Sneak Preview of Upcoming TAS Features and Reviews
Although it’s mid-April (and snowing in New Mexico as I write this!), I have on the drawing board issue plans for The Absolute Sound through the October issue. I thought I’d share with readers some of what we have in store.
The June/July issue (Issue 193) mails to readers on April 28 and includes perhaps my favorite feature of the year—the annual Golden Ear Awards. This is where each writer names two products he or she feels is special and outstanding. Unlike our Product of the Year Awards which are reached by consensus of the senior editorial staff and confined to products reviewed in the previous year, the Golden Ear Awards reflect the individual tastes of each reviewer. Moreover, Golden Ear Awards are often given to recognize a product that has withstood the test of time and just might become a classic. The 2009 Golden Ear Awards contain some interesting choices—along with a few surprises. The writers contributing to this year’s awards are Anthony H. Cordesman, Neil Gader, Wayne Garcia, Robert E. Greene, Robert Harley, Jim Hannon, Jacob Heilbrunn, Sue Kraft, Chris Martens, Dick Olsher, Steven Stone, Paul Seydor, Alan Taffel, and Jonathan Valin. HP gives his own Golden Ear Awards in a special extended HP’s Workshop. Feel free to speculate in replies to this blog on which products you think each writer chose for a 2009 Golden Ear Award. I’ll give you a hint; one of my choices was a high-resolution DAC.
The June/July issue also contains a whopping 21 product reviews, ranging from a Primare all-in-one CD/DVD-Receiver to the mighty $180,000 Focal Grande Utopia EM loudspeaker. The Focal employs an electromagnetically driven woofer, among other design innovations. You won’t want to miss the description of how Focal was able to make the Grande Utopia’s massive enclosure pivot like a giant accordion. Other highlights of the issue include a high-res music server for under $2k, a killer new affordable integrated amplifier, Dick Olsher on Conrad-Johnson’s entry-level tubed preamp and amplifier, Anthony Cordesman on a most unusual loudspeaker, and Neil Gader on Krell’s new $2500 integrated amplifier. Steven Stone also listens to two new Class-D switching amplifiers and reports on whether this technology is ready for the high-end. Paul Seydor conducts a fascinating interview with Harbeth’s Alan Shaw on the LS 3/5a and how it has evolved over the years, along with Shaw’s design approach.
The following issue (August) has a digital focus, with reviews of eight DACs (many with USB connectivity) priced from $80 to $35k. Yes, it’s possible to buy an $80 USB DAC that actually sounds good—Steven Stone has a full report. The issue also includes a groundbreaking feature article by Alan Taffel on USB connection—how it sounds, whether there are differences in USB cables, and how USB compares to SPDIF and FireWire. I’ve seen a preview of this piece and can tell you that it will be as controversial as it is important. In keeping with the digital theme, Sue Kraft reviews Meridian’s DSP7200 active digital loudspeaker and 808.2 CD player, with an extended comment by me on the 808.2. This player uses a new custom digital filter that could go a long way toward making CDs sound more musically involving—at least that was my experience upon hearing the 808.2 at the CES. I’m looking forward living with the 808.2 in my reference system and contributing my listening impressions. To round out our Meridian coverage, I’ll have an exclusive interview with Meridian co-founder Bob Stuart. As the designer of the first audiophile CD player (a modified Philips machine back in 1983), Stuart has been at the forefront of advancing digital-audio technology for more than 25 years. He’s also the only designer I know working in high-end audio who approaches product design from the fundamental starting point of human hearing. Bob Stuart has some fascinating insights into music reproduction, and I’m thrilled to bring those insights to TAS readers.
Although the August issue has a digital theme, there are lots of other interesting product reviews. Wayne Garcia will report on two affordable integrated amplifiers from Dussen, the Chinese company I visited in late 2007. Wayne also reviews Naim’s new SuperLine phonostage. We have reviews of two other Chinese-made tubed integrated amplifiers, one from Vincent and one from Audio Space. Jim Hannon stretches out with Vienna Acoustics’ $25,000 “The Music” loudspeaker that floored everyone who heard it at CES. I’ll have a full report on Classé Audio’s remarkable SSP-800 multichannel controller. Finally, Jacob Heilbrunn brings you the first full review of the highly anticipated Wilson Audio MAXX 3 loudspeaker. The MAXX 3 is more like a scaled down Alexandria X-2 than a scaled-up MAXX, and it sounded that way at CES. When driven by two very different sets of electronics (Boulder and LAMM) at CES, the MAXX 3 was staggeringly great—and sounded very much like the sound I’ve been enjoying from the X-2 in my listening room. Could the MAXX 3 be a half-the-price X-2 that gives up only a little bass extension? Stay tuned.