Montreal | February 9, 2021 – Focal Naim Canada announced today it will immediately begin distribution of Clearaudio in Canada. With the incorporation of Clearaudio, Focal Naim Canada will add a lineup of high-end audio made in Germany to its current audio partners.
“Focal Naim Canada is proud to distribute Clearaudio with its 40-plus years of hi-fi history and award-winning products,” said Roman Vet, VP Marketing of Focal Naim Canada. “We are committed to supporting our brands and providing our network of dealers with the best in high-end audio and Clearaudio is a tremendous addition to our portfolio.”
“We are very pleased that Focal Naim Canada is our new partner with its extensive audio experience and dealer network,” said Robert Suchy, CEO of Clearaudio. “We are excited to bring our quality and high-performance products to the audiophile needs in Canada.”
Focal Naim Canada is dedicated to offering complete audio solutions, and with the addition of Clearaudio’s product lineup now offers turntables, tonearms, cartridges, phono stages and accessories.
What ignited your interest in high-end audio? Did it come from the music side or the electronics side?
Music! I’m fortunate that I can trace my family tree back a long way—to Scotland in the 12th century, in fact. It seems that most of my ancestors tended to either serve in the military or become engineers. I, however, chose the “other” route; I set my heart on pursuing a military career in my youth and joined the cadet corps as soon as I was able. However, it didn’t quite work out in the end, which forced me to reassess and reset my ambitions. As my passion was music, which I had been obsessed with since childhood, it seemed the obvious choice for a career. Music compelled me to buy hi-fi; hi-fi compelled me to buy more music. It became an uroboros ring of enthusiasm and expenditure!
What components made up your first high-end system?
I had a Linn LP12 from 1982, although I wouldn’t say the amplifier or speakers it was connected to were particularly high end (those were the “source-first” days, and I was still young and on a budget!). By the mid-90s I was working in audio, but in the end I settled on a couple of systems: the primary TV-watching and music-listening room had a Pioneer LD player linked into a Meridian Digital Theatre with 500 CD transport, 565 processor, and DSP5500 speakers (with the matching center and DSP5000s as rears). In another room, I had a “purist” stereo system with my Linn connected to a Musical Fidelity F22 tube preamp with F18 power amp, driving a pair of Bowers & Wilkins (then B&W) CDM1.
What kind of education did you receive?
I went to Nottingham High School, a very traditional private school that can trace its origins back to the year 1513. Despite its traditional approach I really value the time I had there: the school was as much about teaching pupils to think as it was teaching them to learn.
What differentiates high-end audio from other segments of audio?
The customer expectation is different, because buyers in this category are to a degree both more tolerant and more dedicated than typical buyers. Ask a mainstream customer to accept a speaker that takes up as much space or which weighs as much as an 800 D3, and you might have a difficult task on your hands, but to enthusiasts in the high-end audio space it’s less of an issue. The same applies to price, of course: The high-end audio consumer is definitely more tolerant of cost than a mainstream buyer, where every small increment in price has potentially massive implications for sales.
How would you describe the B&W philosophy?
We are founded on and driven by the need to make a better loudspeaker. John Bowers famously said that the best loudspeaker “isn’t the one that gives the most; it’s the one that loses the least.” We want you to hear what the artist intended with no coloration or distortion. That sounds simple to achieve; in practice it’s anything but. In addition, we want you to hear sound levels close to those of a live performance with no apparent sense of stress or strain from the loudspeaker. Our approach is this: We are compelled to do better in everything we do. With every loudspeaker generation, especially with a model as advanced as the 800 Series Diamond, we all learn a lot, and that helps us to make our other, more affordable loudspeakers better, too.
Audiophiles have been reluctant to embrace active/DSP and wireless loudspeakers in the past. Has there been a shift?
I’m not sure. I think many enthusiasts have so much invested (on both a financial and an emotional level) in amplifiers, cables, and so on that it’s hard for them to turn their backs on them. I think some of the smarter amplifier brands have made good strides in offering DSP-driven platforms that can complement and potentially improve the performance of passive speakers. Today’s young consumer is growing up in a world where sound comes from one device and is stored or streamed from one device (the phone). As those customers age they may want to scale their audio systems to meet their needs, but asking them to adopt amps, cables, and so on when they have zero track record or experience of that is a tall order. I want to be clear: We absolutely will not stop making passive speakers for so long as there are customers out there who want them. But it’s just as important that we remain relevant.
What are the greatest challenges facing B&W and the high end?
I see more young people wearing headphones and listening to music every day now than I did 20 years ago. So the potential target market is there, but we need to give those people a reason to believe in what we offer. Now that’s not easy, because, like it or not, the hi-fi industry is not cool. We have somehow, as an industry, created an environment where more people are put off by what we do than are drawn to it. We need to not only come up with better products, but better ways to communicate the value of those products to new consumers. Make no mistake, our industry should be way larger and way more relevant to today’s consumer than it actually is.
What (still) inspires you about your work?
The passion of the people I work with, the collective enthusiasm we all share, and the knowledge that there’s always more to learn.
It was time to take a stand. Over the years, I’ve resisted auditioning audio racks because of the upheaval that comes with unplugging and moving a mountain of audio gear. But I could never quite scratch the audio itch about the merits of improved isolation that stands are supposed to supply. I knew from past experience that mass can have a profoundly beneficial effect on the ability of stands to isolate equipment. But what about an entirely different approach?
Enter Stillpoints. For several decades this Wisconsin-based company has been on a relentless pursuit to the lower the noise floor of audio systems by manufacturing both footers and racks. Its successive generations of footers have proved quite efficacious in helping to banish the electronic artifacts that accompany audio signals. In my experience, the footers were A+ champs at helping to reveal critical micro-details in recordings. Now Stillpoints has introduced a new and upgraded version of its ESS racks.
What are the upgrades? Stillpoints has made some important changes from its previous version of the ESS, including radically altering its shelf-grid system. Anyone who owns the old rack can upgrade it to current specifications. According to sales director Bruce Jacobs, “we always knew that positioning, leveling, and weight balance were important. With the limited position of our previous racks that was not always possible. Now, we can put anything, anywhere, anyplace.”
The basis of the rack is a rail system. Stillpoint Ultra 6 footers or other less pricey footers in the line are incorporated into the rail system, which can slide forward or back to support a piece of equipment. Four robust wires (also used in aircraft wings) reside at the corner of each stand. Jacobs notes that “the wires are the main support structure that allows us to size anything into it.” Each wire has a load capacity of 2200 pounds. The same rail system is also employed in the Stillpoints Component stand, used here as amplifier stands, which come in three- or four-leg configurations and retail for $1995. This allows Stillpoints to adjust the feet so that they can sit underneath a piece of equipment and easily bypass the standard equipment feet.
Where Stillpoints deviates from many other manufacturers is in its design philosophy. Jacobs doesn’t mince words: “We do not believe in storing energy. This is why the rack is designed to reduce mechanical vibration; when you store energy you absorb it. When the shelf material can’t hold the energy any longer it releases it back into the components. You can’t control it. It robs dynamics rather than increasing them. There is no subtraction in our system.” The idea is that the stand is supposed to form a vibration-isolating structure, functioning as a targeted filter in what Stillpoints refers to as the ultra-band frequency above 20kHz.
Since I’m a cautious type, I did not plunge into installing the main racks but first tried a pair of amplifier stands. Perched underneath the Ypsilon Hyperion monoblocks the stands were completely invisible, supplying the optical illusion that the amps were simply floating in the air. If you crouch down and peer hard, you can see that they are positioned beneath the amp, but otherwise nothing.
