High-end audio, just like high-end everything else--cars, clothes, watches, boats--is in large part about style. Sure, high-performance is part of the appeal, but exquisite build quality and eye-catching designs are essential for market success.
With that in mind I put together a nice assortment of some of the more dazzling high-end components currently on the scene.
Magico's speakers are built with solid, massively inert structures designed to ensure the only sound you hear comes from the speaker's tweeter, midrange, and woofer drivers. No other speaker I've heard approaches Magico's resolution and precision. The company's latest designs upped the ante and now feature even more extensive frames designed to quell structure borne resonance to produce the highest-resolution sound possible.
Founded in 1991 by legendary audio designer Nelson Pass, Pass Laboratories, sells its unique amplifiers, preamplifiers and speakers throughout the world. The company has been based in Foresthill, California, since its beginning, and is widely regarded as one of the most innovative audio brands in the world. Many Pass Labs amplifiers, like my XA100.5 are pure Class A designs, and deliver breathtakingly beautiful sound.
The Ayre MX-R mono amplifier (you need two for stereo) is a looker, but pardon me for a second while I get tweaky and gush over the MX-R's zero-feedback and fully-balanced circuitry. Ayre's founder and chief engineer Charles Hansen invests vast amounts of time fussing over the tiniest circuit details, listening obsessively to eke out a sound that gets his designs ever closer to perfection. Some of the MX-R's resistors and capacitors are built to his specifications.
The Krell Modulari Duo Reference is a blatantly original, thoroughly masculine design, but at 44 inches tall, 11 inches wide, and 29 inches deep, it can still fit in average size rooms. Each speaker weighs 345 pounds, it's fair to assume the bulk of the weight can be attributed to its thick-walled aluminum construction. If the goal was to make an absolutely dead cabinet, I'd say Krell has done it. The speaker's design shows a clear aesthetic kinship with Krell electronics.
The KEF Muon speaker was designed by Ross Lovegrove (a top industrial designer) to be a work of art. Fabricated from malleable sheets of heated aluminum, the process was required to produce the Muon's complex curves, dictated by the design's acoustical properties and Lovegrove's aesthetics. The raw material, starting out as six-foot long hunks of aluminum are milled and formed over a one week period.
Burmester's 909 MK5 power amplifier exemplifies German audio engineering muscle. With the ability to deliver very high power and current the 909 can effortlessly drive any loudspeaker over its full frequency range. The massive heat sinks, made out of aluminum anodized ribs are regarded worldwide as a distinctive feature of Burmester power amps. I've heard the 909 and many other Burmesters over the years, and they are all extraordinary performers.
Zanden's owner & technical director Kazutoshi Yamada is hot in pursuit of the state-of-the-art of the high-end audio scene in Japan. He builds ultra-expensive amplifiers and digital components, and has earned the respect of well-heeled audiophiles all over the world. Each Zanden design is a sight to see and hear.