Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

I try not to take being an audio reviewer for granted. I examine, live with, and, most important, hear many audio products -- things most people don’t get to do. And I am never more aware of my privileged position than when I get my hands on a special edition -- models that manufacturers produce, often in limited numbers, to commemorate an anniversary or other occasion, and that typically are made to look and sound quite distinct. In this case, my privilege was to be one of the first reviewers to get their hands on the new Menuet SE (for Special Edition) minimonitor ($1799/pair, all prices USD), which its maker, DALI, expects to keep in production for a limited time.

Although Fyne Audio was founded in Scotland only three years ago, in 2017, they boast that their team has, collectively, “over 200 years’ experience” in all aspects of loudspeaker design and manufacture. Their website offers few details, but it’s my understanding that the design team mostly comprises people who used to work for Tannoy, plus a few from other UK speaker makers. A quick glance at their various models makes it obvious that not only do Fyne speakers pack a lot of leading-edge tech, they look the parts of high-end speakers.

As I looked at Music Hall Audio’s Classic turntable, there came to mind an old auto-racing adage: “If it looks right, it is right.” To this grizzled audio vet, the Classic looks right. But would it work right?

Focal was founded by Jacques Mahul more than 40 years ago, in Saint-Etienne, France. The company began as an original-equipment manufacturer (OEM) of speaker drivers for other companies while also making their own finished loudspeakers, sold under their JMlab brand, named for Mahul. The company’s full name is still Focal-JMlab, but since 2002 its products have been named simply Focal.

Note: Measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.

Reviewers' ChoiceAs their logo reveals, French manufacturer Triangle Manufacture Electroacoustique named itself for the simplest musical instrument -- but did they also consider that triangle has the same meaning in at least two languages? This occurred to me a few weeks ago while sitting at the anechoic chamber of Canada’s National Research Council, helping SoundStage! founder-publisher Doug Schneider measure some speakers, including the Triangle BR03. Doug and Randy, the NRC technician taking the measurements, stared at the BR03 and said, almost simultaneously, “I wonder why a French company named themselves Triangle?” I, the only French Canadian in the group, responded with a coy smile: “You do know, guys, that in French, triangle means . . . triangle?” My fellow Canadians looked somewhat embarrassed.

Reviewers' ChoiceI’m in favor of using room correction and bass management in multichannel music-and home-theater systems of 5.1+ channels, as well as in 2.1- and 2.2-channel systems. I’ve also argued that anyone with a subwooferless two-channel (2.0) system who’s serious about high-quality sound reproduction should consider using room correction, at the very least in the bass region below the Schroeder frequency, which is room dependent but is typically around 300Hz.

Reviewers' ChoicePSB Speakers is one of Canada’s most trusted makers of loudspeakers. Known for innovative designs refined at the world-renowned speaker-testing facility of Canada’s National Research Council, in Ottawa, PSB has pumped out award-winning speakers year after year. When I see the PSB logo, two things pop to mind, and the first is value -- many of their speakers have punched far above their price classes. The second thing is a person: legendary speaker designer Paul Barton, who oversees the design of all PSB speakers.

Note: Measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.

One of my first memories of wetting my feet in this hobby involved speakers made by Now Hear This (now called NHT), founded in 1987. This was the early 1990s, and I was in my teens -- but I had a driver’s license, and loved hitting Ottawa’s strip of audio stores. These were the days when bricks-and-mortar audio shops abounded, and this single street in Ottawa had no fewer than five -- or six, if you counted the big-box electronics store.

In 1962, a gentleman named Hideo Matsushita (no relation to the Konosuke Matsushita who founded Matsushita Electric Industrial Company, aka Panasonic) saw that, to faithfully transmit the full fidelity of LPs they played over the air, the Japanese broadcasting industry needed better phono cartridges than they had. To fill this need he founded the Audio-Technica Corporation, which to this day hews to that heritage: many of their products, while serving the audio community well, are aimed at broadcasting operations. But while Audio-Technica offers a wide range of phono cartridges, only recently have they begun to make turntables -- such as the subject of this review, the AT-LP7 ($799 USD).

Note: Measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.

Reviewers' ChoiceLately, I’ve gotten a lot of exposure to Focal products. In the September edition of SoundStage! Hi-Fi I reviewed their expensive Spectral 40th floorstanding speaker ($9999 pair; all prices USD), and I’m not ashamed to say that I gushed over them, and strongly considered buying a pair for my reference system. That impulse was reined in only by my commitment to subwoofer-satellite combos. Now in my room is one pair each of two different two-way minimonitors from Focal: the Sopra No1 ($9990/pair), review forthcoming on SoundStage! Hi-Fi; and the less expensive Chora 806 ($990/pair), which better fits the SoundStage! Access brief of affordable audio gear.