If the stands are inconspicuous, their effect on the music is not. Their effect was little short of a sonic explosion—one that had me shaking my head and marveling at the efficacy of these amplifier stands. All the audiophile goodies were on copious display—darker backgrounds, smoother treble, and improved bass punch and definition. On the Acoustic Sounds 45rpm reissue of Isaac Hayes’ song “Shaft,” for example, the pounding bass drum came through with much greater dynamism and authority. My experience has consistently been that the more you can clean up the bass region, the better the sound throughout the frequency spectrum. On a Philips recording of the Dutch soprano Elly Ameling, the clarity of her singing, particularly in the upper reaches of the treble, was enhanced by the stands. It was possible to discern more clearly where she was standing in relation to the piano. In this regard, it was clear that the stands were helping to produce—or at least create the illusion of—a wider and deeper soundstage. On CD after CD, LP after LP, the amplifier stands tightened up the entire presentation, helping to create a richer sonic tapestry.
So marked was the improvement that I was most curious to hear the ESS racks. The racks range anywhere from $8000 to $45,000 in price, depending on the configuration you choose and which Stillpoints footers you employ. After a few months with the amplifier stands, Bruce Jacobs showed up to install the main ESS racks, which he made look easy. For anyone seeking to set them up on their lonesome, I would direct then to one of many YouTube videos on assembly and installation, though most dealers assemble and install the ESS for their clients.
The stands come in shelf widths of 20″ or 26″ or 40″. I went with a vertical 26″ rack with five shelves. One of the most attractive aspects of the rack to my eyes is its compact and open nature. The racks look nifty but are fairly unobtrusive. If you’re out to impress your friends with a big and imposing rack, then this stand isn’t for you. I very much like the modern, sleek look of Stillpoints’ open design. In this case, form truly does follow function.
Upon installing them, I quickly discerned that they made a significant improvement in the sound but that the effect was not as overtly dramatic as it was with the amplifiers. Yes, they opened up the soundstage and improved bass reproduction further. But it was in the area of image stability, purer treble, and nuances of bowing and voice that I heard the most audible differences. It is the accumulation of micro-details that render a performance more believable and more lifelike. It is here that the ESS racks excelled.
On a recording by Kim Kashkashian and Keith Jarrett of Bach’s sonatas for viola da gamba and harpsichord, the darker sound of the viola was rendered with greater fidelity. The interplay and communication between viola and harpsichord was much clearer—the gradations from pianissimo to fortissimo, the urgent dynamic swells on music that, by its nature, can seem dainty, took on a dynamism and power that were quite intoxicating. It became more of a communion of two great performers as opposed to two instruments playing in separate spaces.
Another performance that demonstrated the proficiency of the racks was the recent live recording from Chick Corea with Christian McBride and Brian Blade called Trilogy 2. The ESS rack helped bring the last degree of articulation of this trio to the fore. It was simply a delight to hear the complicated rhythms on Thelonious Monk’s fiendishly difficult song “Work” unraveled with such accuracy and aplomb and verve.
Indeed, the ESS rack profoundly improved the performance of my audio system, allowing it to further resolve the very fine micro-details that enhance a sense of musical verisimilitude. The improved resolution and clarity were so palpable that at times I found myself listening at lower volume levels with total satisfaction. For anyone intent on obtaining a more suave and supple, refined and precise sound, Stillpoints delivers the goods.
Specs & Pricing
STILLPOINTS LLC 573 County Road A, Suite 103 Hudson, WI 54016 (651) 204-0605 stillpoints.us
Price: $1995 (amplifier stand) Price: $8000–$45,000 (rack) depending on configuration
The following is a press release issued by McIntosh.
Binghamton, NY – February 4, 2021– McIntosh, the global leader in prestigious home entertainment and ultimate-quality audio for 70 years, is proud to introduce the MHA200 Vacuum Tube Headphone Amplifier.
The McIntosh MHA200 Vacuum Tube Headphone Amplifier is designed for discerning headphone enthusiasts who demand the most from their headphones. Its versatile set of connectivity options, including balanced inputs and outputs, allows for nearly all headphone types to be connected to enjoy an extraordinary personal listening experience.
A pair of 12AT7 and 12BH7A dual triode vacuum tubes power the compact MHA200. The 12AT7 vacuum tubes amplify the incoming audio signal while the 12BH7A tubes provide the power to drive the output to the headphones with low distortion. The MHA200 uses a pair of McIntosh’s Unity Coupled Circuit output transformers to deliver pristine audio. The Unity Coupled Circuit is the same technology McIntosh was founded on in 1949 and is still used in their vaunted full-size home audio vacuum tube amplifiers such as the timeless MC275 and the more recent MC1502. Indeed, the MHA200 shares many physical design traits with the aforementioned vacuum tube amplifiers.
A wide assortment of connectivity options come on the MHA200. For attaching headphones, there are 3 options: a pair of 3-pin balanced XLR connectors for dedicated Left and Right balanced output; a 4-pin balanced XLR connector for balanced stereo output; and a 1/4″ stereo headphone jack. For connecting the MHA200 to a home music system’s source components, it has 1 set each of both balanced and unbalanced inputs. Thanks to the MHA200’s small size of just 6-1/8″ (15.6cm) wide x 9-1/8″ (23.2cm) deep and its balanced inputs, it can be placed close to the listening position for ease use, with long balanced cables connecting it to the audio system without fear of signal loss.
The MHA200 takes advantage of unique McIntosh technologies to create the best possible personal listening experience. The Unity Coupled Circuit transformers have been adapted to produce 4 headphone impedance ranges of 32 – 100, 100 – 250, 250 – 600, and 600 – 1,000 Ohms at 500mW so that virtually every headphone can receive legendary McIntosh sound quality and performance.
McIntosh custom designed and manufactured the output transformers to match the tube amplifier section to the headphone output section in order to ensure maximum power transfer for various headphone loads. Instead of having to adapt to the impedance of the headphones with voltage gain in the input stage, the Unity Coupled Circuit output transformers’ secondary windings ensure the full power of the MHA200 is available regardless of the impedance of the headphones. A custom, high-performance, and highly efficient toroidal power transformer with low mechanical hum and a low magnetic field, which helps reduce electrical noise, provides clean power to the amplifier.
The user can select the best impedance range for the headphones via the LOAD knob. The VOLUME knob allows the MHA200 to be connected directly to music sources that only have a fixed volume output without needing a preamplifier for volume control. Conversely, if the component has variable volume output, then the VOLUME knob should be set to the center Unity Gain point and the volume controlled by the variable output component.
The MHA200 features a custom formed stainless steel chassis with a polished mirror finish that will accentuate the glow of the vacuum tubes, making it a statement piece to display and to use with pride. A vintage die cast aluminum McIntosh name badge adorns the side. A Power Control input and output allows the MHA200 to turn on and off with other connected McIntosh components, such as preamplifiers, CD players, turntables, or media steamers.
Pricing and Availability
Orders for the MHA200 can now be placed with Authorized McIntosh dealers with shipping expected to begin in March 2021 to the United States and Canada, and to the rest of the world shortly thereafter.
Suggested retail price (VAT, shipping and any customs duties related to current standards of individual countries are excluded): $2,500 USD.
Now available for the first time on vinyl, 2016’s After the Rain was the 18th studio album by Irma Thomas, and it quickly became a benchmark in her career, earning her a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album and serving as a touchstone to those people affected by Hurricane Katrina. Recorded shortly after the hurricane, these performances by the Soul Queen of New Orleans resonate much more deeply in light of it. Supported by a crack team of musicians that includes Corey Harris on guitar, Sonny Landreth on slide, and Dirk Powell on various stringed instruments, Thomas performs a memorable mix of blues, soul, and rock ’n’ roll, and she sounds fully invested in everything she sings. Arthur Alexander’s “In the Middle of it All” makes perfect sense as an opener, as it makes clear that, for Thomas, skirting emotions is not an option, and on the stripped-down blues numbers “Soul of a Man” and “Another Man Done Gone” she digs even deeper. The most affirmative track may be “Stone Survivor,” which stands out for its strength, resilience, and resolve—qualities that seem quite pertinent now, suggesting that, as opposed to a period piece, After the Rain is a timeless work of art.
