Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


There have been times in my career when I was certain someone oopsed and shipped me an empty box. Granted, almost all of those times were when I was covering gaming headsets or lightweight gaming mice or custom IEMs or things of the like—never an honest-to-gosh hi-fi stereo amp. Until, that is, the new SVS Prime Wireless Pro SoundBase arrived at my door.

If you’re shopping for new gear—especially as a relatively new audio enthusiast—one of the most important decisions you can make is which songs to use as test material when auditioning an amp or preamp or—most importantly—a pair of speakers. And the choice of which material is most illustrative isn’t always super intuitive.

Normally, the Noachian weather we’re having here in central Alabama at the moment wouldn’t be a matter of concern for SoundStage! Access readers. It seems relevant, though, given that our recent flooding threatened to derail my upcoming review of the Technics SU-G700M2 integrated amp ($2699, all prices USD). Or so I thought.

On a recent episode of the SoundStage! Audiophile Podcast, I mentioned to Brent Butterworth that we need an Audiophile Baloney Detection Toolkit. If you’re not familiar with the reference, it comes from “The Fine Art of Baloney Detection,” an essay by Carl Sagan from his final book, The Demon-Haunted World.

Having written primarily about home theater for the last decade or so before joining the SoundStage! family, I’m still adapting to just how different the two-channel world is in many respects. Take Sound United’s output, for example. Tell a typical home-theater enthusiast that Denon just dropped a new integrated amp, and the first question a cynical AVR guy will ask is, “What’s the Marantz equivalent, and how do the two products pretend to be different?” In the two-channel domain, though, the Sound United sister brands have done a really good job of differentiating themselves in everything from form factor and ergonomics to circuitry and presentation.

The nightmare fuel you see in the preview image for this story was created when I asked a sophisticated neural network, “What would a malevolent artificial intelligence think about high-end audio?”

Click-bait headlines of the sort you see above have been par for the course in the world of hi-fi for longer than I’ve been into hi-fi. It isn’t hard to understand why. We all want our music to sound as good as reasonably possible, and since so few people understand the fundamentals of sound reproduction (not a criticism, mind you, just a statement of fact), our hobby is susceptible to all manner of snake oil, from green markers applied to the edges of CDs to grounding systems for loudspeakers.

If you’ve purchased a new piece of hi-fi gear in the past few years, you’ve no doubt seen a note like this in the box, with some variation of “Read me!” or “Please read” or “Start here!” or “Read me first.” Frankly, I almost never do. The last time I truly needed to read the literature for a product before digging into the review was for AudioControl’s super-complicated The Director Model M4800 Eight-Channel Network DSP Matrix Amplifier.

My wife and I have mostly given up on the concept of “appointment television,” with but a few exceptions. We always carve out a regular timeslot in our weekly schedule for exactly three shows: Critical Role, in which “a bunch of nerdy-ass voice actors sit around and play Dungeons & Dragons”; Taskmaster, a UK comedy panel game show that’s best described as an unscripted version of Squid Game with way less murder and way more laughter; and Baumgartner Restoration, a weekly series that documents the work of fine-art conservator Julian Baumgartner.

One of my favorite puzzle manufacturers is a company called GAN. It makes a wide variety of WCA (World Cube Association) puzzles, but it’s best known for its flagship 3×3s, which most of you would probably refer to as Rubik’s Cubes, although no serious cuber uses Rubik’s-branded cubes anymore.