Recently, I reviewed Anthem’s new AVM 60 surround-sound processor, which replaced the AVM 50v 3D, the last version of the second generation of Anthem’s AVM surround-sound processors. And while Anthem had continually upgraded that generation during its long run of nearly 15 years, the accompanying MCA series of amplifiers, after a few iterations in its first few years of production, remained unchanged during that time -- until 2016, when Anthem unveiled, alongside the AVM 60, the new MCA ’25 amps.
For 15 or so years, until very recently, Anthem continued to produce upgraded versions of their second-generation AVM surround-sound processor. That’s a long time for any component, and especially for a surround-sound processor. Although the original AVM 20 had little more than Dolby Digital EX, DTS-ES, and THX Surround EX processing, Anthem continually updated it throughout its long run; the last version, the AVM 50v 3D, had all of the latest audio codecs and processing, save for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, along with Sigma Designs’ VXP “broadcast quality” video processing and Anthem’s own Anthem Room Correction (ARC). The original AVM 20 cost $3199 USD at its debut; before being discontinued earlier in 2016, the AVM 50v 3D was priced at $6499.
Speaker maker Sonus Faber was established in 1983, in the Veneto region of Italy, and in 2007 was acquired by the McIntosh Group, owner of such brands as McIntosh Laboratory and Audio Research. SoundStage! publisher Doug Schneider visited Sonus Faber in 2013, and saw their production line in Vicenza. SF’s many lines of speakers are mostly designed for listening to two-channel music recordings, but they also make speakers for multichannel systems and for supercar manufacturer Pagani, down the road in Modena. No surprise, given that Sonus Faber has repeatedly won SoundStage!’s Aesthetics and Sound award.
In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends. . . . Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.
Anthem is a relative newcomer to the market in audio/video receivers -- they launched their original MRX series of 300, 500, and 700 models as recently as 2010. But looking at their parade of products since, I’m astonished that the new ’20 models comprise what already is the third iteration of Anthem’s MRX models -- not an easy feat for an audiophile brand to pull off. It just shows you how quickly things change in home theater.
Rotel, originally founded by Tomoki Tachikawa under the name Roland, broke into the electronics industry in the 1950s as a Japanese distributer of US-made Sylvania television sets. Due to the higher voltage standards employed on the far side of the pond, distributing Sylvania’s products, at the time, meant that Roland was also responsible for both modifying and servicing said products to meet local requirements. As a result, engineering quickly became a mainstay of Roland’s business plan, and eventually led the company away from distribution and into manufacturing. In 1961, Roland became Rotel, and continued to focus on manufacturing quality electronics until the late 1960s, at which point they began designing and manufacturing products for other audiophile-oriented companies as well as under the Rotel brand name. In 1973, Rotel earned its first Consumer Reports “Best Buy” award for their hugely popular RX-402 receiver -- and the rest, as they say, is history.
It strikes me that preamplifiers have always so dramatically varied in form -- by era, by manufacturer, by purpose -- that rarely has there been a preamp that one could describe as “typical.” Early on, the functions offered were amazing. Some early preamps provided different phono-equalization curves for the many different ways record labels equalized recordings; thank goodness, now all we have to worry about is RIAA. The famed McIntosh Laboratory stereo models of the 1950s through the 1970s featured a seven-position Mode switch that gave the user the choices not only of stereo, reverse stereo, and mono (L+R to both channels), but left or right channel individually to both outputs, or L+R mono to either the left- or right-channel outputs. The ubiquitous Dynaco PAS-3X, of which more than 25,000 were made, offered three mono modes (L, R, L+R) and full stereo, plus two levels of “blended” stereo that traded a loss of channel separation for a quieter signal.
Usually, I think of Arcam as producing high-value integrated amplifiers. Sometimes I forget that they have a long history of producing high-quality digital audio gear -- their reasonably priced CD players and, later, their DVD-Audio, and universal DVD and SACD players, were some of the best available at the time, and Arcam continues to produce high-quality optical-disc players with their latest BD-and-SACD models. And while, as a maker of digital source components, they’re better known for their optical players, they were one of the first to produce a standalone DAC. A few years ago, Arcam returned to the DAC market, first with the compact, entry-level rDAC, followed by the more expensive, full-size FMJ D33. The latter was reviewed very positively by our own Hans Wetzel, who now uses the irDAC, a later version of the rDAC, as one of his reference DACs.
A long time ago, I played electric bass guitar in a little rock’n’roll band. My axe was a ca. 1985 Fender Jazz Special, my amp a Yamaha B100-115III combo. After a while, I replaced the amp’s stock speaker with a JBL E140, then generally regarded as the best 15” bass speaker made. The effect was dramatic: low notes retained their metallic character, and high notes, especially slapping and popping, leapt from the fretboard with a hard, brittle edge. The overall sound was tighter, less diffuse, more focused -- more bass-like.
Note: Measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.
It’s been six years since iconic loudspeaker designer and manufacturer Sandy Gross wowed us with one of the first products from his latest venture, GoldenEar Technology: the Triton Two loudspeaker with powered subwoofer section. Since then, GoldenEar has introduced larger and smaller versions of the Triton, including passive models, as well as bookshelf speakers, sound bars, and powered subwoofers, all to near-universal acclaim. But time moves on -- even for products as admired as the Triton Two and the smaller Triton Three, both of which are now available in updated versions: the Triton Two+ ($3499.98 USD per pair) and the Triton Three+ ($2499.98/pair).