Marlboro NJ, 4th February 2021 – Audio Manufacturer KEF is excited to introduce the Mu3 Noise Cancelling True Wireless earphones. Designed by visionary designer Ross Lovegrove, and engineered by KEF’s UK acoustic team, these new Mu3 earphones deliver pristine, high-resolution sound on the move and provide music lovers the freedom to hear every note, every word, every detail whether on their commute, at the gym, or on the sofa.
KEF is a pioneer of high-performance audio equipment that produces pure and natural sound. From hifi speakers to wireless speakers and headphones, they are designed to deliver magical soundscapes that enhance lives. In 2021, KEF celebrates 60 years of an uncompromising commitment for world-leading audio technology. KEF’s six decades of producing the finest quality products that deliver their signature sound ‘as the artist-intended’, is embodied in their current product range honed by 60 years of passion and heartfelt ambition.
KEF’s Signature Pure, Accurate Sound
The audio performance of Mu3 earphones benefits from KEF’s specially tuned Active Noise Cancellation technology. It enables the Mu3 to eliminate external noise without affecting the details that bring music to life.
The Mu3 delivers KEF’s incomparable signature sound as each of the Mu3s’ sculptural enclosures contain an 8.2mm full-range dynamic driver, expertly tuned by KEF’s engineering team to deliver an exceptionally dynamic and well balanced, coherent sound with rich midrange, detailed bass and crisp high tones.
Design by Ross Lovegrove
To ensure the Mu3 earphones look as good as they sound, KEF has once again collaborated with Ross Lovegrove, the designer behind the MUON loudspeaker and the MUO Bluetooth speaker. Renowned for his innovative approach and flowing, sculptural forms, Ross Lovegrove brings a new dimension to sound. Through design that embraces both beauty and technological ingenuity, Lovegrove’s ongoing collaboration with KEF is an exercise in aesthetic and engineering excellence.
The Mu3 earphones may be small, but their sculptural look offers sophistication within their compact dimensions. The pure and clean aesthetic complements KEF’s design philosophy perfectly. Great design is about more than style; the Mu3 earphones boast quality and ergonomics to match.
Compact, Ergonomic Design
The faultless ergonomic design of the new Mu3 ensures the listener has the most comfortable audio experience. The Mu3s are perfectly balanced in the ears by smart weighting, which stops them from falling out. They are available with a choice of four subtly different sized ear tips to give the most tailored fit for your ears, while also providing the perfect seal for noise isolation and to keep them securely in place.
All Day, Any Way
The Mu3 relieves the listener from the hassle of wires due to reassuringly stable, latency-free Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity. The audio performance is further enhanced by the introduction of simultaneous transmission, where both earphones receive a signal at the same time, rather than the more common approach where audio is sent to one earpiece and relayed to the other and therefore running the risk of latency. Mu3 delivers a seamless performance; they are simple to connect and exceptionally stable on both iOS and Android devices. After the simple setup, automatic pairing makes listening to the Mu3 an effortless experience.
The Mu3 earphones also boast ‘Ambient Mode’, where at the touch of a button Active Noise Cancellation is disengaged, and instead the audio picked up on the microphones is played through the earphones, bypassing passive noise reduction and providing you with instant clarity on what is going on around you. The Mu3 has high-capacity, quick-charge batteries to ensure they last for a full day’s listening even with Bluetooth and Noise Cancellation engaged, and the headphones will remain safe if you get caught out in the rain thanks to their splash-proof design.
The Mu3 earphones are available in Silver and retail for $$229.99. To discover more on KEF and the new headphones, please visit https://us.kef.com/.
What do we really want from our electronics, those (usually) necessary boxes between our audio sources and loudspeakers? Of course we need control—which source do we listen to, how loud, etc.—and we want these components to be easy to use and dependable. But, mostly, we want them to disappear. Unlike upgrading a phono cartridge, D-to-A converter, or speaker from which we expect more—more bass, more dynamic range, more dimensionality—with electronics, in the final analysis, we want less. It was with this undeniably difficult-to-define standard in mind that I got to know Classé Audio’s Delta Pre preamplifier/processor and Delta Stereo power amplifier.
The Montreal-based company introduced the third iteration of its Delta series components at High-End Munich in 2019. In addition to the two products considered here, a new single-channel amplifier, the Delta Mono ($10,999 each) also debuted. A five-channel power amp is coming next and there are plans, as well, for a surround processor and integrated stereo amplifier. This considered course of developing products and introducing them to the marketplace is expected from a company like Classé, well regarded by both recording professionals and discerning hobbyists. But, in fact, the brand has been on something of a roller coaster ride in recent years.
David Reich, an amplifier designer, and Mike Viglas, an audiophile who had the means to invest in the enterprise and who eventually became its sole owner, founded Classé Audio in 1980. (Viglas became wealthy as a hugely successful Ford heavy truck dealer. Dave Nauber, an audio industry lifer with Classé for 18 years and now the Brand Director, loves recycling an old joke when he tells the story of the company’s beginnings: “How do you make a small fortune in the audio business? Start with a big one.”) Nearing retirement age, Viglas instituted a distribution agreement with Bowers & Wilkins in 2001 and sold Classé to the venerable British speaker manufacturer in 2010. Then in 2016, rather unexpectedly, B&W was purchased by a Silicon Valley start-up, Eva Automation, which was looking for an established product in which to implement its cutting-edge wireless technology. “It’s arguable that, when they bought B&W, they didn’t even know they’d bought Classé,” recalled Nauber, sounding a little hurt. It was clear that Eva’s plans “had nothing to do with Classé” and operations in Montreal were shut down the following year.
Fortunately, salvation came in 2018 when Sound United acquired Classé, adding it to a roster of successful audio manufacturers that includes Denon, Marantz, Definitive Technology, Boston Acoustics, Polk, and HEOS. Nauber is in charge of the brand and the design team remains in Québec. The products are built at Sound United’s state-of-the-art Shirakawa Audio Works factory in northern Japan.
This history informs some of the design features of the latest Delta components, especially the amplifiers. Both the monoblock and the stereo models had to be unflinchingly powerful because they were developed with B&W loudspeakers in mind. “If you look at the impedance of a B&W 800 or 802,” Nauber told me, “you’ll see that between 70Hz and 1000Hz it’s below 4 ohms. That was one of the elements that figured into our design goals. We wanted an amplifier that could drive a lower impedance load and do so effortlessly yet still have enough power at 8 ohms. Essentially, whatever you connect to it, you’ve got plenty of power.” The Delta Stereo ($12,999) is a brute, weighing in at 102.3 pounds, though it registers as surprisingly compact on casual inspection; it’s just not as formidable-looking as your typical 250-watt (into 8 ohms) stereo power amplifier. The latest Delta components maintain the distinctive chassis “wrap” of earlier models—a single piece of 3.18mm-thick extruded aluminum begins at one back corner and sweeps around the front to the other back corner. The first 12.5 watts of those 250 are Class A, so there’s got to be some serious heat generated, right? Where are the massive heat sinks? How do these things breathe? The answer is that Classé amplifiers continue to employ an active cooling mechanism. There’s an utterly silent thermostatically-activated fan inside, with blades thicker than those in the previous Delta generation. It scoops more air in with each revolution and thus doesn’t need to go faster to dissipate more heat. Air from the environment enters the Delta Stereo through a louvered intake vent on the front panel and moves though the “Intelligent Cool Tunnel” to exit through the rear of the enclosure. Even with the amplifier on for several days and playing demanding material, the top of the chassis doesn’t get warm to the touch, though the rear exhaust port certainly does. The cooling system allows for Classé amplifiers to be stacked vertically, so long as there’s adequate ventilation behind them. It’s a reason why Classé amps have been popular with recording studios (London’s Abbey Road, for instance) and movie theaters, as well as with audiophiles who can confidently situate them in an equipment rack or cabinet without fear of overheating. The designers were keen to control internal temperatures for the usual reasons: The amps’ carefully chosen parts will perform as intended and last longer.
