Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

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.

Had you asked what the most exciting trend in high-performance audio was, say, three years ago, I would have told you it was the increasing adoption of room correction in two-channel audio systems. Had you asked me the same question three years before that, I would have told you one of the things exciting me most was that audiophile headphone manufacturers were finally embracing Bluetooth in a meaningful way.

Although I love my dad with all my heart and get along with him swimmingly, we are very different people, with different interests and significantly different life philosophies. Really, the main things we have in common are our mutual love of Corvettes and our equally unhealthy obsession with the weather. So we spend a lot of time talking about both.

You won’t often see me reviewing—and as such unboxing—standalone DACs here on Access, given that most of the gear I’m likely to review in the appropriate price range already benefits from high-quality built-in digital-to-analog conversion. In fact, I recently wrote an editorial about this very subject.

You could have probably guessed this from my chosen profession, but I’m a sucker for a good story. Put a cool product in front of me that’s competently designed and delivers good performance, and I’m smitten. Put that same product in front of me and talk to me about the creative impulse behind it, the reason for its existence, the hole in the market that it fills, and my tail wags that much harder.