Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Nearly every time I review an integrated amplifier, I get an email from a reader commenting on the fact that I didn’t have much, if anything, to say about the phono stage, assuming the amp has one. Some emails are friendlier than others, of course, but all boil down to something like this, which I received from a reader in the Netherlands:

Don’t get too hung up on the hand truck you see in the image below. It gives, I fear, the impression that GoldenEar’s new ForceField 30 subwoofer ($900, all prices USD) is heftier than it actually is. In reality, I’m still recovering from pretty brutal surgery and have only just recently been cleared to lift 35 pounds—and nary an ounce more.

Blame it on my age, perhaps. Or blame it on four-plus decades of failed economic policy and the pacifying Orwellian language designed to prop it up. Either way, the term “trickle-down” sticks in my craw. Of course, I can see its utility in the consumer electronics industry, where technologies designed for flagship products become cheaper to produce as R&D costs are recouped and begin to appear on mid-tier products until economies of scale allow their inclusion even in budget offerings. It’s neat that we can sum all that up in one hyphenated adjective, and it’s certainly an effective marketing tool. After all, without much effort, you’re clueing the budget-conscious audio enthusiast into the idea that they can now afford technologies they might not have been able to spring for before. Hell, I’ll be giddy the day some design elements of the new Monitor Audio Hyphn loudspeaker finally work their way down to the level of the Silver Series models.

Along with the new Pro-Ject MaiA DS3 stereo integrated amplifier (my review of which you can read May 1), the company also sent along its new value-engineered CD player, the aptly named CD Box S3 ($549, all prices USD). It’s not the only current CD player in the “Box Design” range, as the company also has the more upscale CD Box DS3 ($899) as well as the positively highfalutin CD Box RS2 T ($3199). But I specifically requested the S3 in this case because readers regularly write me asking for advice on a good, affordable CD player that just plays CDs—not SACD or DVD-Audio or any other higher-resolution format—and I have to admit, I have a bit of a blind spot in this area. The only other CD player in this budget range I’ve auditioned in recent years was the Rotel CD11 Tribute, which (incredibly!) still sells for the same $599.99 it cost when I reviewed it two years ago.

As I was wrapping up my review of the Atlantic Technology AT-3 loudspeaker, I called SoundStage! founder Doug Schneider to discuss the forthcoming measurements—something I rarely do. As is usually the case, there were things I liked about the speaker and some things I would change, but as I said in the review, my biggest concerns were that getting the acoustic center of the speaker aimed at ear level was a fight, its sound seemed excessively bright from a normal seating height, and its vertical dispersion was . . . distinctive.

When I took the reins of SoundStage! Access in late 2020, I wasn’t really given a mandate, other than being told that the entire point of the publication was to cover affordable audio gear. Here’s the thing about affordability, though: everyone knows exactly what it means until you ask them to define it precisely. (I guess it’s sort of like smut in that regard.)

Note: for the full suite of measurements from the SoundStage! Audio-Electronics Lab, click this link.

Here’s a peek behind the curtain that I may end up regretting giving you: More often than not, when I’m doing these unboxing posts, the first image of the unopened container is there to fill up space and give me room to monologue about the product and its place in the overall market, or my anticipation for reviewing it. In the case of NAD’s new limited 50th-anniversary-edition integrated amplifier—the C 3050 LE—I actually want to draw your eye to the packaging itself. It’s a little cheeky, a bit retro, but not a slave to past conventions.

You wouldn’t think someone from my neck of the woods would have a favorite loblolly pine tree. The things are so ubiquitous, it’s almost like having a fondness for one specific blade of grass. But I do have a favorite: a particularly majestic old Pinus taeda that I reckon is at least 150 years old—perhaps much older. It’s oddly the only pine on my property. It’s also the only tree of mine I can see out my office window. And of all the trees that were here when I bought the house a quarter-century ago, it’s one of only two that remain.

And it’s dying.

As I’ve said a number of times, we all have our biases and blind spots, and the biggest for me is that the more I weigh the pros and cons of vinyl, the more I love my all-digital hi-fi system. As such, there are a number of revered audiophile brands I don’t get to interact with much.

If you buy into Malcolm Gladwell’s interpretation of the “10,000-Hour Rule,” popularized in his book Outliers, I’m a long way from being an expert at audio production. A very long way. SoundStage! Solo editor Brent Butterworth and I have recorded 22 episodes of the SoundStage! Audiophile Podcast to date, and I’ve mixed and mastered about half of them. Each episode takes me anywhere between 16 and 20 hours to produce and edit, which means I’m creeping up on somewhere around 200 hours of experience in the field of audio production. And 200 divided by 10,000 is math.