A good portion of the aforementioned 102.3 pounds is accounted for by a hefty toroidal transformer, hand-wound with roughly a third of a mile of copper wire, with separate secondary windings for each channel. A total of 22 top-grade Mundorf capacitors assure ample energy-storage capacity. The circuit boards for the Delta Stereo’s right and left channels are exactly the same, unlike many other high-end stereo amplifiers that boast separate boards for each channel but actually employ mirror image circuits, with signal paths that are not truly identical. The new output stage employs lateral MOSFETs, less efficient than their vertical brethren, but more linear in their behavior. The front panel sports a pair of elegant VU meters, which some may see as merely decorative—they can be turned off if the bouncing needle gets on your nerves. Nauber says, “It’s kind of like having a candle on the dinner table. You don’t need the candle for light but it adds a certain ambiance. From the standpoint of sales training, we talk about the meter because it helps people understand where the Class A operating range is. With most of the listening you do, the amplifier will be in Class A.”
On the rear panel of the Delta Stereo are two sets of rhodium-plated-copper 5-way binding posts and both RCA and XLR inputs. There are connections to support an IR remote control, DC trigger inputs/outputs, and a port that allows for network connections. Additional connectivity includes a USB port for updating firmware, an Ethernet port, and an RS-232 control port. The amplifier is supplied with a very substantial detachable power cord, designed specifically for the Delta Stereo by DR Acoustics. It’s claimed to be immune to temperature increases than can impede the flow of current. To aid in controlling unwanted vibration—the shape of the chassis also plays a role—both the amplifier and the Delta Pre sit on Navcom footers that are tuned to the weight of the component. As it’s considerably heavier, the amplifier has much stiffer feet than the preamplifier.
The front panel of the Delta Pre ($9999) is remarkably spare, given the ambitious functionality of the unit. There’s a power button that takes the device from standby to active status, a large rotary volume knob, a headphone jack, and a USB input that facilitates the use of Apple portable media devices. Mostly, though, the center of attention is a 3½” x 2″ touchscreen used for operating the preamp, setup, and display. A nearby Menu button changes the Home screen to the main page of the Menu, and you’re off to the races. Classé was the first audio manufacturer to use a touchscreen, three years before the original iPhone revolutionized the mobile device world. Dave Nauber observed that although the touchscreen utilized in Classé Audio products was expensive to develop, it ultimately saved money, as every control product can employ the same screen. It’s the software that varies from device to device. “It allows us to reuse a piece of engineering over and over without having to reinvent the wheel.”
A blow-by-blow account of all the preamp’s operational capabilities would be both pointless and tedious but, as you’d anticipate, one can readily access inputs, label and configure them (say, set input offset or pick a cartridge loading value), and address network requirements. When it’s not being programmed or used to make Menu choices, the touchscreen serves as a display that indicates the gain setting in large numbers easily read across a dark room as well as in broad daylight. Other information, such as the source playing and file format, is shown in smaller characters. The hefty aluminum remote control can do everything the touchscreen does, though programming/setup is more readily accomplished by utilizing the screen. The remote does have eight “Function” keys that can be programmed to serve as shortcuts to favorite commands.
The analog-domain stepped attenuator features an exceptionally large number of steps, allowing for very precise volume setting. Adjustments can be made in increments of just 0.25dB from -93dB to the 0dB reference point and in 0.5dB advances for 14dB above it. That’s 400 steps. The ability to set the turn-on level for each source is a big plus, as you’d be spinning the volume knob (or pressing the equivalent button on the remote) forever, if you had to start from -93dB. The factory default is -30dB.
The Delta Pre’s rear panel reflects the unit’s robust connectivity. Digital audio inputs include USB (PCM up to 32-bit/384kHz and DSD up to 256), AES/EBU (PCM up to 32/192), and three (each) coaxial and optical connections (both PCM up to 32/192). The USB input does support native DSD—the Delta Pre utilizes a pair of AKM 4497 DAC chips, implemented in dual-differential mode—but this necessitates downloading and installing a Windows Thesycon/Classé USB driver into your server. Without the driver, you’ll get DoP—not exactly the end of the world. For analog sources, Classé provides two sets of balanced inputs and two sets of RCAs, in addition to a pair of RCA connectors specifically for phono. Classé provides a total of five outputs, all with balanced and single-ended options. There are outputs for the main left and right channel and a subwoofer; the other two outputs (Aux 1 and Aux 2) can be configured to mirror the main stereo channels for bi-amping, or one can send signal to a second sub.
There’s also an input for an IR repeater, just in case the remote can’t “see” the Delta Pre reliably (say, because it’s in a cabinet), an Ethernet connection, the main power on/off switch, and an IEC outlet for the supplied power cord, a much more modest one than the ophidian number supplied with the Delta Stereo. Owners can choose to order the preamp with an HDMI input for an extra $500. Dave Nauber estimates that 20% of Delta Pre customers get the HDMI interface, which means that the other 80% are saving $500.
When setting up the preamp for each source, the user indicates if Digital Bypass should be employed. If it is, the volume control is active but DSP features aren’t. With Digital Bypass off, an analog signal is converted to PCM and functions such as bass management can be engaged. Speaking of which, a bass-management menu appears if a subwoofer has been detected for a given source. The crossover frequency between the main speakers and sub can be specified, as well as the crossover slope. In the Phono set-up menu (selecting that input automatically bypasses digital processing) the user indicates if the cartridge-du-jour is a moving magnet, low-output moving coil, or high-out moving coil. An impedance loading option is then selected—50-450pF in nine 50pF steps for mm, eight choices for low-output mc, ranging from 7.5 to 1000 ohms, and one choice only for high-output mc, 47k ohms.
Unlike some other sophisticated preamp/processors, Classé’s Delta Pre doesn’t offer automated DSP room correction. Dave Nauber has some fairly negative views on this technology, feeling that the algorithms over-promise and under-deliver—a viewpoint that, obviously, many satisfied users of Dirac, Audyssey, Anthem, Lyngdorf, and several other software packages would take issue with. “These systems are all based on assumptions about average rooms or reflective surfaces,” Nauber maintains. “They’re approximations of what should be done. They will rarely get the exact same result twice—each time you do the measurements and then see how the filters are actually set, the automated system will choose different values.”
What the Delta Pre does have are advanced parametric equalization capabilities that permit “very precise digital audio filters to help compensate for fixed sonic irregularities defined by the location and characteristics of your speakers, your room, and your listening position in the room,” to cite the owner’s manual. For each loudspeaker, including the subwoofer(s), as many as five filters can be implemented with the user picking the center frequencies of each band and then adjusting the level and Q. Powerful stuff. But there can be no doubt that Classé means to discourage consumers from attempting EQ calibrations on their own, the manual urging them to have measurements and adjustments made by “a well-qualified acoustical engineer.” Dave Nauber guesses that roughly half the Delta Pre customers don’t use EQ at all and, of the half that do, 20% bring in a pro, 30% ask the dealer to have a go at it, and 50% actually do it themselves. It’s not just the capacity to make room measurements, Nauber maintains. “You need human judgment. Some anomalies need to be fixed and others don’t.”
Mostly, I listened to the Delta components as a pair, though I did try using the Pre with alternative amplification and the Stereo with a different DAC. Two pairs of loudspeakers saw service, Sonus faber Olympica Nova IIIs (bi-wired with T+A Speaker Hex cables) and Magico S1 Mk2s (connected to the amplifier with a single pair of Transparent Gen 5 Ultra speaker cables). The interconnects between the Delta Pre and the amplifier were a 15-foot run of balanced Transparent Gen 5 Ultra. Digital sources included Baetis Reference and MusiCHI SRV-1 servers; an Oppo BDP-103 was used as a transport. The analog front end was a VPI Scoutmaster equipped with a JMW Memorial tonearm and the high-output version of Sumiko’s Blue Point Special EVO III cartridge.
