached by a major in-ear headphone manufacturer to make cables for them, but when George started listening to their headphones he was less than thrilled with the sound. One thing led to another, he thought he could do better, and decided to make his own headphones.
Prototypes were built, he listened, he measured, tweaked the design, made more prototypes, listened and measured. Most dynamic in-ear headphones use … Read more
I covered the best-sounding new digital recordings last Sunday; this time it's the choicest new vinyl.
'The White Stripes' Most tracks are stripped down to the basics, just Jack White on vocals and guitar, and Meg White's minimalist drum kit. An amazing debut record, not exactly an audiophile classic, but it wins points for emotional honesty. It feels right, and White's analog loving roots are on full display.
Is an album a more substantial work of art than a single? Or is a well-crafted single all we need? There were always singles, but in the days before the Internet, fans were sometimes "forced" to buy albums to get the music they wanted, even when most of the album's tunes weren't great. The hugely entertaining "The Great Debate: Singles vs. Albums" held last Monday at the New Music Seminar in NYC covered the issue in depth.
It comes up again and again: "Steve, please recommend a great speaker." Good question, but there are a lot of factors to consider before coming up with a definitive answer. A lot depends on what you're looking for and how you define "great." Nailing down the price is the first step, but if there's one thing I've learned about audiophiles, it's that taste always plays a big part in evaluating sound quality. That's why, in my reviews, I describe how a speaker sounds with different kinds of music.
There's no … Read more