For the second January running, I didn’t attend the annual Consumer Electronics Show. SoundStage!’s coverage of CES 2016 was of the highest quality, and the most comprehensive it’s ever been. Correlation doesn’t necessarily indicate causation, but I’m confident that there’s a strong link between those two facts. At this point it’s common knowledge that attendance at CES continues to fall, with Munich’s High End show having earned its way to being the premier audio trade show in the world. Despite that, the number and quality of affordable high-end products seems to be rising at a pleasantly surprising rate. After browsing through each day’s worth of my colleagues’ CES coverage, I was practically giddy with anticipation. My Best of Show selections fall neatly into two categories and two price ranges.
“We need to be much more disruptive.” -- Pierre-Emmanuel Calmel
Pierre-Emmanuel Calmel, president and co-founder of Devialet, and designer of the Analog Digital Hybrid (ADH) circuit, which inspires the French company’s products, has a flash of white hair, a good sense of humor, and wears professorial glasses. As we sat at the Munich High End audio show in May 2015, his unassuming demeanor did not quite hide a penetrating seriousness as we talked about the genesis of Devialet’s Phantom loudspeaker.
S-Curve Records 7315500429
The booklet for Tom Jones’s new disc, Long Lost Suitcase, is filled with pictures of the singer, from his childhood to his years as a hitmaker in the 1960s. The disc was released in conjunction with Jones’s autobiography, Over the Top and Back, and its songs encompass the many styles of music that have influenced him.
Across many industries, single-parent companies often offer different brands at varying price points, which always makes me wonder just how much those products actually differ from each other across any one family of brands. I grew up in Michigan in the 1980s -- what comes immediately to mind is the “badge engineering” of General Motors, with the Chevrolet Cavalier and the Cadillac Cimarron notoriously sharing many parts. Likewise, in consumer electronics, many companies have multiple marques: Denon with Marantz, Sony with ES, Pioneer with Elite, Onkyo with Integra. The suspicious shopper wonders: Am I just paying for the nameplate?
Blue Note B0023668-01
Blue Note’s web page for its vinyl initiative, which began in March 2014, includes this hopeful statement from label president Don Was: “Although this program begins in celebration of Blue Note’s 75th Anniversary, our catalog runs so deep that we will faithfully be reissuing five albums a month for many years to come!” While I certainly hope this will turn out to be true, as I write this review in mid-December 2015, I don’t see any listings for releases after November 20. Since LP sales for 2014 totaled 14 million, there’s reason for the label to continue mining its deep catalog for more vinyl.
It was exactly a year ago that I dedicated this space to Devialet’s Phantoms, two versions of a loudspeaker (Phantom, $1990 USD each; Silver Phantom, $2390 each) that I suspected could be a watershed product for the hi-fi scene. I said then that I was looking forward to getting review samples early in 2015, but, as so often happens, the time between the announcement of a new product and the date it actually begins to ship to customers can be long. Not until mid-November did a pair of Silver Phantoms arrive at my door. Nonetheless, it’s worth exploring what this French company has been up to since that last time I wrote about them.
The proliferation of DAC-integrated amplifiers continues apace, and I couldn’t be happier. The audio establishment is wrapping its collective head around the fact that most folks have little interest in littering their living rooms with multiple components, and just want one box that can do everything. But until now, there have been precious few integrated amplifiers with Swiss-Army-knife flexibility. Most omit tone controls and a discrete headphone amplifier, and the numbers of analog inputs in these digital-friendly devices has been considerably reduced, while a home-theater bypass is no longer a standard feature. And despite the vinyl revival that some of us are enjoying, a built-in phono preamp is more the exception than the rule.
Legacy/Sony Music 88875150542
When I was 12, two friends and I decided to start a rock’n’roll band. I had a cheap Woolworth guitar, my friend Brad played his brother’s set of Rogers drums, and his neighbor Kevin played a powder-blue Sekova hollow-body guitar. We didn’t have a bass player. The first song we learned had three chords. At that moment we joined kids around the world who, in the mid-to-late ’60s, were filling their parents’ basements and garages with the sound of “Gloria.”
Note: Measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.
As I rushed to the 7-Eleven around the corner from my house, I had a plan: I wanted to be the first to grab a copy of Mad Max: Fury Road on Blu-ray from the Redbox kiosk parked out front.
Success! I ran home and parked myself in front of the TV mounted above my main system for the rest of the evening. I’d just set up a pair of Monitor Audio’s new Bronze 6 loudspeakers beside my reference speakers and was eager to hear what they could do. George Miller’s newest effort was purported to be a masterpiece, and I’m a longstanding fan of Tom Holkenborg, aka Junkie XL, who composed the film’s score. I slipped the disc into my Xbox One and pressed Play. What happened next was wholly unintentional.
Provogue PRO 7463 5
When I caught Robert Cray in concert about ten years ago, he played a very good, very professional show that somehow fell just short of being memorable. When I saw him last spring, he played a show that I’d rank among the best I’ve seen. At both events he was in good voice, his guitar playing was outstanding, and his band was on point. The difference was that indefinable quality that lifts a performance or a record from the level of routine into the category of special.