I used the Classé Delta components as my primary control and amplification electronics for a month, the amp intermittently for several weeks longer. When the preamplifier was first installed, the sound of my system became soft-edged and billowy—“polite” in a way that wasn’t terribly involving. This phase was short-lived, no more than 20–30 hours, and from then on the Delta Pre and Stereo were a pleasure to operate and, more importantly, to listen to.
There are two Pre functions not mentioned above that could be of at least occasional utility to some users. The first is Apple AirPlay: The preamp can readily deliver content from an iOS device that’s connected to the same network. When you choose the Delta Pre from your phone/tablet/computer’s list of network devices, the preamplifier automatically switches to Network as the source and you’re good to go. What could be more ideal for a get-together of audiophiles? The group could take turns playing their reference material through the host’s system with a minimum of fuss.
The second feature involves the Delta Pre’s tone controls—two words that are anathema to some audiophiles. These can be used in the usual fashion to provide a boost or cut of as much as 6dB to frequencies below or above values chosen by the user. Of special interest, though, is the Pre’s “Tilt Control” option. This adjusts frequencies above and below user-specified inflection points—the default settings are 200Hz and 2000Hz—so that a dull-sounding recording can “tilt” towards a more lively tonal balance and an overly bright one can be tamed. I have a 24/96 file of Linda Ronstadt’s Greatest Hits that is difficult for me to listen to, as much as I like the music. The singer’s voice is harsh and peaky, guitars are tinny, strings sound wiry, and drums are dimensionless. Applying 2dB of downward “tilt” raised the low frequencies and attenuated the highs to make this particular mastering listenable. More than listenable, actually—enjoyable.
Back to flat tone settings and sources that don’t fit in a pocket. I listened to dozens of familiar recordings to determine if their fundamental character came through unadulterated. From the standpoint of tonality, the Delta components together were neutral, not editorializing in the least. Singers had their voices reproduced in a way I understood as “correct” from years of hearing these recordings through many good audio systems, and, in some instances, the occasional live concert. All of them sounded like themselves. The same could be said for instrumental voices, say the unique timbres of great tenor sax players—Dexter Gordon vs. Lester Young, Joe Henderson vs. Sonny Rollins. Accuracy in the midband usually gets the credit for this kind of neutrality, but getting the overtone structure right all the way up is also crucial, and it’s apparent that the Delta gear does this well.
What’s interesting to me is that I thought of my reference XA 60.8 Pass amps as quite neutral, and I still do. It’s apparent, though, that there can be different versions of “neutral.” The Classé’s’ presentation is forward and vivid without egregious distortion of the engineer’s intent. This was more evident with the Magico speakers than the Sonus fabers. Both amps make music utterly engaging, but it comes down to personal preference, as it usually does. When I compared the Delta Pre to my day-in/day-out DAC, the T+A DAC 8 DSD, which has a volume control that allows direct connection to the amplifiers, there were differences, but they seemed less important. Bass was slightly more focused through the T+A; drum sound was punchier with the Classé in the path. I couldn’t hear any musically meaningful differences in tonality or spatial parameters. That’s saying something, given how smitten I’ve been with the T+A DAC over the past couple of years.
The ability to adjust the gain in such small increments with the Pre is a strong selling point. For classical music in particular, there’s a correct playback level determined by the recorded perspective. Playing a recording with a mid-hall perspective too loudly in an effort to force an immediacy that isn’t there is a mistake; setting the volume too low for a recording made with the conductor’s aural viewpoint is likewise a recipe for failure. How many times has the “correct” gain setting been between two clicks on a stepped attenuator? That’s unlikely to happen with the Delta Pre.
Although, admittedly, neither of the loudspeakers used to evaluate the Classé components was an especially challenging load, there was nonetheless a sense of ample dynamic headroom. The orchestral climax halfway through the opening movement of Bernard Haitink’s Concertgebouw recording of the Shostakovich Symphony No. 15 crested gracefully, better than I expected with the modest two-way Magico S1 Mk2s sans subwoofer, played at a healthy volume. Same thing with well-recorded drums—the snare on “Ghetto of My Mind” from Rickie Lee Jones’s Flying Cowboy CD had the “sock” you’d associate with bigger speakers playing full out. Spatially, the Delta Stereo performed as well as any other two-channel solid-state amplifier I’ve heard with symphonic recordings that excel with this parameter—the Haitink Shostakovich performance, for example. The representation of the musicians as they sat on stage and the air of the great Dutch hall were not as effectively reproduced as when my usual XA 60.8 Pass monoblocks drove the Magicos. All things being equal, or close to equal, it’s probably a fact of life that mono amps will always surpass a stereo model when it comes to soundstaging and imaging. If this particular audio metric is of prime importance, you should perhaps consider a pair of the Delta MONOs, assuming you have the space (and the additional nine large) to go that route.
The Pre phonostage was very quiet, even though it was necessary to turn up the gain a good deal to achieve satisfactory volume levels with orchestral recordings. All of vinyl’s glories were evident. With my prized copy of the M+K direct-to-disc For Duke, the sound was tangible. Especially for those who listen only occasionally to LPs, the Pre provides all the phono- stage you’ll ever need.
Regarding my earlier concerns that the Pre’s parametric EQ might be underutilized by a sizable percentage of owners: I should say that I didn’t feel a powerful need for any adjustments myself. I do use DSP room correction (Anthem’s ARC) for surround listening but don’t find a compelling need for it with stereo. Dave Nauber commented, inscrutably, that Classé’s imminent surround processor “may or may not contain some sort of automated system. If it does, it’s likely to be because we caved.”
Classé’s Delta Pre and Stereo are impeccably designed and manufactured products that offer impressive operational flexibility and dependability. The amplifier provides enough power to handle just about any loudspeaker you’d care to send its way. These two components are visually appealing and practical to install in a domestic setting. And they “sound good,” meaning that they get out of the way and let the fundamental character of a recording be determined by the engineers involved. The Delta Pre and Stereo have nothing to say on the matter, and that’s exactly as it should be.
Specs & Pricing
Delta PRE Preamplifier Type: Two-channel solid-state preamplifier with DAC and phonostage Analoginputs: Two balanced, three RCA, (one designated as phono) Digitalinputs: Coaxial (3), optical (3), AES/EBU, USB, HDMI optional Phonoinputs: Two supported (one XLR, one RCA) configurable for moving magnet, low-output moving coil, and high-output moving coil Formatssupported: USB input: 32-bit/384kHz PCM and DSD2.2/5.6/11.3MHz, coaxial, optical, and AES/EBU inputs up to 32-bit/192kHz PCM Outputs: Balanced and RCA right and left, subwoofer, two aux (one can be assigned to a second sub) Dimensions: 17.5″ x 4.75″ x 17.5″ Weight: 29.8 lbs. Price: $9999
Delta STEREO Amplifier Type: Solid-state Class AB stereo amplifier (Class A to 12.5W/8 ohms) Outputpower: 250W into 8 ohms, 500W into 4 ohms Inputs: One pair XLR, one pair RCA Inputimpedance: 82k ohms (balanced and RCA) Outputs: Two pairs of 5-way binding posts Dimensions: 17.50″ x 8.74″ x 19.37″ Weight: 102.3 lbs. Price: $12,999
The following is a press release issued by M&K Sound.
February 3, 2021 – M&K Sound, an innovative world leader in consumer and studio / professional loudspeaker acoustics design is pleased to announce their new American sales and marketing team, headquartered in Princeton, New Jersey.
“With all of the exciting new models and technologies we’re introducing in 2021 I felt it was time to reestablish an M&K factory-direct team in the vitally important US marketplace. By doing so we create a shorter path of communication and support to our customers – both dealers and end users, in the consumer and professional audio channels. Of course we will continue to offer our classic models and technologies such as the legendary 150 Series. What made M&K great remains, and our future looks even brighter. We’re assembling a top team in the USA to reflect this.” ~ Per Becher, Principal, M&K Sound Denmark
Leading the USA group is Paul Egan, Managing Director, M&K Sound America. Most recently the head of Syzygy Acoustics, the innovative subwoofer manufacturer and before that, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for KEF America, Egan brings a wealth of acoustics experience, CE industry relations and know how to initiate our renewed efforts in the USA.
