The mass-market audio business is scared to death of iPods. Sales of $500 speakers are shaky, A/V receivers aren't exactly flying off the shelves, and nobody's getting rich selling $59 DVD players. Prices of flat screen TVs are still falling, and so are the profits. Meanwhile overhead and other costs go up every year.
The mainstream business model is faltering, but the two channel, high-end market is holding its own, thank you very much. THE hot speaker at the moment is Magico's Mini II ($29,600 per pair including floorstands). I was more than a little curious to hear what the fuss was all about, so I checked out the Mini II at Sound By Singer's showroom in New York City.
Well, first things first, the speaker looks absolutely amazing in person. The Mini II's enclosure is constructed from one-inch horizontal and vertical layers of 17-ply Baltic Birch plywood. The manufacturer claims resulting enclosure is three times stiffer than the MDF construction found in most high-end loudspeakers. The speaker's front baffle is a 1.5-inch thick slab of aircraft grade aluminum, exquisitely machined and curved. Every aspect of the design is executed to a high standard.
Each speaker/stand combo weighs 230 pounds. High performance speakers are built like exotic cars, every aspect of the design is tweaked to the max. If Porsche built speakers, they would look and sound like the Mini II.
The sound lived up to my expectations. The clarity was truly breathtaking, the Mini II sounds like a twenty first century audiophile speaker in its exceptional transparency. It can sound shockingly realistic, voices are reach out and touch present, guitars and string instruments are perfectly realized. The tangible and palpable detailing is incredible.
Stereo imaging is, again, in the first rank. And remember, the Mini II is the "entry" level Magico speaker. It's just the right size for NYC apartments, so no wonder it's such a hit at Sound By Singer. Magico is located in the San Francisco Bay Area of Northern California.
Singer has nine sound rooms, so I sampled a bunch of hot new products. The standout was the room with Peak-Consult speakers and Luxman electronics. The sound wasn't as vivid, but definitely warmer and more full-bodied than the Magico room, and even more holographically developed. Singer also offers a range of more affordable products from Arcam, Creek, DeVore Fidelity, Gallo Acoustics, Grado, Thiel, and Vandersteen.
Wandering down the long hall at Sound By Singer took me back to the time when I worked there nine years ago -- turned out to be great training for my next career as a high-end audio reviewer.