“I’m really excited to join Per and the rest of the International team to help grow our brand and establish new heights in product and business excellence. As Per says, what makes M&K Sound special remains, and recently introduced models as well as the future product directives assure our best years lie ahead of us. I’m humbled to join the team and can’t wait to get going”. ~ Paul Egan, Managing Director, M&K Sound America
Also joining M&K America is Michael Grover, Director of Sales. Grover is a very well known, highly regarded “speaker lifer” whose past companies include GoldenEar Technology as Sales Director South and before that, Definitive Technology, serving as the Director of Sales / National Accounts Manager for well over a decade. He will most assuredly bring the sales and customer acumen he’s known for to this promising new enterprise. Both Becher and Egan are excited to have him on board.
The following is a press release issued by Bryston.
Peterborough, Ontario | February 2 , 2021 – Bryston, a leading manufacturer of high-performance audio electronics and loudspeakers for music and cinema systems sold through the finest dealers worldwide, announced today that the company has been acquired by longtime VP James Tanner in partnership with Colquhoun Audio, a manufacturer of premium audio products also based in Canada. Effective immediately, James Tanner is Bryston’s CEO.
Tanner, who joined Bryston in 1976, has a passion for the storied brand and shares an unrelenting drive to deliver the high-performance audio experience sought after by Bryston customers. In partnership with Colquhoun Audio, Tanner will strengthen relationships with the dealer community by adding a host of new services such as:
An online portal for order processing
A web-to-dealer referral service
An expanded sales team
A customer service hotline, providing real time support to dealers and consumers
Expanded and modernized R&D and manufacturing at Bryston—remaining true to their Made in Canada tradition of outstanding quality.
Former Bryston CEO Chris Russell is retiring, but will remain active as a consultant with the company founded by his family decades ago. Chris’s vast knowledge of Bryston product design will still be a part of Bryston going forward.
“There are very few high-performance audio brands that offer the 40-plus year legacy of best-in-class products and award-winning services that Bryston does—and we are committed to providing our worldwide network of dealers with the tools they need to be even more successful,” Tanner explained. “I am very excited about the next generation of Bryston products, beginning with the new BR-20 preamplifier scheduled to start shipping this month, as well as several stellar designs currently in development.”
Denmark has long since proven itself a hotspot of high-end audio design and production, yielding a veritable plethora (no, not of piñatas) of creative developments in acoustic transducers, otherwise known as loudspeakers. Consider, if you will, Audiovector—a brand brimming with unique technologies, each described via a smorgasbord of acronyms. Indeed, Audiovector uses so many of these abbreviations that, before I begin discussing the sonics of today’s tasty subject, the R6 Arreté floorstander, I suggest you grab yourself a Carlsberg and prepare for an acronym extravaganza of Danish proportions, all of which I feel obligated to explain.
However, before I turn to lexicography, some history. In 1979, Ole Klifoth founded Audiovector in Copenhagen, Denmark, with the intention of providing the global high-end market with a speaker of exquisite build and natural sonic character. Ole’s son, Mads, is now CEO of the family-owned company, which has been going strong for over 40 years. Ole’s original design principles, which highlighted linear dynamics, linear phase, and low compression, have remained the backbone upon which all Audiovector speakers are built, and are highlighted in its R Series lineup.
The R6 Arreté uses the advanced technology created for Audiovector’s R8 and flagship R11 speakers in a “more affordable” package intended for smaller rooms. The R6 (which comes in Signature, Avantgarde, and Arreté models) employs five drivers in its Signature and Avantgarde iterations and six drivers in the Arreté version, which adds a rear-firing 3″ midrange with its own dedicated crossover. The Avantgarde and Arreté utilize an AMT tweeter, while the Signature uses a dome model. All three versions house varieties of Audiovector’s new carbon drive units, built in Denmark with titanium-coil technology, massive ceramic-ferrite magnets housed on rigid, turbulence-suppressing, magnesium-alloy baskets, and driver membranes of cross-woven Aramid-composite carbon fiber. The two front-firing mid/bass drivers are 6.5-inchers; the isobaric bass-reflex woofer system utilizes internal down-firing 6.5″ and 8″ woofers; and the rear-firing 3″ midrange of the Arreté uses a paper cone to perfectly blend with the AMT dipole tweeter. (Mads says that “the dispersion characteristics of our hand-built mid/bass driver are perfect for a transition between the midrange and the AMT treble driver at around 3kHz. Indeed, it was engineered for that purpose.”) Crossover points are 100Hz, 350Hz, and 3kHz. A beautiful and well-designed carbon-fiber terminal plate is used to reduce interaction with the crossover, which is mounted directly behind the plate. Both spades and bananas are welcome. All models include IUC (Individual Upgrade Concept), LCC (Low Compression Concept), SEC (Soundstage Enhancement Concept), and NES (No Energy Storage) technologies. The Arreté also makes use of NCS (Natural Crystal Structure molecular realignment) and Audiovector’s unique FGC (Freedom Grounding Concept).
When I asked Mads how the technologies represented by these acronyms benefit the listener, he began by explaining “absolute phase”: “Our crossovers are special in the sense that all filtering is going on in the negative side. This means that a pulse from the plus terminal of the amplifier hits the plus pole of the drivers directly.” In addition, “the enclosures have no standing waves inside, which makes it possible to avoid degrading both dynamics and sensitivity by using a lot of dampening material. This translates to better dynamics and better sensitivity.”
You could claim that the enclosures are “form-follows-function” designs. The cabinet themselves are made from eleven layers of hardwood HDF, glued together and formed under heat and pressure to obtain the optimum shape. Their teardrop structure—in combination with their dense, strong, and heavy laminated rear baffles—further reduces resonances and minimizes standing waves. Once assembled, the cabinets are heavily braced internally and carefully damped with strategically positioned Nano Pore damping plates. This heavy internal bracing both supports the shells and forms the compartments for the treble, mid, lower-mid, and isobaric-loaded bass drivers. The rear-firing midrange sits in its own enclosure. So, the “NES (No Energy Storage) concept means that the treble and mid drivers are fixed at three elevated points to make sure that they are isolated from the enclosure’s mass as optimally as possible. And this again means that you get a clearer, more dynamic sound. Also, we avoid tensions in the baskets of the drivers this way.”
Mads explained that “the FGC (Freedom Grounding Concept) is quite new. The whole idea is that motion-induced energy stored in the drivers is drained away through a dedicated FGC filter and on to the FGC terminal, which can be connected to earth. This means that we avoid distortion and ‘resistance’ to free movement, lowering noise and adding to the sonic realism.”
Audiovector’s SEC (Soundstage Enhancement Concept) improves dispersion and lowers compression, resulting in better imaging. In addition, its AMT tweeter is installed within an Integrator Acoustic Lens, which also improves impulse response and dispersion, and helps the AMT better integrate with the midrange drivers. The LCC (Low Compression Concept) ensures that the driver membranes can move freely in demanding conditions with minimized compression. NCS (Natural Crystal Structure) in the Arreté models means that the internal “seven-nines” copper wiring is cryogenically treated to realign its crystal structure to improve clarity and resolution. And IUC (Individual Upgrade Concept) allows customers of lower or older models the ability to upgrade to the highest-tech current models, making all Audiovector speakers totally future-proof. (I think that’s enough acronyms for today.)
Finish options include piano white, piano black, piano African rosewood, and Italian matte walnut. Piano crayon (grey) is a special-order finish. Custom colors are available on request.
The R6 boasts a frequency response of 23Hz to 52kHz, a sensitivity of 91.5dB, and a nominal impedance of 8 ohms. Power handling is described as 450 watts. Essentially full-range performance with an easy load makes for flexibility in amplification. The R6’s ran as easily with my 18Wpc Lamm ML2’s as it did with my 200Wpc Dartzeel 8550 mk2 solid-state integrated. Switching between them changes the sonic flavor noticeably, but not the overall level of performance. Ole explained that “we have pioneered first-order function filters with just one component in series with each driver. This makes certain that the speakers are easy to drive, with an impedance curve with very low phase angles. This has been made possible, because we ourselves design the hand-built Scan-Speak-manufactured drivers to our specific needs. The treble drivers, we design and hand-build in Denmark at our factory. We have done so since 1984 to ensure uniform quality in every respect.”
As the subjective/objective, evaluate-the-gear-and-report-on-it guy (aka, the reviewer), it is my job to convey to you what these speakers do, how they do it, and if they are worth what they do for the cost of entry. In this case, that is both easy and difficult. When I set the Arretés up, I immediately noted their quality of craftsmanship and the obvious care that went into fabricating their unique design. Although by no means inexpensive, at $35k, the parts, materials, and build-quality certainly represent the price point and justify the expense. The fit and finish are simply exemplary.
As to the actual set-up process, the unique down-firing woofer/forward-ported design permitted remarkably easy placement. In addition, the AMT tweeter provided all the horizontaldispersion I needed, but limited side dispersion, reducing wall reflection. As a result, stage width/depth and image density were excellent. The 3″ rear-firing midrange clearly added to dimensionality and depth of stage, as well as adding overall texture to the midrange.
Considering that this Audiovector is a six-driver design, I was surprised at how “of-a-piece” it sounded, never really calling attention to any of its individual parts. The R6 Arreté tolerated placement very close to the front wall, though losing bass depth and projecting the midrange forward (as expected) due to the reflection of that rear-firing 3″ driver. To truly shine the R6s preferred to be about 2–3 feet out into the room. This was the first moment (but not the last) that I told myself that these would make wonderful combo stereo/home-theater speakers in a true high-end theater. In the end, they settled at a point slightly farther apart and slightly closer to the front wall than many other speakers prefer to be—not a criticism, just a notation.
The sonic character of the R6 Arreté can generally be described as unconstrained and accurate, with an emphasis on resolution and natural detail. The AMT tweeter highlights that unconstrained, unlimited, detailed character, as it comes into play around 3kHz and, I’m pretty sure, rolls off just south of googolplex kHz. Its clarity and resolution are, at times, almost staggering, while always avoiding glare or brightness. A visual analogy would be comparing a 1080p screen to a 4k monitor. It’s not that there is more there; it’s just that the definition of what’s there is cleaner, crisper, and better resolved. Add to that an almost magically neutral midrange of miraculous speed, and you can see why I described them the way I did.
The lower midrange is full and well bodied but in no way voluptuous. The layering and tonal character provided is more that of striated layers of earth than, say, a seven-layer cake (why I settled on seven layers, I do not know). The overall reproduction is timbrally and harmonically rich like silk, not cashmere. My notes teem with words like “fast,” “dynamic,” “scale,” “punch.” But the “punch” frequently came without weight, as the low frequencies rolled off in the mid to high 20s in my smaller room (regardless of placement), and although present the bass lacked palpability. At times, the isobaric design sounded more like a sealed enclosure, highlighting speed and accuracy over weight and visceral impact. With the overall midrange neutrality and wide-open highs came a sense that the speaker was sometimes tipped up—that its needle tilted toward treble. Since it is certainly not a warm speaker, the detail and resolution highlighted the importance of matching it with electronics that do not accentuate those qualities. As a result, both the Dartzeel integrated and my Lamm monoblocks provided a nice synergy. I will warn that with poor recordings, you will know that they are poor. The R6 does not sugarcoat or soften anything.
As mentioned, depth and width of stage were expansive and meticulously recreated. Image location and dimensionality mirrored tonal accuracy, rendering the recording with almost laser-like focus and creating a true parallelogram-shaped stage. The perceived listening position was closer to the front of the audience, with expansive regions to the far left and right. Height seamed to attenuate around 52″ to 60″, which presented a realistic vertical stage from my listening position. The R6 Arreté did a very good job of vanishing within its soundfield, and I was (as I mentioned) stunned at the cohesion with which all those drivers hung together.
One of the truly unique features of these speakers is the FGC (Freedom Grounding Concept). A shared AC receptacle, connected to the ground post, runs a cable to each of the speakers where there is a dedicated banana jack in back. I kept these plugged in during the entire review, but disconnected them at the very end to see if I could determine what the FGC was doing. In all honesty, I may have identified a hair more clarity with FGC in the system, but the difference was subtle and difficult to specify. My room is custom built from the ground up with an isolated and dedicated electrical subpanel and grounding system. I would imagine the FGC would be more noticeably effective in a more “normal” listening environment.
Now we come back to my “easy and difficult” comment. It is easy to identify the technological prowess of the Audiovector R6 Arreté, its amazing ability to recreate and almost replicate the recording, and its masterful construction. But like other speakers with small woofers in an isobaric loading, the R6 Arreté favors speed and resolution in the bass rather than weight and authority. I prefer a speaker with more heft in the bottom end, although your tastes may differ. As I frequently do, I invited some reliable and trustworthy ears (connected to heads and bodies) over to enjoy the tasty ever-rotating treats in my room. As I expected, some of my guests absolutely fell for the R6, while others found them too resolving, or tilted up. For some, however, these speakers will check every box.
These are in a price range filled with serious contenders from many of the current premium manufacturers. When you go audition the R6 Arreté, I strongly suggest you bring music you love, not “audiophile” recordings, and spend time with your dealer matching the right gear. If you favor detail, dimensionality, clarity, and scale, then these need to be on your list. If you are looking for premium speakers for a combo stereo/home-theater system, they must be on your list. Naturally detailed and resolving, the R6 Arreté is taking on some well-established and imposing challengers, but Audiovector clearly created the R6 to stand firm against all comers.
Specs & Pricing
Drivercomplement: 2x 6.5″mid/bass; 1x 6.5″ bass/midrange drivers and 1x 8″ bass driver in Isobaric Compound Bass configuration; 1x 3″ midrange, 1x Audiovector AMT tweeter Frequency response: 23Hz–52kHz Sensitivity: 91.5dB Impedance: 8 ohms Powerhandling: 450W Dimensions: 11″ x 48.6″ x 17″ Weight: 88 lbs. each (net), 115 lbs. each (shipping) Price: $35,000 per pair
When Sign o’ the Times came out in 1987, Prince was sitting on top of the recording world. Released between 1978 and 1981, his first four albums helped pave the path to superstardom. The transformation into a major pop star occurred with 1999 (1982) and Purple Rain (1984). Though not as well received, 1985’s Around the World in a Day did little to dampen the public’s enthusiasm for the genre-bending artist, and 1986’s Parade was recognized as a return to form. The follow-up, Sign o’ the Times, cracked the top ten, went platinum, and delivered the top-ten singles “Sign o’ the Times,” “U Got the Look,” and “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man.” The new album was also a critical success, topping the Village Voice Pazz & Jop poll for that year.
And looking back, it’s clear that Sign o’ the Times was one of the quintessential albums of the 1980s. If you went to clubs, you danced to its singles. If you watched MTV, you saw the videos. And, on both pop and R&B stations, you heard it on the radio. Because the album captures a pop icon in peak form, it seemed inevitable that an expanded edition of the record would appear, and the new Warner/Rhino box sets pull out all the stops, with options that include a 13-LP/1-DVD or 8-CD/1-DVD box set. (More modest options include a reissue of the original album; everything was remastered by Bernie Grundman, Prince’s original mastering engineer.) As you’d assume, the super deluxe editions aren’t cheap—nearly three hundred bills for the vinyl version and slightly more than half that for the silver discs. Let’s assume, though, that money’s not an issue. Would it be worth your time to explore more than ten hours of music? Having taken the plunge, I can cite three good reasons for taking the plunge: the strength of the original album, the riches buried inside the vaults, and recordings of two live concerts from the tour that followed the release of the album.
Sign o’ the Times was a hit when it came out, and the original 2-LP set has held up well. It features a classic Prince sound that has more in common with 1999 and Purple Rain than the two albums preceding it. And even though much of the album is virtually a one-man show, with Prince relying heavily on a Linn LM-1 drum machine and a Fairlight CMI digital sampler, the music sounds festive, due in part to various guest vocalists, including Sheena Easton ( “U Got the Look”) and “Camille,” which was Prince’s moniker for his electronically-altered vocals. The album doesn’t lack in energy, with upbeat cuts like “U Got the Look,” “Heartbeat,” and “Hot Thing” among the most danceable cuts of 1987. And yes, Prince could still be counted on to pen lyrics both kinky and bizarre, examples being “If I Was Your Girlfriend” and “Ballad of Dorothy Parker.” (And no, he’s not talking about the Dorothy Parker of literary fame. He just liked the name.)
The record wasn’t all fun and games, however. Voted the best single of 1987 by The Village Voice, the title/opening track addresses AIDS, crack, street gangs, starvation, poverty, the threat of nuclear war, and other issues—and does so while delivering what may be the nastiest groove Prince ever laid down. The focus turns spiritual on “The Cross,” where sitar-sounding licks enhance the mystic mood. The deluxe edition box sets also include a plethora of Sign o’ the Times-connected mixes, remixes, and edits originally designed for 7″ and 12″ singles.
A deluxe edition was also in order because this is a situation where you’d really want to dig through the vaults. Artistically Prince was in a state of flux during the period leading up to Sign o’ the Times. Along with disbanding the Revolution, he started and shelved three projects, including a triple album that, due to resistance from Warner Bros., was ultimately whittled down to two platters. So the deluxe edition offers an opportunity to examine some of the missing pieces, and in all the super deluxe editions contain 45 previously unreleased studio recordings. Lucid and informative liner notes accompanying a 120-page hardback book provide much-needed context to those tracks. The liner notes also elucidate the contributions by Wendy and Lisa—and the trust that Prince had in those musicians.
With the exception of a version of “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” that was put to tape in 1979, the music on the “Vault Tracks” segment of the deluxe edition was recorded between 1985 and early 1987. These songs are all over the place musically. Clocking in at over 12 minutes, “Soul Psychodelicide” is a wild funk jam that never lets up; “Rebirth of the Flesh” slams just as hard and carries it with it the same P-Funk vibe. At the same time, the vault tracks contain some quiet moments, including “Visions,” which Lisa improvised on acoustic piano. There are some catchy, light-hearted pop songs with quirky lyrics, but Prince also goes big picture at times, as on “Cosmic Day” and “Walkin’ in Glory.” Ultimately, the vault tracks contain such a wild mix of music I almost wish this collection of songs had been released as its own album, even more overstuffed and unpredictable and impossible to pin down than—well, you know what record started that tradition back in 1968.
Finally, the deluxe edition offers two full-length concert recordings where Prince fronts his new Lovesexy band, and these recordings are anything but filler. Prince didn’t tour America after Sign o’ the Times, instead retreating to the recording studio after a 34-date European tour. As a result, the live recordings on this deluxe edition allow fans from the States to see what they missed. It’s nice to have both the audio-only disc (a June 20, 1987 performance in Utrecht, Netherlands) and the DVD (an intimate New Year’s Eve show at Paisley Park—the one American venue where Prince actually did perform, to an intimate and very lucky audience). The Paisley Park performance is longer and, by the end, that much looser and wilder than the Utrecht show, which is saying something for a Prince concert. There’s a lot of overlap between the two shows, including such million-selling hits from previous albums as “Kiss,” “When Doves Cry,” “Let’s Go Crazy,” “1999,” and (in truncated form) “Little Red Corvette.” It says something about the new material that the Sign o’ the Times tunes hold up well against earlier hits.
In both concerts Prince has opportunities to stretch out on guitar, and although that was probably skill set #15 for the overachiever, he was an excellent guitarist. Highlights of both shows include “Hot Thing,” which may not be the most profound song ever written, but it sure is funky, with witty lyrics to boot. During the Paisley Park performance, it’s nice to see him plunge into soul ballads like “Do Me, Baby,” “If I Was Your Man,” and “Purple Rain.” They all receive tender readings, and when you watch him perform those songs, you really sense the lineage he shares with old-school R&B singers. The influence of James Brown permeates “Housequake” and the lengthy Paisley Park encore, where the horns even quote from “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” and Prince borrows a stunt or two from JB’s stage show (the cover of Aretha’s “Chain of Fools” also smokes). During this period, rumors of a project teaming Miles Davis and Prince surfaced, and the cameo by Miles while the band riffs on “It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night” suggests that collaboration would have been successful, as their late-night jam sounds quite similar to the music Miles was playing around that time.
These live performances also offer proof positive that Prince knew how to whip a band into shape. Because Prince played most of the instruments on Sign o’ the Times, everyone in the newly-formed Lovesey—a combination of ex-Revolution members and new players—needed to learn the new material from scratch, and quickly. The 11-piece group, complete with a horn section and background singers/dancers, really gels, breathing new life into both old and new material. Along with adding additional star power, Sheila E. knows how to galvanize a band from behind the drum set—and when Prince takes over the drumming duties on “It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night” medley while Sheila does a little rapping, it’s one of the highlights of the show.
To touch on one other thing: When you watch the Paisley Park DVD, you can see the joy the supporting members of Lovesexy felt while playing Prince’s music. Those smiles weren’t pasted on, and it’s easy to understand why the musicians looked so happy. After all, they were welcoming in the New Year with one of the baddest dudes around. Wouldn’t that bring a smile to your face?
Boulder, Colorado | January 28, 2021 – PS Audio’s Octave Records label announces its latest release, The Audiophile Reference Disc, created to help listeners get the best out of their stereo systems by providing reference-quality music and test tracks. The release of the disc coincides with the debut of the book Audiophile’s Guide: The Stereo, a comprehensive guide to system setup by PS Audio CEO Paul McGowan, and a companion to the disc.
The Audiophile Reference Disc (SRP: $29) is playable on any CD, DVD, or Blu-ray player. It also has a high-resolution DSD layer that is accessible only using a PS Audio SACD transport, or by copying the DSD tracks on the included DVD data discs. In addition, the master DSD and PCM files are available for purchase and download from psaudio.com here.
The Audiophile Reference Disc begins with a series of tracks for basic system setup, including left, right and phantom center channel identification, and checking for correct phase (polarity). Subsequent tracks facilitate more sophisticated evaluations like in-room bass response, soundstage width and depth, system resolution and more.
The Audiophile Reference Disc was designed to be used in conjunction with The Audiophile’s Guide book. The Guide details each step in the stereo setup instructional process, and a corresponding reference audio track is designated to check and verify the results. The disc and book go over every aspect of getting the most out of stereo system reproduction, from a single voice to the most complex and dynamic musical passages.
Recorded and mastered using Octave Records’ exclusive DSDDirect Mastered 192kHz/24-bit process and 96kHz/24-bit and 44.1kHz/16-bit PCM, The Audiophile Reference Disc was produced using state-of-the-art high-resolution audio technology, with no effort spared to ensure its use as a true reference-quality system-evaluation tool.
Audiophile’s Guide: The Stereo Book (SRP: $29) is subtitled “Unlock the Secrets to Great Sound” and the book explains exactly how to do it. The Guide begins with a history of stereophonic sound and moves into chapters on what to listen for and how to achieve the best from an audio system, covering topics like establishing a budget, what to buy and what not to, analog vs. digital, tubes vs. solid-state, achieving a spacious “3-D” sound from loudspeakers, tuning the system to the listening room, system tweaking and fine-tuning and much more. The book can be read as a standalone reference, or used in conjunction with The Audiophile Reference Disc.